Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Coupon-ing - What Works for Me

Several people have recently asked me how I save money at the grocery store. Rather than reply to each person individually I decided to do a post about it. It's rather long but if you want to start saving money I think the details will be helpful.

Even though I have been clipping coupons for years and have always shopped the sale items I am constantly learning more ways to save money. I am forever asking my friends about their tricks and bargains and surfing the Internet for new ideas. All that to say that I don't claim these ideas as my own and I know I have more to learn. I have worked really hard to get myself into a good routine that works for me and to finally have a dependable, organized system. I hope this post will be helpful to my fellow frugal friends. Free free to ask any questions.
This is my coupon binder. For several years I used an accordion filing system. You know - the one with the flap and string? It worked well when I only had a few coupons but when you have hundreds it is a frustrating mess. I was constantly sifting through piles of coupons. I know the accordion filing method is the most popular and if it works for you - great! But I needed something that was more easily accessible so that I could quickly see what coupons I had.
I now use a three-ring binder with dividers and baseball card sheets. It took me some time to get set up, but now it's a breeze. When I get the Sunday paper I simply clip my coupons, flip to the appropriate category and slide it in the pocket. Ahhhh, I love to be organized!
I have 21 dividers. The categories are as follows:
- Personal Care
- Medicine/Vitamins
- Paper & Plastic
- Cleaning Products
- Miscellaneous Items
- Baking
- Seasonings & Mixes
- Cans & Jars
- Sauces & Condiments
- Pasta & Rice
- Breakfast
- Breads
- Snacks
- Biscuits & Cookie Dough (only because I have so many of these coupons!)
- Dairy
- Frozen
- Meat & Fish
- Beverages
- Baby
- Store Coupons
- Entertainment

To make shopping and sorting easier, I use the grocery lists at www.freeprintablegrocerylist.com I keep a blank one on my refrigerator and check off the items I know we need. I no longer keep a linear grocery list. When it comes time to shop, my list of needed items is already made. As an added bonus, the items are all categorized so that I no longer end up in produce only to discover that I forgot to pick up something in the baking aisle. Keeping a list is helpful because it prevents me from buying more than I need. I try very hard to only purchase items on my list.

