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  • Balancing Decluttering vs. Stockpiling

    As you may already know, I’m a huge fan of decluttering, but I’m also a big fan of saving money. And lately I’ve been finding that these two priorities are clashing more than usual.

    Partly it’s because I’ve been on a big decluttering kick. I am trying to get rid of and use up as much as possible. There really isn’t much left to donate, which puts more weight on “using things up.” But, to some extent, the whole point of stockpiling is to not use things up – because by buying things at their lowest price, you never have to pay full price.

    So … I’ve been thinking that I have to decide which I value more: stockpiling or decluttering.

    How do you resolve this dilemma?

    Ralphs: One Year After Eliminating Double Coupons

    It was last April that Ralphs stopped doubling coupons. Have you been shopping differently since then?

    I’ve done the Ralphs coupon match ups every week, but usually I enter a store only once or twice a month now. There have been a few Mega Sales that have gotten me in the door more frequently, but the only one I was really excited about was at the beginning of February. I stocked up on Kleenex and All detergent, and donated 20 boxes of Capri Sun to school for events.

    I probably shopped at Ralphs four times during the second week of that Mega Sale, but since then, I’ve only gone every other week at best. Their prices – especially the coupon match ups – just aren’t as good as they used to be. Instead of Ralphs, I’ve been shopping more at Trader Joe’s. And my friends tell me they’ve been shopping more at Vons/Pavilions, thanks to the just for U digital coupon program.

    However … the Ralphs stores near my home do not seem to be less busy, although their market share has reportedly declined slightly since last year.

    So my unscientific guess is that double coupons aren’t coming back anytime soon.

    What can we as consumers do? The savings strategies I outlined last year when Vons/Pavilions stopped doubling are still good ones. And of course, the ubiquitous tips about menu planning and not wasting food apply more than ever – they’ll probably save you more than double coupons ever could!

    Do you miss double coupons? A lot, or just a little?

    CFO’s Impressions of 2012’s Deals

    Looking back on this past year, I have a few observations of what it was like to bargain-hunt in 2012, compared to previous years:

    Smaller packages – It’s been a trend for the last few years now, but for some reason I really noticed it this past year. Manufacturers have been selling less product for the same price – so for example, instead of 12 ounces of cereal in a box, there are now 11 ounces. It’s really not a huge difference, but it adds up – for manufacturers across the millions of product they sell, and for consumers, if every package of food they buy now contains 1 ounce less than it used to. At some point, you have to buy more food to make up the difference.

    More people looking for deals – With the economy so bad for everyone, I thought there were more shoppers looking for deals in general. More than once, I saw a customer in front of me question the cashier about a sale price. TLC’s Extreme Couponing show made a lot of people coupon-crazy, which was good and bad. Good, because people – especially cashiers – seemed more accepting of coupons. Bad, because from what I heard, the show frequently portrayed improper coupon usage.

    More coupon policies – The proliferation of coupons spurred stores to come out with official coupon policies, even if they’d never had one (like Ralphs). I like coupon policies because they are supposed to set clear guidelines, but unfortunately, sometimes they’re vague – and even worse, many stores’ employees don’t know the policy and try to enforce illogical and/or arbitrary rules. It’s nice to have the policy to refer them to, but frustrating because you shouldn’t have to do it in the first place!

    Daily deal sites have established a rhythm – Now that they’ve been around for a while, daily deal sites have well-established terms of use, and there is a general stability to the deals they offer. There’s a lot of temptation with daily deal sites offering 90% off cute items every day, but if you exercise some self-control, you can get some real bargains. My favorite deals of the year – on and offline – may have been the Ecomom and Abe’s Market vouchers that I picked up for half off at various daily deal sites, and used to buy grocery items I would have bought anyway.

    You have to work harder for premium coupons – By premium, I mean high-value or rare coupons. And I say you have to work harder, because now you often have to join a program (like Kellogg’s Family Rewards or Recyclebank), like a company on Facebook, or follow a company on Twitter.

    You need social media for a lot of deals – Pepsi offered free Amazon MP3 credits via Twitter, lots of manufacturers offered coupons only if you liked them on Facebook, and companies started requiring pinning on Pinterest to enter contests. Daily deal sites offer free credits when you publicize their sites through social media and your friends sign up using your referral links. Plus there are lots of apps that will pay you – not just ibotta, but others I haven’t used personally like Viggle and Endorse.

    Prices have gone up – I’ve reluctantly increased my stock up price on many items, like toilet paper, cereal and butter (and those are just the things that come to me off the top of my head). I can occasionally get a great deal that hits or comes close to my old target price, but not regularly, the way I could a couple of years ago. I just hope this isn’t a trend that continues through 2013!

    What are your impressions of shopping in 2012?

    Banner ad via Escalate Media Network

    Savings Strategies in the Land of No Doubles

    As of this past Wednesday, August 1, Vons/Pavilions stopped doubling here in Southern California. They’re our Safeway affiliate, and their move means that the only major supermarket that now doubles coupons here is Albertsons – but you need a special “Twice the Value” coupon to double coupons there, and there aren’t nearly as many Albertsons stores as Vons and Ralphs (our Kroger affiliate, which stopped doubling in the spring). In fact, the nearest Albertsons is more than 10 miles away from my home – as you might imagine, I never shop there.

