Jun 16, 2011

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.


Deanna said...

These are really good tips. I do my normal weekly grocery shopping at Winco, I look at the Albertsons and Ralphs ads to determine whether there is something good I can't pass up. For 2 weeks I have only been to Winco. My priority is having meals in the house for myself and my husband, not have a stockpile. I have been keeping track at my savings at it right at 33%.

Venessa said...

Very nice tips! It's everything I've wanted to say to other forum posters, who seem to be stressed out by their couponing instead of having fun with it! I currently shop at Walgreens and Ralphs once a week, and I really like getting to know how I can coupon at those stores. Plus, since I am being loyal to those stores (Walgreens wasn't getting any of my money before I started couponing b/c I never shopped there), I feel like everybody wins!

I do have a question for you...do you feel like there are fewer good deals out there than there were a year ago? It just seems like the industry is really trying to make it harder for us to find good deals. I'm commonly seeing expiration dates that are a month or less out. Stores are tightening their coupon policies (e.g. Target's BOGO changes). You even said recently that you used to be able to find cereal less than .50, but now it's a great deal if it's less than $1. Is it normal to see this ebb and flow in the quality of deals out there, or are we seeing fundamental changes that are going to make couponing harder and harder to do?

Thanks for your thoughts!

Chief Family Officer said...

@Deanna - But do you stockpile when there's a good price? I don't stockpile for a rainy day, but so that I have enough on hand to last me til the next sale. I guess I'm wondering what your definition of a "stockpile" is :)

@Venessa - In my very subjective opinion, I do think the deals are a little less spectacular, but mostly because there are fewer $/$$ coupons, especially at the drugstores. I miss those days!

Deanna said...

I think the people on the show with separate rooms that look like a grocery store is stockpiling. I think I currently have enough different food for about 5 extra meals. Since I follow Weight Watchers I do not buy alot of package foods and the bulk of my bill is produce. I started following you before this craze started because I like what you represent. Keep up the good work.

Chief Family Officer said...

@Deanna - Thank you for your kind words, and for sharing - you're doing way better on WW than I am! I guess I think of the extreme couponers' stockpile as more of a hoarding problem - I mean, no one's going to go through 100 bottles of mustard before they expire! But I'll "stockpile" 2 and maybe buy an extra 1 or 2 to give away, depending on how many coupons I have. And I love that having a good supply of health and beauty products in the house means that I almost never have to pay more than my target price - and it also means that I'm shopping the drugstores less and less except when there's a really good deal. It keeps couponing manageable for me - I guess that's what I think of as "stockpiling" :D

CJ said...

My CVS is far enough away that I only make one trip a week and am not tempted to go back for more. I usually do most of my Walgreens shopping on Sunday to get the RR items but go back a few times during the week if want more RR items (I dont do multiple transactions in one visit and there are several locations in my area). I clip all coupons I think I may use and file them according to which store I'm likely to use them at. I dont think the insert filing method would work for me.