It's not enough to use coupons. The goal is to use the coupons when the item you're purchasing is also on sale. This is how you can maximize your savings. After hearing some great reviews about the Grocery Game and attending a class explaining how it works, I signed up. The Grocery Game does all the work for you! Each week I log in to www.thegrocerygame.com. Then I choose the store list that I want to shop from. The list is color coded. Black items are on sale. However, even when you combine a coupon with the black colored items you're still not getting the best deal possible. Therefore, you should only buy black when it's absolutely necessary. Blue items are on a "rock bottom" sale - you won't find them cheaper. Therefore, whether you need those items today or not you should pick them up so that you can have some inventory at home. Right now I have about 10 bottles of expensive name brand shampoo & conditioner, several deodorants, razors, etc. I paid next to nothing (and sometimes nothing at all) for these items. Green items are FREE! The list (pictured below, but hard to see) is an easy to read spread sheet. The first column is the name of the item, then the regular price, the sale price, three columns telling you what coupons to use and where to find them and then the last column tells you the final price and what percentage off you will be getting. I look through the list and click on which items I plan to buy. Then I print only the items I want to buy and clip it to my grocery list. And off to the grocery store I go.
There are many websites out there that will help you pair up coupons with sale ads to save money. But the Grocery Game goes a step further and informs you of the "rock bottom" price. In the past I would find an item on sale and think "Great! I have a coupon too. I'll really be saving now!" And then two weeks later that same item is on sale for an even lower price and I've already used (wasted) my coupon. The Grocery Game tells you when to use your coupons and when to hold them. It's so easy!
I clip my grocery list and my sale sheet from the Grocery Game to this manila folder. On the left hand side I have two envelopes. The top envelope is for the coupons I plan to use. I pull them out of my binder and place them here and have them ready to go before I leave the house. I then put the coupons in the bottom envelope once the item is in my cart. When I get up to the register I just hand over the pile of coupons in my bottom envelope. Yesterday my total was $90.47. After I handed over my pile and my Kroger Plus card my total was $46.76.
So where do you get coupons? If you really want to save money you must get your hands on the inserts from the Sunday newspaper. You can also go to smartsource.com, Redplum.com, thecouponclippers.com, and coupons.com, to name a few. You can also purchase coupons on EBay. One of my new favorite sites is shortcuts.com. Here you can load coupons on to your Kroger Plus card (or other store card) straight from your home computer. No printing at all! After you swipe your store's card at the register the savings will automatically be deducted from your total. As an added bonus, many of these coupons can be combined with the paper coupons you've clipped out from your paper.
I've heard many people say that buying the store brand is easier and cheaper than buying name brands even with a coupon. I used to think that way too. But the Grocery Game has helped me know when to use my coupons. No longer is the store brand cheaper!
In addition to knowing when to use your coupons and where to get them, you also need to know where to shop. Meijer and Kroger are the best places to get groceries. They both double coupons up to fifty cents (Kroger doubles them up to a dollar in some locations) and you can get free items in both stores. However, if you want to stock pile, Kroger is the place to go because there is no limit to the number of coupons you can use. Meijer only allows you to double the first three identical coupons, after that they are face value. Walmart is a good place to shop if you have to buy items that are not on sale or that you don't have coupons for. However, their sales are not that great, they do not double coupons and you'll NEVER get a free item from them.
I hope this post is helpful. If you're interested in joining the Grocery Game click here. The first four weeks are free. Then it cost $1.25 a week. You can cancel at any time but it is TOTALLY worth the money spent. You can also earn free weeks by referring people to the game. So, if you've learned something new or plan to use any of this information, I'd sure appreciate it if you would mention me should you decide to join the Grocery Game. All you have to do is give my email address: kellyannrad@yahoo.com Thank you in advance for helping me save even more!
As I mentioned earlier, I'm still learning. I'm attending another coupon workshop in a few weeks. Do you have any tips that you use to be a good steward of what God has given you? Please share!


Pam said...

Kelly - your system looks remarkably like mine :) I started this when we were making very little money and we had just gotten married. I think it's a great example of using God's money wisely and efficiently. Keep it up, and thanks for sharing!

TwoMuths said...

LOVE the tutorial - love your binder, too. :-) I did the grocery game for awhile, but felt bad when I would take a break from couponing (just because I didn't need to stockpile anymore) and not use my membership - I know, I'm a dork. :-)

As far as saving $ goes, my favorite is our local scratch & dent store. Last week I got a bunch of natural & organic items that I would normally not be able to afford for a FRACTION of the cost. Yahoo!

Kelly Glupker said...

Pam, do you use a binder too? I love it! Do you also use the grocery game? I just heard about it a few months ago.I've been missing out!

Karen said...

Great post! I love couponing, too.
Nate laughs at me when get so excited about it, but the I remind him that this is part of my "job!"

Pam said...

I did the grocery game for a while, then I just got really familiar with the stores here and their prices, also there are a couple free sites that coupon match for my stores.
I do have a binder, but only take the accordian holder to the store. I bought a rather fancy one from someone on Etsy. It's sad how excited over a coupon holder I get.

CC said...

Great advice! I don't know anyone here who uses the grocery game, so it's good to hear it works really well! I might make the switch to a 3-ring binder soon too, I def see the benefits. I have just changed my weekly budget of groceries to $40 for us...we'll see if it works!

Kelly Glupker said...

If you're a hard-core coupon person you can't HELP but get excited about seeing the total amount saved on your receipt. And I also get super excited about how organized and handy my binder is. :)
Courtney, I know quite a few people who use the Grocery Game. The Ezell's and the Melbers first told me about it. Try it for four weeks. It's free, you've got nothing to lose. But if you do sign up - use my email address! ;) And good work on the $40 a week - that's quite a bit less than what it was when you were living here. I remember us girls chatting about our grocery bills.

Beth said...

Thank you so much for the tips and resources. I'm very new at couponing and am trying very hard to be patient and to work hard at it. I will be back to visit! Thanks again!

Amanda said...

Thanks Kell!