Monday, January 23, 2012

The Coupon Thing

For the last few weekends, my Sundays have revolved around coupons. Now, I’ll never be up to the level of those folks on shows like Extreme Couponing. I don’t have 40 hours a week to devote to this, or dozens of people sending me their coupon inserts. I use a stack of envelopes to keep it all sorted and I don’t have a massive spreadsheet to track it all. BUT, last week I managed to spend $140 on groceries and get $80 worth of that for free. So, it’s proved to be a worthwhile pursuit.

My system is simple. On Sunday, I buy two copies each of several papers. (I am still working out which ones have the good coupons. I have noticed that they all don’t carry the same coupons.) I cut the coupons we are likely to use. Even for brands we don’t normally buy—because if it is free or deeply discounted, I might try another brand over our usual.

Coupons get sorted and go into envelopes that are loosely organized by category like Dairy, Frozen, Meat, etc. As I put new coupons in, I sort through the contents of the envelope. Expired coupons get tossed and soon to expire coupons get clipped to the outside of the envelope. This also lets me see what I have coupons for and I tend to remember them when I go through the weekly circular to make my BUY list…More on that later.

What I Clip

My ongoing debate between going eco-friendly with chores or leaning on convenient products is often exacerbated by coupons. Eco-friendly does not win as much as I would like when I shop, but I will continue to work on that.

Brand loyalty gets questioned more when I am using coupons. I start asking myself if I buy one brand over the other because I am used to that brand or because I actually like that brand better. For example, I won’t choose Pepsi over Coke—even if they are giving it away, because saving money on something I won’t use is more wasteful than buying something at full price and actually consuming it.

On the flip side, I use a lot of jarred pasta sauce and have tried a few new brands when I have coupons AND they are on sale because my brand loyalty was mainly about laziness and buying what I knew.

I try to avoid clipping coupons for things we should not be eating. I allow for a few treats, but try not to introduce any new junk into our diet. I know I have to be careful about not letting coupons influence me to buy what we don’t need just because it’s a bargain. There are always temptations in the coupons. This week it was frozen White Castle Hamburgers—something that looks tasty but also something we really shouldn’t be eating. So I keep thinking of that Monty Python routine where the ladies are having tea. There is an engine on the table and the one woman asks the other, “Why did you buy that?” and the other woman answers, “It was a bargain!”

It’s good to remember that companies don’t put out coupons to do us favor in these hard times. They issue coupons to get us to buy things we would not normally buy.

This is not to say that I don’t clip some coupons for things we don’t need. I have an envelope in my coupon box labeled “Karma Coupons” In the envelope are coupons for diapers, dog food, and sanitary products that I don’t use—items that may be an expensive necessity to someone else. Those coupons are for leaving on the shelf as we shop. More than once, I’ve had a stranger hand me a coupon for something I was looking at—most recently, cat litter. So I think it’s a good idea to pay it forward.

We’ve been off credit cards for a long time out of necessity, but once we get our financial world back in order (and the couponing is a step in that direction) the rule will still be cash only when shopping for food. There is no point saving money if you lose that savings in credit card interest.

Two Lists

When I shop, I have two lists. The BUY list is the list of things I have gone to get. This list is based on things we’ve run out of and also the weekly circular. For items from the circular, I have the item, the sale price and whether or not I have a coupon. Our store lets you go online and make a list by clicking on the items in the circular. I print that list and add notes as to what coupons I have.

Sometimes I have to have two sets of coupons and break the order into two purchases. I try to organize the BUY list according to the aisles in the store to avoid doubling back. Things get crossed off the BUY list if it turns out I don’t have a coupon and we really don’t need it.

Once I’m in the store, I cross off items on the BUY list as I go.

I do allow myself to go off the BUY list. Sometimes I forget to add something or I find that something is on sale that I missed in the circular AND I have a coupon. My BOUGHT list keeps me from going overboard.

My BOUGHT list is the list of everything that is in my cart and how much I expect to pay after sale and coupon. I write it all down as I shop and add it up as I go, so I know how much I am spending. (Remember it’s a cash purchase so I have to be careful not to go over what I can spend.)

I keep an envelop with the BOUGHT list. Coupons that I am using get clipped to the envelope. If I have to split the order, they get clipped in separate batches. My store doubles but the coupons are usually limited to one per purchase, so I find this is worth the effort.

Does all this take longer? Yes. Our major shopping trips are now more involved from planning through execution. BUT it’s worth it to save money while stocking our pantry as items come on sale and have long-shelf-life items like tea bags, pasta, canned or frozen veggies and soup on hand when we need them.

If nothing else, it gives us something with short-term, measurable results that help me feel like we’re going to get through this rough time. I can look at the product of our efforts—both in loaded pantry shelves and that number at the bottom of our receipt that says how much we saved and get a sense of accomplishment.

Out next step will be to do some comparison-shopping. The grocery chain we use has online shopping, so it’s relatively easy to check prices even if they aren’t in the sales circular. We’ll be checking those prices vs. the warehouse club we belong to and we’ll also check out Aldi.

It may be that shopping becomes even more complex, but if the time we put in is well compensated by dollars saved, we’ll stick with it.

1 comment:

So, what do you think?

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