OK, so maybe that's not the best title. I've gone back & forth and called this post "The Simplest Ways to Save Money Using Coupons" or "Couponing Made Easy". Here's how this post came about.
As I've been talking to people lately about couponing and saving money on groceries and household products, I find that many people are overwhelmed at where to start. They know to buy newspapers to get coupons, and look at circulars for good deals - but what then? Do you clip all your coupons? Go to multiple stores? How do you keep organized? How do you make it work without too much work and how do you make sense of it all?
A good place to start is reading this post I wrote a while ago on the basics of couponing. This was written about couponing in general and is a little bit more high maintenance than what I do now. Now I'm going to tell you how I save money on my groceries, specifically, recognizing that the way I go about things may not work for everyone.
I do not spend a lot of time couponing and grocery shopping. I already spend more time than some because my older son eats dairy, soy & wheat free, so buying groceries for him requires visiting at least 3 different stores on a regular basis. Also, having an almost 2.5 year old and an almost 2 month old, I don't have a ton of time to read blogs, and find out all the deals, etc.
So here's what I do on a weekly or biweekly basis:
1. Get the weekly circulars to the stores you frequent. They come in the mail here Thursday, Friday or Saturday, but since most grocery sales start on Friday and many stores do weekend sales or 3-day sales, I sign up to get them e-mailed to me. They usually come on Thursday. I also have one that is snail-mailed to me. I did this by commenting in their contact form on their web page.
2. Buy at least 1 Sunday newspaper a week. The Sunday paper is generally the one that contains the coupons, but this can vary by region, so double-check. The Sunday papers here cost between $2.00-$3.50, so if it's a lean week, I may just buy one, but you can read here about why I sometimes buy multiple copies. You can find out here what the inserts for the week are scheduled to be, so you can plan ahead.
3. Browse the circulars to see what's on sale that you can use. I look not only for frequently-used products, but also any sales that boast a coupon off your next purchase (called a catalina). For example, Shaw's, a local chain, often does a sale on certain lines of products that if you buy $20-$25 in product, you get a $5-$10 coupon off your next visit. That's $20-$25 before coupons, and the products are on sale, so you can often get really good deals. You can see here how much free or almost free stuff I've gotten!
4. Find out if those sale products have coupons. You can find regional coupon lists at Coupon Mom or national lists at Hot Coupon World where you can do a search for a product and see if there an any coupons to match.
5. Only clip the coupons you know you'll use. When time permits, I browse the coupon inserts to see if there are any coupons for products I use often. My son can only eat certain brands of snacks and cereal, for instance, so if I see a coupon for his brands, I clip them and carry them in a envelope in my purse. Otherwise, I do not clip any coupons. I file the inserts in a filing cabinet by date and clip them when I know my coupon matches for the week.
6. Buy what's on sale whenever you can, and match the sales with coupons. This may be stating the obvious to some of you, but buy your staples when they go on sale. Most things go on sale at some time, especially staples such as meat, beans, rice, frozen veggies and fruit, pasta sauce, canned goods, paper products, cereal and milk. I never, ever pay full price for meat, frozen veggies, and most cereals. Since my son is on a special diet, sometimes we do need to pay full price for some essentials. We balance that out by getting other basics on sale.
7. Pick 1 or 2 main blogs, and just check for weekly deals. For grocery shopping, I don't always check for deals. The things we buy are pretty standard. The one exception is if I see that Shaw's (mentioned above) is having a catalina deal, I will go to Hot Coupon World to find coupon match-ups with the on-sale products. I also sometimes go to Coupon Mom for grocery deals. Her site is similar to Grocery Game, but it's free. She organizes the site by region and store, so if you already know you're going to Shaw's, you can select your state, then that store, and find out if anything is free or really cheap that you want to pick up while you're there.
That's it, folks. It may seem like a lot of work, but it's really not. I also don't do it every week. Some weeks all I pick up is produce, which makes up almost 50% of our grocery budget. Otherwise, I shop the sales & keep my pantry & freezer stocked.