I’ve seen an increasing number of folks asking for tips on “Extreme” couponing and I’m always hesitant to put in my two cents on the matter because I don’t want to step on toes… but here are a few tips on practical couponing. This style of couponing gives you the ability to save money without making it a full-time job. Personally, I am a mother of 3 with a husband to take care of, a household to run 40 hours a week, and several tiny humans I have the pleasure of molding into full-grown people, as well as a really sweet PT job… so, like most people, I don’t have a ton of time to devote to clipping coupons, scouring ads and shelves, etc. just to get my 1,000th tube of toothpaste free. What I do have is 1-2 hours a week (max) I can devote to practical things that will help my family be better stewards of the money God has given us.
So here’s what I do each week:
Last year, my husband & I subscribed to the paper. It was $105 for the entire year, Wed-Sun., which was $1 more than we would spend for a years’ worth of Sunday papers. To make the deal even sweeter, we got a $25 Lowe’s gift card for signing up. (And I won a $100 giveaway for signing up, too… so they ended up all being free… but that’s beside the point.) So each week, I clip the coupons from the Sunday paper. Some important things to remember:
- The coupons don’t all expire that week. Most of them are good for several weeks or even months, so if your paper sat there for two weeks and you didn’t get to clipping them, no big deal. Seriously.
- Coupons are a form of advertising for these companies. They wouldn’t produce them if they weren’t profitable. Take that into consideration when you get so excited about saving 50 cents on something you wouldn’t otherwise be buying (M&Ms, for example.)
- some stores – from what I’ve seen pretty much everyone but Walmart – will let you stack a manufacturer’s coupon with a store coupon… This is really cool when it happens, but don’t hold your breath… especially since it will normally happen with a product you weren’t going to buy in the first place and you’ll end up spending 75 unbudgeted cents just because you’re “saving” $2… Only to throw that product away because it expired because it wasn’t really something you would use. (K, I kinda went back to point 2 there.)
- Look at the expiration dates and think realistically about whether or not you’ll use the coupon before that date. If you have a full bottle of Windex in your cabinet, for example, you’re probably not going to buy more in the next 2 months… Don’t waste your time clipping that coupon because you’ll just be wasting more time in 2 months when you’re throwing it away.
- It’s okay – and really a good idea – to grab coupons for products you were curious about. I’m always hesitant to spend my hard-earned money on a product I’m unsure about. I clip these coupons and put them near the back of my coupon book so if I come across them in the store and they’re on sale, I can feel a little better about trying them.
It takes a little bit of time to build up a list of what the normal grocery prices are for stuff in your area. One way to make this process easier is to use an app on your smart phone for your grocery list that includes pricing. We have used Grocery IQ for a long time, but have been using MealBoard since I started using it for our meal planning. Each shopping trip, I enter the price for the item I’m purchasing. (The program remembers the price from my history.) That makes it easy to tell if prices are higher or lower since the last trip, and I’ll see a correlation if I’m changing the price each time I go to the store.
- Check the grocery ads. I don’t mean spend an hour scouring them, but with your grocery list in hand, look over the weekly ads from your store. Many residences receive them in the mail each week, but I haven’t seen much rhyme or reason to who does and doesn’t. Personally, I rely on my Wednesday paper. I pull the ads out of the center and quickly scan the prices for the major grocery stores in the area. I’ve noticed the prices on cereal, chips and crackers can fluctuate within a buck or two each week, so I get these on sale if I can. I also check prices for produce & meat because those prices change constantly. When you get a really good meat sale, stock up as much as you can & freeze it. (This makes meal planning easier, too, because the most expensive part of the meal is already on hand!)
- Pay attention to the price you’re paying per pound/ounce/whatever. Walmart has these on their shelves and some of the other grocery stores do, too. If they aren’t there, it’s easy enough to do with the calculator on your phone. My husband and I are huge math nerds and we do this for most items. It takes 2-3 seconds, and we actually like doing it. The reason for this is many times you can save by getting in bulk – but not always. I think the stores get used to us making that assumption and occasionally jack up the bulk price.
- On that same note, don’t buy in bulk what you will not use in bulk! Yes, 10 lb. of potatoes may be only $1 more than 5, but if you throw half of them out, your extra $1 was wasted.
I’m sure there’s much more and I’ll probably make another post on this eventually. My husband and I save a ton of money using these simple methods and we spend very little time on it. There is one other thing I will leave you with…
The expandable file folders did not work for me. I don’t want to stand in the grocery aisle pulling out 100 coupons from the “health & beauty” section looking for razors, and there wasn’t a practical way to break it down further than that. I want to LOOK at my coupons. So there’s the binder option… Only, it’s upwards of $20 and the point here is to SAVE money – not spend it. That, and the idea of hauling a trapper keeper to all my store trips was mortifying. I needed something small that would allow me to look at my coupons. I looked at business card holders and they were also insane, so I came up with the idea to use a photo album.
I bought a $2 photo album at Target (this one) (just make sure the photos go in from the side & not the top). and sewed each page down the center.
Then I put my coupons in in a way that makes sense to me. I have as many options as I need, and I can see each coupon. I start with frozen, then go to refrigerated, then dry, and so forth. All pillsbury sweets coupons go in one pocket – where I can see the photos, and same with other items I deem to be “like” items.
And if I cut the coupons and don’t feel like putting them away right then, I have a tiny binder clip on the front that I put those in.
When those coupons are put away, that clip is used for 2 things – on the inside, it holds store-specific coupons I’m going to use that shopping trip (ie: Albertsons, Tom Thumb weekly coupons.) On the outside, I use it to put the coupons I’m using as I get the item off the shelf, so when I get to the register, they’re all together and I just hand them over.
The cover is a bit juvenile, but I don’t care. This method has been wildly effective. It’s super easy when taking out expired coupons, too. It’s just all around the best of both worlds as far as what I’ve seen out there for coupon books!