Staying organized is the first rule to saving money. You can’t stay on a budget if you don’t do a little planning. Here are some tips that I use to keep my couponing organized–and managing my time. I break my shopping up into shopping for food and pharmacy shopping because they require two different planning tactics.
Shopping for food:
- Before heading out to my local supermarket, I take a look at the “match-ups”on a local coupon blog, Kansas City Mamas. Every week, they match existing coupons with each store’s advertised sales. Not all of these match-ups make for a great deal, so they highlight those that are at “stock-up” prices. Search for a local or regional blog to follow–and be sure they highlight the deals that are worthwhile. A $2.99 sale on a small box of Cheerios is rarely a good deal–even with a coupon.
- Based on what the blogs have told me, I decide which stores have deals that I want to get. I go to Pricechopper about every week because it is nearby and offers amazing sales. But Hen House and HyVee don’t always have enough on sale to be worth my time.
- I combine trips with taking my daughter to gymnastics or other errands. The last thing you want to do is trade the money spent on food for gas.
- I print out any coupons I don’t have that would make for a good deal. The blogs I follow provide the links to them (in return they get a small kick-back from the coupon companies for the advertising).
- I clip and take only my food coupons in my binder. I never purchase non-food products at the supermarket–because CVS and Walgreens offer better deals. Sometimes I pull out those that I know I’ll be using and put them in the front.
- With my food coupons in hand, I like to stroll each isle looking at the weekly sales, and pull the coupons as a shop. SO many sales are unadvertised, that I find this works bests. Because the sale items usually have noticeable tags, I can move along pretty fast. I have learned what good price points are for most items—so it’s easy now to browse quickly.
- After I have shopped the very best deals at my supermarket–and hopefully stocked up on a few staples, I go back and plan meals around what I was able to purchase. If I don’t have what I need to complete a meal, then I make a shopping list for Aldi. I often have a lot of produce needs that I fill there as well.
- Occasionally, I go to Sam’s Club–usually only once a month. There are only a few things that can be purchased there cheaper than combining coupons with supermarket sales–typically items from companies that rarely offer coupons. I probably will not renew my membership there this year–I don’t use it enough to justify the cost.
Pharmacy Shopping (mostly non-food shopping)
- I don’t clip coupons for non-food items because they rarely have unadvertised sales at CVS and Walgreens–so lugging all those clipped coupons around is just too much work. After I’ve clipped out the food coupons I want, I write the published date on the front of each coupon insert and keep them in my desk. This helps me find the right insert later when referenced in the store “matchup” list. (Note: Saving all of your coupon inserts is also a great idea for other reasons. There are a lot of things that I don’t want or need. But some deals are so good, you can “make money” by buying the product–and then just donate it to a friend. This concept will be addressed more in my posts about using coupons at CVS and Walgreens.)
- I use the blog, hip2save.com to organize my Sunday trips to these two stores. I create a detailed shopping list based on Collin’s match-ups for these stores. She highlights the best deals–and usually those are the only ones I go out for–but I still browse the whole post for things I may be running low on. Sometimes you have to pay a bit more to stay stocked on items of a certain brand. I only like Dove Clinical deodorant–so even though $2 a box is considered a noteworthy deal, sale purchase limits sometimes force me to buy it at $3-4.
- After pulling the match-ups from Hip2Save that I like, I check over the ad myself. I often have personalized coupons they send me (like $5 off $25 in baby items that suddenly turns a decent diaper sale a diaper blowout). I also get a lot of post-purchase coupons for $10 off a purchase of $50 that make moderate deals even better. And ALL of these CVS store coupons can be “stacked” on in the same transaction–CVS is one of the most lenient stores in regards to using coupons.
- Once my list is complete, I pull the coupons I need and take them with me to the store. Hip2Save provides links to those available online. She’s pretty thorough. If the coupon exists and is legal, she will usually have it listed.
- I check my email for any coupons from CVS–they send a few each month that I can send straight to my ExtraCare card. When I check out, the cashier will ask which ones I’d like to apply to the transaction. You also have the option to print if you don’t trust sending them to your card.
- I head to the store and shop for the things on my list. Occasionally, they will run out of the item, so I request a rain check for those items.
CVS and Walgreens are both very difficult to learn to coupon–I still get tripped up on occasion. There are a lot of rules to follow, but also a lot of opportunities. I will create separate posts on how to best use coupons at these stores.
I have several favorite go-to foods that allow my family a little treat, and still keep our waistlines in check. The best part about them–they’re cheap eats!
Just keep in mind that all eating should be done conscientiously. Watching TV, talking on the phone or being on the internet while snacking is a good way to overeat. The mind needs to be involved, too!
- Reduced-fat Wheat Thins and Laughing Cow Cheese slices (low fat version). You can go to Aldi and get the generic version of this (not my favorite), or coupon it down to about $1 a box for Wheat Thins and $1.50-$2 for the cheese. The best part is that both stock well. The individually-wrapped cheese slices can stay in your fridge for months! Be sure to portion out the crackers (about 17-21).
