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I have read of situations where women do their entire month's shopping for free using coupons and promotions. I would like to know how to do this since my grocery bills are exorbitant.
Coupon Do's and Don'ts
I think it's safe to say that the majority, if not all, of those folks you see doing an entire month's grocery shopping for free or getting cash back in some cases are demonstrations and not the norm. Coupons and refunds have been saved up to make a spectacular purchase expedition such as the one(s) you've seen, and can't be duplicated on a regular basis. You can, however, make a big dent in your shopping expenditures by using coupons, but you must do so wisely. Some do's and don'ts to remember.
- Shop at stores, which double or triple your coupon value where possible.
- Keep an eye out for special store coupons that may be used in combination with manufacturer's coupons. That may vary according to individual store policy./li>
- Pay attention to the unit cost of an item. Large sizes usually mean better value than buying small sizes, sometimes using multiple coupons to purchase multiple smaller sizes can actually be cheaper than buying in bulk or family size.
- Look for combination bargains. Check if you can get an item for a reduced price by using a coupon and also sending in for a refund/rebate on that item. Refunds and rebates are actually where much of the savings can be found.
- Do comparison shopping since prices can vary rather markedly from store to store, item to item. As long as you're not going far out of your way (and thus consuming a lot of gas traveling from store to store), it may be economical to shop more than one store, particularly if you take advantage of each store's current specials/discounts.
- Do keep your coupons organized. Separate by category and keep in an organizer or in envelopes. Twice monthly, sort through them and pull out those that will be expiring soon, so that they can be used, if possible, before they go bad.
- Find others who coupon and trade with them; they can be on the lookout for coupons you can use, and vice versa.
- Be willing to switch brands to take advantage of lower prices and/or coupon offers.
- Don't buy items you normally would not just because you have a coupon for it.
- Don't buy brand name items if the store/house brand is cheaper unless you have both coupons and rebates for the brand name item to justify the higher initial cost.
Again, the demonstration you read about, though real, was an exceptional case. However, if you use coupons wisely, and refund, it's very easy to take a good 25% or more off your weekly food expenditure, and up to 50% is certainly not unheard of on a fairly regular basis. But it takes a lot of preparation and planning to reach those numbers consistently.
Coupon Getting Started Stragetgy
I almost always save 40-50% on my grocery bill. I go through the Sunday paper and clip everything with some for trading. Definitely anything that you use like shampoo, toilet paper, and other personal items. Clip all brands. In order to save big you can't be brand loyal. The people you have read about save and trade coupons for a long time to get all their groceries for free. This is not a monthly thing that they can do as far as I know. You can often get coupons for free things by calling the company (1-800- numbers are usually on the box) and either telling them how much you like or disliked their product. They want to know what people think so they will often have good coupons to send to people as a thank you, all you have to do is ask them if they have any.
After you have all your coupons you have to organize them. I keep mine in a file box with dividers such as canned, cereals, snacks, personal items and so on. Then take your Wednesday ads and match coupons to the sale items. Some weeks there will be a lot and other weeks not much at all. This will build your stock.
As you buy these things for a great price buy as much as you can and that you have coupons for. This will save you money in the beginning and later so that you don't have to run to the store for shampoo and come home with $20 worth of impulse stuff.
At first forget about making menus to shop from. Look at what is on sale for that week and get that and then make menus from that. I always get chicken leg quarters for less than a dollar a pound. Why would I ever want to buy any kind of chicken for $2.00 a lb.? To me chicken is chicken. That is one of the tricks to saving big bucks. You have to think cheaper not "I think we'll have boneless, skinless chicken tonight". The only way I get things like that are on the day old markdown stuff. Then it is saved in the freezer for a real special meal. I get a lot of T-bone steaks that way.
I hope this helps you get a good start on saving. My advice is to read anything and everything you can get your hands on about being frugal. You'll be glad you did. Don't run out and buy the books; instead, get them from your local library and then you can buy your favorites to use as reference books.
