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Thursday, July 21, 2011

How To: The Basics of Grocery Couponing, Part 1.

Okay, so now comes the fun stuff. The "How To" part.

The first thing to wrap your head around is that if you've ever done couponing before, and not done it with a system similar to this one, you probably did it wrong.

Here's what I used to do:

  1. Get the Sunday paper. 
  2. Find the coupon inserts.
  3. Look through and cut out everything we might buy that week.
  4. Throw away the rest.
  5. Go to the store and shop.
Seems reasonable, right? Maybe that's even how you do it. I would come away with about 20-30% savings most weeks doing it this way. That's good, right? Not when you compare it with the way I do things now!

See, the problem is that the prices in the store aren't the same from one week to the next. You know this. You've seen the sale prices and the ads. The way to get your groceries at the cheapest price possible is to stock up on them when they're already on sale.

For example, lets look at Colgate Toothpaste. Toothpaste makes a great example because if you follow this system, it's one of the items you'll almost never have to actually pay money for. Normally it runs around $3 a tube in my area. So, if I got my Sunday paper a few weeks ago and found a $1 off coupon and ran out to the store and used it, I'd only save 33%. HOWEVER... if I had held on to that coupon until this week when it's on sale at my local Kroger store for 99¢, I would get that tube of toothpaste free. (That's 100% savings for those who are math challenged.)

But that would take a tremendous amount of time to keep track of all the sales and coupons, right? Wrong. It's already done for you. But we'll get to that shortly. For now, lets discuss those Sunday paper inserts.

The first thing to do is make sure you are buying the paper in your area with the largest distribution. Even if the smaller papers have coupon inserts, you'll find that the coupons won't be as good as the big paper's coupons.

Then, DON'T CUT ANYTHING OUT! I mean it! There is no point in wasting your time cutting all those coupons each week. Instead, get yourself an accordion file or another filing system and simply file your inserts by month, just as they are. Here's what I use:

I opt for the filing crate because sometimes I get multiple Sunday papers if I want extras of the coupons, so I need more space than the typical accordion file offers. Of course, I started out with just a stack of inserts on the desk, until I was sure I wanted to do this long enough to mess with organizing it.

In addition to this, I also have two small accordion files, like so:

In the first one I have all of my other coupons organized by type of product (more on where these come from in another post). The bottom one is the one I take with me to the grocery store. I have a blank tab at the front, followed by a tab for each store I visit, though I may not visit each store each week. The stores I go to are: CVS, Kroger, Target, Walgreens and Walmart.

So, now that you know how to organize your coupons, the question is how to USE them, right? Stay tuned!

Tomorrow I'll tell you all you need to know about... THE LIST.

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