This post will help you understand how you can save oodles by tweaking your current shopping habits.
I like to know why something exists. Usually new inventions are due to solve some sort of problem, and coupons are no exception. First used as an advertising ploy to get people to try new or existing products, coupons are now used as a form of currency by some people (ie - us) and we should be ever so thankful for that. However, to fully maximize the effectiveness of coupons, we need to change how we do some things. (And seriously, if you can start this way now then you'll catch on quicker, because what happens to everyone, including me, is that your first shopping trip you'll save $10 from coupons - and get so excited about it! - BUT then end up spending an extra $20 because you didn't know what you were doing.)
Think of how you currently shop. Are you the weekly list maker ("I've got my weekly list and we're sticking to it!"), the run in-er (my fiance would run to the store every day in college to get what he needed for that meal and or snack and it drove me nuts!) or the aisle grazer ("humm... that looks good. In the cart!")? What about the stores in which you shop, or the brands that you buy? Are you stuck in your ways or are you willing to make a change to save some green?
We're going to throw those aside and think of grocery shopping like purchasing air fare, playing poker, making new friends and stocking up for some catastrophic emergency crisis, all at once. Here's How:
Price Watching -
When booking a flight, you usually pay the least amount if you book wayyyy in advance, like, more than six months. You have a lot of choice as to when you want to leave, where you want to sit, etc. Starting at about 5 months with that same flight you'll see the prices starting to increase slightly. Like, a dollar every few days. Then about 3 - two months out it'll increase by a few dollars every day until you're about 3 weeks away and you'll suddenly have no choice but to pay the highest possible fare. (Unless there are still seats on the plane and it's less than 10 days until departure - you *might* be able to find a good deal but you probably won't have your choice of seats or options of flight times.)
Now, a jar of Peanut Butter won't increase 900% in six months, BUT if you start watching the price of that PB over the same six month period, you'll notice price fluctuation, sales and coupons to match, some of which over lap from time to time, and you'll also be keen on when the best time is to buy peanut butter. It might vary by brand and store, but you can guarantee that back to school time and around the holidays are good times to buy this item. But more on this in a bit.
Knowing When To Play Your Cards -
Peanut Butter is normally like, $2 a jar, and that's an alright price, I mean, I'd rather pay that than $3 or $4, but we go through a lot of peanut butter, like, a jar a week sometimes - I like to cook with it, eat it, feed it to the dog - and it's just me, the fiance and the dog. $104 on PB a year for 2 people is like, a little crazy if you think about it. However, (the brand I like) on sale right now for $1.60 a jar - thank.you.back.to.school.time - AND I have a coupon for $.60 off, so now my total is $1 a jar.
This is how couponing is like poker - you have to know when to play your cards, err, coupons. The sale (it's $1.60 at Target through Sat, the 28th) and coupon both coincide to match back to school time BUT there are plenty of times when the retailers know what coupons are coming out (because the manufacturer tells Corp. waaayyy ahead of time) so they'll adjust their prices accordingly. Yeah, Target or Walgreens will make money if you buy their brand couponlessly, BUT if you do buy the national brand (which is more expensive than the store brand) then the store makes more of a profit (because the margin is higher than the generic) AND the store get reimbursed the total amount of the coupon PLUS $.08 cents for every coupon used by you and me, so that's 3 ways the store earns money when you buy a Brand name item with a coupon vs when you buy a generic.
But back to poker. New coupons come out every day, week, and month. Sometimes it's worth it to wait a week or two for an item to go on sale, but sometimes you just can't wait - you may need diapers or hair spray right now. However, if you do have the time to wait, and the product doesn't go on sale, and it's something you want and will use, then what is the waste of waiting to use the coupon, it's not like the price will go up.
