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Two Great and Common Questions February 18, 2009

Filed under: Couponing Primer — frugalinfranklin @ 9:25 pm
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genericI received a great question from Michelle and thought everyone might like to read my thoughts.  Here is her question:

I’ve enjoyed learning about couponing from your site. One of the questions I haven’t seen addressed in my review of your site is: “Why should I coupon if I always buy generic store brands?” This is something I’m very interested in hearing about, since I try to buy generic and also work to limit the convenience foods we buy. Have you already posted about this elsewhere on your site? Thanks!

Michelle

I want to start by saying that there is not one right way to buy groceries.  Everyone’s situation is different.  We have different amounts of time and talent.  Some of us shop with small kids in tow or only have one family car.  I love couponing and believe it’s the best way (used in conjunction with lots of other strategies) to lower your food bill.  However, when I can’t find something with a coupon (like Parmesan cheese), I don’t hesitate to buy generic.  My favorite source for generics is Aldi.  You can read my thoughts about Aldi here.

A few weeks ago, I was shopping at Kroger when I saw a young mom pick a dented can of Kroger brand Manwich off the clearance shelf.  It was marked down to .49.  She was studying it carefully to determine whether or not to buy it.  I accosted her (please forgive me if I do this to you in the store, it pains me to see you pay a penny more than you have to), and asked her if she couponed.  She was clearly taken aback and told me that she always shopped generics and she felt this was the cheaper option.  I told her that Manwich was on sale that week and that with the coupon she could buy it for .20.  I apologized for bothering her and scurried away to purchase my 8 cans.  I would have shared a coupon with her, but needed all that I had with me to work the Mega deal.

This is a great example of why couponers and generic only shoppers have trouble seeing eye to eye.  Generic only shoppers look at the regular price of name brand items, subtract the value of the coupon, and it is clear that the generic is cheaper.  They are right.  What they don’t understand is that couponers “only use a coupon in conjunction with a sale”  (even my 11yr. old can repeat this mantra).  So the Publix bread crumbs are $1.69 a container, the Progresso are 2.69, and I have a .35 coupon.  Seems like an easy choice.  But the Progresso bread crumbs will go on sale B1G1 free and then I will use my coupon.   Voila!  I pay only .65 for my bread crumbs. 

The reason this method of using coupons seems unrealistic to some is that it requires a shift in the way you shop and meal plan.  After all what if bread crumbs and Manwich are not on your menu plan for the week.  I have already addressed this issue here.

The other item that Michelle hinted at in her post is the common question that drives at the idea of eating less processed foods.  I think it is a misconception that you need to eat lots of processed foods in order to save money with coupons.  As an example, I’m going to pull some items off of this weeks Publix list that could fit into a diet of home cooking and minimal processing:

Buy One Get One

Progresso 100% Natural Broth, save up to $2.59
-.50/1 any Progresso broth printable
-$1.25 off any Progresso broth printable (IE) or printable (FF)

Juicy Juice 100% Premium Juice, 64 oz bottle, save up to $3.49
-$1/2 off any Juicy Juice Products SS 1/04, 2/01 or printable (makes it $1.24 ea)

Progresso Bread Crumbs, 15 oz canister, save up to $1.93
-$1/2 any Progresso product except soups printable (makes it .46¢ ea)

Crisco 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 16.9 oz bottle, save up to $6.49
-$1 off any Crisco Olive Oil RP 2/08 (makes it $2.25 ea)

Kashi Instant Oatmeal, 11.28 or 12.1 oz box, save up to $3.59
-$1 off Kashi Hot Cereal or Oatmeal Mambo Sprouts Booklet (makes it .80¢ ea)

Earth’s Best Organic Baby Food, 6 months and up, 4 oz jar, save up to $1.09
-$1/8 Earth’s Best Foods Mambo Sprouts Booklet
-$1/10 Earth’s Best Foods printable
-$1/6 Earth’s Best printable (Food Lion)

(use FL printable with manufacturer makes it .29-.34¢ ea)

Green Giant Boxed Vegetables $1 ea
-.50/2 or $1/2 GG Boxed Veges SS 01/04 (makes it .50¢ ea)
-.60/2 GG Boxed Veges
printable
**Qualifies for Publix Rebate in SS 2/08, buy 15 items get $10 back- buy 15 make $2.50 after rebate**

 

Other

Progresso Tomatoes $1.25 ea
-$1/2 any Progresso product except soups printable

Sargento Shredded Cheese $2 ea
-$1/2 Sargento Shredded Cheese SS 1/25 (makes it $1.50 ea – stock up price)

It may take more time to build up your stockpile if you have a lot of perameters on what you will purchase and what you will not.  But clearly, it’s possible to save money and eat a healthy, less processed diet and coupon at the same time.  In addition, saving money on toiletries and cleaning supplies may free up money in your budget for more expensive items.

