I started couponing back in 2009. This was about a year before the extreme couponing craze took over. I did the extreme couponing for awhile and it definitely worked and saved me money, but it was very time-consuming. I now use a less extreme approach that only takes about 20 minutes a week and still saves me a lot of money. I know it can save you money too!
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Step 1 – Become a Deliberate Shopper
In order to cut your grocery costs you have to do more than clip coupons. While the coupons are an amazing tool, they are only a small part of the puzzle. In order for this to work, you must first shift your mentality and become very aware of what you’re buying, when you’re buying it, and if you’re getting a good deal. In order to save significant money, you’ll need to:
- Meal plan according to what’s on sale and what you have already at home
- Have an organized stock pile
- Rotate food to not let it expire
- Eliminate quick runs to the grocery store
- Use coupons combined with store sales
I’ll walk you through all these steps and teach you how to become a grocery shopping pro!
Step 2 – Get Coupons
Let’s start the old-fashioned way, newspaper inserts. The Sunday paper contains inserts from Smart Source, Red Plum, and Proctor & Gamble. These weekly inserts are a resource you’re going to want to utilize and contain valuable coupons. Back when I was doing a more “extreme” style of couponing, I subscribed to four Sunday papers and had friends and family give me their inserts. Now I have changed my approach and am only getting one Sunday paper, but I get it for free! I still try and get my hands on as many inserts as I can, but I don’t plan on going back to paying for the paper. Here are a few ways to get your Sunday ads for free. In Colorado, the Denver Post offers the Sunday Select, in Utah the Daily Herald has the same deal, and the Washington Post has Savings Now. These are condensed versions of the Sunday paper that contain only a few news stories, but all the ads. Since the ads are all we want anyway, it’s a perfect situation! Check your local paper to see if they offer a free Sunday ad edition or do a quick Google search to find one near you. If you aren’t able to get it delivered for free, here’s a few other options: ask a gas station, grocery store, or dollar store if you can have their leftover papers before they throw them out, ask friends and family that already subscribe to the Sunday paper to give you their inserts, or call the paper to see if they can give away old editions. If it comes down to paying for the paper, don’t pay more than $1/week.
If you want to take a look at what’s contained in the Sunday inserts, check out sunday-paper-coupons.com. They list how many inserts are in each paper and the specific coupons in those inserts. You can usually see about a week in advance what coupons will be coming!
The easiest source for getting coupons right now is to simply print them from your home computer. You can print coupons directly from My Income Journey here.
Plus, here are links to the most popular coupon giants.
You will have to download a coupon printing program. This program prevents you from printing the coupons an unlimited amount of times. You can’t print them without it, so go ahead and install the coupon printing program. You are allowed to print the coupons twice so if you find a great deal make sure you get two of that coupon!
Lots of brands also offer coupons if you signup for their newsletters or take a survey. One of my favorite coupons is from being a member of Driscoll’s advisory panel. Once you have bought a Driscoll’s product, you take a survey on your satisfaction and get a printable coupon in return. It’s very simple and an easy way to save money on fruit! In the summertime my grocery store will have blueberries and raspberries on sale for $1 which means I can use my $1/off coupon and stock up on free berries! Kellogg’s Family Rewards is another place that offers great printable coupons as well as rewards you can earn from buying their items.
The best new thing in couponing are rebate apps. These are free apps that you download on your phone and after you’ve purchased an item you submit your receipt and get money back. Check out my article here about My Top Grocery Coupon Apps. They include ibotta, checkout51, mobisave, and more!
Ibotta is my favorite grocery coupon app. You download the app, unlock rebates, verify your purchase (scan barcode or take picture of receipt), then they deposit cash into your account. You can combine ibotta rebates with coupons. For example, right now at my Kroger store, Land O Frost premium lunch meat is on sale for $3.99. I have a newspaper coupon from Smart Source for $.75 off. Kroger will double coupons (up to $1.00) so now the meat costs $2.99. But since I have an ibotta account, they have a $1.00 off rebate right now. So after I buy the meat for $2.99, I scan my receipt and $1.00 is added to my ibotta account. So the meat only cost $1.99 and it’s typically $4.99 when it isn’t on sale. By buying sale items, using a manufacturer coupon, and combined with the ibotta rebate you can score items for free or even make money on your purchase!
eCoupons are electronic coupons that are either on your store loyalty card or an app on your phone. I regularly add coupons to my grocery store loyalty card. It’s easy and definitely worth the few minutes it takes to search and load the ones you want. In addition to the ecoupons, my grocery store mails me personalized coupons since they have my address on file and track what I regularly buy. This means I get coupons for produce, store brand items, and coupons like $5 off when you spend $15 in the meat department. You must take advantage of store loyalty cards and programs. Many stores do them such as: Kroger (my favorite), Target, Safeway, etc.
For those of you who shop at Target, there are two easy ways to save money there. First, the Target ecoupons are available through their app Cartwheel. To use carwheel, download the app, select the offers you want added to your account, then have your barcode scanned at checkout. The money comes off at checkout so it’s super simple. You will also want to use a Target credit or debit card to get 5% off. You get 5% off everything you buy so it’s a must have for anyone shopping at Target!
Step 3 – Organize Your Coupons
I organize my newspaper and printable coupons using a large 3-ring binder, divider tabs, and 9-pocket plastic sheets (baseball card sleeves). As you can see, this binder is pretty beat up! I’ve been using it for years and it’s held together with packaging tape. I guess it’s about time to update it. I use divider tabs to organize the binder into categories. My categories include:
Produce, Meat, Baking, Breakfast, Boxed Goods, Canned Goods, Condiments, Drinks, Snacks, Frozen, Refrigerated, Paper Goods, Cleaners, Baby, Pets, Oral Care, Health Care, Hair Care, Hygiene, Skin Care, Beauty, and Misc.
