I'm learning how to use coupons. Maybe it's a little late in my life to be figuring this one out, but all of the sudden having three kids will make anyone start looking for a way to save money.
It's not that I haven't used coupons before -- I have. But not in the same way. I used to use coupons as a reason to go buy something. For instance, I would be sitting at my desk at work and all of the sudden I'd get an e-mail from Ann Taylor announcing that there is 40% off sale! I would never think about whether I really needed any new clothes, but I'd immediately go to the website and find something to buy so that I could save money. . . . I'd happily spend $180 and then call and tell Gary how I had just saved us $120 -- when I wouldn't have spent the $180 had I not known about the sale in the first place. . . .
This new sort of couponing that I'm learning is very different. A few weeks ago, a friend at work sent me the link to Southern Savers (I now have the Southern Savers button on my sidebar). It is a website that explains the most effective way to use coupons -- basically finding items on sale and then "stacking" coupons to get the best deal possible. I skimmed it, then replied that it wouldn't work for me because (1) we are brand loyal, (2) we have no storage space to stockpile, and (3) I didn't have the time to deal with it. The next 2 times I went to the grocery store, every time I left I felt guilty, as if I were wasting money. I found myself back on the Southern Savers website learning how couponing works. . . .
Although it is explained MUCH better on the website, generally the goal is to find things on sale, and then use coupons to get them for even cheaper. Here's an example: This week at Publix, 45 ounces of Ragu pasta sauce is regularly $3.19. This week it is on sale (buy-one-get-one-free) for $1.59 each. I have a coupon to get $1 off 2 jars of Ragu. That means that 45 ounces of Ragu is only $1.09 per jar instead of $3.19 -- which is savings of $2.10 per jar. There are TONS of items like that. Every week. You can almost buy all of your groceries on sale. And not just on sale, but big-time sale.
The goal is to buy as much as you need until the next time whatever it is goes on sale -- usually an 8-week cycle. It takes a while to get started, mostly because you have to save up coupons. For the last 3 Sundays, we have picked up the paper so that I can clip coupons. At first I let too many coupons go. I would think -- oh, we don't use Bounty paper towels and pass on the coupon. Then I realized that the way to look at it is whether we use paper towels! I was kicking myself when a week later paper towels were majorly on sale and that coupon would have gotten them for downright close to free. So now I clip anything that I would use if it were free.
Anyway, the first "couponing" trip I had to Publix (September 20, 2009), I spent $134.76 and saved $37.79. Not bad for a first-time, halfhearted attempt. I've finally started to get the hang of it, and I will be surprised if I don't cut our grocery bills at least in half in another month's time. It does take planning, but it's much easier than I had expected, and it's kind of fun to save this kind of money!! Now it did take some time to really understand the process (and the couponing lingo), but it's definitely doable.
I explained the process to Gary the other night and showed him examples. He was literally laughing -- almost giddy with excitement and disbelief. He didn't think it was possible. But, he has agreed to clean out the closet under the stairs (one of those closets ALWAYS in need of cleaning out) and put in some shelves so I can stockpile. Gary also did a little number crunching and came to the conclusion that I could easily put all three of our children through college (in-state, public) just by couponing. . . .
Taking this new "couponing" concept in mind, I started looking at things beyond groceries. I realized not long ago that the babies have no fall or winter shoes and that I needed to buy them some shoes. I found some online that I liked, and was about to click the "PURCHASE" button when I started wondering if perhaps there was a coupon somewhere. . . . A quick google search later and I had a code for 15% off for that brand of shoes and free shipping. I've applied that reasoning many times over the last couple of weeks, and my savings are really quite amazing.
I decided to start working on learning to "CVS" properly, so I'll let you know how that goes (see Southern Savers for details). I figure I'll get arrested for theft if it works the way it is described. . . .
Anyway, just to show how much a little extra effort can save us, I've added a couple of boxes to my sidebar -- one shows a running total of how much I've saved on groceries (and anything you buy in a grocery store) by couponing, and the other shows a running total of my savings on other items (mostly children's clothing) -- all since September 20, 2009. I can't wait to see those numbers get higher and higher and higher.
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