I’m running a bit behind on the How to Use Coupons series I started this month, but never fear! I will get through all the posts and you will become a coupon pro! In case you missed the previous posts in this series, just head back to my How to Use Coupons page.
Understanding when a deal is a deal
At this point in the game, I’ve explained the following concepts:
- Combine coupons with sales to keep your out of pocket expenses low
- Stock up when you find a good deal to avoid paying full price later
- Use coupons in accordance to fine print terms and store coupon policies
Great, but how do you find these deals? And how do you know if something is even a “deal” in the first place?
First, start paying attention to the price you normally pay for items. Some couponers even go so far as to keep a small price book, which could be a small memo pad used for jotting down prices. I’ve personally not taken it that far, but this might be a useful exercise if you really want to keep tabs on besting your regular prices.
For each item I regularly buy, I have tried to develop two different price points.
Top-end price: this is the price I’m going to try to pay no more than for a given item when I need it. For instance, my top-end price for a jar of pasta sauce would be about $1.50. If I need pasta sauce, I would be willing to pay no more than $1.50 for it. If there are no sales or coupons, this may mean considering other options: buying generic, making it (if the component ingredients are cheaper), or buying canned pasta sauce instead of jarred. When it comes to the top-end price, I’m only going to buy the quantity I need at the time.
Stock-up price: this is the price that’s low enough to motivate me to stock-up on a given item. If $1.50 is my top-end price for pasta sauce, and I spy a sale where it falls to $0.75, I may buy 10 jars. (Please refer back to my post on stockpiling for more information on quantities.)
A really good place to start is to identify the 20 or 30 items you regularly buy at the store. Begin to identify benchmark prices as you shop for these items. I’d encourage you to then check out some other grocery stores in your area as you’re able. How do they compare on price on your essential grocery items?
How Coupon Blogs Can Help
At this point in my coupon classes, I like to tell people that my site can help them find those deals! Each week, we put together “matchup” lists for Safeway, Albertsons, Fred Meyer, QFC, and twice per month, WinCo. This means we’ll go through the ads each week and note what’s on sale. If there are coupons to match to the sale, we’ll tell you where those are (insert, printable, Facebook, etc.). I even highlight in red my favorite deals for stocking-up, but note this is a suggestion only. Your stock-up price for a given item might well be different than mine.
I’ve shared this before, but different coupon blogs may serve different regions or have different bents. Please read my post on Finding Frugal Blogs to Follow for tips on locating bloggers that provide similar matchups for stores in your area. There are many, many, MANY coupon blogs out there, so do be judicious in which to follow! Not everyone that runs a coupon blog is a seasoned couponer. I’ve seen coupon bloggers suggest their readers do transactions that bend (or outright break) the rules. Over the last year or so, many of you have told me you used to follow many coupon bloggers, but now you’ve whittled the list down (and I’m pleased to have made that cut…if I did, and if you’re still reading this!).
One thing you’ll notice rather quickly about coupon blogs is that they usually update multiple times per day with deal announcements. (And in some cases, many times per day.) There is almost never a shortage of deals to share! But how can you stay on top of this without having to visit the site multiple times per day? A few suggestions:
Subscribe by Email
The surest way to stay updated on deals? Subscribe to a daily email! You can subscribe to The Coupon Project’s email list below. This will send you one email per day that links up to everything I’ve written. It’s free and quick to do so:
I follow quite a few coupon blogs in my Google Reader, which is a free service that allows you to aggregate RSS feeds into one place.
This way, I can avoid visiting each blog and quickly skim the post headlines on my terms and click through the posts that tickle my fancy. The other great thing about following blogs in a reader is the search option. So if you need a deal on diapers? Type in “diapers” in the search and you’ll see all the posts bloggers have written on the topic recently. (If you’re really interested in maximizing the search, you might want to subscribe to a number of blogs in a Reader as I have.)
