I don’t want to burden you with a million things at once, as that would be overwhelming, but I will share some very basic ideals about shopping and how you MUST change your mindset if you want to see the type of gains that you’re expecting to get out of couponing.
In the beginning you will want to do some research…what stores are around you first off and what is their respective coupon policy? Every store operates under a different set of guidelines and it is IMPERATIVE that you understand how your stores handle different situations like coupon counts, doubling and/or tripling of coupons, BOGO coupons when an item is BOGO in the store, coupon stacking, rewards, etc…
The biggest advice I can give in the very beginning is to relearn your shopping habits:
- Rethink the unit cost argument – Without coupons, you normally shop by unit price (because more often, the larger the item is packaged, the more you will get for your money), but when you are couponing, that’s not always the case. For example, if I have $1/1 coupon of toothpaste (or 10 of them because you’re a couponer now and that’s how we shop) and the smaller size is $.95 and the larger is $1.50, I may get more for the larger (according to the unit price)…but by purchasing the larger one, I have to spend money. If I can get 10 smaller onesfor free or pay out of pocket for 10 larger ones…I’ll choose free.
- Learn your stores coupon policys – As previously noted, understand how coupons work at your local stores…I can use a store-level and a manufacturer-level coupon for each item scanned, so when my local grocery store has a Buy One Get One Free special, there are two items passing across the register, meaning that I can use a store-level coupon and a manufacturer-level coupon for each item. In that instance I’m “buying” one item and actually getting to use 4 coupons. When this occurs I’ll usually end up getting an “overage” (when my coupons net more than it would have cost to purchase the item) and as such, I can use that overage to bring down the price on something else. I will usually stock up some on overage items when I see they exist so that I can use that overage to pay for meats and fresh fruits/vegetables as those coupons are few and far between.
- Start slow and don’t get discouraged – Don’t expect to hit a home run out of the gate unless you have tons of coupons in hands already. My first weeks were moderate savings, and as your coupons grow, you’ll be able to use more and more of them each shopping visit. These days, I’m saving upwards of 80% – 90% off usually and in one given week, I WAS PAID $14 to take $179 worth of retail merchandise out of the store. I used the $14 for chicken and turkey meat for meals, all because of overages.
- Re-think your grocery list – When I used to shop weekly (before couponing) I would shop for the week. If I had a coupon or two I felt I was doing good, saving a dollar or two where I was able. I didn’t realize the error in my shopping was in the mentality of my shopping venture. When you coupon (or extreme coupon) you shop once for the coupons and once for “the week”…so let’s say you notice that body wash is on sale this week and with a coupon (and the store coupon) you can get two for free. But you think to yourself…”mine at home is about half full so I really don’t need any this week“. If you were to get two for free now, you will save yourself from having to buy the item later when it may not be available at such a discounted price. That noted, if you have say…10 coupons for body wash and you can get them for free, then you pick up 10, and remove that item from your “weekly grocery list” most likely for the next year or two. This is what I call Shopping Vertically instead of Horizontally and THAT’S THE KEY to really saving money with serious couponing. It’s not about picking up 300 mustards and hoping that you live hundreds of years so that you can use them all. It’s about thinking of your grocery list in the “what can I get cheap/free so I can remove it from my list” perspective instead of simply “what do I need today“. If you take away only one thing from this page…please remember that. When a sale for toothpaste comes and you get 10 for free…GET THEM or when a sale for breakfast cereal that your family eats comes along and you can get it for $0.20 a box…GET THEM. They will keep, your family will eat them, and in the long run, you will save a LOT of money simply because you will see your “weekly” grocery list dwindle to almost nothing.
- Understand the cycle – Stores, items, coupons…they all run on cycles. That is to say that aboutevery 3 or 4 months stores will sell the same items on sale again. If you can learn the cycles of the foods/items you especially like, you can purchase enough to get you through the current cycle so that you aren’t having to pay full price waiting for items to go back on sale again. The best thing to do is just keep a brief diary of when your store hasyour favorite items on sale, and then when they go back on sale again, see what the timespan is. You should find that they are reasonably consistant and if you can accurately predict your eating patterns, you can assess how much you should buy so that you aren’t filling your home with mass quantities of the item, but also making sure that you are getting the best deal for your money.
So now you’re shopping with a new mindset, using your coupons in abundance and beginning to see radical savings in your weekly grocery bill (especially because the number of items you’re shopping for is getting smaller and smalller. But you also notice something that is growing and that is your supply of items in your home, or more affectionately known to many in the industry: