Why don’t people volunteer or give to worthy causes? If I were a betting woman, I would put good money on two answers: they don’t have extra time, and they don’t have extra money. Freeing up space in your schedule takes soul searching and hard decisions, but saving money is much easier!. A few years ago I started couponing, and in the very first month I cut my family’s grocery bill by $150. I’ll admit I’m not always faithful to the couponing, but even a half-hearted effort trims the budget! Imagine what you could do with an extra $150 a month – pay off debt, make some nice donations, or double up by using your savings skills and your extra funds to provide more food to your local food bank! Here are five tips that will help you get started saving money with coupons.
- Know the sales cycles – Grocery store sales tend to cycle about every six weeks, so if cereal is on sale this week, don’t wait until next week to pick some up. In fact, pick up as much as you can to tide yourself over until the next time it goes on sale.
- Shop the seasons – Produce, of course, is always cheapest in season, but other groceries have a season as well. Diet foods go on sale in January to try and grab the business of the New Years resolutioners. Pizza and cocktail wieners go on sale right before the Super Bowl. Ham is on sale at Easter, and turkeys at Thanksgiving. Barbeque supplies go on sale right before the summer holidays of Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Labor Day. Basically, if there is a seasonal or holiday reason for something to be in demand, stores will compete to get your business.
- Combine coupons with store sales – My biggest tip for saving money on groceries is to start at Pocket Your Dollars. PYD is a blog devoted to helping you save money, and her resources are free. The main thing I use PYD for is the weekly listings of store sales and coupons that can be combined to make the sale price even better – some things even end up being free. The stores covered by PYD are based on the Minneapolis/St. Paul market, but some of them are national or regional chains. If your favorite store isn’t on the list, dig around online for someone near you blogging about coupon matchups, or use Pocket Your Dollars’ coupon database to look for available coupons that match the advertised sales.
- Learn the store policies – If you’re going to get into couponing, you need to know each store’s policies about coupons. Sometimes you’ll find a store that won’t take printed coupons off websites. Others accept expired coupons, offer double coupon promotions, or allow you to use both a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item. Visit the website of your favorite store(s) and print a copy of their coupon policies. If you carry the policy in a couponing binder or in your purse, you’ll be able to defend yourself against rookie cashiers.
- Plan your shopping and your meals will follow – One huge resource waster is failure to plan. If you don’t plan out your family’s meals for the week, you’ll end up making a lot of last minute convenience purchases on your way home from work. And the more times you stop at the store, the more you’ll spend just grabbing a little of whatever looks good when you’re hungry and tired at the end of the day. Likewise, if you start the week by planning your meals and THEN your shopping, you’ll be at the mercy of the stores and what they want to charge this week. Instead, start by planning your shopping. Check the sales, match up the coupons, and stock up on the deals. Then you can plan your family’s meals based on what you have in the house or can get on sale this week. Add some seasonal fruits and veggies and a gallon of milk, and you’re all set for the week.
Here’s my system: I have a portable file box with a folder for each month of the year. When the Sunday paper comes (we ONLY get the paper on Sunday, and pretty much just for the coupons), I file them by month. All You magazine is another great source of coupons, though I’ve let that subscription lapse lately. Then on Sunday afternoon or Monday I check out the weekly sales and coupon matchups on the Pocket Your Dollars site. I print the printable coupons, find and clip the newspaper coupons, and attach them to my shopping list with a paperclip. Now, here in MN we have Aldi stores, and I understand some of the rest of the country does too. I use my coupons to get the best deals at my local grocery store (Cub Foods), as well as Target, Walgreens, and CVS. Then I go to Aldi for produce, milk, and other things my family just wants. Like I said before, I’m not as strict about the couponing as I used to be. I blame my teenage son. Feeding him is like throwing things down a bottomless hole. No matter how much food I throw at him, it never seems to fill him up! I end up buying a lot of cereal, popcorn, ice cream, and snack foods for him, even when they’re not on sale.
Even if you only adopt a portion of these suggestions, you will still trim away your family’s monthly grocery expenses.
Do you have savings tips or additional ideas? Leave a comment and help us all stretch our dollars!