- I’m saving everything I can on groceries.
- I’ve been doing this a long time and there’s nothing else to learn.
- Coupons waste money because it is so much cheaper to buy generics.
- They never have coupons for the things we use.
These are all thoughts that I used to have. In fact, I bought the book that introduced me to couponing with a real attitude of skepticism. There is no way I can cut my food budget. It was already a frugal $480/mo. for a family of 5 (food only). But when food prices started escalating in the spring of 2008, I had to try something new.
The Wrong Way to Use Coupons
There is no wrong way to use a coupon, but there is a wrong way to use it if you’re trying to save the most money possible. It’s this scenario that leads people to think that couponing is a waste of time:
You make up a menu at the beginning of the week based on what sounds good (or maybe what’s on sale). You list out all the ingredients you need and make a shopping list. You have a small stash of coupons that you cull through to see if you have any match-ups between your coupons and your list. You shop.
If this is the way you use coupons, you are probably wasting money. It’s a great approach if you have strong brand preferences and can afford them, but it’s not the cheapest way to feed your family.
The Right Way to Use a Coupon
This time when you plan your menu (a frugal must), you start by combing your cabinets, freezer, and pantry to determine what you can make with what you have on hand. Then you make a list of only the ingredients you need in order to complete those meals.
Next, you look up the coupon matches for your favorite store(s) using a site like mine (there are several great options under my links as well). You determine what is on the list that your family will use and you buy as much of it as you can reasonably use until it comes on sale again. This part takes some trial and error in the beginning. I actually have enough laudry detergent to last at least a year–oops! You will get the hang of it.
The key idea is to combine coupons with sales to get the rock bottom price on things you use. The next week, when you go to menu plan, you will have a bigger stash to choose from. Within about 3 months of hard-core couponing, almost everything you use will have been purchased at the best possible price.
It’s a different shopping mind-set, but one that can literally save you thousands of dollars per year. On my next post in this series I’ll explain the first step you need to take, which is finding a way to organize all those coupons.