For the month of October, I’m revisiting how to get started using coupons. Since I started this journey several years ago, I’ve watched lots of changes in the couponing world. I’ve found myself change my opinion on certain topics, shift some of the deals I share here, and adjust my own shopping. Therefore, I wanted to put out a new series of “lessons” that provide realistic expectations and instruction of what you can achieve by using coupons.
In case you missed them, you can go back and read the prior posts:
- Your New Approach to Grocery Shopping
- Stockpiling & Food Inventory
What are Store Sales Cycles?
Have you ever noticed that different items go on sale at different times of the year? This may be most noticeable with produce. During the summer, we saw lots of deals on peaches, nectarines and berries. This time of year, I’d watch for apples and pears and then as we move closer to the holidays, potatoes and oranges.
Just as produce is seasonal, many food and household items cycle through the stores during special times of the year. This is what I mean when I use the term “store sales cycles.” Some are even referred to as “loss leaders” – meaning, the store may take a loss to lead you into the store. These deals are often very hot and splashed across the front of the weekly ads. The store wants to make sure you see them, and hope they will be compelling enough to get you into their store!
I’ve been at this a few years now, paying attention to what deals I report on what times of the year. This way I can watch for them the next year. Here are some general observations I’ve made about store sales cycles:
- If you think about it, lots of sales cycles are common sense. As we move towards the holidays, watch for deals on baking and cooking basics like canned goods, flour, sugar, canned fruit, and bags of potatoes. In January lots of people are focusing on New Year’s Resolutions, hence the sales and coupons for weight loss products and cleaning supplies. Stores want to capitalize on the foods and items you’re thinking about at specific times of the year.
- Some cycles have more to do with manufacturers’ schedules. Often you’ll find that the best coupons are released at the first of the month. Many times, store sales will oblige! Come the third week of the month, I often note that the manufacturer promotions might cool a bit and you’ll find more store brands advertised in the ads. (As a real life example, those of you that have used coupons – have you ever notice that stores often run P&G promotions the first week of the month, the same week P&G puts out their inserts?)
- Some cycles you can learn by paying attention. You’ll often see promotions for Quaker in January (which is National Oatmeal Month), and frozen items in March (which is National Frozen Food Month), and peanut butter in September (for back to school; typically the best time of year to buy peanut butter).
- Most items cycle through more than once per year. Even though Quaker is usually promoted in January, you’ll also find sales in the fall. Holiday foods will be on sale in November, but then again as we approach Easter. Other items, such as cereal, razors, and feminine products, cycle through very frequently.
- Warning: Cycles can change! There have been times I noted a particularly hot sale or promotion and then marked it on my calendar in hopes I’d see it again the next year…except only it didn’t come. Or maybe the same items were on sale, but the promotion wasn’t as hot. Remember to be flexible, and to not rely heavily on any one sale.
For the last couple years now, I’ve taken the time to go back and capture what went on sale when and shared that here as a FREE download. You can currently check out my download for 2012, and I’ll soon no doubt be working on 2013!
Why do Store Sales Cycles Matter?
Now that I’ve explained what store sales cycles are, why should you care?
Remember that in my lesson on your approach to grocery shopping, I said that the goal of couponing is…
to avoid paying full price for the items your family needs and uses by buying them when they are on sale with coupons.
See, it’s not just about using coupons, but using them on store sales. For instance, you could use the $0.30 off pasta sauce coupon on a jar that’s not on sale for $2.50 and pay $2.20 – OR you could find that special sale where it’s $1 and use your coupon to pay $0.70! Even better, if you have a few pasta coupons, you can now buy several jars of pasta sauce for your pantry for a song (see my lesson on stockpiling for more on this concept).
Understanding when items will be on sale is one of the ways that will help you know when to stock up, or when to wait it out. If you’ve taken the time to organize your family’s stockpile and make an inventory list, you can then move towards doing your best to anticipate when the items you need may go on sale and watching to see if you can identify any of these trends. As you find sales, promotions, and clearance events that strike your fancy, don’t just say “wow! good sale!”, jot it on a calendar and see if you can a same or similar deal the next year! Sometimes I’ve also asked store employees, “how often do you run this kind of clearance event/markdown/promotion….?” See what you can do to learn more to take advantage again in the future. Yesterday, I found a HOT Ball canning clearance event at Lowe’s. Guess what I’ll be watching for come early October 2013?
Understanding store sales cycles will also help you build your stockpile without losing your mind. When I first started couponing, I was shocked to learn I could get free toothpaste and cheap razors! It was easy to want to go full hog and chase all those deals down! Now that I’ve been at this awhile, I know that you can generally find free toothpaste and cheap razors once a month (if not oftener!). This means I could build a stockpile by acquiring a few personal care items a month and stashing them away. (And I’m now at the point where I usually pass up on these deals since I have such a nice stock at the moment!)
(Pictured above: how I keep my stockpile of personal care items tidy)
On the flip side of that, you might identify an item that rarely cycles around on sale. Peanut butter instantly comes to mind. I typically have noted the best prices for that in September (around back to school time). Given that, I may well take advantage of those sales, working to stock us up until the next September over a series of trips. (You can also work with your store to alert them if you would like to make a large purchase – more on that in an upcoming lesson).
Sales and Coupons
Want to hear something that may surprise you? I easily save more money by following store sales than using coupons! Yes, it’s true! Coupons are the frosting on the cake – the added bonus that helps keep my out of pocket expense down.
Maybe you’ve been on the fence about couponing. You’re not sure you want to take the time to understand coupon policies or clip coupons each week. Look, I get that not everyone wants to use coupons (as much as I love them!). If that’s you, I’d encourage you to at least start paying attention to store sales. The truth is you can still make a very meaningful dent in your budget if you just take time out to identify those trends and shop sales.
I know I’ve spent these first four lessons talking a lot about everything but coupons, and on Wednesday it’s finally time to dive into the nuts and bolts! Join me then as I explain the basic principles of how coupons work and how to use them correctly within store coupon policies.
I’d love to hear from you! What other observations or tips would you add about store sales cycles? And if you are new to couponing, is this series proving to be helpful to you?