When I first quit my job to stay home with Hannah I fancied myself rather frugal. As time has passed and our family has grown while our budget has shrunk, I have learned quite a bit about stretching our grocery dollars. I know some people don’t have to coupon or shop sales or stockpile loss leaders, and that’s great. Some people hate coupons and feel terribly put upon if they have to buy things on sale or shop at regular grocery stores, and that’s fine too. Personally I take grocery shopping as a challenge and choose to see shopping as an opportunity to bless my family and exercise my mental faculties. Anyone can casually use coupons, but I think it takes a fairly high degree of dedication and analysis to consistently save 60-70% on groceries as I do now (I know, some people do FAR far better), and although sometimes it gets me down because I’d rather spend the time reading or something, I like to keep a positive outlook on the matter.
Since dropping the coupon/sale shopping thing is not an option for me at the moment, I need to find ways to keep it under control. As you know if you’ve ever thrown your hat in the ring at CVS or the grocery stores, you can quickly get swept up in spending hours hunting coupons and deals all over town. Since having Sarah, I’ve been trying to find ways to cut back on the time I invest in couponing and the amount of times I have to load and unload three car seats without sacrificing the quality or quantity of our food or increasing our budget.
I first set out to analyze where and how I find the greatest savings. I quickly realized that the vast majority of my deals and bargains came from the pre-made posts on Money Saving Mom (or blogs she links to in posts) that list items on sale and the coupons you need to make it a good deal, or from stumbling on random marked down items for which I did not have coupons. Although there were times when I would find something marked down and have a coupon for it, those times were quite rare and often the item was not something I really needed anyway. On the other hand, often I would lose out on deals because I found too late that I had not clipped the coupon I needed.
I noticed that in the deal posts on Money Saving Mom, the coupons were listed with the insert date and name (for example, “50 cents off, 8/30 Smart Source”). As an experiment, I decided to stop clipping coupons and just start saving the entire insert.
- I quickly go through the inserts when I get them and cut out coupons for things I know I will use, or coupons that are a particularly high value, or coupons for items that are always free with coupons every few weeks (you get to recognize those the longer you do this).
- Then I mark the date on the insert and file it in a folder in chronological order so I can find it easily. I keep the coupons I cut out in a 3×5 card file box I got free at CVS this summer – one tab for each major store I visit on occasion (CVS, Walgreens, Meijer, Kroger, Walmart, Whole Foods, Target, Jo-Ann Fabrics – I don’t go to all of them every week!), one tab for diaper coupons and one tab for everything else.
- When I check a deal post on Money Saving Mom, I make a list on a small piece of paper and find the coupons I need for those deals, then file the list and the coupons in the tab for that particular store.
I find it is SO much easier to find a coupon by going straight to the dated insert rather than hunting for one elusive deoderant coupon in a huge file of “toiletries” coupons. If I go by that store, I’m all set because I have my coupons and list ready. I don’t lose lists or coupons, I don’t have a gigantic coupon folder or box to haul around, and everything stays organized.
So far this new strategy is saving me a lot of time and stress, and helping me stay more organized and get through stores more quickly, which is a big bonus when I’m trying to get in and out with three little ones.
I am by no means trying to suggest that this is a strategy that would work for everyone. We’re all in different situations and if your system isn’t broken, don’t fix it! However, if you’re looking for a way to streamline or save time on your couponing/sale shopping, this might be something to consider.
If you coupon, how do you stay organized? I love hearing about other people’s systems because it helps me get ideas!