Several people have asked me to write blog posts about how I save money by couponing. The problem is, the majority of those people are moms who also have full- or part-time jobs. Which I don’t. So unless they want to spend every spare second of their day printing coupons off the internet, cutting coupons out of circulars, etc. it’s easier to just start with “the basics”–COUPONING WITHOUT COUPONS.
So here are my suggestions for you:
small modestly. Realize that extreme couponing takes months to learn and, quite frankly, it’s a skill that even I haven’t yet learned, despite couponing for about 5 years now. Why? Because I simply don’t care enough. And neither should you. PRIORITIZE. Your dinner table should NOT be piled high with Sunday’s coupon circulars. Your conversations with your husband should NOT revolve around how many free toothbrushes you bought that day. And keep in mind that those women on TV who were buying shopping carts full of free deodorant? Yeah, they live in areas that cater to people who, on average, have a lower income than those of us in the northern States. But regardless–couponing SHOULD NOT become “YOUR LIFE”; it should just–over an extended period of time–become “a way of life”.
2) Begin by couponing at grocery stores, NOT drugstores. For a Beginner Couponer, trying to explain how to maximize your savings at a drugstore can be VERY difficult, so for right now . . . grocery stores only!
3) Couponing doesn’t have to mean going to ten different stores to get good deals. As a start, pick the ONE store where you usually purchase your groceries, and learn to find deals THERE. Your priority should be viewing THAT store’s sales flyer for that particular week. Easy, right?
However, each store runs their sales on different cycles. So, for instance:
Market Basket runs their weekly sales from Sunday to Saturday. Which means that their new weekly flyer is available on Sunday and the prices in that flyer are good through the following Saturday. Their weekly flyer is uploaded (literally) by a Market Basket enthusiast (because the company is apparently too cheap to upload the flyer themselves) every Sunday morning at http://www.mydemoulas.net/locations/
Whole Foods runs their weekly sales from Wednesday to Tuesday. Which means that their new weekly sales are available on Wednesday and the prices in that flyer are good through the following Tuesday. Their flyer can be found at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/sales-flyer
Stop & Shop, Shaws, and Roche Brothers run their weekly sales from Friday to Thursday. Which means that their new weekly flyer is available on Friday and the prices in that flyer are good through the following Thursday. http://www.stopandshop.com/ http://www.shaws.com/ http://www.rochebros.com/
4) Sign up for the store’s Customer Loyalty Cards AHEAD OF TIME. As of this very moment, the only store that requires a Loyalty Card is Stop & Shop. However, even if a particular store doesn’t have a Loyalty Card, it’s a good idea to register your information on their website because they’ll email you their weekly flyers days ahead of time, and they may even send you exclusive coupons. I’ve found this to be especially true with Stop & Shop. (Another reason they’re my favorite store!)
5) DON’T GET CARRIED AWAY!!! This is a mistake that you are almost guaranteed to make as a new couponer. It’s the same mistake that I made when I discovered eBay: “Oh my gosh, look at how cheap this stuff is!!! LET ME BUY IT ALL!!!” STOP. Do yourself AND your budget a favor, and STOP. Just because you may find a GREAT deal on hemorrhoid cream or Depends Adult Diapers DOES NOT mean you need to take advantage of these sales, no matter how incredible they may seem!!! And PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t convince yourself that you’re going to buy them and then donate them to a food bank. Because we all know they’re just going to lanquish in your basement, making your husband resent you even more. And yes, I’m speaking from experience. 😉
6) Stick to the flyer. So let’s say you shop mainly at Market Basket. That’s A GREAT STORE to shop at when you’re first starting out. Okay, so let’s pretend this week’s Market Basket flyer says that Ortega products–including, taco shells, salsa, refried beans–are on sale and . . . and whaaaaat??? Ground beef is ALSO on sale???!!! Well, guess what your family’s eating for dinner that night? TACOS!!! Plan your meals around what sale items are available in the store flyer. Mrs. Buttersworth syrup and Bisquick Pancake mix is on sale? Oh my gosh, pancakes for dinner???!!! Your kids will LOVE you for it! Your husband? Eh, not so much. But just remind him of all the money you’re saving him and hand him a drink. He’ll survive.
