August 03, 2011

Couponing Resources: Part 5 - Plan Ahead to Max Your Savings

Now that you can start amassing large (or small, yet strategic) amounts of coupons, let's get really practical.  After years of couponing and going from one extreme to another, I now coupon with two basic principals.

1) The best way to save money is not to spend it.  My point?  Don't let coupons get you to buy stuff you don't need or really want.  Be careful the coupons and their accompanying ads don't just act as commercials do and urge you to get a product you don't really want.  Think carefully about whether it's something that fits your health, lifestyle, quality expectations, or even if you really need it, as the company would like to convince you that you do.  Don't get sucked in just because it's new or because there's a coupon for it.  Buy only what your family needs or what you can donate to charity.

2) The best way to shop is efficiently.  If I can get the groceries I need in one trip to last my family for a whole week, that saves me time and gas money in going again until next week.  So I do some planning ahead.  I plan my main meals and make my shopping list to be sure I have all the ingredients.  I think ahead to any breakfast or lunch ingredients we need.  I consider staples like bread, milk, cereal, etc. and add those to the list.

Also, in the area of efficiency, if you have one or two main stores you shop at regularly, it's worthwhile to make a shopping list customized for the floor plan of that store.  I have one for the military commissary that is categorized from Produce, to what's in aisle 1, 2, all the way to meat, dairy, frozen, etc.  Having a heading with blank space on your list makes it easy to add ingredients under the proper places, so when you get to the store, you can go efficiently through the store and get things in order, up and down the aisles, without having to wander back and forth (like I do when I'm not organized)!  So if you can type and save a template as I describe here, just print out one and have it on your fridge, and grab it when you get ready to meal plan.  It saves a lot of time and headache, (especially if you're bringing small children along.)

Now that you know what you need, it's time to go through your coupons.  Start by checking your coupon box for any coupons for items on your list.  Check a coupon database (Part 2 discussed this) next, for printable coupons, and for coupons in your collected inserts which you may not yet have clipped.  As I gather my coupons, I put them in an envelope labeled with the store's name (the envelope is re-usable for several weeks) and also mark a little "c", which I circle, to note that I have a coupon for that item.  That way, while shopping, I can double-check the requirements of the coupon and make sure I meet them (i.e. the coupon may require a certain size package, or more than one package).

Once I'm satisfied that I have checked for any available coupons, I usually have anywhere from 5-20 coupons ready to use that I didn't have before, and this can save me several dollars at the checkout.  This type of planning takes time, but the rewards are worth it - you're saving money and time at the store!

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