Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Clipping coupons...

I gotta tell you I was surprised to learn that so many of you don't clip coupons.

Because, seriously, I've been doing it for almost eighteen years. And that, friends, is a long time!

Several of you emailed me asking for tips and strategies, and because I aim to please (don't talk to me about my pleaser issues, please) I'm going to share them with you. *Disclaimer* I am no expert. This is a very straightforward post about what works for me.

First, I subscribe to the newspaper. We stumbled upon a deal a few years ago, and we get the Denver Post delivered to our door every single day of the year for $30/year. That's phenomenal, really, and it pays for itself within one month of clipping coupons. We're considering not re-subscribing when our subscription expires at the end of this month. Now that John works full-time (as opposed to freelancing from home) neither of us find time to read the newspaper daily, and it just seems wasteful. But the jury's still out for me because I don't like the idea of having to remember to buy a Sunday paper every single week, just for the coupons.

I get anywhere from 1-3 coupon inserts per week. Last week, I got three, this week there were two. I don't know if there's a pattern to it or not. Generally, there are no coupons included on holiday weekends.

I set them aside until I have time to flip through them. I prefer to do this on Sunday afternoons, but realistically, that doesn't always happen. I only clip coupons for products I know I will buy, and I throw away more than I actually clip. I don't buy lots of processed food, and I don't buy sugary snacks, so those go in the trash. I'm always happy to find coupons for cheese, cereal, paper products, toiletries, detergent, dog food, dog treats, and organic products (I was excited two weeks ago to find coupons for Z-Bars and Cascadian Farms)!

I need to clarify something here. I'm not always brand loyal, so I might clip coupons for 5 different kinds of deodorant, soap, dishwasher detergent, etc. That way, if say, Ban is on sale, I have a coupon for it. If Electrasol is on sale, I'll use my coupon to buy that. BUT, if I know that I can't stand the product (like Dove soap), I don't clip it.

After I clip them, I file them in this green organizer that I've seriously had for 15 years. I don't remember where I got it, but I saw some expandable cardboard ones at the dollar store last week. I think they were about a dollar. (Ha, ha, ha!)

I file mine alphabetically by brand. So, for example, under "C", you'd find Crest, Cascadian Farms, Chex, Cascade, Campbell's, Charmin, etc. I don't get too technical about it. I just try to go with something that works for me...and this system does.

In my organizer, I have two other sections that aren't alphabetical. One is for dog-related products--food, snacks, etc., and the other is for restaraunt/store coupons.

Once a month, usually at the beginning of the month, I try to go through and pull out the expired coupons. It helps me tremendously to keep up with this.

I keep my coupons in my purse all the time. If I trade purses, I throw the organizer in my new purse. You can't use them if you don't have them with you!!!

I've found that shopping for groceries every 2 weeks is the best system for me. I begin by looking through the sale flyers and seeing what is on sale. Based on that, I make a menu plan for as many meals as we need during that 2-week period. I then use my menu plan to make my complete grocery list. I write my list out by hand. In the past, I've used one that I pre-made, where everything was laid out according to the store's floor plan. It made me crazy, so I don't do that anymore. I don't think it takes me that much longer to just write it out.

Once I've made my list, I go through my coupons and pull out the ones I can use. For example, if I need spaghetti sauce, I look under "N" and see if I have a coupon for Newman's Own spaghetti sauce. I then put a star by spaghetti sauce on my list so I remember that I have a coupon, then I add the coupons I've pulled to the front of my organizer. When I'm at the checkout, I just flip through the coupons and make sure I actually bought the item(s) before handing them to the cashier. If the coupon requires me to buy 2, I make a note of that on my list.

A few years ago, I found this helpful website that takes a ton of work out of finding the best deals with coupons. You have to register (free) but once registered, you can find grocery/coupon deals by state. For example, I can find Colorado King Soopers (Kroger) deals. The window that opens will tell me what is on sale at King Soopers this week then will match it up with a coupon (tells you what the cents off value of the coupon is plus the date it was issued) and give you the bottom line price. So, let's say that Quaker granola bars are on sale this week for $1.67. This site will give you that info, plus tell you that there was a .75/2 coupon issued on 4/11/08. You can use that coupon for 2 boxes and your final price would be $2.34 for 2 boxes (because King Soopers doubles coupons to $1.00). Make sense??

I *think* it's sorta like The Grocery Game, but it's completely free whereas you pay a fee for subscribing to The Grocery Game. I've never used GG though, so I don't know how similar they actually are.

If I see something on the CouponMom site then I pull those coupons, add the items to my list and star them, then put the coupons with my others. And I'm ready to go to the store.

I used to keep a price notebook and would record how much an item cost at each of the stores in my area. That way, I would know how to find the best deals, and I'd know if something was cheaper at Walmart without a coupon. I quit doing that too because once again, it made me crazy. I'm pretty good about storing info in my head and because I typically buy the same items consistently, I have a good idea of where to get the lowest price. If I end up spending .40 cents more, I've learned not to stress about it. It's .40 for pete's sake.