I hope this answers Michelle’s question, as I know it’s one that lots of people are wondering about.  Please contact me at frankmomof3@yahoo.com.  I may not be able to answer you right away, but I will tuck your question away and try to address it in a later post.

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Want to Have a Party? February 17, 2009

Filed under: Couponing Primer,Uncategorized — frugalinfranklin @ 6:06 pm

cartoon-girls1

Is the internet just not enough to help you learn everything you want to about grocery savings?  Do you need to be able to ask questions in person?  Are you just a person who likes an excuse to get your friends together?  Check out my new Learn How page.

 

Couponing Primer (part 5) February 12, 2009

Filed under: Couponing Primer — frugalinfranklin @ 9:50 pm
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coupon-organizer3

Before you start matching up your coupons with this weeks sales and heading out the door, I would like to make one more recommendation:  Be sure to set a budget.  This may seem silly since you are getting such great deals, but it is an essential part of couponing.   Here is what will happen if you don’t set a budget:

  • You will have a stockpile that is so large, your husband and kids will have to move out of the house to make room for toothpaste.
  • You will have oodles of shampoo, but find that you can’t seem to pay the mortgage.
  • You will wonder why couponers think they are saving so much, because you are going broke.
  • You will give up on couponing because you have so much stuff you never use.

So, how do you set a budget for shopping.  Crystal at Money Saving Mom recommends an eventual goal of $2 per person in your family, per day.   In other words, there are 5 people in my family, if we spend $2/day on each person, that’s a goal of $70 per week for my family of  5.  That budget includes food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and baby care items (diapers, wipes, etc…). 

You think I’ve gone off the deep end, don’t you?  It’s okay.  Take a deep breath.  Notice that I highlighted the word eventually.  Start by figuring up your current expenditures and then set a goal for yourself.  When I started, I set the goal at $3 per person, per week for food only.  That was 12% less than we had been spending on food.  It only took a few weeks for me to realize I could do much better than that.  I dropped to $2.50.  My pantry and freezer were so full, I decided to drop it to $2 (still food only).  Eventually, I found that I was buying more and more of my cleaning supplies, toiletries, and paper supplies for little to nothing and it was easy to reach my $2 for everything goal.  I would say it took me about 8 months to go from being a coupon hater to this current budget.

Please note that this is fun for me.  It’s fun for my husband too (I’ll write a post someday about how I got him on board).  As long as your family is meeting it’s financial obligations, I don’t think you should feel bound to a certain budget.  Do what works for you, if it’s too restrictive, back off.  And of course, if you hit a difficult season (morning sickness, illness, family emergency), cut yourself some slack.

Having a budget in place will help you answer one of the trickiest questions in couponing–how much do you buy?  And it will ensure that you are truly saving as much as possible.  So be sure to set a budget, and don’t leave home without it.

 

I stockpile within my budget and almost never find a deal that justifies breaking it (.75/lb cheese week, I went over about $2, but we also had a family birthday that week). 

Here’s how it works:  Each week, I set out to find the very rock bottom prices available.  I look over my coupon stash to determine how many of each item I can purchase based on my coupons.  Then I estimate the cost of items that I don’t have coupons for, but need (like milk and eggs).  Finally, I adjust my coupon and sale purchase quantities based on my budget.  I’m careful to prioritize purchases based on how often they come on sale and how desperately we need them.  I also try to prioritize high nutritional value (fish) over fun foods (cookie dough).   Using this method,  I usually know the cost of my shopping before I ever hit the store.  (It just takes a little practice).    If I get to the store and run across a must have purchase, I simply adjust by scratching something else off the list.

There are weeks, like this one, where I will choose to buy less than my full budget.  I have plenty of food in my stockpile (I suspect we could go a month without shopping).  I will put the extra money in an envelope and save it for a week when the deals are too good to miss.

 

Couponing Primer (part 4) February 11, 2009

Filed under: Couponing Primer — frugalinfranklin @ 8:48 pm
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coupon-organizer2

It doesn’t do you much good to a have an organizer full of coupons if you don’t know what to do with them!  Before you head out to the store with your coupons, it’s helpful to know your store’s coupon policy.  Don’t try to master every store at once.  Learn the ropes at one store and then try another.  The grocery stores are easier than the drugstores.  If you live in the Franklin area, I recommend mastering Kroger and Publix first, as these will net you the largest savings.

