In October, I started a series of lessons on how to use coupons. These lessons are a revised version of an earlier series written in a pre-extreme couponing world. While I had fully intended to finish the series in October, life took over and then the holidays hit full force. As I know many people may use these posts as reference, I feel it’s important I finish the series. Better late than never, right? If you wish to read the previous posts in this series, please visit my Coupons 101 page.
A Common Complaint
One thing I often hear from people that are new to couponing or those that are considering it is the amount of time it all takes. Can you relate to any of these?
“It’s going to take hours to clip all those coupons each week!”
“I don’t have time to visit multiple stores per week.”
“I tried using Twice the Value coupons/shopping at Rite Aid/doing a coupon trip and it took me way too long. Will it always be like this?”
While I do think there is an initial time investment when you’re just learning the ropes, I don’t think the couponer is doomed to spend 10+ hours every week on their new money-saving habit. I’m a believer that my time is every bit as important as my money, so I’ve worked to develop some methods to reduce my time spent on couponing over the years. Today I’d like to share some of those with you.
Putting it All Together
It all starts with a good system for organizing your coupons. By that, I mean the entire way you collect, clip, and file them. So let’s start there.
- How will you get your coupons? I pay $24 each month and get 4 copies of the paper delivered to my door each Sunday (sadly, that offer is no longer available). I found that having those papers just show up was VERY much worth the cost to me. I save time, gas, and stress each Sunday as opposed to driving to the store. For that reason, you might consider a subscription. If not, decide where and how you’ll get your paper(s) each week. Maybe you’ll get an Advance copy on Saturday at the store while you’re already shopping. Or maybe you and your coupon buddy will alternate weekends so you don’t have to sweat getting them each week.
- When and how will you cut your coupons? I usually cut my coupons on Sunday. Would you believe it doesn’t usually take me more than 30 minutes? It’s true! I just cut the few coupons I really want to use or think may make for a great deal. For instance – yesterday I clipped the $4/1 Dove Men’s soap – that could make for a great deal! I also happily clipped the coupons for the organic tofu, Welch’s juice, B1G1 Tresemme, and the FREE 7-11 coffee (among others). Even if I only used a few of these, they would more than offset my cost! (If I used the (4) $4/1 coupons I received = $16 savings. $16 saved – $5 paid for the papers = $11 saved right there!)
- How will you organize your coupons? I discuss this more fully at my organizing coupons post, but I clip only the coupons I want and file them in binders. The rest of the inserts I file in folders. I do NOT toss them! More often than not, some smashing deal will arise where I’ll find myself returning to those folders. (Also for my own reference in running this blog!)
I find it’s best to have a consistent system of managing your coupons. I have definitely tweaked mine over the years, but I’ve more or less fallen into a happy routine. This has turned the process into one more simple household chore I do, and not something that takes over my life. As my children have gotten older, I’ve included them. When I told my daughter last night it was time to clip the coupons, she gleefully ran to fetch her safety scissors from the craft bin. You could definitely turn this task into a family activity!
Combining Couponing and Shopping
As a newbie couponer, I struggled with making sense of how my new couponing obsession would “gel” with making meal plans. Truth be told, I often found myself stocking up on cheap pasta sauce, canned fruit, and toothpaste with nary a thought to the week’s menu. Even worse, I found myself quickly chasing deals and running from store to store.
Simply put, I didn’t have a good plan or strategy. It occurred to me that I was letting the deals were pursuing me, and I was not pursuing the ones that really mattered!
Here is how I’ve learned to regain control of what deals I do:
- Plan a weekly menu. While I’m not always consistent about this, I do my best to sit down and plan a weekly menu. Usually it’s just four meals, because we usually go out once or twice a week, and there are days we’ll eat leftovers or do something simple. If I plan for more than four meals, I find it’s generally too much for our family. I plan the meals based on what we have in our pantry and what’s on sale. I try to limit to one “special meal” – meaning, one meal that’s a fancy new recipe, contains an expensive ingredient, time consuming, etc.
- Write your grocery list. Taking your menu, write down what you’ll need. Remember to include any breakfast, lunch, snack, and beverage items you’ll need! Take a quick peek at your calendar for any special events that may require items (hosting a dinner party, bringing snacks, etc.). Finally, add on any coupon deals that strike your fancy that week for the store(s) you plan to shop. Make sure to check their ecoupon sites and your coupon folder for any store-specific coupons you might have.
- Try to shop once a week. Here’s a challenge for you: try shopping on ONE day each week. You’ll quickly discover which deals really matter to you, and which might not be so essential. I find I’m apt to spend less money and time when I focus my efforts on shopping on one day a week. It forces my planning to be more thorough and it helps me avoid those middle-of-the-week trips. I’ll often end up shopping two stores, back to back. For instance, I might hit up WinCo for the bulk foods I need that week, and then visit Fred Meyer to finish it off. Last week, I started at Fred Meyer, then tackled QFC because they are having an awesome buy one, get one free steak sale – perfect for my freezer meal swap tonight.
In the end, I’d say I spend about an hour to an hour and a half each week clipping my coupons, sorting them, planning a menu and then a grocery list. Is that time worth it? Absolutely! Not only do I save big money at the grocery stores, I save time! I have dinners planned and ready to go that week, and if done well, I shouldn’t have to visit the store for another week.
While a lot of people argue that couponing can take so much time, I would counter that when done well, it should actually help save you time over the long haul.
I’d love to hear from you today. What kind of routines have you found helpful when it comes to couponing? Any tips for how to reduce your time clipping or while shopping? If you’re struggling in this area, feel free to ask me a question in the comment section below and I’ll do my best to answer you.