I only clip and print the coupons I expect to use, then I file them accordingly. I keep my newspaper inserts in a drawer in my filing cabinet and I write the date on the cover of the insert. For example, on Sunday July 10th I got the Sunday paper, wrote 7/10 on the insert covers, flipped through the coupons, clipped the ones that I’ll most likely use, and then filed them in my binder. It took about 10 minutes. The reason I keep the inserts with the coupons I didn’t clip will become apparent in my next step.
Step 4 – Shopping the Sales
Where to Shop
If you have a coupon for a product you regularly buy then it’s easy to look at that coupon and think, “Awesome! This will save me $1.00”. But how does that lead you to saving $100’s on your groceries? First off, you have to shop at a store that has sales. Back when I was first married and did not coupon I shopped at Walmart. I figured it’s probably cheaper than the other stores and I didn’t know any better. Now I rarely go there or to Costco or Sam’s. And when I do shop there I always come away shocked at how much I spent and how little I bought! I recommend Kroger (aka King Soopers, Fry’s, City Market, Smith’s, etc.), Safeway, Walgreens, Target, or any other stores that regularly have sales.
When to Shop
I was taught how to coupon by a friend who had been couponing for almost 20 years! She would get her Sunday paper, scan through the ads, match her coupons with the ads, and then plan her meals around those. It was effective, but very time consuming. Now we have amazing resources at our fingertips from websites that do all the coupon matching for us! Here’s the #1 couponing tip – you don’t use a coupon just because you have it. What you do is wait until the item goes on sale and then use your coupon and buy as many of that item as you can! The scenario that really saves significant money is #1 – the item is on sale, #2 – you have a coupon for the item, #3 – you have an ibotta rebate or store coupon for the item. When the perfect storm of couponing goodness arises, you can typically get the item for free or even make money on your purchase. You should only plan on using your coupon when you have two of these three requirements met. Here are some of the websites I use to tell me the sales and coupon match-ups at my stores. These sites are the reason couponing is so simple. Before I make my shopping list, I check the store sales & coupon match-ups to make sure I’m not missing any deals.
Krazy Coupon Lady
Sometimes you won’t have a coupon, but the store is still having a great sale and you know you’re getting a good price on something you regularly use, this is still an opportunity you should take advantage of. After all, you should consider yourself a “deliberate shopper” more than a couponer.
Step 5 – Stocking Up
The Importance of a Stock Pile
Now that you are conscious shopper, you know to only buy items that are a good deal (sale, coupons, rebates). Remember, you don’t go shopping and just buy everything you need for the week and hand the checkout clerk two coupons, that’s not smart shopping. Let’s say the store is having a sale on General Mills cereal and your family regularly eats cereal. You don’t just grab one box and be happy, you get as many boxes as you can. The number you buy will depend on the number of coupons you have and how good the sale is. Most cereal coupons can be found in the Sunday paper, printed online, and have store coupons (and let’s hope an ibotta match). Let’s say you have 5 coupons to match this sale. If the coupon is $.50/2 boxes of GM cereal, then you will be buying 10 boxes. Most good couponing stores will double that $.50/off to $1.00/off (but we’ll get into store policies later). If you’re thinking, “what am I going to do with 10 boxes of cereal?” the answer is add them to your stock pile. It’s not every week that you can buy cereal while it’s on sale AND you have a coupon so you must buy enough cereal to get you through until the next cereal sale. Most stores have sale cycles. For example, January will start out with health food on sale and then when the Super Bowl comes around party snack food will be on sale. August has back to school sales with juice boxes, granola bars, pudding, etc. Let’s go back to the cereal example and say the cereal is typically $3/box but with the sale and coupons you bought it for $1/box. Since you bought 10 boxes, that saved you $20! Building up a good stock pile is vital to saving significant money.
Patience…Build that Stockpile
For the first little while you aren’t going to see much of a difference in your grocery spending. In fact, you might spend more money the first few trips while you’re getting started. This is because you’re building up your stockpile, but don’t get discouraged. Back to the cereal example, when you bought those 10 boxes, you spent $10 on cereal. That’s a great deal, but if you typically only spend $3 and buy one box, your checkout price will be higher. The payoff comes after you’ve been couponing for awhile. If you eat one box of cereal a week, you won’t need to buy anymore cereal for 10 weeks (or until there’s another awesome deal). You should buy enough to get you through to the next sale because you never want to go back to paying $3 for something you know you can get for $1.
After you’ve been doing this for a few months, you’ll have all your canned good, boxes good, frozen items, toiletries and more all purchased at amazing prices. Your shopping trips will only consist of buying a few perishables and stocking up on what’s on sale that day!
In order to avoid having items expire, you need to setup an organized and simple rotation system. To accommodate my stockpile, my husband built me some shelves in our basement so I can keep everything organized. There wasn’t enough room in our pantry. When I put my groceries away, I write on the box or can in big black letters the expiration date. That way when I go to grab some pasta, I know which pasta is expiring the soonest and I use it first. There are many great ideas on how to organize your stockpile. Find something that works for you so you don’t let your hard earned savings go to waste.
Becoming a deliberate shopper doesn’t happen overnight. If you can’t do everything I’ve mentioned right away, pick a few tips to help you get started. Don’t get discouraged or overwhelmed. Every little bit helps and you don’t need to be an extreme couponer to cut back on your grocery bill.
I’d love to hear how your deliberate shopping is going. Comment below or contact me with any questions, tips, or ideas you have! Let’s help each other out on our income journeys!