Leaving Your Comfort Zone -
My parents love Tide, the laundry detergent. The only problem I have with Tide is that they are the leader in the laundry market and they know it, so there is rarely a sale and the coupons they put out are sort of crappy. I have found soooo many better deals on countless other brands - great, amazing brands, that are all natural or are 5x concentrated so the bottle is half a pound to pick up rather than 10 - but still, they stay with Tide. My point is this, if you are willing to try other brands, you may save more. They like Bounty, but Brawny is on sale and I have a coupon. So in situations like that, where I can get the same product (so the paper towels) for way less, I'll buy what I can with the coupons I have and then let that hold me over until I can switch back to what I like. But there is also an upside; shopping by buying the brands for whom we have coupons introduces us to new products, different flavors, and sometimes better features or qualities. And that I like.
It's not hoarding, I swear -
I'm sure what I've been saying has struck a cord with you, but how do you go from saving $1 a week to thousands a year? The answer - Stockpiling. It makes since, but to start out and get a good "pile", ugh. You have to have focus and organization, and also space, but once you get going and you see that you can pay $.12 for pasta and can get 100 cans of soup or free you'll be hooked. One of the bloggers I L-O-V-E is a mom to 4 out of Boston and here is the link to her stockpile posts. Is it sad that I just love to look at her pictures for inspiration? She knows when to play her cards, she isn't brand specific and she knows the most important rule with her stock pile: FIFO - First In, First Out, meaning that she first uses what she purchased first, that way nothing goes to waste by spoiling. The second most important rule with 'piling - only buy what you will consume (eat) in 6 months. (Unless the item in question has a super long shelf life, like canned veggies or sauces, or you plan on donating the extras. Why buy extras? Sometimes you get paid to buy extras, but that's a later post.)
So take my Peanut Butter example again. It's great that I got a jar for $1 right now. But what happens when I need to go out and buy more peanut butter? Simple. I am going to buy as much as I can right now when it's uber cheap and I'm going to save the difference. Like, I have 20 coupons. If I were to buy 20 jars over the next however long at $1.92 a jar, that's $38.40. But since I have 20 coupons, I might as well get 20 jars for $20 bucks. That's a savings of $18.40, and all I did was take a few extra minutes of my day to get 20 coupons to "play" them at the right time.
We'll get deeper and deeper into everything, I promise, but I also want to go back to the shopping styles - you can still be a grazer, a runner and a list maker - as long as you add the element of having a coupon for EVERY item that you're buying, you'll be saving money in no time. And I understand that sometimes you can't wait to get something, I do. But shopping is exactly like buying last minute air fare - if you lack the foresight to plan ahead, you're going to pay the highest price. If you research and give yourself time (to wait on a sale or to order coupons online), then you'll come out a winner every time.
Back to the point I left off in the "air fare" analogy up at the top
- don't just watch the shelf tags; read the weekly ad circulars and make your list or gather your coupons based on those on-sale items.
- Visit store specific message boards and blogs, as other like-minded people will point out deals and "match ups" (match up = when there is a coupon to go along with a sale price) for you so you can focus on just the gathering portion and not spend so much time calculating and what not.
- Also shop with the "seasons"; I've said probably twice that now is an amazing time to stock up on peanut butter, because it's back to school time, but other "times" and "seasons" prompt great sales and match ups as well, like, the holidays are the best time to stock up on baking supplies (like flour, evaporated milk, chocolate chips), New Years is the best time to find nutrition and healthy items (like individual frozen meals and "healthy cereals") and so on.
- And lastly, sales are cyclical. What is on sale now should be on sale again in six to eight weeks - the price may not always be as great (so the $1.92 pb that's on sale for $1.60 now may only go down to $1.75 in six to eight weeks) but it will go on sale again, so I don't need to buy 400 jars and make 2000 PB&J's to freeze to hold me over until next year when its back to school time.
So, those are the points I wanted to bring up about how we can succeed in winning at the store. It may take some time to build a great stock pile (in fact, it will, so don't give up if you don't succeed in the first two or three shopping trips; even if you don't want to stock as aggressively as some people do, it still will take you time to build up a good coupon pile/file/binder/folder and then it will take you time to figure out when to use those coupons to score big) but once you do have however big a pile you want it to be, you'll be so proud of yourself.
Alright, I think that's it for this post. Next up - How to Organize Your Coupons