Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is Couponing a Good Choice for You?

Coupons are MONEY

Although it can be embarrassing to hold up the line behind you while the cashier scans a handful of coupons, it can also be motivating to many folks when they see the savings from all those coupons. I always let people in line behind me know that I have a number of coupons and if they are in a hurry, they may want to try another line. Most stay put, ask questions and want to know how I coupon. I've even had marriage proposals from men in line that see how much I save. What it comes down to is that I know I am being the best steward of our income. It shouldn't be embarrassing to know that I am helping my family live within my means. To me, it would be much more troublesome if I could not pay my bills because I was too uncomfortable to cut coupons.

Coupon organization is always a frustration for new and struggling couponers. If your coupons are not organized, you cannot take advantage of the great buys. Most couponers have used the standard small accordion filing system with the 10 or so tabbed sections. As I learned quickly, this type of coupon file was too small for me. I soon found myself ordering a large coupon case, made especially for coupons. Over my 18+ years of couponing, I have tweaked the organizing of my coupons more than you know!!

One of the most popular reasons that people choose not to coupon is because they believe there are no coupons for the products they use. That may be true if they use only specialty products from manufacturer's that never offer coupons. Some folks have allergies and other special dietary requirements that don't allow them to use many name brand items found in the typical grocery store. I believe that most families use at least some products that offer coupons. Remember, coupons are not only issued for food, they are issued for the full array of grocery and drug store products. Do you use shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, soap, razors, hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, pasta, rice, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables, hummus, veggie soy burgers, shredded cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, taco shells, peanut butter, jelly, pickles, ketchup, salad dressing, olive oil, or cooking spray? Those are just a fraction of the products whose name brand manufacturers offer coupons. I regularly save 60% or more on those items using coupons coupled with sales.

Another misconception is that all coupons are only for junky, processed food. Certainly there are many coupons for unhealthy, high fat or high sugar foods. The good news is that there are also a number of coupons for healthier foods and non-food items that most of us use. When some great coupons come out for the products I really like, I find multiples of coupons for those products and stock up. For finding multiples, I use trading boards such as www.hotcouponworld.com and www.ebay.com. I also share with friends and neighbors and they share with me.

A good example of finding coupons (and good deals) for healthier foods was the sale at my local Vons a few weeks ago. They had a deal where you buy one box of Green Giant vegetables and you get 2 (yes, two!) boxes FREE. Each box is regularly priced at $1.99 so with the sale, each box is only 66 cents. Then, Green Giant is offering a deal that if I buy 5 boxes in one transaction, the register prints out a coupon (called a Catalina coupon) for $3 off my next transaction. Plus, my Vons doubles coupons up to a max of $1.00. Here is how I worked the deal to buy healthy, delicious frozen Green Giant veggies for next to nothing:

3 boxes (B1G2F) = $1.99

+ 3 boxes (B1G2F) = $1.99

= $3.98 before coupons

I used 2 different manufacturer's coupons from the Sunday paper and online coupon portals (such as coupons.com and bettycrocker.com) for 50 cents off two boxes (policy is one coupon per buy-one-get-two-free deal) = $2.00 off total

Now we're down to $1.98 for 6 boxes of Green Giant veggies, AND I also earned a $3 Catalina coupon off my next transaction... Smells like overage to me: $1.02 profit!!
“Roll” your Catalina coupon and do it again & again until the deal expires or you've hit your limit!! Obviously, I took advantage of the promotion several times before I left the store and the $3 coupon printed out for each transaction. I just used it for the next order each time and paid 2 cents for every transaction of 9 boxes.

Although that deal is a little more complicated than many, it is a great example of a great buy. Usually I can find complete topics about these type of deals at www.slickdeals.net

I can often buy name brand whole wheat pasta, soy milk, veggie burgers, hummus, and other healthy foods at 75% off or better using sales and coupons. I rarely ever pay for shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes and deodorant anymore. With coupons and sales, we usually are able to “buy” those items for nothing at all. It's simply a matter of choosing not to use the coupons for the unhealthy food and making sure you have multiples of coupons for the healthier choices and non-food items so you can stock up.

The last perceived disadvantage is that some people think that there are no real savings by using coupons. The truth is that there are excellent savings on some items, but that you won't be able to use a coupon for every item on your grocery list. The key is to stock up on the best deals for the items you use then use the savings to pay for meats, fresh produce and other items that don't offer high savings. All those 50 cent coupons add up to big savings.

So, the question remains - is couponing a good choice for you? It is if you can say yes to the following:

  • You use (or want to use) name brand food and non-food products from traditional grocery stores and pay less for them than the store brand costs.

  • You are willing to look at sales ads for good buys.

  • You are willing to clip and organize your coupons.

  • You are willing to make a meal plan to maximize sales and your overstock.

  • You want to stretch your income much farther, spend less and have more groceries to show for your efforts.

Disclaimer: I have been a serious couponer for 18 years and our family saves over $7000 per year by clipping those little pieces of paper. My budget is now $40 per week for grocery items: food, paper products, cleaning supplies. Although my cost is only $40, I actually bring home over $150 worth of product most weeks by combining sales with coupons. I have a stocked pantry, fridge and freezer and most of it is because of coupons. I also have a life outside of couponing, so I have found a healthy balance between stretching our hard earned income and everything else. I look at couponing as another household responsibility. Just as I need to do laundry, wash dishes, clean house and cook meals, I also need to coupon.

My recommendation is that you try couponing for at least 8 weeks. If you are not saving enough money to justify the expense, couponing may not be for you. Jump right in by cutting the coupons from your Sunday paper (ask for your neighbor's coupons as well) and see if you can save a few extra dollars this week on your groceries.

Remember - it's your money, spend it wisely!

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