Monday, September 27, 2010

Is It Worth It To Clip Coupons?

I started my coupon experiment in January to see if I could do anything about lowering my astronomical grocery bill. I should mention that my groceries mostly consisted of organic meat, poultry, fish & dairy items, fresh produce, whole grains, baking supplies, and condiments. I did not purchase much in the way of packaged snack foods (except for DS's school lunches), beverages, or convenience foods. I was very skeptical about whether using coupons would do me any good.

While it is true that you won't generally see coupons for items like chicken and fresh produce, I have been able to lower my grocery bills substantially by observing a few tips.

First of all, the main idea is to
  • Use coupons to enhance a TRUE sale
By doing this you will generally save 50% 0r more on the items you purchase.

So let's break this idea down:
  • Maximize your savings by pairing a coupon with a sale item.
  • A rule of thumb is, do not purchase an item unless it is on sale and you have a coupon.

The second key part is recognizing a TRUE sale. Lots of store ads will feature "sale" items whose sale price is not that much better than the regular price. Grocery items have a price cycle that is generally about 12 weeks long. At some point during that cycle, the price of that item is going to hit rock bottom. THIS is when you want to buy--
  • BUY when the item is at its lowest price and you have a coupon.
Obviously, you should not purchase items you will not use, even if you have a coupon. (Though I'm sure I don't have to tell you this!)

How do you know when an item is at its lowest price? Well, one way is by just being familiar with the prices of the items you purchase most often. Coupon Mom suggests taking this a step farther by keeping a "price book" to track the prices. In your price book, you would list the item, the date, the price, and the store. There are various ways to organize your price book. One way is to use a page for each item, so you can track the prices easily over time. Is this tedious? Yes. But knowing when to buy can save you A LOT of money.

An easier way to do this is to refer to Coupon Mom's weekly list for the deals at your particular store. This list is great because it's a)free to use, b)correlates available coupons with the sale items for that week at your store, and c)shows you the percentage you will save with the coupon. You can figure that anything that will give you a savings of at least 50% when you use a coupon is probably a pretty good deal.

The next important idea is one I got from Coupon Mom's book.
  • When is the WORST time to buy something?
  • When you need it!!
If you've run out of mayonnaise and you have to go out and buy a jar, you will probably end up paying full price for it. You may save a bit by purchasing the store brand. However, consider this: if you had been tracking the price for Hellmann's (in my opinion the best, and usually most expensive, brand), waited for it to go on sale for its rock bottom price and THEN purchased it with a coupon, (even though you didn't NEED mayonnaise at that point), you would have saved a bundle over the store brand price, PLUS you would have a higher quality product.
  • When an item is at its lowest price and you have coupons for it, buy more than you need.
  • This way, you will always have a stash of the items you use, at greatly discounted prices, and you will not have to pay full price the next time you need them!
I think of this as the "pantry" or "stockpiling" principle.

*TIP: SAVE, don't clip. Pull out the coupon inserts from your Sunday paper, and write the date on the top of them. Save them, and just clip the coupons you need before you head to the store. Coupon Mom's list is ideal for this, as it gives the name and date of the insert in which the coupon appeared. E.g., R 9/19: that means the coupon is in the Sept. 19 Red Plum insert.

The great thing about this method is that you don't have to organize a giant pile of clipped out coupons every week. Plus, you never know when you might want a coupon for something that you hadn't anticipated. By saving the entire coupon insert, you have ALL the coupons for each week!

*TIP: To help with stockpiling when items are at their best price, it's worth it to collect extra copies of the coupon inserts each week. When I first started out, I tried to have 4 copies of each for every week. You can do this by purchasing an extra newspaper subscription, asking friends/family to save inserts for you, or just buying an extra copy of the Sunday paper at the store. That way, when that joyous day comes when Sale Price + Coupon = FREE ITEM, you will be able to get MULTIPLE free items because you will have multiple coupons for that item!

My mom lives in a retirement home and every Sunday, she LOVES to run around picking up all the extra coupon inserts she can find for me. (Her fellow residents don't use them.) It's a great way for her to know she's doing something nice for DS and me without having to spend any money.

Plus, when I find things I know she likes that are on sale, I am able to purchase them for her with my extra coupons! She loves the Lavender/Vanilla Febreeze Air Effects room spray, but told me she doesn't buy it very often because it's "expensive." Imagine her delight when I was able to present her with 4 bottles of it, that I had paid next to nothing for with coupons!

You may be wondering, how does this all work? Or, could this really work for me? Let me use a recent shopping trip as an example.

This past week, God bless 'em, the Teeter had "Super Doubles." Normally, they will double the face value of a coupon up to 99 cents. During Super Doubles week, they double the face value up to $1.98!! That means if you have a $1.50 coupon, you will save $3 on the item!

I purchased 32 items. Most of these were for DS's school lunches. I had coupons for all but 2. I bought:
1 jar of Truvia sweetener
2 boxes Fiber One Chewy Bars
2 boxes Betty Crocker Fruit Gushers
2 boxes Nature Valley Trail Mix granola bars
2 pkg Keebler Deluxe Fudge Grahams
1 Gain dish liquid
6 cans Progresso soup
2 boxes Ritz Munchables
1 pkg Old El Paso Taco shells (no coupon, but on sale for 95 cents each, regular price $1.99 = 52% savings)
1 pkg Old El Paso tortillas (same)
24-pack of Deer Park water (had a rain check from when item was on sale for $2.99)
2 South Asia noodle bowls
1 Colgate Total Advanced Whitening toothpaste
3 pkg Pillsbury Toaster Strudels
1 Wanchai Ferry frozen meal kit
1 can Pillsbury cinnamon roll dough
1 can Pillsbury orange danish dough
1 pkg John Morrell Hot Off the Bone sliced chicken
1 Dayquil Mucus Control

Let me highlight a few of these items.
Colgate Total Advanced Whitening toothpaste, 4 oz.
Regular price: $3.39
Sale price: 2 for $5 ($2.50 ea.)
Coupon: $1 (from 9/12 SmartSaver)
$2.50 (sale price)
- $2.00 coupon (coupon doubled, so worth $2)
= $0.50 final price, savings of 85%

John Morrell Hot Off the Bone Sliced Chicken, 8-10 oz.
Regular price: $4.99
Sale price: BOGO ($2.49 ea)
Coupon: $1 (from 8/29 SmartSaver)
$2.49 (sale price)
- $2.00 (doubled coupon value)
= 49 cents final price, savings of 90%

2 Simply Asia Noodle Bowls, 8.5 oz.
Regular price: $3.19 ea.
Sale price: BOGO
Coupon: $1 on 2 (from 8/29 Red Plum)
$3.19 (sale price for 2 bowls)
- $2 (doubled coupon value)
= $1.19, final price for 2 bowls, 60 cents each, savings of 81%

Dayquil Mucus Control, 10 oz.
Regular price: $6.99
Sale price: $3.49 (close out)
Coupon: $1.50 (from 8/29 Proctor & Gamble)
- $3.00 (doubled coupon value)
= 49 cents final price, savings of 93%

I was also able to take advantage of an additional promotion going on for General Mills: Buy 20 General Mills items in one transaction, get $6 deducted from your total bill before tax.

Here are the stats for this trip:
Original price: $117.78
-Store sales: $44.22
-Coupons: $30.99
-GM promo: $6
Final price: $36.57
$ saved: $81.21
% saved: 69%

So, is it worth it? YES!!

1 comment:

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