Author: Katie Greenberg
If you are already living on a tight budget, finding additional ways to cut costs can seem like a nearly impossible task. This is why I fell in love with the hit TLC show “Extreme Couponing,” which follows people who save 90-100% off their grocery bills simply by knowing their store’s sales and clipping coupons! Unfortunately, it would seem that the women on the show pay a high price for their savings. Many admit to spending up to 40 hours a week (the equivalent of a full time job!) looking for the best deals and having to set aside entire rooms in their house to hold their stockpiled grocery store goods.
My own experience with couponing has taught me that that you don’t need to resort to such ‘extreme’ measures to get great savings. By taking a few of their practices to heart and spending less than 15 hours a week, I’ve been able to save around $100 off my monthly grocery bills. This is why I’ve decided to write my own “semi-extreme’ advice to couponing for any of you who are looking to save serious amounts of money without having to spend so much time.
1. Know Your Budget!!
Before you start clipping, it is important to know how much you spend on things like groceries, liquor, shopping, and eating out along with any other expenses that you think you can control either directly or indirectly though couponing. A good budget should track at least 3 months of your spending habits and will serve as a starting point from which you can track how much money you save in the future. It is imperative that you are able to know how much you are actually saving with coupons seeing as you will often have to buy more groceries in bulk to take advantage of the best savings. Therefore, you need to make sure that you’re actually spending less money month to month and not just buying more food. Here is where I must stress that just because you’re using coupons doesn’t mean you’re saving money. Be careful that you’re not…
- Buying items you won’t use just because you have coupons.
- Buying items you don’t have room for (saving $30 on chicken isn’t worth it if you have to buy another freezer to store all of it).
- Paying more for a ‘couponed’ item as opposed to its generic counterpart.
- Spending more money eating out to avoid paying full price on groceries.
Avoid these pitfalls by tracking your spending and you will have a good idea of how much you can save!
2. Buy When You Can Find The Best Deals.
When trying to cut costs, I was originally hesitant to spend large amounts of money upfront so I would only buy groceries when I absolutely needed to. This strategy can help you save a few bucks here and there but I’ve come to learn that if you only buy what you need when you need it, chances are you will wind up paying full price for those items and have fewer groceries to show for it. “Extreme couponing” preaches a more effective strategy: Buy what you need when you can get those items at their lowest price, then, stockpile those items by buying in bulk.
This is a philosophy that I live by and it has helped me save on more than just groceries. And because I now have a fridge that is fully stocked with my favorite foods, I find that I’m eating out less often and spending less money on restaurants as a result.
3. Target Your Couponing Tactics on the Areas That Will Save You the Most Money
This is what separates us from the ‘extreme couponers’. ‘Extreme couponers’ will stockpile almost everything they buy and they will desperately avoid purchasing anything at full price. However, you don’t need to find coupons for every item you purchase or stockpile three months worth of toothpaste to get big savings. Instead, my ‘semi-extreme’ couponing strategy involves targeting the areas of your budget where you feel you spend the most money and only stockpiling the items that you use the most and preserve well. Some areas that I would suggest targeting include meat, household items, shopping expenses, and liquor… in addition to any other grocery items you buy on a consistent basis.
Narrowing your focus on a few key areas of your budget will help you save more efficiently so you can spend less time having to navigate the endless sea of couponing resources.
To further help out your search, I’ve also compiled a few of my favorite resources that have helped me coupon more effectively and find the best deals.
1. Coupon Mom. Before you go navigate elsewhere, you seriously need to go to couponmom.com. This site places hundreds of couponing resources at your fingertips and has their own couponing handbook. However, the best part of their site has to be the “grocery deals by state section” which actually calculates the best deals that are available in your local grocery stores.
2. Grocery Store Ads and Inserts. While there are tons of printable coupons that are available online, the majority of coupons can still be found in newspaper inserts. This can be a valuable resource if you’re focusing your couponing tactics towards household items or packaged/canned foods. However, it is exceedingly rare to find any actual coupons for items like produce or fresh meat which are often the most expensive purchases on people’s grocery store lists. This is why I would also recommend perusing the local grocery store ads in the newspaper to find the best deals. In particular, I would look out for any BOGO (buy one get one free) deals on meat and stockpile at least 1-2 months worth in your freezer. It might sound crazy to spend so much money on meat in one trip but by doing so you are actually cutting the most expensive part of your grocery bill in half!
3. My Points. Couponing isn’t just for groceries! My Points operates on a point system which gives you points when you shop online through them. More specifically, the site gives you access to tons of great deals that are available online at different stores and you get a certain amount of points per dollar when you purchase these deals through My Points. You can then redeem these points for certain rewards including gift cards to your favorite stores, cash (which comes in the form of a $25 Visa gift card), or travel points. The site even gives you 10 points for every grocery coupon you print and redeem through them. However, it takes several thousand points to get a decent reward so I would not recommend registering unless you plan on shopping.
Now these are just a few useful resources that you can quickly employ based on how you decide to coupon. There are tons of other useful ways to save and find coupons based on your needs but it’s up to you to decide how much time you want to dedicate to finding them. At any rate, my tips can hopefully give you a better understanding of the lovely art of couponing and help you start developing your own ways to save.