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Friday, July 22, 2011

How To: The Basics of Grocery Couponing, Part 2

So now that you have an idea of how to organize all of your coupons, you need to know how to actually use them, right?

The basic principal is this: Stores price things on a cycle. At the high point of any given product's cycle, that item will be about 2x (or more!) as expensive as it will be at the low point. The key is to NOT buy things at the higher prices, but stock up at the lower prices. When you add your coupons to the sale, you now have a great deal!

So, you probably need to start tracking prices on your favorite items and charting them against how your favorite store's cycle on those items goes, right? Wrong.


Let me start by saying that there are millions of ways to do this. I'm just going to share with you my way. It works for me. Hopefully it will work for you. The best thing you could do is take the principles I use and tweak them to meet your own family's needs.

When I first got into couponing, a friend told me about The Grocery Game (aka. Teri's List). It's a great service. very detailed, very organized, a little too much flash for my taste, but still usable. It costs $10 every two months for your first store, and $5 every two months for each additional store. As I said yesterday, I normally check five stores each week, so I would be spending $25 every two months to use this service. While I was certainly saving enough money to make that worthwhile, the idea here is to save money, not spend it. I knew I had to find something cheaper, preferably free.

So, I did some research.

There are a LOT of sites out there that do grocery lists.

Here's the (free) one that I found and love: It's a simpler version of the Grocery Game, without the annoying flash. There are some drawbacks. For instance, the national stores will not have local lists on there. The only one I've found this matters on is CVS, so I simply check the store ad before I shop to make sure that the prices line up. Sometimes I've found that my region has slightly higher sale prices than on the list, and sometimes lower, but mostly it's about the same as the national pricing. This may vary in your region, and you may find differences in other stores, but really it only takes about 5 minutes to double check.

Okay, so what is this "list" and how do I use it? Here's my method, feel free to adapt it as seems appropriate.

Most of the sales for the stores I shop run Sunday to Saturday, so this means Sunday is the best day to go (before they start to sell out on the really good deals). Sunday morning, I get up, get showered and dressed, and then come down and start on my lists before church. It normally takes me about an hour to get everything ready for shopping.

I go to the site above, sign in, and open each of my stores in their own tab (with the exception of Kroger whose sales run Wednesday-Tuesday). I then sort each list by % saved (click the little arrows at the top of the column). Now I have all of my freebies right at the top. I then scan through each list and check the boxes for the items I think my family will use. I typically also buy all of the free items, because if we can't use it I'm pretty sure the local food pantry can. Some of these items may actually give you overage (when the coupon is worth more than the price of the item) to use toward other items. This is often how I wind up needing to add a candy bar just to be able to check out.

As I'm scanning my lists, I typically don't even look at anything that's less than 50% savings. The exception is when we actually need an item that I'm not finding a good sale on anywhere, then I'll look through that bottom half to see if I can at least get a mediocre deal on it.

Once I've gone through the list for one store, I click "display selected deals" at the top or bottom of the page, but I don't print the list until I go through all of the stores.This is because I've often found things on sale at multiple stores, and I can always go back and remove it from that list if I find a better sale elsewhere.

After I've gone through all of my lists and have only my selected items showing for each, I then click and print any needed coupons. I love that CouponMom puts the links right there on the list for any internet coupons you may need. (Some other services I've looked at don't.) Then, I print each of my lists.

Now it's time to go cut my coupons. On each list you'll see a code to the left that will say something like "07-03 PG" or "06-19 RP." These tell you which of your inserts you need to go to to find that coupon. For instance, that first code is the Proctor and Gamble insert from the July 3rd paper. The second one is Red Plum, June 19th. When you first start out, you'll quickly see that you don't have all of the coupons you need. Don't worry, you'll get there! Just work with what you've got, keep filing away all of those inserts as they come, and soon enough you'll find that you have all of the coupons on your list. Other abbreviations you'll see are S, for Smart Source, and AY for All You magazine.

As a side note, I do recommend getting All You. It's a great magazine, and always includes a fair number of coupons along with great money saving tips, recipes, etc.

Once I've cut all of my coupons, I then file them away in my small accordion file to take with me. Each list, along with its coupons, goes in its slot in my file. Then, I just throw it in the car, and after church I'm ready to do my shopping!

When I get to the store, I pull out my list and start putting items in my cart. Each time I pull something from the shelf, I take its coupons and put them in that blank front tab along with my savings or club card from that store. This way, when I get to the check out, I don't have to sort the coupons I'm using from the ones that the item was sold out or I changed my mind on. Do pay attention at check out though. Make sure each coupon rings up properly. Some clerks don't pay as much attention as maybe they should and if a coupon doesn't work they may not realize it.

My favorite part of the trip is when the clerk hands back my receipt. Many stores they have to look at the bottom and tell you how much you saved in their store that day. I love to hear "Thank you for shopping at _____, today you've saved 90%!" which is often followed by a double-take or a "Wow" or "That's pretty good!"

So, that's the very basics of how to put together a shopping trip. And if you follow that plan, you'll save quite a bit. But there's much more that we haven't covered that can help you squeeze every last drop of savings out of your grocery budget. Come back tomorrow for "where do you get those other coupons?"

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