Coupons combined with sales are the best way to save big bucks. I was so happy last week when I combined sales and coupons to get these 5 products for about $5.50 by combining coupons and BIGIF (buy one get one free) store sales.

One thing that I've found very helpful is the loyalty cards that most grocery stores issue. Both of my local grocery chains send out customized coupons based on my buying patterns. I saved at least $15 last week using these customized coupons. And don't overlook the catalina coupons that the cash register spits out. I've gotten lots of free products by using these.

Another great thing to do is email a company if you like their product. I emailed one natural foods company and asked if they ever issued coupons for their products. They sent me a stack of coupons, two of which were for free product up to $4.00. Love that!

Don't overlook the inside of packaging for coupons. I found one recently for 1.00 off my kids' favorite cereal.

I would caution you about buying products just because you have a coupon. Really, if you hate Hunt's ketchup, but it's cheaper with a coupon, don't buy it. There's no value in that, unless you want to donate it to a food bank or something.

Here's a receipt from my last grocery shopping trip. I saved $28 at this particular store, which doubles coupons. I usually shop at 3-4 different stores, but this is the only one that doubles coupons.

It takes some time to cut the coupons out, sort them, file them, and then pull them out to use, but I've found that I can stretch my grocery budget a bit further when I take the time to do this.

Let me know if you have a question, and if you have any great tips to share, please leave a comment!


Anonymous said...

I believe you were the one who introduced me to coupon clipping!!

We subscribe only to the Sunday paper for $30/year. It keeps us from having to remember every week and it pays for itself quickly. Maybe your paper will deliver Sunday's only?

I tried organizing by brand and it drove me crazy. I organize by month of experation and it works the best for me. I also only clip coupons that I use so I won't be tempted to spend extra.

Becky R.

Jenn said...

First of all thank you so much for taking the time to do this post! I learned SO much! Thanks.

Clipping for 18 years - wow that's just awesome. It would be fun to know what you have saved over the years. I am going to take your advise and get busy on the coupon clipping.

I too was going to suggest subscribing to the Sunday paper only. I think that is what I am going to do. Thanks again. I may be linking to this post.

Lindsay said...

I'm a coupon clipper too. Love the savings. I have a box in my kitchen organized by type of product and then by date. I go through it each week before heading out.

Elizabeth said...

That was incredibly thorough. I'm totally impressed with your organization and stamina with coupons. You've inspired me to get back into it. My grocery budget has quickly been running out lately.

Deidre said...

Wow, this is very motivating. I'm doing a little better looking for deals and keeping coupons. A little better ... I have a long way to go.

Holly said...

You're da bomb. I'm not worthy!


Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Mer!

leigh said...

I've gotta tell ya', I'm fascinated by people who can do this. Really, I'm in awe. We just had an article in our newspaper about a women who pays practically nothing for groceries because she knows how to work the system. Amazing, I tell ya!

I'm the kind of person who clips the coupons, but rarely has them with her. I've subscribed to our local paper for the coupon, but my Sunday paper is still in the wrapper.

Maybe one day!

*carrie* said...


Loved this post. I definitely use coupons. My mom and sister (and sometimes even my aunt and grandma!) mail me coupons for products they know I buy. Must be our rural market, because the bulk of our coupon inserts are for those silly mail-in products.

I wasn't familiar with'll have to remember that if we ever move. =)

One of my friends has never really done coupons/meal planning before, and she asked me to give her a grocery shopping kit for her upcoming b-day!

Gina said...

Uh, Yeah. Actually I got a head ache just reading this post. I have to think for 7 people on a daily basis. I just don't think there is room in my head for all of this coupon stuff. *Someday*.
I was a coupon gal when I had just 2 kids, but then 3 and 4 came along in rapid sucession, followed closely by 5. Something had to go, and it couldn't be one of the kids! :o

Kim Heinecke said...

Great post!! CVS has some good sales and "bonus bucks" if you use their card. I'm trying to get better at coupon-consumption!! If I can save $2-3 a week then I can treat myself to an unecessary stop at Starbucks!

(They should send ME a coupon for that free plug.)

Betsy said...

You go girl! 18 years of coupon clipping??? I'm in awe!

I wish I clipped them more often, but sadly I don't. You've motivated me, though!

Thanks for such a great post!

Gretchen said...

Okay, okay...I'm a believer now. ;)

I will try to be more fastidious in my clipping and organizing; also, having the coupons in the purse at all times is a fantastic tip. You rock, Chica. :)


Karen said...

Thanks for the kick start in getting back to coupons! I've been on again, off again about coupons in the past, but with the price of groceries, I really need to start paying more attention to what I'm spending. I like the idea of alphabetizing them -- never thought of that. Good luck with the remainder of May Madness and the end of school. We're counting the days, too!

Janet Lea said...

AFter I read the Meal Planning I clicked on the coupon link! I'm one of those crazy people that writes the grocery list out by floor plan. I saved $31 on my last trip which is the most by far. My next online website to check out is the coupon mom, so thanks!