Kroger:  Our local Kroger stores double coupons up to .50 every day.  They do not accept expired coupons.  Beyond that, I have had a difficult time getting more of a coupon policy.  I have never been denied the use of any type of coupon (free item, internet printable, or regular coupons) at my favorite Kroger.  I have also never had a limit imposed on the number of like coupons that they were willing to accept.  Great tip:  They will usually let me use a coupon on clearance merchandise.

 

Publix: 

  1. You do not have to buy 2 of the B1G1 items to get the sale price –In other words, if you only buy one it will ring at half price.
  2. If you do buy 2 items that are B1G1 make sure you use 2 coupons to get the best deal –Example, Ragu is B1G1 regular price 1.99.  Buy 2 jars and use 2 .30 off coupons.  The coupons double .60 each.  Your new total is .79 for two jars.
  3. Publix accepts competitors coupons (you can stack with a manufacturers coupon and a Publix coupon too) I have only experimented with Food Lion coupons at my Publix.  It is up to the individual store to determine who is a competitor.  Remember that Publix is not reimbursed for competitor’s coupons, so use them judiciously. 
  4. You can use a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon on the same item –Publix often has store coupons (they are the ones that have and LU# on them).  You can use a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon on the same item.  Example:  Bird’s Eye Steamer’s are on sale for $1.  You have a Publix Q for .25 off and a manufacturer’s Q for .50 off (doubles to $1.00).  You make .25 on each bag your purchase (you must have a set of Q’s for each bag).
  5. Most Publix locations double manufacturer coupons that are .50¢ or less

 

H. G. Hill:  My experience at Hills is the same as at Kroger.   They double up to .50 every day.  They do not accept expired coupons, and I have never had a valid coupon turned down.

Harris Teeter has the policy that seems to change the most often.  You can view their current policy here.

It is best to inquire at the customer service desk at each store.  Better yet, talk to a manager.  If a policy seems to contradict something you have heard from other couponers, go home and check the company’s website.  Some stores, like Wal-mart, are notorious for having employees (even manager’s) who don’t understand the company’s coupon policy.  Don’t be rude, and don’t get discouraged.  If you are sure the employee was wrong, contact their corporate headquarters. 

Remember that the key to maintaining good couponing relationships for everyone is to be polite and positive whenever possible.  Using manufacturer and store coupons (for the store you are shopping at) is a win/win for everyone.  Read Jenny’s great post about this here.  You should not feel like a criminal for using coupons.  And if you are using your savings to provide for your family and share with others, you should feel great about it.

 

Couponing Primer (Part 3) February 5, 2009

Filed under: Couponing Primer — frugalinfranklin @ 10:16 pm
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coupon-organizer1

Now that you know the why’s of couponing and you have a place to put your coupons, you need to fill your organizer with lots of  coupons.  So where do I find all my great coupons?

  1. The Sunday paper:  I purchase two papers every week.  For several months I was purchasing them at Walgreen’s for .99, but sadly they have stopped that promotion.  If anyone knows where to get a deal on Sunday papers, let me know.
  2. The mailbox:  I usually receive a Smart Source insert in the mail early in the week.
  3. Friends:  Ask around, maybe someone you know is not using their inserts.  One of the moms at my daughter’s dance studio blesses me with her extras every week.
  4. Recycling:  Okay, this one may be beyond your comfort level.  However, I usually recycle early on Sunday evening.  You wouldn’t believe how many people throw away their papers intact.  I only take inserts that are on the top of the pile.  I also try to avoid picking up anything besides paper inserts (you don’t want to accidently pick up an envelope with personal information on it.)
  5. Printables:  By using this blog and a host of others, you can be linked to a number of printable coupons.  I don’t bother printing out coupons until I need them, except in the very rare circumstance that they are irreplacable.  In other words, when someone is offering something for free or close to free, I print it right away.  You will get a feel for the not-to-miss deals as you coupon.  For information about printing coupons, see Jenny here.
  6. E-coupons:  I use Shortcuts and P&G e-coupons that can be loaded onto your Kroger loyalty card.  You can do this at Kroger’s site.  I will warn you that I don’t always get credit for coupons that I know I’ve loaded and I’ve heard the same from others.  The other downside is that you can only buy 1 item with the downloaded coupon.  You have to load it again to buy the next item.  I think 2 times is the maximum number of times they will let you load.
  7. Vocal Point:  This is a great “club” you can join for free.  They market a variety of new products and they send out multiple copies of great coupons.
  8. Blinkies (and tear pads):  Those red machines in the grocery store that spit out coupons are affectionately referred to as “blinkies.”  Blinkie hunting is a great way to entertain children in a grocery store.  (Just make sure your kids are respectful, don’t drop coupons on the ground , or clean out the machines leaving them empty for the next shopper.)
  9. Store mailers:  Almost all of the large chains have marketing pieces that they send out to your home.  Make sure your shopper’s card has the right address on it (you can call to check) and sign up for any magazines or other mailings they offer.  Kroger sends out unbelievable coupons to good customers.
  10. Direct to consumer mailings:  Both email and snail mail coupons can be had when you sign up directly with your favorite brands.  Check out their websites and see what they have to offer.
  11. On the product:  Generally speaking, I find these to be about the least valuable coupons, but every once in awhile you get lucky.  Especially if there are two packages of the same thing on the shelf, always opt for the one with a “peelie” on it.
  12. Catalinas:  Catalinas are the coupons that print out at the register when you check out.  You can often earn a catalina coupon for making specific purchases.  These are usually denoted on a tag under the item on the shelf that says “save $xx on next purchase when you buy x.” 

