Besides just telling you about deals, one of my goals is to help you find them on your own. With a little work and time, you can learn how to differentiate from a good deal, a great deal, and a no deal.
Today I want to spend some time helping you make sense of one of the most common store sales: a mix and match promotion. I have had some experience (both good and bad) with these deals, so I'm going to share with you some simple strategies how you can plan a great shopping trip.
Why do I like these sales? For a few reasons, really: they tickle the mathematical side of my brain, I can often find a really great deal, and they are often a great way to stockpile your pantry. I've noticed too that the participating items tend to go by the season. Right now, salad dressing, ketchup, and mustard are appearing in a lot of the promotions. During the holidays, I saw canned vegetables, stuffing, and baking supplies. Plan accordingly.
Ready? Grab a pen and pad of paper (or if you're like me, open a new Excel Worksheet) and let's dive in! Oh, and if you happen to have a store circular handy that has one of these sales in it (this week's Albertson's does) – grab that too.
1. Get the details! This might sound silly, but it's important. What are the terms of the deal? Do you have to buy a certain number of items or a certain dollar amount? Are the prices listed before or after the promotional discount is calculated? Are there any other exclusions or details you should be aware of?
2. Note the products that most interest YOU. Sure, the cat food might look like a steal, but you really need the laundry detergent. (Plus, you don't have a cat anyways!) I often circle or list the products in the sale that my family could use or would be interested in.
3. Determine if there are GOOD coupon matchups for the products. You could do this a number of ways, depending on your style. If you have all your coupons organized in a binder, you could simply see if you have ones available for the sale items. You can also peruse blogs such as mine for quick help with coupon matchups. I personally prefer the awesome (and kept current!) coupon databaseat Hot Coupon World. You just start typing the first few letters of the product, and viola! it lets you know if there are coupons available and if so, where to find them. The added bonus of using a database such as this one is that it includes printables. Personally, I'm finding I'm using more and more printables in my trip versus clipped Sunday insert coupons. Interesting.
4. Plan a scenario to reach your MINIMUM promotion requirements. If the sale states you must spend at least $25 to take advantage of the sale, your goal is to plan a trip that gets you to that $25 without going over (or just barely). Pay attention. If you spend $24.99, it ain't gonna work. Conversely, if your list means you'll end up spending $32, you've now got less of a deal going. If the deal is really good, plan on completing more than one transaction. Remember, in MOST cases, that $25 (or whatever the sale requirement happens to be) is BEFORE coupons. So make sure you are tallying your shelf total and NOT your after-coupon total.
5. Evaluate your plan. Just because you've found products you'll use, found them on a sale, and have coupons, still does NOT mean you are necessarily getting a deal. Do your math first! Here's how I like to determine if it's a deal or not. Let's say we have a "Spend $25, get $10 off your next order" type promotion running. I consider that getting 40% right off the top (because you're spending $25, but getting $10 – so it's really like spending $15 – a 40% savings in my book). So if a participating item is $3, after the sale is factored in, it's like you're getting it for $1.80. Let's suppose you also have a $1-off-1 coupon for this item. Now you're essentially paying $0.80, which works out to a 73% savings. A good deal! Sometimes the items might be inflated. Watch out. If that normally-priced $2 is now $3 on that promo, you're not really getting a good deal. Just a normal price with a "sale tag" attached. Don't be fooled!
6. Refine your plan. Once I've determined what the bottom line price is going to be for each item after the sale and coupons, I'll begin to put it together like a puzzle. I may plan multiple transactions at the same sitting. If I do that, I generally try to select the transaction that's going to have the least out-of-pocket expense as my first transaction. If there are items I'd like to buy that aren't as great deals, I may try to work them in transactions where the other items have great deals. Again, your goal is to spend the least amount out of pocket possible. Got it?
7. Make your list and come up with Plan B! This is important. Once you've decided on the deals you want to take advantage of, make a VERY specific list. Calculate and recalculate to ensure you have the correct number or value of items you need for the sale to work. Determine what your out-of-pocket cost should be. And here's the important part. Think of a couple items you could use for a backup plan. Why? On occasion, I've gotten to the store only to realize they were out of some item or didn't carry it. Don't be thrown off.
8. Before checking out, double check! Make sure you have ALL the items in your cart before checking out. I did an Albertsons deal a few months ago where I got going too fast and ended up buying 9 products instead of 10. Needless to say, I didn't get the discount and I didn't realize it until too late. Also, make sure you have all your coupons in hand and organized. Be nice to the cashiers (not to mention the people that must stand in line behind you!).
9. While and after checking out, pay attention! Watch as the items are being scanned to make sure they are ringing up at the right price. Make sure all your coupons are scanned. Make sure that the promotional discount comes off (or is printed out, as the case may be). Make sure the price you have to pay is what you were anticipating. It is usually easiest to correct a problem at the register.
10. Plan your next trip with even more confidence. This might sound like an awful lot of steps to plan for a sale. But taking a few minutes out to plan can make a HUGE difference in whether you save a lot of money, some, or none. I've also seen that planning a few minutes at home saves me lots of time at the store. I've said this before, but I'm generally not in the store for more than 20 minutes (and that's for a big shop!).
Are there other types of sales, coupons, or promotions you'd like me to help you understand? Please leave a comment or contact me at thecouponproject at hotmail dot com.
Photo credit Flavio Takemoto