This month I’m revisiting the basics of getting started with couponing and it’s geared for today – with all of the challenges and changes we’ve seen. Please read my introduction post if you missed it.
Where we Begin
If you were to walk into one of my coupon classes, one thing that might surprise you is that I don’t start by explaining where to find coupons or how to organize them. I don’t start by expounding upon the fine print found on coupons or how to stack coupons at the grocery store. No, I don’t start with any of these things at all!
I’m a “big picture” kind of gal, so I start by spending a good chunk of time simply talking about the goal of couponing. If you don’t know what you’re ultimately trying to achieve with couponing and frugal living, you’ll start running into problems before you’ve even left the supermarket parking lot.
The Goal of Couponing
Here is how I like to explain what successful couponing should achieve:
The goal of couponing is simple: to avoid paying full price for the items your family needs and uses by buying them when they are on sale with coupons.
Let’s dissect this a bit, shall we?
A couponer does not wish to pay full price for items. That may seem obvious, because that’s why they are using coupons! But this also explains why couponers buy items ahead (also called stockpiling). This is shopping in anticipation of their family’s needs. However, a smart couponer isn’t buying ahead without a plan – they are buying items that their family will actually use.
Also note that I’ve said that a couponer buys items when they are on sale with coupons. I’ve often had people tell me that couponing didn’t work for them. After probing further, the person may well have clipped coupons from inserts (for items they don’t normally buy) and gone to the store and used them (on items that were likely not on sale). The truth is store sales save me the majority of money. Coupons are the icing on the cake that helps keep my out-of-pocket cost low. Even if you didn’t use coupons, you’d likely save a decent sum of money just by following store sales and loss leaders (more on these concepts in post 4 of this series!).
What does your Family Use?
A good place to start is by considering the items you’re already buying on a regular basis. Include toiletries and household items in this list.
- Cereal or oatmeal?
- Deodorant and toothpaste?
- Plastic bags or food storage containers?
- Paper towels and toilet paper?
- Canned tomatoes and beans?
- Rice and pasta?
- Organic or eco-friendly products? (yes you can save & stockpile these, too!)
It is very easy if you’re not careful to let the exciting coupons inform you of what new, flashy products to try instead of thinking about what your family would actually use. Remember, you are in control of the coupons, the coupons are not in control of you! (This isn’t to say, don’t go for a freebie if you find a good coupon, but do be mindful of the items you’re most trying to score deals on.)
Once you’ve identified these important items, you can then begin to target those deals that will make an impact on your pantry by buying them ahead before you need them and in quantities you can easily store and use up before expiration. In the next lesson, I’ll spend some more time talking about methods of stockpiling and why keeping a food inventory list can help save you time as well as money.
Two Kinds of Shopping
I like to explain in my coupon classes that there are two kinds of shopping a couponer does: stockpiling and needs-based.
Stockpiling: this is the buy ahead shopping. As an example, earlier this week I shared a trip with you where I bought 8 boxes of oatmeal. People watching me in the aisle over at checkout may have supposed I had a very strange menu list this week, but au contraire! I was simply buying ahead an item that I know my kids will eat for the rest of the month for breakfast. The boxes were less than $1 each. By buying them on sale and with coupons, I’m saving on future costs for the month for breakfasts and working towards the goal of avoiding to pay full price.
Family A: Buys (1) box of oatmeal each week for one month at $2.50 each = $10
Family B: Buys (4) boxes of oatmeal first week of the month on sale at $1 each = $4
I hope this simple illustration gives you an idea of what’s happening. Both families consume 4 boxes of oatmeal, but Family B identifies a sale and buys ahead and frees up $6 in their food budget so they can eat steak later in the month without breaking their budget.
Below: a photo of a stock-up trip I did at QFC a couple years ago. I paid $29.71 for everything and some of these items lasted months later!
Needs based: in spite of what others may think, YES, couponers do eat stuff like produce, meat, and dairy. There aren’t always coupons for these things, but we are not bound to only buy items that had a coupon (eesh! what a limited mindset that would be!). However, these items can be saved on in other ways such as through store sales, store coupons, buying in bulk, growing your own, buying from a farm/farmer’s market, bartering/trading with friends, and any number of creative, frugal ways, which we’ll discuss later in this series. I do go shopping about once a week for those items I need to complete my menu plan for the week; I just working to do my best to not negate the savings I’ve achieved through my stockpile shopping.
Here’s a trip that reflects buying what we needed that week:
Debunking a Myth About Couponing
I often hear couponing unfairly criticized as a time waster. After all, you’re spending hours of your life clipping and shopping, right? Actually, I’d argue that couponing done well can help you better manage your time as well as money. Consider:
- A well stocked pantry means you can easily prepare dinners on the fly
- A well planned shopping list means less time in the store (not more!)
- A well planned shopping list and well stocked pantry mean less middle-of-the-week grocery trips
There have been many, many instances since I’ve started this journey where having a stock of food and household supplies have saved me from having to make a trip to the store! I have also found I have enjoyed cooking and baking more since keeping a well stocked pantry. Making recipes is fun and easy when you have most of the ingredients on hand. At any given time, I can whip up some homemade cookies or bread for the kids, or a late-night movie snack for my husband & I. I can assemble a meal or put together a bag of groceries for a friend in need. Many couponers find they are suddenly in a position to be more hospitable and generous than ever before, even if they themselves are on a tight budget.
Today I’d challenge you to think about your own approach to grocery shopping. Are your lists organized and planned? Do they reflect a menu plan, or are you simply focusing on what you can get for free? If you have a good menu plan/routine in place but don’t use coupons, do you think you consider adding on a few items that are on sale each week to offset later grocery costs? Think about what’s working for you, what’s not, and how you might improve in this area.
On Friday, I’ll be back to share more thoughts about stockpiling and building a food inventory. And trust me, it’ll be geared for everyday, average people – not just those obsessed with the zombie apocalypse.