Thursday, July 28, 2016

Common Sense Couponing

We've all seen the videos where someone walks out of the store with a thousand dollars of groceries for $2.22. I'm not that kind of couponer. I don't have the time, the motivation, or the storage room. However, I do try to use a common sense approach to coupons that saves me a ton of money over the long run.

My basic approach is like many others in that I try to focus only on the things I would need to buy anyway and try to combine a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon or a coupon and a store deal.

Extreme Couponer Approach - Only buy items you can get for free or almost free.

My Common Sense Approach - I do try to combine a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon at the same time. If there is a store deal at the same time, even better. However, since I only buy things I would have bought without a coupon, I do not focus on getting it for pennies on the dollar but rather, on how much I can save and still get the things I need and/or want.

Extreme Couponer Approach - When you find a good deal, buy as many as you can at that price and keep a stockpile to store the extra.

My Common Sense Approach - I only buy as much as I think we can use in a reasonable amount of time. I live in a tiny house and I know we'll be moving in the near future. Stockpiling doesn't make sense for us. When shopping, I consider what the item is, how necessary it is and how fast we go through it. For necessities, I have a one year rule. If we won't use it in the next twelve months, I don't buy it. As an example, say I needed soap. Soap is a definite necessity that we will not go without. (We could but no.) We go through a bar in a little under a month.  Most packs of soap include 6 to 8 bars so one package lasts us about six months.  If I can find a good deal on one pack, I'll buy one but if I find a better deal on two packages, say a buy one - get one, I'll buy two and sacrifice some storage room in my house. If the item is something a little less necessary, like lotion, I probably would not buy any to stockpile. Another deal on lotion is probably going to arrive by the time I need it again anyway.

[Note: For some people, keeping a reasonable stockpile might make sense. If it does, go for it. We are currently living in a house half the size of our last one and that doesn't even count our old garage and two storage sheds. We're crammed in here. Common sense says no stockpile.]

Extreme Couponer Approach - Has numerous sources of coupons, such as buying four Sunday newspapers a week or paying a company to send you coupons.

My Common Sense Approach - I do receive one copy of the Sunday paper because I bought it on Groupon for ten dollars for the year and then used a 20% off code to get it down to eight dollars. When my membership expires, I will probably see if I can switch to a different paper for the same kind of deal because I like that the coupons come to me every week. It helps me remember to look for deals. I also occasionally look for a coupon online and print them at home. Usually using but not always. Other than a few coupons that randomly show up in my mailbox, that's pretty much all I do to find coupons.

Extreme Couponer Approach - Spends hours each week cutting coupons, searching online, organizing, and going through store ads.

My Common Sense Approach - My newspaper comes every Sunday morning with the coupons and I spend about an hour cutting them apart and doing my organizing. Some weeks I look online for other coupons but usually I do not. Even if I write my grocery list at the same time, it almost never actually takes me the full hour.

Extreme Couponer Approach - Maintains a coupon binder with all the coupons organized by type and expiration date.

My Common Sense Approach - Ha. No. One way I keep myself motivated is by minimizing the time it takes me to get and keep my coupons. I aim for less than one hour a week. In order to do this, I go with the very classy keep-everything-in-a-sandwich-bag method. Well, actually, I use two sandwich bags. One for food items and one for non-food items. Each week, when I cut out the coupons from the newspaper, I separate them into the two piles and then stuff them in the ziplock bag. Bags work better for me because they seal and they can be bent and folded without ripping. Those two baggies live in my purse 24/7 because I am really bad about remembering to grab them before I go to the store. Coupons don't save you any money if you leave them at home!  When I go to add the new week coupons, I spend a minute or two going through the old coupons to pull out the expired ones and to remind myself what coupons I have. That's all I do. When I'm at the store, I flip through to grab the coupons I want and leave the rest. Easy.

Extreme Couponer Approach - Drives all around town each week to hit numerous stores in order to get the best deals at each store.

My Common Sense Approach - I usually shop at one grocery store and one drugstore, both of which are the nearest to my house. However, after going through the store sales on Sunday, I occasionally will add another store to my list if it's relatively close (to home or a place I will be anyway) and the deal makes it seriously worth the extra time. For example, I rarely shop at this local store about 20 minutes away from me because it takes too much time to get there and back. But one week, I saw that they had hamburger for 1/3 the usual price. I thought ahead to my week and realized I would be nearby on Wednesday so I set an alert on my phone to remind me to stop by. That week I bought enough hamburger for three meat-loafs, 3 batches of spaghetti, and a couple pounds for miscellaneous meals. (I batch cook for my freezer.) It was totally worth it because it was a really good deal and I would be nearby anyway. If I drove to that store every week because say, eggs were 10 cents cheaper, I would be wasting 40 minutes of my time and gas. Nope. Not gonna happen.

Final Thoughts -
While proofreading this, I realized that more than anything, I try to minimize the time coupons can take while still reaping the benefits coupons can give. I'm a law student, I don't always have time to shave my legs much less spend hours and hours on grocery shopping. All the same, I have saved hundreds of dollars this year alone on things I needed or would have bought anyway. Sometimes I get awesome deals and get stuff for free but other times, I let the awesome deal slip out of my fingers because the time needed to get that deal is not worth it to me.

It's all about balance.

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