August 04, 2012
Lesson 24: The Lazy Couponer (Save and Have a Life)
Seminary, a place full of poor graduate students who often have children, is a great place to learn how to save money, make money stretch further and appreciate the concept of free! Some of these women (and men) are professionals are making $20 last for a week. Some haven't paid for toothpaste in years.
I am not one of these professionals. Part of the reason is that I don't think we are quite as destitute as others. For various reasons the need to make every penny count is not quite as immediate.
However, the other reason is that I am kind of lazy when it comes to all these money-saving tactics.
I am happy to save money, or make money, but I truly believe that the time required to save/make said money must yield comparable results. Three hours of work for 30 cents isn't worth it to me.
Last year, I, like most everyone I knew, got really into couponing. This was before Extreme Couponing aired, but just. If you are not a couponer, Extreme Couponing can make it seem like couponing must be a full-time job. If you want an entire basement full of diapers for a baby you don't have yet, then yes, it can require massive amounts of time, printer ink, and dumpster diving clothes.
However, if you goals are smaller than that, I'll briefly let you in a lazier version of couponing.
1. Once you begin couponing, you will feel the need to become an extreme couponer. You will ignore some of my lazy couponing rules, and you will obsessively search multiple websites, stores, and all fliers. Believe me, we've all gone through this. Let me tell you right now, it's not worth it. Remember, you coupon to live. You do not live to coupon!
2. Once you begin saving, you will have a difficult time spending more than a dollar on almost anything at the grocery store. Believe me, there are items at the grocery store that do not have available coupons ... think produce, milk, meat, a.k.a. real food! Do not sacrifice your family's health just because you can't coupon to buy these products.
Lazy Coupon Rules:
1. Find ONE main couponing website to use. There are many, many, many couponing websites out there. A lot of them repeat information. Therefore, pick one and stick with it. Will you miss some deals? Yes, you will. But you will also save time, and you will still save.
* I use southernsavers.com. It separates the various stores at the top, and so you can easily find which store's deals you want to view. (Perhaps someone from the North could post a good northern site in the comment section).
2. Pick ONE main store to shop from. It is far too complicated to keep track of the coupon policies, sales, and cycles of multiple grocery stores. Pick one and decide that's where you are going to shop. It can take way too long to travel to one store for Cheerios, another for 2 boxes of pasta, another for hand soap, and so on. Time and gas are wasted. Will you miss some deals? Yes, but stores cycle through their sales and so, even if you don't get the deal this week, you will on a different week.
* I almost exclusively coupon at Harris Teeter. HT has good sales through its E-Vic program. HT also always doubles coupons under a dollar. Finally, HT occasionally has super-double where they double anything up to $2, and they have Triple Coupon, where they triple anything under a dollar. These weeks are pretty awesome!
3. Choose ONE main source for coupons. I'm serious about this. Options include the Newspaper, Internet searches, Internet websites, printable forms, put on your card forms and so on. I think it can get way too complicated if you try to do all of these things. I say, pick one, let that be your source and get on with clipping and saving.
* I'm a newspaper girl. A Sunday paper costs $2. This means if you only clip and use $2 worth of coupons, you've made your money back. I clip them on Sunday while Mark reads the paper, and then I use a very generic filing system. It's a little plastic acordian file that fits in my purse. I have it separated into categories such as BABY, CEREAL, DAIRY PRODUCTS, SAUCES.
4. Cut the coupon for every product that you would buy if it was FREE. This is where the savings really comes. There are a lot of products that I would never buy if I didn't get it for free, but Mark is happy to eat almost anything and will use almost any kind of shampoo. Thus, cutting all these coupons does not really take much extra time, and then you have the coupon when the deal surfaces.
5. Plan your trip once a week and shop. As your coupons build up, the weekly sales will match your coupons more often. Wait until an item is at its best price. Over time you will learn what this price is. You will probably make some mistakes at the beginning and pay more than you have to. This is ok. You will learn. Also, if you show up and an item on your list is all gone, you have two options. You could get a "rain check" on it and come back later to buy it, or you could save time, forget the item, and buy it next time it's on sale. I've never gotten a rain check, because I'm lazy. It's up to you really.
A Few Additional Tips:
1. DO NOT USE COUPONS TO BUY THINGS YOU DON'T WANT. Getting something you don't really want for free is one thing. Paying for it is another! This is one way that people really get sucked in and get turned off from couponing.
* I have a .50 limit for weird or unwanted products.
2. Recognize the limitations of coupons. Let's be honest. Most of the food products that can be bought with coupons are not really all that good for you ... chips, sugary cereals, sugary yogurt, salad dressing, and so on. You're entire grocery trip should not entail only coupon-bought items. You could end up serving some really weird dinners.
3. Use coupons on products and brands you do like. Though a lot of coupons are for junky items, coupons are great for fridge staples such as mayonaise, chicken broth, ketchup, bread, cream, sour cream, mustard, and so on. They are also great for paper products, tin foil, shampoo, bath soap, diapers, and so on. If you use coupons for these items that you already need to buy, it can save you money to spend more money on say, organic milk or grass-fed beef.
4. Doing something is better than doing nothing. I have used the same shampoo since high school. Every few weeks there is a coupon for my shampoo. Even if I cut nothing else out of the paper, I always cut this coupon. Same with diaper coupons. Even if I'm having a really lazy week and don't want to search my website, go to my usual store, or cut all potential coupons, I always cut the coupons for the products I have to buy anyway. Diapers and shampoo fall into this category.
To be honest, I have become even more lazy than before. When we moved, I lost access to a Harris Teeter and have not felt like learning a new grocery store. In some ways I wrote this post to myself as a reminder, that it really does not take that much effort to save some money. I will now post a picture from my better days as an encouragement to you and me.
Yum, those Milano cookies look good! I would never splurge on those, but would be happy to eat them right now. This was from a year ago, and I think we've finally run out of the hot sauce.
Lesson Learned: Don't be crazy and a slave. Be lazy and save!