    But living in the Land of No Doubles, as couponers call areas without double coupons, doesn’t mean you can’t save money. Of course you can! Here are some strategies that I’m using to keep my expenses down despite the changes in coupon policies:

    Be patient – Deals and coupons change all the time. For example, it had been a long time since I’d seen free or even super cheap hand soap. But the $1/1 Ivory coupon that was in last month’s P&G insert made for free bottles of hand soap when they were on sale for $0.99 at Vons. It was a deal I don’t recall ever seeing before, and I’m sure other new deals will come along.

    Keep up with coupons – This one goes hand in hand with the first tip. Because I still coupon a lot, I had six of the Ivory coupons. Over multiple trips, I was able to buy six bottles of hand soap for free and add to our stockpile. It’s tough to build a stockpile with only one coupon, so get multiple copies of the Sunday inserts if possible. (For locals, keep an eye out for the $9.98 Sunday-only subscription offers from the LA Times – and if you already have such a subscription, they’ve been renewing at that rate if you ask.)

    Shop at multiple stores – It’s always been the case that you’ll save the most money by buying the best deals at different stores each week, but note that this really only applies if you’re not driving all over the city or you’ll spend your savings on gas. This also requires discipline, and buying only the real bargains, not impulse purchases.

    Shop at farmers markets – Prices at the farmers market may not be the lowest available, but the produce is generally so fresh that it lasts much longer than produce bought at a store. Also, I find that although they don’t have the “organic” label, the produce is generally grown without chemicals, and the prices are lower than “organic” foods.

    Shop at Target (and/or Walmart if you live near one) – All of the Target stores near me have expanded grocery sections now, which include fresh produce, fresh meat, multiple freezers, and more shelves with groceries. Stack price cuts/sale prices, manufacturer’s coupons and Target coupons for some incredible bargains.

    Shop at Sprouts? – I’ve never set foot in a Sprouts (though I keep meaning to), but I believe they accept manufacturer’s coupons, and often have sale prices comparable to those of Ralphs and Vons.

    Shop at ethnic markets – There are ethnic markets all over LA, and although I haven’t frequented many, I’ve heard over and over again that they have great prices on their specialty items.

    Why Stores Stop Doubling Coupons

    SoCal shoppers got some bad news yesterday when word got out that the new Vons/Pavilions ad states that as of August 1, 2012, coupons will only be accepted at face value. When I stopped in at Vons this morning, they had signs up at the register about the new coupon policy. Since Ralphs stopped doubling in the spring, the move leaves Albertsons as the only local chain that doubles coupons, and even then only with a Twice the Value coupon and in limited quantities – and it seems like only a matter of time before Albertsons stops doubling altogether, and/or is sold off to a competitor.

    From what I’ve read about couponing, manufacturers reimburse stores for the face value of the coupon, but the “doubled” value is covered by the store. So, by ceasing to double coupons, stores automatically increase their profit margin – assuming, of course, that people keep shopping there.

    The economy has been so bad for so long now, and coupon use has increased dramatically. My guess is that the increased redemption of coupons, especially at grocery stores, is noticeably affecting the bottom line of retailers. From their point of view, why not experiment with ceasing doubling and see if customers keep shopping anyway?

    The most effective way to “fight back” as a customer is to not shop at Ralphs and Vons anymore. If stores see that their coupon policy is keeping customers away instead of creating an incentive for them to come in, they’ll go back to their old ways. In fact, Tia reminded me when Ralphs changed their policy a few months ago, that they and Vons did away with doubles completely a few years back, but it didn’t last.

    My hope is that will happen again. Without substantial loss leaders to attract customers, the mainstream markets become less attractive when customers have choices like Trader Joe’s, plus all of the smaller, ethnic markets in Los Angeles and all of SoCal.

    Personally, I’ve found myself shopping much less often at Ralphs than I did before the coupon policy changed. And that will probably be the case for me with Vons as well. During the big grocery workers’ strike almost ten years ago, many shoppers turned to Trader Joe’s and never looked back. In fact, that was when I started doing most of my grocery shopping at TJ’s and it was only couponing that drew me back to Ralphs about four years ago. I think something similar might happen again. What do you think?

    How to request a Catalina coupon that didn’t print

    As I mentioned previously, I bought some boxes of Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut cereal at Vons, expecting to receive a Catalina coupon for $2 off my next shopping order that would make the cereal free after coupon. (A Catalina coupon is a coupon that prints from the machine that’s next to the register at many stores.) Unfortunately, I didn’t receive the Catalina coupon as expected. In the past, I’ve had to call to get my Catalina coupon sent by mail, so I called and discovered via the automated voice system that I could submit my request online.

    You can submit your request for a missing Catalina coupon here within 14 days of your purchase. You will need your receipt to complete the request process, so make sure you have that with you.

    Click here for more detailed instructions