Note:   Many of these options require signing up or downloading information.  Before you sign up for anything, be sure to set up an email account on a free service like Yahoo.   Use this address only for couponing and similar deals.   This will allow you to browse these offers and newsletters at your leisure without interfering with your more pressing emails. 

Also, if you have virus and spam protection on your computer, I would not worry about downloading the programs necessary to print coupons.  The links that experienced couponers send you to are generally safe.  I’ve not had any problems.

Now you should be drowning in coupons.  As soon as you understand who will take them and how they will let you use them (store policies), you will be on your way to big savings.

AddendumWhat to Cut

I was not kidding when I said above that you will be drowning in coupons.  If  you avail yourself of every possible resource, you will have more than you can use.  So how do I decide what to cut and what not to cut?

Insert Coupons:  I purchase 2-3 papers most weeks, and receive another 1-3 inserts from other sources.  With my first two papers, I cut out almost everything.  Over time you learn the things that you never, ever use coupons for.  At my house, we never cut coupons for adult incontinence care, denture care products, and joint/arthritis care.  We also avoid pet product  coupons

With any successive inserts, I cut out everything I would conceivably buy in bulk.  That means all food coupons (except pickles) and most paper products.  Where I really stop cutting is on beauty stuff and medicines,  as I’m usually not purchasing these in large quantities.  Again, I make exceptions–I cut most cold care, allergy, and pain reliever coupons because we use these items and they are great for charity.

Printables:  I rarely print a coupon until we need it.  If a free item coupon comes up (like Cottonelle), I always print it right away as they don’t last long.  I cut these and immediately stash them in my purse organizer under the store where I am most likely to use them.  You will get a feel for “must prints”  the longer you coupon.  Free items and  high dollar value (like $2.00 off cereal or $1.50 off yogurt) coupons are the only ones I print right away.  Otherwise, I wait for the coupon matchup lists to come out and print only what I need for the week.

To help reduce the cost of all the printing, you can try these things:

  • Set your printer to always print in black and white
  • Save scrap paper (like your kids old worksheets and take home papers) and print on the back
  • When printing your shopping list, use draft quality
  • Order ink cartridges from online discounters or refill yourself
 

Couponing Primer (Part 2)

Filed under: Couponing Primer — frugalinfranklin @ 3:04 am
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coupon-organizer

Before you can begin couponing, you have to decide what you are going to do with the coupons you will be collecting.  There are several different systems that people prefer:

  1. The file folder system:  In this system,you simply remove the coupon inserts from your local paper, write the current date on the file, and place the inserts in the file.  Because most couponing sites list the issue date of the coupon, you simply pull the file and clip the coupon when you need it.  The problem with this system is that you can’t take your coupons with you in case you find an unexpected deal.  It’s also time consuming when it’s actually time to pull your coupons.
  2. Buy a large three ring binder and fill it with the plastic pages designed to hold baseball cards.   Designate the pages in the binder for different products, i.e…cereal, shampoo, etc…  Laura has a great example here.  I prefer not to use this system because I can’t find a binder big enough to house my very large collection.  It’s also an expensive route for a beginner.
  3. Purchase or create and envelope filing system.  Clip and file all your coupons.

This third option is my favorite and the one that I use.  You can see a beginner’s version of the system I use here.  I like this system because it is cheap to free to create.  What’s the point in spending lots of money so that you can save with coupons?  In addition, if couponing doesn’t work for you, you’re not out a bunch of money.  Crystal has a great list of categories to start with here.

If you really enjoy couponing and want to continue, you will probably need to expand your box.  Mine currently has 150 different envelopes.  One of these days, I will post pictures and details about it’s construction.

For now, start small and get to the fun part, saving money.

 

Couponing Primer (Part 1) February 3, 2009

Filed under: Couponing Primer — frugalinfranklin @ 7:58 pm
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  • 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.