Most coupon blogs have social media pages you can connect with them, too. Facebook is a notable one (here’s my Facebook page). Facebook has its ups and downs and is currently the source of much frustration for many small page owners (including me). Ever since Facebook went public, they’ve made changes to how many “likers” will actually see a given update in their newsfeed. Facebook, it seems, changes their format regularly so even a month from now, the game may have changed yet again.
Now I generally share about 4-6 updates per day with my 12,000+ likers, but only several hundred of them will see each update. (I know this because Facebook provides me with this data.) In the past, this number was much higher – more like several thousand. I’m sharing this information with you because it’s important you realize that if you’re using your Facebook newsfeed as a tool to receive deals, you’re likely not getting all of them!
Here’s my best workaround for you if you prefer Facebook – create a list!
You can click on your list and see ALL the updates of every Facebook page you’ve put into that list. Some of you have mentioned you don’t enjoy coupon blog announcements cluttering up your newsfeed. Well then – you have a rather simple solution to that dilemma here, too! Make sure those Facebook pages are part of the list, and then you can click off of “show in newsfeed.” Problem solved.
If you don’t know how to create a list, please read my post on Missing Facebook Updates, along with some additional thoughts.
Of course, you can also follow coupon blogs in Twitter (my Twitter handle is @couponproject) – and I’ve written a post for the best way to follow them there, too. Some coupon blogs are also on Google+ (here’s mine), and YouTube (here’s mine), but those channels may or may not be as well utilized by all coupon bloggers equally.
Find the Deals for Yourself
It’s great to find a deal on a coupon blog, but be warned – if that coupon blog is very popular and you wait too long – you might well find the deal is entirely gone when you go to the store.
There is something very satisfying indeed to find what I call an “untapped deal,” where you are basically the first (or one of the first!) to find a deal in a store! A few months ago, I found such a deal on Brut deodorant at Fred Meyer. It was on sale for just $1, and I had $1 off coupons = free!
Here are a few of my best tips for finding unadvertised and “untapped” deals:
- Shop at stores with good stock. WinCo immediately comes to mind! This store is like a warehouse – they always have fabulous stock. They also don’t put out a weekly ad, which means pretty much any deal you find is likely to be unadvertised.
- Get to know your store’s sales cycles. Earlier in this series I talked generally about store sales cycles. It’s worth mentioning that some stores will run the same or similar sales year over year! If you note a particularly HOT mix and match sale at your Safeway in March, jot it down and be prepared next year! In my experience, you won’t always get the exact same sale twice, but you’ll often get similar items or similar prices. This is a great way to help plan your stockpiling shopping.
- Bring your coupons. You are going to be in a better position to maximize unadvertised deals if you have your coupons with you. As mentioned before, I don’t clip all my coupons, but I do clip those I feel I’m apt to use or are high-value. If I find a deal? I can snatch it up right then and there!
- Get acquainted with your store. I frequent my local QFC’s clearance “hot spots” as I call them, because I’ve found some of the best deals ever there. I also know where I can generally find some good deals at my Fred Meyer, and I’m personally acquainted with several local grocery store managers. Building relationships with stores I frequent is something that’s important to me (more on this topic in another post).
As I say all this, I can imagine some of you thinking, wow, I just don’t have time for all of that! Please don’t hear me say that you need to spend hours wandering store aisles in pursuit of deals. In fact, please don’t do that! What I am saying is be prepared to recognize a deal when you spot one so you can act.
It is important that you are considerate of the time you are spending as you take up this new couponing lifestyle. You want to make sure you that the time and effort you’re spending is worth it! For me, it’s worth it to spend a couple extra hours a week clipping, sorting, putting together a list, scouting out deals, and maybe hitting up two stores (as opposed to one). Understanding how to use coupon sites and blogs to find deals as well as to spot them quickly for yourself will help maximize your shopping trips as well as save you valuable cash.
I’d love to hear from you – what other methods do you use for finding the best deals?