My Coupon Experience
The big thing to remember about all grocery savings, is that it's location-dependent. For example, if you live in Florida, you will get inexpensive fresh produce at your farmers' market a lot earlier in the year than if you live in Michigan.
Coupons are the same thing: some grocers double coupons, some grocers triple coupons, some grocers take expired coupons, some grocers give you cash back if your coupon exceeds the purchase price. Some grocers price match competitors' ads.
And, on the flip side, some grocers never double coupons, and some grocers actually limit the number of coupons you can use on each shopping trip. Some grocers run good loss leaders, and some grocers limit their loss leaders. Some offer rain checks that never expire; some grocers give only 30-day rain checks.
You can get more information on people using coupons at www.mycoupons.com. Look for their 'Tips of the Trade' board. That's where I found out that some grocers actually give cash back when your coupon exceeds the item price.
So, first you need to call your local grocers and find out their policies. For example, my favorite grocer doubles coupons up to $1. (A 50-cent coupon becomes $1; a 75-cent coupon becomes $1; a $1 coupon stays at $1.) They seldom limit the amount of sale items you can buy. They never limit the amount of coupons. I can use as many coupons as I want. And they price-match their competitors' ads. Their rain checks are good indefinitely. But they don't accept expired coupons. And they don't give cash back if my coupon is greater than the sale price. And their produce prices are generally higher than Aldi (discount grocer) or the farmers' market.
Knowing their policies helps me to tailor my strategies.
- I get duplicate coupons whenever I can from friends, neighbors, relatives, or coupon service, so I can buy multiple items with coupons on sale. In fact, during the best sale ever, I had 30 coupons, and got Prego for about $0.20/jar, after double coupons. On another sale, I got Barilla pasta for $0.20/pkg, after coupons.
- I use rain checks to get the sale prices long after the sale is over.
- I have a pantry in the basement, so I stock up on loss leaders. Very, very important to stock up when the price is low.
- I price-match competitors' ads, so I don't have to run all around town for my bargains.
- I buy a lot of my produce at Aldi or at the farmers' market, where the prices are good.
- I buy spices at the health food store and tofu at the Asian market.
On a busy week, I would shop the major grocer for the loss leader/coupon items, and swing by Aldi for produce and a few other low-cost items. On a very busy week, I would only shop Aldi. In the summer, I hit the farmers' market most weeks.
- Stock up on loss leaders.
- Shop from a list. If you can, make out your menu using the sale fliers, so you don't need broccoli when cauliflower is on sale.
- Use your freezer to stockpile cheese, pirogues, tortillas, bread, etc.
- Consider shopping at the discount bread store. That will save you at least 50% on bread purchases. And bread freezes.
- Leave the kids at home when you shop. Even if it means you have to go at 6 a.m. Saturday. I have read that you spend 30% more when you have your children with you.
- Organize those coupons. Even if you only save $2/wk, that's $100/yr.
- Avoid those luxury groceries. Do you really need portabello mushrooms? Or T-bones? Make a pot roast with onions instead.
A note about Aldi: German chain, found in the Midwest. Discount bag-it-yourself grocer. Doesn't accept coupons. Doesn't accept credit cards. Charges 5-cents for paper bags so bring your own. Limited selection. But prices are good. If I could use only one strategy to keep my bills down, it would be shop at Aldi.
My Coupon Strategy
I don't do my shopping absolutely free, but I get a lot of groceries free using coupons! The first thing I would recommend is going to a search engine and then type "Coupons" in the search field. This will list a bunch of coupon lists that you can join on the computer! You will get emails from people stating what coupons they have for trade and what coupons they need. They will trade for stamps, paypal, or other coupons.
I also go to my local grocery store and they give me their extra Sunday papers so I trade the ones I don't need for the ones I do! I can't tell you how much money this has saved me in the last year! I almost always get free toothpaste, toothbrushes, cereal, and snacks. You will be amazed!
Take the Next Step
- Once you trim the grocery budget, don't waste that extra money! Consider opening a savings account to start an emergency fund or save for some other financial goal.
- Continue to look for new ways to trim food costs. Visit our food & groceries section each week to get tips for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.