I was recently asked “How do you start couponing?” I realize when you watch things like “Extreme Couponing” and read articles about people getting all of their food for free, it can seem overwhelming. But in my book if you are spending more than an hour a week on clipping coupons something is wrong. Coupons are meant to save you money and time has to also be counted as money, because your time is worth something. Here are a few pointers in getting started.
Make a grocery budget. Here is a link to the USDA Food Plans: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2012/CostofFoodJan2012.pdf
It gives you a starting point which I think is a little bit high. It lists the “Thrifty Plan” for a family of 4 at $145.20/week. I try to keep my budget for food, toiletries, pet food and paper goods at $100 week for 2 people. Their list is for food only.1. Stick to you budget.
2. Start out small, even if you only use 5 $1.00 coupons per week that adds up to $260/year.
2. Buy 2 newspapers for the first few times. I still only buy two newspapers. Very seldom do I need more than 2 coupons on an item before the coupon comes out again. Coupons and sales usually are on a 12 week cycle. In other words the coupon in this Sunday’s paper will probably be out again in 12 weeks.3. Buy your needs first.
4. There may be a store that you want to use for your needs, which has lower everyday prices and a different store for you coupon purchases, which has better sales or offers.5. Make a menu and a shopping list. When you make your menu, go through your food items that you have on hand and make a list of the items that you do not have. Add anything else you need to the list.
6. Go through you coupons and see if you match any to the items on your shopping list. On your first trip, try to match at least 5 $1.00 coupons to your list. This will give you $5 left over from your budget to start stocking up on something.
7. Look through the ads for the week and see what is on sale. The best way to save money is to use coupons on top of sale prices.
8. Don’t be brand loyal (unless you can afford it) and don’t be afraid to try new things. There are only a few items that I prefer a name brand and I try really hard to only buy those items when they are on sale. If an item that I really like is on sale I will buy it whether or not I have a coupon. For instance Kraft Mayo (the only kind I use) was on sale last week for $2.49. That is a really good deal since mayo is nearing $5 a jar. I happened to have a store coupon for $1.00 off 2 so I bought 2. I would have bought them even without the coupon. I have worked my budget so that I can allow myself to be brand loyal on Mayo. But truly that is about the only thing I am brand loyal to.
9. Don’t be afraid to buy meat that has been marked down, i.e. manager’s specials. They are usually getting close to the sale by date, but have not passed that date. These items are perfectly fine to take home and freeze.
10. Don’t buy something just because you have a coupon for it. If you aren’t going to use it it’s wasting money, not saving.
11. Most items have an expiration date so don't have so many of something that there is no way you can use it before it expires.
12. You can freeze almost anything so don't be afraid to buy things that are on sale if you have freezer space for them. I know people who even freeze canned biscuits. If you aren't sure if it can be frozen, search the web to find out.
So after you have done all these things take your coupons to the grocery store. You may have to go through the store twice your first couple of trips. On your first trip to through the store get your needs. Remember to use those 5 $1.00 coupons. Now that you have gotten your needs out of the way, go back through the store to see if there is something that you can use that $5 to stock up on. For instance you see some meat in the manger’s special case that you can stock up on, but $5 worth. It may not be a lot but next week you have some extra meat and you can use the money that you saved from buying that extra meat plus your $5 coupon savings. This should give you around $10 the next week to stock up on something else. And it should build each week.
Keep setting goals on the amount of money you want to save by using coupons each week. You may not always reach that goal but remember it’s better to aim at something and miss than to not aim at all. You will gradually get the hang of couponing & stockpiling.
Hope this helps.