7) “But I only feed my family grass-fed beef and poultry from free-range chickens.” I hear ya. You think I’m saying that as a joke, but I’ll go out of my way to spend $2 more on a carton of eggs to ensure that those eggs came from a happy, free-range chicken. So if anybody else feels the same way I do, it means that you probably only purchase your meats and poultry from Whole Foods. Think you can’t save any money at Whole Foods? Think again! But you have to be proactive! First and foremost, 1) Log into Facebook and “Like” the “Whole Foods Market Andover” Facebook page (if you live in the Andover, Massachusetts area). 2) It’s NOT enough to simply “Like” their page. Hover over the button that now says “Liked” and wait a few seconds for a drop-down menu to appear. This menu will give you two options that AS A COUPONER you need to select–a) Select “Get Notifications”, then go back and b) select “Show in Newsfeed.
Why is this so important? Because Whole Foods is infamous for having what they call “FLASH SALES” or “1 Day Sales”, which are sales that are exclusive to the Andover location, and they only advertise the sales on Facebook within a few days of the sale occuring.
But c’mon now, is this really a big deal? UM, YES!!!!!!!!!! I’m personally not a fan of “Swordfish Steaks”, but on September 28th ONLY, those steaks were available at $9.99/lb, compared to their usual price of $19.99/lb. Can you please take a second to do that math?! (Now is that an ENORMOUS savings over Swordfish Steaks at Market Basket? Probably not. But if you shop at Whole Foods, you shop at Whole Foods for a reason.)
THIS is why I encourage you to watch Whole Foods’ local Facebook site. Because you have NO IDEA what deals will suddenly pop up at the last moment.
8) Aaaaalright, let’s pretend I just purchased 1 trillion lbs of Swordfish Steaks on sale at Whole Foods. Ummm, what on earth am I supposed to do with them?! FREEZER!!! And I’m not talking about the measly freezer that sits on top of your refrigerator. I’m talkin’ about a Box/Chest Freezer or a freezer that looks like a fridge, but is actually just a freezer. This is A NECESSITY to anyone who is contemplating taking couponing to the next level. Dave and I bought our Stand-Up Freezer on Craigslist and I LOVE IT! But let’s face it, how many lbs of swordfish steaks do you really need? Well, how about the sale that Whole Foods Andover had on September 29th where 85% lean ground beef was on sale for $3.99/lb for that day ONLY?! Now HERE’S a deal that speaks to me! Which leads me into . . .
9) So what do you do when you’ve just purchased 10 lbs of on-sale ground beef at Whole Foods Andover? Let me tell you what your options are–
* Form some of the meat into hamburger patties and freeze them
* Fry and drain some of the meat for lasagnas, baked casseroles, tacos, enchiladas, and meat sauces (according to the Italians, they’re called “gravies”, ugh) and freeze them
* Make a million meatballs and freeze them
Are you sensing a common theme here? If not, let me spell it out for you:
And the same is true of chicken. Whole Foods Andover frequently has deals on whole chickens or bone-in chicken breasts (from past experience, the whole chickens I’ve purchased have ALL been Bell & Evans, which is HIGH-QUALITY chicken). If that’s the case, I’ll buy 8-10 whole chickens or bone-in chicken breasts, bake them at 400 degrees for 45 minutes just to allow the fat to drain, then simmer them in a pot until the meat is falling off the bone. Then I’ll shred the meat from the bone and separate the meat into plastic bags, each containing 2 cup of shredded chicken. I’ll freeze the majority of the bags, and I’ll use several of the bags for BBQ Chicken Nachos, Chicken Enchiladas, Chicken Salad. The options are endless.