- Apples and greek yogurt. Dip whichever apple type is on sale ($1 a pound is good). There are so many greek yogurt brands now and tons of coupons to help get the price down. I buy Chobani brand by the tub.
- Homemade Rice Krispie treats. We all need a sweet treat once in a while. Rice Krispie treats have a lot less fat that cookies. The key is portioning. As soon as they cool, cut them in small pieces and put them in baggies. Eating a whole pan defeats the purpose. 🙂 Marshmellows at Aldi are about $1 and I like stock up on Rice Krispie cereal when it’s about $2/box and I have a coupon.
- Nearly fat-free popcorn. This is my one exception to conscientiousness snacking. Go ahead and eat it during a movie or while your working. It’s usually 94-98% fat free. Every store sells it–and many have a generic brand. A great price point is under $1 for a box of three bags. Occasionally, you can coupon a name brand for around $.50 for a box of three bags.
- Celery and PB. Celery at Aldi is so cheap they nearly give it away. With some $2.00 honey peanut butter–you’ve got a protein-packed snack. Just be sure to spread a thin layer of PB on a few stalks of celery. You don’t want to overeat foods high in fat–even when it’s the good kind.
- Raisins and dried cranberry. For these, coupons can be hard to come by, but Sam’s club offers a great price on Ocean Spray cranberries in a large bag. Just use sandwich baggies to portion (I never, ever eat directly out of a bag; it’s a budget and diet buster!).
- Chocolate lovers need something, too. Jello Pudding coupons pop up once in a while. The 60-calorie pre-packaged or boxed puddings are a great way to get a quick chocolate fix.
- Flavored nuts are high in protein and easy to coupon–Walgreens has Blue Diamond on sale B1G1 just about every other week. We love the ones with a little spice to them. Just skip those covered in sugar.
It’s a cheap, quick meal that kids love. But left alone, boxed mac & cheese is high in fat and simple carbs. Here’s how to make it healthier.
- Wait for a sale that includes Kraft’s whole grain variety. My older daughter does not enjoy this variety as much as the creamy ones, but she’ll still eat it. The whole grains are harder to break down, so they keep you filling fuller longer. And because it’s a blend (only 50% whole grain) it goes down like regular noodles–you won’t notice much difference. I actually prefer the whole grain variety, as it’s slightly more firm and less sensitive to overcooking.
- Cut the butter. I know one mom that leaves it out entirely–I usually put a half tablespoon in for texture. Cutting out butter is like switching to diet pop; you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll get used to it.
- Use skim milk.
- Mix in the green veggies! Frozen green beans and peas are so healthy for children. But getting them to eat them can be tricky–especially the frozen kind because they have less salt than canned vegetables So I put everything into a bowl for them and give it a quick mix. With a little of the cheese sauce on the green veggies–they go down easy. And if you want to add a protein, beans also mix in well–my daughters prefer black beans!
Let’s start with the most basic part of beginning couponing: the supplies. This is what I recommend.
- A Sunday only newspaper subscription (be sure it is a paper that carries Red Plum, Smart Source and P&G coupons). Don’t ever pay more than the price of paying for one at the store. If you keep your eyes open, you might find a deal on Groupon. I just signed up for 26 Sunday papers for $17!
- I purchase 0-5 additional newspapers per week. To figure out how many more I want to buy, I check Sunday Coupon Preview to find out how many inserts there will be and get an idea of the coupon quality. If the paper has 0-1 insert, I sometimes pass on purchasing any additional. If there will be 2 coupon inserts, I might buy 2-4 papers depending on the quality of the coupons. For papers with 3-5 inserts, I buy 4-5 more. Note: photocopying coupons is illegal and considered theft by stores. They do not get reimbursed from the manufacturer for illegally reproduced coupons.
- A coupon binder with dollar bill or card holders. I use a zip-up 3-ring Mead binder. I don’t spend tons of time organizing it–I just out my coupons and stick them in a slot. Each Saturday night, I spend about 10 min to remove any expired coupons.
- A simple printer. You’ll have some expense with the ink, but it’s worth it (I buy recycled ink cartridges online). Just be sure to set it on fast draft/black ink only. Most of the coupons I print come from coupons.com; redplum.com and smartsource.com. Most require you to download a coupon printer thing to your computer—it’s a must do. Online coupons are very important to have as they usually are higher value than those in the newspaper.
- Book mark SouthernSavers.com Coupon Database. It’s a very up-to-date, searchable database of current (legit) coupons available online or in previous newspapers. So if you know you need Axe body spray, but you don’t know if you have a coupon, just search “Axe”.
Note: With most of the coupon websites, you get to print each coupon twice. If you have more than one computer in the house, you can get twice the coupons. The print limits are per computer, not household.