Are you looking for ways to save money on groceries using coupons WITHOUT becoming one of those extreme couponers who purchase grocery carts full of hot sauce…and only spend seventeen cents at the checkout? If your answer is yes then you’ve come to the right place! My Coupon Routine will give you a glimpse in to how I do things, and I’ve made sure to include my best tips and favorite resources!
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My Coupon Routine: Step-by-Step
Step 1: Create a grocery list! I take a quick look in the pantry and consider the meals I would like to make over the next handful of days/weeks. If there’s an item I need, I add it to the list.
Step 2: Gather your coupons! My favorite website for finding great online coupons is Coupons.com, so I always start there! If there is a coupon for an item I am planning to purchase now or in the very near future, I print it! I make a conscious effort to only print coupons on items that we typically use – not for items that we do not need or will never use.
In addition to printing coupons, I also like to raid my mom’s coupon stash! She maintains a stash of coupon inserts from her local paper. In addition to coupons from her local paper, her local library also offers a coupon basket where you can grab coupons that you’re interested in and leave behind ones that you’re not going to use. I have also seen this done in the kid’s department of a church where my kiddos have attended various pre-school activities! This has been a great way for me to pass along coupons to other moms while also being able to grab coupons for diapers and wipes that we use around here every day!
Personally, I have quit paying for a subscription to the local paper so I could get coupon inserts each week. So many coupons were going unused each week – coupons for processed foods/freezer foods/etc. that we choose not to eat. Instead, I print coupons on-line FOR FREE and grab extras here and there from my mom’s stash.
If you are interested in getting your local paper, Groupon will oftentimes run specials on newspaper subscriptions, and it may be the perfect way for you to get great coupons that will help you stay on budget with your groceries! This all depends on what you buy most often! If you want to try the paper for a few weeks, stop in to your local grocery store or a nearby gas station and grab a Sunday paper (or two)! Be sure to get there early as they usually go fast, and remember: If it’s a holiday week, coupon inserts are usually not included in that week’s paper.
Quick Tip! If you are using inserts from your local paper, grab a sharpie marker and date each insert! If you use a coupon website (My favorites are Hip2Save and Southern Savers!), you will want to be able to quickly find the coupons that they reference and having your inserts dated will make this possible!
On the blogs, Sunday paper coupon inserts are usually referred to as follows:
SS = Smart Source Coupon Insert
RP = Red Plum Coupon Insert
P&G – Proctor & Gamble
Quick Tip: Did you know you could buy coupons off of eBay? You’re technically not allowed to pay for the actual coupons but for the “labor” of the seller gathering, clipping, and mailing the coupons to you. I have done this before with Huggies wipes coupons, and it has been a huge money saver!
Okay…now back to those coupons I print…
Step 3: After printing the coupons I want, I clip them apart and file them in an accordion envelope. I organize the coupons by item and section of the store: produce; bread/cereal/pasta; fridge/freezer section; health & beauty items; household cleaners; etc. (Think through the type of things you buy, the layout of your specific grocery stores, etc.) I realize that a lot of people love their coupon binder. It is their best friend. They sleep with it under their pillow at night. They use it as a free weight when working out at the gym. However, I have never been able to make it work for me. It has felt a little overwhelming, but it’s all about finding what works for you!
Step 4: Prepare to Shop! I do most of my grocery couponing at Harris Teeter – Without coupons, Harris Teeter is definitely not the cheapest place to shop; but with coupons, I find AMAZING deals there! If you shop at Harris Teeter too, be sure to sign up for eVIC e-mails (These prices are not marked on the shelf – They are somewhat “undercover”.), upload their on-line coupons to your VIC card (definitely make sure you have a VIC card), and watch your inbox for additional weekly specials! I am also a member of a Harris Teeter Deals Facebook group where members share ideas for coupon scenarios that will work at Harris Teeter! If you’re looking to learn how to save money at Harris Teeter, this group is always hopping with success stories (especially during Super Doubles week)! In addition to groups like this, you will definitely want to check out Southern Savers! She literally does the work for you each week! She will tell you exactly how to use the coupons you have to buy the items you need! Check out the Harris Teeter section of her website! She has even made it possible for you to print out your shopping list – all generated based on which coupons you are planning to use on your shopping trip. It’s perfect – especially for those of us who feel a little short on time! If you’re not a Harris Teeter shopper, she does this same thing for several other grocery stores/drugstores.
If you’re planning to shop at Target (a place where I’ve been able to score fantastic coupon deals), you will want to check out their Cartwheel app! As much as I am loving Walmart’s Saving Catcher program (which I’ll talk about more in a just a minute), Target still wins in my book because here’s what happens: I use my Cartwheel app to save an additional percentage on some of the items that I purchase (You load deals on to the app – You can even scan your items in store to see if there is a deal on them that day.). I pay with my Target card to save an additional 5% on everything. If you are going to do this, make sure you pay the bill in full every month…always! On top of those two things, I also use lots of coupons. Target allows you to stack Target coupons with manufacture coupons. I do all of this at checkout and save loads this way! Need a little more guidance on how to use this app? The Krazy Coupon Lady has put together a great list of answers to the most frequently asked questions! On top of all of this, I also use Ibotta (which I’ll also talk more about in just a minute).
Step 5: Head to the Store! Once you have made your grocery list, gathered your coupons, and checked out the deals for the week, you are ready to shop! There are some items that I simply have to watch for sales/specials on as there is rarely a coupon offered for them – such as the milk we drink, the cheese we prefer, the meat we buy, and the produce we eat. It is important to us to have the organic/hormone-free/nitrate-free/antibiotic-free/blah-blah-blah versions of these items, so this is where I spend the most on our grocery bill. When I arrive at the store, I begin by shopping the outer edge of the store and grabbing these types of things – dairy, meat, produce, etc. After gathering these necessities, I grab my in-store specials and coupon deals. Because my coupons are organized [ahead of time] in my little accordion folder, I am able to quickly find the coupons I need for the items on my grocery list.
