Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Groceries Pt. 4: How the Coupon Queens Do It

We don't coupon nearly as much as we used to. Especially now that we're eating only humanely-raised meat, mostly organic vegetables, and much less boxed and processed food.

But, back in the day (before all the internet coupon sites), we were pretty darn good at it. Here's what we did:

1. Collected all the circulars we could get my hands on from family, friends, and work. Tanya works at radio stations, so there were also plenty of extra newspapers laying around. If you can't afford a newspaper subscription, you might want to contact your local TV or radio station and ask if you can get their leftovers before they're recycled.

2. Cut, clipped and filed coupons according to product type (i.e. canned veggies, cleaning supplies, etc). We put them all in plastic baseball card organizers, then in a binder.

3. Mastered one of the basic rules of advanced couponing: If something is BOGO (buy-one-get-one-free), you can buy two and use two coupons. That's how you get stuff for next-to-nothing. Imagine a $3 tube of toothpaste. If it's BOGO and you have two 50-cent coupons and your store doubles coupons, you'd get 2 tubes for $1 .... or 50-cents a tube.

4. Shopped late on Tuesday nights. At one of our local stores the sales ran Wednesday - Tuesday, meaning they'd change to the new prices (theoretically) Tuesday at midnight. The store had a policy that if they charged you the wrong amount at checkout you got the item for free. By shopping around 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday nights I'd often catch the store after they'd started reprogramming the computer scanners for the new prices, even though the new prices weren't officially in effect. I'd usually catch at least three or four things for which I was mischarged, meaning I got them for free.

Tricky? Yes. Unethical? I don't think so. I was just playing by the store's own rules! And I would've been shopping late at night anyway. That was back in the day when I had 3 kids under the age of 6 and grocery shopping, alone late at night, was my only hobby.

In Groceries Pt. 3: Making (and Sticking to) a Meal Plan, our Grocery Store Rock Stars offered such great advice we asked them for tips on couponing.

From Danielle (on the right)

Most stores will let you use both a manufacture coupon AND a store coupon on the item. The store I do a lot of my shopping at does this AND they double manufacture coupons up to $1. (Danielle)

We're a military family and although the commissary generally has cheaper prices than civilian stores and there's no tax, they do have a surcharge and you have to tip the baggers (who only work for tips), plus there are no generic brands. I've found that I can get better overall deals at the regular stores.

Sit on your coupons. If you get a good coupon on Sunday, don't run out and use it right away. The stores' sales don't usually run concurrently with the coupons. There can be a 3 week lag between coupon issuing and when the item is on sale in the store.

STOCK UP on things when they're on sale. I think Mom kind of thought I was a little crazy when she went shopping with me recently. Vons had Cheerios on sale. The regular price is $3.99/box. The sale price was $1.99/box when you bought 4 boxes. I had two coupons that were $1 off the purchase of 2 boxes. I bought 4 boxes of cereal for roughly $6. If I had paid the regular price, I would have spent $15.96.

I always ask for a raincheck if the thing I want is out of stock. You can also ask for substitutions! Most people don't do that.

From Krista (on the left)

Couponing is great, but a lot of times you can save more money by not using a coupon and instead buying the store brand.

From Jessica (gosh I love that photo -- rocking the hard hat!)

In order to get lots of coupons that are not readily advertised, you have to “sell your name” and register with each name brand food manufacturer…sadly to save a buck. But the perk is they also have lots of recipes and links to sites for healthy cooking on a budget.

Want more tips? Just check out these Extreme Couponers. Yeah, some of 'em are a little (or. a. LOT.) crazy, but there's a method in their madness.

Note: If the videos don't show up for you, click the video link (which will lead to a dead URL), then backpage into the page again. For some reason that's the only way to make the videos load (weird web gremlins!)

(love this one... remember my adventures in dumpster diving?!?)

In Groceries Pt. 5 (our final installment in the series), we explore the Power of the Price Book.... what grocery stores don't want you to know!

But first -- tell us about your grocery store tips! How do you save money with coupons? Do you have any favorite coupon websites?


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