Friday, August 13, 2010

Mrs. Cliff's Couponing 101, Part I

So many people ask me "How do find time to coupon and save money?" The short answer is: I don't--not always anyway. Will coupons save you money? Yes. If you use them wisely. And that really is the key. Sometimes using a store brand or shopping at Aldi will be cheaper than a double coupon at the yuppie mart. It's just really important to know your prices.  I have used every couponing system available: baseball card holders in a notebook, pocket style coupon holders, a plastic tub. I go through stages, depending on what is going on in my life. Sometimes I do have the hours to spend really comparing sale ads and going to several stores. Sometimes I don't have that luxury. I've learned not to stress about it. If I miss a week (or in this case a summer), it's OK. I spend less than most people I know on food and sundries. I still average about $100.00 a week for a family of 7 (including our foreign student--and 3 teen boys (well, one is 12)). I just read an article about families who have been forced to "downsize" because of job layoffs. These 3 families, with between 4-6 people each, are spending over a thousand dollars a month on food!! OH. MY. And the family with 6 had toddlers!! That is just unthinkable to me. Anywho, there are lots of different "systems." You have to do what works for you, and right now, this is my basic shopping strategy:

1. My coupon system looks like this: I have one of those little coupon "wallets" which you can buy about everywhere that has pockets inside. I only have several sections: food, toiletries, paper products, this week's section. Too many pockets is too confusing for me. I DO NOT clip all the coupons I get. On Sundays, I flip through the coupon inserts and take out any "free" coupons, any coupons I KNOW I will use, and any rebates and put them in one pocket of my wallett. The rest of the inserts are put in a manilla envelope with the date on the outside. If it's a good week, I collect inserts from the neighbors.

2. On Sundays I also look at the 3 big drugstore ads that come in the paper: Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens. I check out and see what Jenny has listed that I missed...she also tells me what items have coupons available and what week the coupons were issued, so I can  I make a list of my "shop" for that week and pull all the coupons together.  I may or may not go to the store on Monday. If there are mucho "FAR" deals at any given store, I usually go on Monday AM as these items disappear quickly. If I can't get there Monday, I wait until Thursday night or Friday. Most stores restock Thursday. It's rare that I go to all 3 stores in any given week. I just get the ones with unbeatable deals. i make sure to look at store brand sales, esp for food items. Walgreens has some crazy sale prices on food each week.

3. On Wednesday, I look through the grocery store sale ads to see what good deals there are. Having been a tightwad for so long now, I pretty much know when something is cheaper than "my best price."  I take into consideration the stores that double coupons. If I have time, I check out to see what Jenny has posted for each store.

4. At some point Wed-Fri AM, I make a list. Well, I should say, I finish the list. I keep one going on my frig of things I run out of and I then attach it to the drugstore list. I typically shop on Fridays--it was Monday for years, but this seems to work better for me right now as I generally have to buy something for at least one kid for the upcoming week. I think about all the events coming up that week and TRY not to have to make last minute shops.

5. I mentally have a best price list from years of comparing, but I still do a comparison outing about once a year, just to make sure.  Almost all my best prices are at Aldi. I would guesstimate that about 1/3 of the items are now the same price or within just pennies at Wal-Mart. And there are items that Aldi doesn't carry. So here's where the list gets tricky. Let's say Walgreens has Kelloggs cereal 2 for $4.00 and I have  a coupon for $1.00 off 2 boxes. This price now beats the Aldi price of cereal. I'll buy whatever amount I have coupons for at Walgreens. There are some items that I count on buying at Aldi every week: Milk ($2.89), Eggs (99cents), bread (79 cents) fruit (usually 89 cents/pound) OJ (1.19)..etc. This is not a real thought out process, it just comes naturally for me. If you have never done a comparison outing at your favorite retailers (or maybe not your favorite) you need to do so. It will be a real eye opener.

6. I stockpile "free deals." These pictures are in my basement and in a hall cabinet. I know it's hard to see the items, but basically, I NEVER pay for feminine products, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deoderant, shampoo, lotions, make-up, etc. We have out own store in the basement. When there is a great deal (free!), I buy all that is allowed. My kids know that they can use any of this stuff, but if they want a certain brand, it comes out of their own pocket, and that has NOT been an issue at my house:).

 OK...there you have it! How's that for lesson #1? I'll fine-tune it later. Let me know if you have any specific questions!!

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