Friday, February 1, 2008

How I Effectively Use Coupons

Last time, I discussed how to make a grocery list. Now, for my big secret--coupons.

I love using coupons. I am thrifty, frugal and use La Mer. It is all about balance.

I subscribe to the Sunday newspaper. I live in a larger metropolitan area which has several newspapers from which to choose. I subscribe to the L.A. TI.MES. I got a great deal for $39 per year (Sunday only delivery) and they have the best coupon selection.

Every Sunday, I read the first section of the newspaper. In Southern California, the grocers add store coupons in this section. Occasionally they add them in separate flyers but, certain chains list them in this section every Sunday. They list things like Colgate Too.thpaste, Sale Price $2.50 less coupon $1.00 less double coupon $1.00, your final cost $0.50. This is why I shop at that chain and why I save 45-75% off each receipt. I have had similar experiences in Denver and in the midwest. Just read the newspaper a couple of times and you will see the pattern.

I cannot stress this enough. If you are young, or just starting out, try various brands. We recently found that the store brand fruit snacks tasted better to us and had less sugar than the national brands. Each local chain store uses the same manufacturer for their fruit snacks. They are frequently on sale for 30% of the price of the national brands. I recommend starting with the store brands for canned/non-perishable items and if they are not to your liking, move to the next brand until you find one that suits you.

Once you know which brands you prefer, look for coupons. Right now, I subscribe to 3 online coupon systems (you print the coupons you like) and I receive emails from Pillsbury and Kraft which include coupons.

Even though you know which brands you prefer, you may want to occasionally try other brands. Right now, I am furious that T.ide keeps changing their packaging and you actually get less product than before at a higher cost. I am trying other brands. Ultra my eye . . . let me get off my soapbox. But, check out other brands. Oh, my other little secret is They have a wonderful listing of taste tests. They are the consumer reports of food. I switched ketchup brands because of their taste test (I save money and enjoy the flavor).

By now you are looking in your Sunday newspaper and have a pile of coupon inserts. What do you do with the inserts?

You clip only for the items you use, can afford or are very interested in trying. If you see a great coupon for something you use often, I recommend buying additional newspapers. The reason behind my logic is that if you need 6 rolls of toilet paper per month and those 6 rolls are less than $1 with a coupon, you should get 2-3 newspapers to ensure that you have a month's supply at the coupon price. If you do not use all of the coupons you have clipped, save them in an envelope near the area where you make your grocery list.

I save my inserts for 3-4 weeks after I recycle the rest of the newspaper. Why? I may have missed something. I frequently find that I am too optimistic in my clipping and have to go back and clip something later. When I clip coupons, I usually spend 5-10 minutes clipping and organizing. That's it. Before you read the newspaper, get a pen, paper and scissors. Then, you are ready to clip and add items to your list.

There are many organizers sold for insane amounts of money. I spent years keeping my coupons in a zip type storage bag. It worked and was inexpensive. I have graduated to keeping my coupons in a folder. A simple two pocket folder (used for school). I keep coupons which will expire during the current month or up to the 15th of the following month on the left side and all remaining coupons on the right side. Around the first of the month, I purge all expired coupons and move coupons to the left side as needed. Each Sunday when I clip, I add coupons to the appropriate side (unless I am using them to shop). I like this system because no one knows what is in the folder and it has a bit more organization than the clear bag.
For shopping I use an ordinary envelope. I have a divided coupon organizer but, rarely use it. It is too big and takes too much time. My list is at the front of the envelope. Coupons are organized behind the list. My categories are: Canned Items and Candy, Refrigerated Items, Frozen Items, Personal Care and Household Items. For example, flour coupons, crescent roll coupons, frozen pizza coupons, shampoo coupons followed by cleaning coupons. If I am in the center of the store in the cleaning products aisles, I do not have to sort through canned good coupons to get to what I need; I know that the coupons for cleaning items will be near the back of the envelope. Sometimes I place my coupons in the fold of the list (if I am using a full sized sheet of paper). It just depends on how many items you plan to purchase.
I will let you in on a secret:

It is Super Bowl Season, guess what is on sale? Salad dressing, frozen pizza, sodas, beer and liquor, snacks, peanuts. The grocers know what we will be eating on Sunday. Around the holidays, baking items are on sale. During the summer, summer fruits and vegetables are on sale. Because of coupons and the holiday season, I stocked up on soda at a cost of about $0.02 per serving. I had so much soda, I gave it away.

Right now, I am feeding a family of four on less than $75 per week. This includes 3 meals per day for 3 adults and one child. Our cupboards are fully stocked, we are meat eaters so, that is 2-3 meals per day with a meat entree. Last night, we had t-bone steaks, french fries, sauteed zucchini and cake for dessert.

Next time, more online sources for sales and discounts,
Frugal JD

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