But the “dirty little secret” (It’s not a secret. I’m just trying to make myself sound more important than I really am) of the Couponing Community is that YOU NEED to stockpile. Now, PLEASE! DON’T GO OUT AND BUY AN INDUSTRIAL FREEZER!!! See if stockpiling just one extra portion of beef or one extra portion of chicken works for you and your family. The purpose of couponing is to save money, not to spend it all on an expensive full-sized freezer!
10) If you already have a a second freezer . . . and you decide to make a batch of chicken enchiladas for dinner . . . make two batches. Bake one in a traditional 13x9x2″ pan that you will serve your family for dinner, and bake & freeze a 2nd batch in a Reynold’s disposable 13x9x2″ pan. Because you never know when you’re going to be bedridden with pneumonia or suffer HORRIBLE morning sickness from a surprise pregnancy! That’s the beauty of having a second freezer!
11) Learn what price you SHOULD pay for an item. Now that’s a skill that you only learn over time (in fact, I’m still learning!). Just keep in mind that grocery store flyers will market items as if they’re “Great Deals!” when they’re simply attempting to reduce their inventory of an item that they’ve overstocked. But you won’t know that until you’ve been “the brunt of their joke/marketing scheme” at least few times! Accept that you WILL be and continue to move forward. After all, this is COUPONING, NOT BRAIN SURGERY! (And hey, if you want to know all about Brain Surgery, I’ve got posts about THAT on this blog as well!)
Here are some examples from this week’s Stop & Shop flyer (my favorite place to coupon):
Thomas’ English Muffins, Buy 1, Get 2 Free–When I see a deal like this I think mini-pizzas for dinner and midnight snacks sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar! Then again, I’m gluten-intolerant and, therefore, a major buzz kill, but regardless . . . THIS is a good deal!
Dave doesn’t care if the chicken he eats was mauled to death by a rabid dog. BUT this “deal for Perdue Oven Ready Roasters” for $9.99? You can get them for $2.00 less than that price on sale at Market Basket.
I LOVE when vegetables and salad greens are on sale! Because it continues to disprove the theory that the only “cheap” foods you can buy are processed! HOWEVER, this deal for bags of salad? Highway robbery. I GUARANTEE that within a week or two, Stop & Shop will have a “Buy 1, Get 1 Free” sale on THESE EXACT SAME BAGS OF SALAD. So if you’re a couponer who shops at Stop & Shop, your family ain’t gettin’ salad this week!
Seriously? $9.49 for a bag of Pull-Ups or Goodnites? Try $7.99 at Market Basket! BUT BUT BUT Stop & Shop frequently has deals where if you purchase $30 worth of those same items, you’ll get $10 off. Consider the fact that you’re also earning gas points just by shopping there? Deal! But this? NOT a deal. Go to Market Basket instead.
12) Shop the Reduced Produce carts! Like I said, people love to complain that healthy food is never on sale. Um, have you ever stopped by a Reduced Produce cart? Depending on the time of day, it could be (literally) overflowing with apples, bananas, pears, green beans, red, orange, and yellow peppers, and whatever fruit or vegetable is in season! None of the items have gone bad; they just need to be used within a day or two of being purchased . . . or they will go bad. So use the apples to make applesauce, take your kids to feed apples to the horses at the local MSCPA. Make a few loaves of banana bread and freeze them.
Get creative! Couponing can actually be . . . waaaaaait for it . . . fun! But only if you don’t take it too seriously. However, some people don’t have the luxury of cosidering “couponing” as some sort of fun game. Those are the people who don’t live paycheck-to-paycheck; they live penny-to-penny. And let me tell you, I’ve been there. We grew up poor. We were too young to understand how dire our circumstances were, but my mother has told me that there were times when we didn’t know where our next meal was coming from. So if you’re reading my blog and you don’t personally know me, please know that I don’t take your circumstances lightly. That’s why I hope to continue this series of posts–so that ALL of my readers can learn the tricks of the trade and become Couponing Experts!
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