Image by Thrifty Mommy
Whenever I tell people about my couponing, I always get the same questions:
- Is it hard?
- Doesn't take a lot of time? It seems like a lot of work.
- Can you really find deals that are worth it?
- How much money can you really save?
- Do you have to go to a bunch of different stores? What about your kids- do you take them with you?
- How do you keep all those coupons organized?
Last year I had the opportunity to teach a couponing class at my church, and I think I got all of these questions- plus a lot more! I'd like to give my readers a condensed version of that class, focusing mainly on why I do couponing, how I do couponing, and the real benefits I see from couponing.
Today I'll start with my story, and how I got started, just so you can see where I was coming from. Let's go back to the beginning- well, the beginning for me, anyway, which was just over a year ago. It was the month of January, and I was facing the start of a new year. I've always been careful with our money, but still- that period of time after the holidays is usually when our family feels a bit of a financial pinch. I hit something of a wall when I came home from a grocery trip after having spent around $150 for one week's worth of groceries. I couldn't help thinking, There has to be a better way! Feeding a family of 3 1/2 (my daughter was not quite 2 yet) should NOT be this expensive!
Again, I was already doing a lot of things right- I was trying to stick to a cash budget, but the fact of the matter was when we were out of diapers and we needed more, I had to buy more. There was just no way around it. I felt I was mostly buying essentials and yet I was still struggling to stay within the budget.
I was also doing menu planning, which definitely helped because we were only buying the food we needed. But my husband- a definite snack man- struggled with that. He wanted to have treats and snacks on hand- nonessentials- because he's a big guy (not in a bad way- just big and muscular) and he had a physically demanding job that brought him home hungry. It was frustrating for me to see him go from fridge to freezer to pantry trying to find something to eat that wasn't already designated for another meal.
Well, I was checking my local FlyLady group e-mails one day and someone made a comment about using a binder to organize coupons. She also recommended a blog called Money Saving Mom that had good ideas for coupon organization. I had used coupons sporadically in the past, but they never seemed to be for the exact product we needed, and half the time it was cheaper to just buy generic. But something about it piqued my curiosity, and as eager as I was for some way to save a few bucks, I decided to check it out.
When I got to the Money Saving Mom site, I saw that she was having a one-week special on her "Supermarket Savings" audio eBook about saving money on groceries using coupons. She claimed she could feed her family of four on a budget of $45 a week. $45 a WEEK? I was sold. If she could teach me how to do that, the money spent on the eBook would be totally worth it. I think the book cost $5 or something, and with our money crunch it took me a little while to talk myself into it, but I did and I began to listen.
I was soothed by her sweet, calm, and kind voice as I listened to her talk about the importance of knowing the lowest prices on various items, finding coupons, and scanning store ads to match up coupons with weekly sales. I had to listen twice to a few parts to make sure I was understanding the information completely- it was a lot to take in, and I wanted to know exactly what I was getting myself into before diving in. I sat at my computer and took notes as I listened, and before too long I realized that while it would be more work than making a list and driving to the store, it was definitely doable and I was ready for the challenge.
The first thing I did was renew our newspaper subscription. Hard to save money using coupons if you don't have any, right?
The second step was to start taking notes and comparing prices. At my next Wal-Mart trip I looked carefully at the prices, and I was sure to save my receipt when I got home. Then I made a spreadsheet on my computer of the various items I regularly bought, and I noted how much they cost at different stores. This was helpful, because I also found myself going into stores I'd never visited before- like salvage grocery stores- to compare prices, and I found several that had much lower prices than Wal-Mart for the same items.
The third step had me looking through the sale ads that came with my Sunday paper. I started scouting out the main ones that Crystal had recommended in her book: CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and my local grocery stores Kroger and Food Lion. I began to compare their sale prices with the prices from my spreadsheet, and I began to see how the savings could add up. I began to familiarize myself with the money-saving programs in place at each store: ExtraCare Bucks at CVS, EasySaver Rebates and Register Rewards at Walgreens, rebates at Rite Aid, and Catalinas at Kroger and Food Lion. Before long, I was ready to shop!
Check back next week for Couponing Part II: Shopping and Feeling the Rush!