May 8, 2012

How I Use Coupons for Grocery Shopping

About a year ago now I wrote a series of articles in my Adventures in Couponing part 1, part 2 and part 3.   Back then I had a free subscription to the local newspaper for a few weeks so I tried out clipping coupons.   The end result was that I saved only $13 total which wasn't really enough to pay for a newspaper subscription.

Since then I've continued to use coupons in a more limited fashion while grocery shopping.   Basically I collect any coupons that I can find that we might use.   The other day I had a $2 coupon and a 75¢ coupon and saved $2.75 in one grocery trip.  

1 ) Easy and free sources for coupons.

I don't go too far out of my way to get coupons.    We no longer get the newspaper so we don't have access to those coupons.  But theres still several source of coupons, some are simply handed to me...

Cash register coupons - these are coupons that are printed out for me at the check out.   They are targeted at us based on our purchase history in the store.   Most of them are for products we use but they are often not brands we want.   Sometimes they are the exact brand we want and buy so they can be a no brainer.
Promo coupons from our rewards card - About once a month the store we shop at sends out a mailing to our home with coupons targeted at us.  Sometimes they can be great deals and they are often for brands we already buy.
Coupon circulars in the mailbox - While we don't get the newspaper we still get coupon circulars from companies like RedPlum in the mailbox.   When I get these I take a minute or two to flip through them and grab the coupons for brands and/or products we use.
Newspaper ads in store - Our grocery store has their newspaper ads available in the store so you can still get their store coupons without the newspaper subscription. 
Coupons loaded on rewards card - Our grocery store also has a mechanism online where I can load manufacturers coupons to our rewards card.   Then when I'm checking out the coupons are automatically credited without the need for me to clip and redeem a physical paper coupon.
Online Printable Coupons - This is a good source that I don't actually use myself.   There are many websites that you can get free coupons from to print out.   One reason I haven't done so is that the manufacturer coupons are often redundant so I see the same offers in the mailbox or via my online rewards card.  One minor downside to online printable coupons is the cost of paper and ink you use to print them out.

2) Spending minimal time.    I don't spend much time saving and organizing coupons.   I have been simply stashing any coupon we might use in an envelope.    Then when I am in the store I'll skim through the coupons to see if anything matches my shopping list.   Added all up I probably spend 5 minutes or less per week to collect and use my coupons.

3) Targeting items we use or might use.    I only save coupons for items we normally buy or ones we might buy.    I am not too flexible on our coupon use.  We do not change our purchase habits much in order to save money via a coupon.    For some brands I'm flexible but for others I insist on specific brands.   For example I am flexible on facial tissue and will buy Puffs or Kleenex based on whats on sale so a coupon for one or the other may sway our choice there.  On the other hand I only buy a specific brand of dental floss called 'satin' because its what works best for me.

4) Limit myself to one  store.   I do not drive around town visiting multiple grocery stores to chase coupon bargains.  In my Adventures in Couponing experiment I only saved a few dollars per week maximum and that was with the use of newspaper coupons.  I figure that driving around to multiple stores would cost more more in gasoline and time than its worth for the marginal increased savings I'd get.   If I put in a lot of time and maximized my return on coupons then it may make sense to make trips to specific stores, but as it is my minimal effort system doesn't warrant it.

I probably save $1 or $2 every couple trips to the store this way.   Thats not a lot of money but it is pretty good return for 5 minutes of easy work. 

If I wanted to spend more time then I'm sure I could save a bit more money.   I could also save more money if I wanted to be more flexible in our purchases.  


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