Have you seen the new show on TLC, "Extreme Couponing"? I've watched a couple episodes, and honestly I just can't watch anymore. It just is not realistic. First of all, it is promoting a hoarder's mentality. Really, what are you going to do with 150 yogurts? And why do you have 75 2-liters of Mountain Dew in your closet instead of your clothing? Come on, people! Second of all, if you are someone who uses coupons faithfully you know that this show HAS to be scripted because stores have coupon policies in place that would never allow these situations to exist! I would love to see a store that lets you use 35 of the same coupon, all worth over $1.00 off, and then double all of them? Yeah, right.... in whose alternate universe is that happening in?
So, let's get real about it. Right here, right now. Full disclosure on my part: I've read several of the books out there on using coupons, and there are some GREAT tips to follow. But all of these books give you the cardinal rule up front: follow the stores' coupon policies. Learn them, know them, memorize them. Keep up to date on changes to them. AND these books are also quite honest in that they say you'll probably save 30-60% off your grocery bill on average over time. That is more realistic. And the results I've had are about that when I average it out.
I've been able to find my own system, and I will try to put it in a nutshell here for you. Obviously, everyone has to find something that works for them, but this is what I have found works the best for me. The results have been good: last week my total bill was $358 at Kroger, but I only spent $91 when all was said and done. No, I didn't have over $1000 in products in my cart and only spend $1.38. Does anyone even believe that? Anyway, here's how I do it.
Each week, when my Sunday paper comes, I go straight for the coupon flyers. If they have a good selection, I will go out and buy 5 or 6 more newspapers. Never any more than that, because there are limits on the number of coupons you can even use in the first place. For example, at our Meijer store, only the first 2 coupons double, and after that each coupon is only good for face value. And those that double are only doubled up to 50 cents. At a Kroger about 20 miles away (each Kroger has it's own coupon policy - you need to check with each one to find out what it is), they double manufacturer coupons up to $1.00 everyday, but only the first 3. After that, they are only good for face value, and you can only use 5 max. Cellfire is an online tool that lets you load coupons onto your store loyalty cards, but Meijer is not a partner, and even though Kroger is a partner, I DO NOT USE THEM, because they changed their policy. If you scan your loyalty card, the cellfire coupons will count before your regular coupons and you can't use the regular ones. And cellfire coupons are usually very low value anyway.
So, I go through my coupons, and cut all of them out. YES, I cut ALL of them out. I then put them into a three ring binder, organized by section of the grocery store, and stored in the plastic pages that are used for trading cards. Once they are organized and put away, it's easy to find them when I need them.
As I then go through each sale flyer, I match up every item on sale to a coupon. If it isn't on sale, and doesn't have a coupon, it doesn't go on the list. Simple as that. It has to be both. This maximizes the savings. I try to use the larger value coupons at Kroger, since they double a higher value. If a coupon is valued over $1.00, I use it wherever the item is on sale.
Once I have my list of items on sale that have coupons, I put those coupons in an envelope with the list, grab my binder and head off to the stores. I take the binder, because often there are unadvertised sales, and you never know when you'll have a coupon for one of those items!
Here's an example of how I made it work on some of the more expensive items I buy on a recent trip:
I had 7 coupons for $1.00 off any Colgate variety toothpaste, 4.0 oz or larger. Kroger had their 6.4 oz Colgate marked down from 2.98 to 1.98 with Kroger card. I also had 6 coupons for .75 off any Colgate toothpaste, same conditions. Since only 3 coupons double at a time, I had to split my order up to maximize it. This ultimately created 3 transactions, but worth it since 7 tubes ended up being free, and 6 of them were only .48 each! A total of 13 tubes for about $3 - the regular price of one tube of toothpaste!. With 4 kids, we go through a lot of toothpaste, so that was a great deal.
That same trip, they had Bounty paper towels on sale - an 8 pack, normally 10.19, was 5.99 with Kroger card. I had 6 coupons for $1.00 off any multipack. So, with two transactions to get the maximum doubling of coupons, I ended up getting them for 3.99 each. Savings of 6.20 per package!
Laundry detergent is another big expense in our house. Kroger had the 50 load liquid Tide, all varieties, on sale with card for $3.99 each. HUGE DEAL without the coupons! But I had 8 coupons for $1.00 off any Tide detergent. So, three transactions later, I had purchased them for $1.99 each.
I had a total of 3 transactions for all my coupons in groceries, cleaning supplies, etc. One cart, but well organized. I did find a few items on sale that were 10 for $10, get 11th free that I had coupons for as well. These are great deals to watch for. It takes some time to develop your own system, and be able to recognize the deals and savings. At first it would take me 3 hours to shop; now I am in and out in no time at all because it has become second nature to me.
I ended up giving some of the laundry detergent and toothpaste to our church for the personal needs closet portion of our food pantry. Along with a bunch of B1G1 deodorants that I had purchased with coupons. I also gave my mom some of the paper towels. So I don't have stacks and stacks of stuff in my house like a hoarder. I spread the savings to others. But I still don't have to pay a ton at the store for essentials.
The concepts I gave above work the same with any item. Pasta, canned goods, coffee, you name it. If you have coupons, use them!
For more in depth help, try these two books: "The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half" by Stephenie Nelson (love this one), or "How to Shop For Free" by Kathy Spencer (another good resource).
It takes some work, but not 40 hours a week cutting coupons and building on an addition just for your filing cabinets and extra storage! Like I said before, let's get real. The television show is not realistic, and is not promoting responsible consumerism. And sometimes what people do to get the "too good to be true" deal is actually illegal. Both books I mentioned cover this as well...
Good luck! I know this was pretty vague, but a blog post isn't nearly enough space to really detail it!