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  • Couponing Strategies for Busy People

    These days, everyone is busy, especially parents. And while couponing can save you money, it can take up a lot of time. So here are some strategies for using coupons even if you’re busy:

    1. Commit to letting some deals pass you by. This is the most important adjustment you will have to make. If time is an issue, you simply cannot get every single deal you want. You must prioritize.

    2. Shop at 1 to 3 stores per week, depending on how many you can comfortably manage. You can have as many stores in your rotation as you want, but don’t try to get to all of them in one week.

    3. Follow blogs that list match ups at your favorite stores. Every Wednesday here at Chief Family Officer, I post the new Ralphs deals. You should be able to find similar match ups for almost every chain on other blogs, but the thoroughness and quality can vary widely so do take the time to find match ups that you like (just do a simple search, like “Ralphs deals”). I recommend following more than one blog for each store, since no one can highlight every single deal. You can bookmark a site in your browser, subscribe to a daily email, or subscribe via RSS and get all of the deals from all of the blogs in one place like Google Reader.

    4. Decide which store(s) you’ll go to each week based on the sales and/or your needs. For example, suppose you need toilet paper this week. Walgreens is having a great sale on Cottonelle, so while you’re there, you can plan on picking up other sale items like Halls cough drops and Colgate toothpaste. For groceries, especially perishables, you can pick your store based on sales or, if you don’t see anything hot in the ads, go to a store like Trader Joe’s which has low every day prices.

    5. Consider Walmart. Or Target, if your local Target has a fresh foods section. Both stores have fairly low every day prices, and you can get almost everything you need in one stop. Both stores also allow price matching, though it’s my understanding that Walmart’s policy is much more consumer friendly. (Experiences vary widely, but I personally hate using coupons at Target and go about once a month at this point, usually for something that doesn’t have a coupon. I wish there was a Walmart near me so I could test out the price matching for myself. Of course, some people hate using coupons at Walmart as much as I hate using coupons at Target.)

    6. Stockpile. When you find a low price on an item you buy regularly, buy enough to last for a while. That way, you won’t have to make an unscheduled trip to the store for things like toilet paper, tissue and toothpaste.

    7. Plan a weekly menu, including side dishes. Try to plan your menu before you go shopping, and make sure you have everything you need for the week. This helps to cut down on the number of times you need to go shopping. If you find yourself having to stop for breakfast and lunch items, include those in your menu plan. You will eat healthier, save money, and have more time.

    More Important than Coupons: Know Your Shopping Style

    I don’t know anyone “in real life” who coupons the way I do, hunting for the best deals and stockpiling the same way. My friends who know how I shop haven’t really expressed any interest in learning to coupon, and I think that’s totally cool. While I love helping others save money, it’s more important to be true to yourself.

    So if clipping coupons, shopping at multiple stores, and hunting down deals is too stressful for you, don’t do it.

    I don’t mean you should pay full price for everything, but I do mean you should find a store like Trader Joe’s or Target, which have low-ish every prices, and shop there. Clip coupons for those things you normally buy and when you see them on sale, use your coupons to get a great deal. Shop from a list and avoid impulse purchases.

    The key to saving big on shopping is to buy when prices are low, and to not buy more than you need.

    You don’t need to buy at the lowest price – you might spend more than a hardcore couponer would, but you’ll still spend less than you would without any strategic planning at all.

    The Benefits of Having A Stockpile

    Stockpile: a reserve supply of something essential accumulated within a country for use during a shortage – Merriam-Webster

    When couponers refer to stockpiling, they generally mean a big enough supply of something to last at least until the next sale, bought at a low price. There are significant benefits to building up a stockpile:

    Saving money – Because you buy stockpile items when prices are low (usually combining a sale and coupon), you have them on hand when you need them and don’t have to pay a higher price. Stockpile enough items this way and you can save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

    Less stress – Because you have items on hand when you need them, you don’t have to rush out when you’re short on time and cash.

    Emergency preparation – Living in earthquake country, we always have an emergency kit ready, but I also like knowing that I have lots of things on hand that would be handy in an emergency, like breakfast cereal, crackers and batteries.

    Real life example: A couple of years ago, my oldest son was hospitalized and I didn’t shop for a while. But I was able to draw on my stockpile for portable snacks to take to the hospital, and I didn’t have to worry about running out of basics like toilet paper and tissue when we got home. That meant I could focus all of my energy on taking care of my son and family.

    Couponing is just a small piece of the big picture

    The show Extreme Couponing seems to have raised awareness about how much money you can save with coupons – though I suspect many people now have unrealistic expectations of how much they can save or how much time it’s going to take.

    I also suspect that many people will fixate on couponing instead of focusing on their overall financial picture. And that’s too bad, because no matter how much money you save with coupons, your financial situation will never change unless you spend less than you make.

    Couponing can help you do this, by saving you money on things you already buy. That can help you find money to put toward savings, or debt, or in my case, help you keep your spending level as needs increase with growing children.

    But couponing alone is not going to transform your financial situation. It’s just a small piece of the big picture.

    How to Make Couponing Manageable

    It’s easy to get overwhelmed by couponing, especially when you’re just starting out. There are so many good deals, and since you don’t know if it’ll come along again, you often feel like you have to get it. You may also fear over-spending now that you know you’ve been wasting money for years.

    But I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to coupon and build a stockpile while still maintaining your sanity. Here are some tips:

    1. Accept that couponing takes time. Trying to fight reality is futile, so just accept that it takes time to coupon. The only thing you can control is how much time you’re willing and able to put into it.

    2. Establish priorities. It’s easiest to establish a stockpile of free and cheap health and beauty products, but maybe what you need most is cheap food. Decide where you want to focus your energy for now. You can always rearrange your priorities later.

    3. Focus on 2 or 3 stores. If food is your priority, then pick the nearest grocery stores and focus on getting the best deals there. Or, if you don’t have any particular need, pick one grocery store and one drugstore. Let the deals at other stores pass you by, because they’ll likely come around to the stores you’re focusing on too.

    4. Limit your number of shopping trips. It always blows my mind that many forum posters seem to hit the stores every day. For most people, that’s pretty unrealistic. If you’re really pressed for time and/or stressed out, try to stick with one shopping trip per store per week. And don’t hesitate to do more than one transaction in a visit. (My strategy is to make one purchase, then collect the items for my next purchase from the shelves, and get back in line. Since I’m not holding up the line, I’ve never had a cashier or fellow customer complain about my multiple transactions.)

    5. Let some deals go. You’ll inevitably forget to pick something up during your weekly trip, but most times it’s best to just let it go. I do this almost weekly (I forgot to check out the John Frieda during my trip to Walgreens). Unless it’s a mind-blowingly good deal or something you desperately need, it’s probably not worth the cost of gas to head back.

    6. Try to shop early in the week if you can. Since you’re only going to the store once during the sales period, the store is more likely to have the items you want in stock if you go at the beginning rather than the end of the sale. Alternatively, try to find out when the store gets its truck deliveries and try to go late that day or the next day (so they have time to unload the truck and get items out on the shelves).

    7. Limit your coupon clipping time by using the insert method of filing coupons. I Heart CVS has a good description of how this works. I use this method personally but without the stapling, and rather than filing by week, I have 24 folders that are labeled Jan. 1-15, Jan. 16-31, Feb. 1-15, and so on.

    8. Give yourself a break. Remember that even if you’re not saving the maximum possible amount of money, you are still saving. Most deals will come around again. And every little bit counts toward achieving your financial goals.