Couponing 101: First Steps on the Saving Journey

Jill,

I only buy for myself, and I don’t know how to budget for food. I’m trying to figure out how much I could or should spend every week. How often should I stock up? Also, how do you decide which stores to go to each week? Any advice you could give would be great.” – Lisa

Lisa,

Knowing where to start can be overwhelming for a new coupon shopper! First, think about your grocery bills today. Make a mental list of what you buy most frequently. This list may include cereal, pasta, bottled juices and other packaged items, fresh meat and produce and personal care items, such as toothpaste, shampoo and razors.

Aim to cut your current budget in half. While some weeks your outlay may be higher or lower, each week’s bill should average out to half of what you spend today.

How do you do this? By saving coupons to use during a good sale and by stocking up when prices are lowest! It’s crucial to shop according to the pricing cycles at a store. Prices fluctuate from high to low on any given product, typically in a 12-week pattern. Perhaps you usually purchase only what you’ll use in a week. As you embark on your first couponing adventure, you must focus on a longer timeframe. Stock up on an item you frequently use item when it hits its lowest price; buy enough to last 12 weeks, which is when you can expect its price to again hit a low.

If you eat one box of cereal every two weeks, buy six when your favorite brand goes on sale. If you eat a bag of frozen vegetables every week, buy twelve when they go on sale, provided you have the freezer space to store them!

Here’s another simple tip to help you know how much to buy: Any time you see an item on sale, especially if is a half or a third off its regular price, buy multiples that equal the original price of the item. For example, if a jar of pasta sauce regularly priced at $2.99 is on sale for 99 cents, buy three jars. Even if you don’t use coupons, you’ll pay $2.99 for three jars instead of one. While your out-of-pocket budget for this item won’t change, the quantity that you’ll bring home is greater than before. This is how you start building your stockpile, too.

At about the 12-week mark, you will have shopped through one entire sales cycle at your store. You’ll see the prices on your grocery staples fluctuate and you’ll develop a sense for a good deal. This is true for meats and produce, too. While those items are a little more difficult to find coupons for, watching your price-per-pound helps cut these prices down. If you have the freezer space to stock up on meats, do so. Pork chops at 99 cents per pound are a much better buy than those same chops at $2.49 per pound.

As far as what stores to go to each week, I don’t stick to one particular place. I look at the ads, see what stores have the best sales for the week and shop there. I tend to shop at one grocery store and one drugstore per week because pharmacies always have great deals on personal care items. Other shoppers love to chase deals from store to store. If you’re one of them, you can skim sales at multiple stores and build your stockpile faster.

When you’re able to shop ahead of your needs, you will pay what you want to pay and you will not be captive to the market price. You won’t find yourself trapped, thinking, “I need laundry detergent this week, so I’ll pay whatever price it happens to be today.” Instead, you’ll head to your stockpile and grab a bottle, knowing you paid the best price possible… for everything!

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