Couponing 101: Shifting Gears and Shopping Mentality




At the beginning of the year, I made a series of resolutions.  One of them involved learning how to coupon, and ever since then, my wife has been on me to write a post for her on the topic.  It’s now September.  Nine months later, and hearing ‘you should write that’ constantly, I finally sat down to do it.  Ah, the joys of marriage.

Now I must warn you.  I have found couponing to be a very competitive sport.  Sure, it may not be in the Olympics. It is definitely right on up there alongside Football, Thursday Night Smackdown (WWE), and Horseshoes.  Oh yes, there may come times where you get challenged by a cashier or two, and I can’t tell you how many old ladies I’ve had to fight.  Just this past weekend I spotted a coupon on the floor.  So did an old codger at the other end of the aisle.  We raced for it!  Her cane smacked me in the shin as I cast her aside like a loaf of bread.  It was mine, all mine!  I triumphantly held my prize up for all to see.  It didn’t matter if it was for a package of Depends adult pampers!  I wasn’t about to let that deal slip by.  But I digress…

It’s simply not for the lighthearted.  It will take work.  You will have to shift your shopping mentality if you really want to maximize your savings.  There is so much information to share that I must warn you, it will take several posts.  I do not know when the next one will come, so you will have to check back on this blog on a regular basis.

This first installment will cover the early stages of couponing, and I hate to break it to you, but there isn’t any actual coupon advice in it.  Why not?  Because saving money is a mindset.  You can’t just go buy a Sunday paper, and save a hundred dollars on your next shopping trip.  If you clip it, sure, you’ll save some, but there’s a lot more to it than just cutting some paper and handing it to the clerk.  There is a method to the madness.  Trust me when I say that if you can go from 0 to 100 mph in couponing, it can save you thousands!

So are you ready to shift gears?

0 to 5 MPH:  The Database

The first thing you need to do is build a database of products and pricing.  You need to stop and think about all the places you can get groceries at.  Make a list of them.  You’ll have grocery stores, department stores, pharmacies, produce stops, wholesale clubs, and some places you might not consider like Big Lots. I’m not going to lie.  It’s a lot of work.  You will be amazed at the price differences between each store.  You will grow to realize that even without a coupon, or a sale to go off of, you can still save money.  For example, in my area, we go through milk very quickly.  With four kids, we fly through it.  It rarely goes on sale, and a coupon for it is even rarer.

So where do you go?

Let’s say there are four places:  Shop Rite, Target, Walgreens, or a convenience store.  Which has the cheapest price for it?

Believe it or not, it’s Walgreens.  The price at my local Walgreens/CVS for milk is $3.49 per gallon.  At Shop Rite, it’s $4.10, and Target sells it at $4.49.  I don’t really factor in the convenience store because I have never seen them beat anyone in anything.

So right off the bat, I am ‘saving’ at least .50 per gallon by buying it from Walgreens rather than the other locations.  I have also learned which stores are complete rip offs on 90% of their products.



5 to 10 MPH: Price Points

The price point concept is actually really easy.  How much is a product worth to you?  What are you willing to pay for it?

Price points are very important because you can make a decision on whether or not you’ll get something in seconds.  Is it at or below your price point?  Is it a rip off?  You may have been totally fine paying the $4.10 milk price, but now that you have a database, that may have changed.  As you continue building your database, you’ll start noticing sale prices that beat those database figures.  You may notice that certain products are never on sale at a store at the same time.  You may notice brands alternate weekly.  You may notice that some products never seem to go on sale at all.

Pepsi and Coca Cola products are a prime example.  You will not see a 2 liter of soda from each brand available on sale at a grocery store at the same time.  It just doesn’t happen.  But if you watch the circulars from all your grocery and pharmacy locations, you may have noticed that finding a 2 liter of soda for a $1.00 is very easy.  It may not be the kind you like, but that’s a personal preference.


So that $1.00 for a 2 liter became my price point.  So if I am looking for a 2 liter, I know I’m getting ripped off if I buy it for more than that. I know if I find it on sale for 88 cents, it’s a good deal.  And I also know that I can stock up my pantry if I prefer one brand over another until the next sale comes up.

The only other thing worth mentioning is the concept of generic products.  Take cereal for example.  Prior to couponing, my price point for a box of cereal was $2.50 per box.  If one of my brands slipped below that price, I would get it.  If not, I’d grab the generic version.  The generic version was almost always cheaper than the brand on sale.  At Shop Rite, they were typically $2.29.  So if the brand name sale was regularly priced in at $3.50 per box, I had a built in savings of a dollar, and if I opted for the generic, I saved even more.  Keep in mind, I said that was before I couponed… just food for thought.

10 to 15 MPH:  Shopping via Sales


So by now I have covered the database.  It’s important to know where to shop. 

I’ve also covered price points.  It’s important to know what a product is worth.

Let’s face it, anyone can cut a coupon and save money.  Anyone can buy an item if it’s on sale.  But the real savings come when you can put everything together.  If you can combine a sale with a coupon at the cheapest store possible, you can really save a bundle.  So if you have shifted gears, and are now shopping at ’15 MPH’, you’re ready to take it to the next level.  You’re already saving a good portion of money, and that’s without cutting a single piece of paper.

So your homework:  Build your database.  Set your price points.

Extra Credit:  Shop by circular – only buy items that are on sale, and track your savings!


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