Preparing for your shopping trip is key! If you’re organized and ready to go, the actual shopping trip will be a breeze…unless you get a cranky check-out clerk!
Quick Tip: When checking out, look for someone who looks quick, efficient, and happy! This will make all the difference in your coupon experience!
Step 6: You’re not done at checkout! Following checkout, you are going to want to see if any follow-up deals are available on the products you have purchased!
If you’re shopping at Wal-mart, scan your receipt in to their Savings Catcher app! We have been surprised as to the money we’ve earned back with this app! After each visit, use your phone to simply scan the barcode on your receipt. The app does a price comparison (with multiple nearby stores) on every item you have purchased, and you receive a return on the difference. It’s excellent! Price matching doesn’t get any easier!
There are loads of great apps coming out everyday, and I would love hear which ones are working for you! We have been regularly using Ibotta! In addition to the coupons you’ve used in store, you can use this app to save even more! I am consistently earning money back with this app. If you need a little help getting started with Ibotta, check out this tutorial! It was a huge help when I was getting started!
Quick Tip: A handful of our local stores have been running 20% off gas card specials where if you spend a certain amount (usually $50 in groceries), you can purchase a $50 gas card for $40. I have tried to remember to do this every time I check out as this is a great savings for us! I have quite the stack of gas cards stashed away for future use!
My Coupon Routine: Final Thoughts
Using coupons, rewards, and money-saving apps, most items I purchase at the grocery stores (Harris Teeter is my favorite!) and drug stores (CVS is my favorite!) are either free, close-to-free, or heavily discounted. I hope the categories I have created below (based on our most recent shopping trips) will inspire you to jump in to the coupon game. Once you do, there is no going back and there are no regrets – I promise! You will suddenly find the time to do it, even though you swore you were too busy to coupon; and you will enjoy all the extra money in your pocket!
Items that are Typically FREE:
Johnson’s travel-size products
Most other travel-size health & beauty products
Items that are Typically CLOSE TO FREE:
frozen dinner rolls/bread
Items that are GREATLY DISCOUNTED – at least 65%-75% off or more:
Pillsbury’s refrigerated items
As you can see, most of the couponing I do is for health & beauty items or household products! If you are looking to save money over time, I would strongly encourage you to begin stockpiling these types of items! The cheapest place to buy kitchen products, cleaning supplies, paper goods, health and beauty items, etc. is not always Wal-mart – believe it or not, it’s usually CVS! Take advantage of their weekly specials, bucks back, etc. Sign up for their e-mails – Use their coupon kiosk – Stack their in-store deals with manufacture’s coupons – All of this will lead to saving a ton of money, and once again, coupon websites like Southern Savers do all the work for you!
When it comes to non-perishables, it is important to lose the idea that you are saving money by only buying things as you need them. In the grand scheme of things, in order to save money, you must buy in multiples when you can get a great deal. This will keep you from ever having to overpay for these kinds of items! In addition to saving money, stockpiling your non-perishable groceries will also make meal planning/preparation easier, and your weekly grocery trips will begin to mostly be for perishable goods that you need. Stockpiling a bit ahead will be especially helpful when you have weeks where you choose not to coupon.
For example, when I found out I was pregnant with my oldest, I started stockpiling diapers and wipes – combining sales w/ coupons, etc. – and for his entire first year, we were all set on diapers and wipes. I have used this same approach for subsequent babies, and it has saved us lots of cash (and kept us from ever running out of supplies!).
Disclaimer: There are a handful of items that we purchase in bulk through Sam’s Club and have found these deals to be as good as coupon deals that we’ve been able to do – especially as our family has grown! Once again, this all depends on the specific items you are buying for your family. You may prefer Costco or BJ’s or Amazon’s Subscribe & Save Program – same idea…just do a little price comparison, and see what you can save on there!
Quick Tip! Does your local drugstore sell the milk you drink? Do you have a local thrift store that sells the bread your family eats? Definitely check in to these options! You may be surprised at their prices and selection!
My Coupon Routine: Two Final Pieces of Advice
#1 – If all of this seems completely overwhelming to you, start small! Go at your own pace! Try just one or two coupon scenarios from one of the many AMAZING coupon blogs out there and you’ll begin to see how it works! Once again, let the sites do the work for you! I promise you’ll catch on in no time, and you’ll see the results in your bank account!
#2 – I love using Harris Teeter’s Express Lane Service (Yes, they accept coupons through the drive-thru!), but for my bigger couponing trips, I like to actually go in to the store. When it’s time for me to do this, I leave the kiddos at home with hubby. If you are planning a coupon adventure, I would highly suggest avoid taking small children with you! It can result in a very frustrating experience for everyone! Older children? Now that’s a different story! I say take them with you and teach them how all of this works! Want to teach your children a little bit about how to stretch a dollar? Want them to learn to appreciate the value of a dollar? Let them join you! The opportunities to reinforce math skills and teach life lessons are endless!
In Summary: Yes, I am unashamedly a couponer! While there are most definitely times when couponing does not work for us and extreme couponers everywhere would shake their head at me in disappointment, for many items, I am able to find great deals that we use here in our home, and I would love to hear about how you do it, too!
Are you couponer? Want is your Coupon Routine?
Do you use a coupon binder or no? Do you subscribe to the Sunday paper or no? Would you consider yourself an extreme couponer or no?
Want to read a little bit about how we’re able to dress our kids for next to nothing?