Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lessons In Grocery Shopping: How You Too Can Save Over $2,000 A Year By Clipping Coupons

Grocery Store Green Bell PeppersImage via Wikipedia
Growing up, I thought cutting coupons was either a waste of time or something reserved for penny pinching mothers. When I looked through the Sunday paper, my interest was more towards the comic strips or crossword puzzles, not in saving money. If only I had known the value and fun I could have experienced, it would have been much different for me. In the spirit of Ramit Sethi, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, I would like to spend a few minutes sharing my basic knowledge of coupons and how to save a considerable amount of money.

The Story
A few months back, I decided to take the responsibility of grocery shopping. A little known secret, I actually like shopping for food. I also like cooking. The part I dislike the most is washing dishes.

Anyway, I took it upon myself to take the job. To bring home the bacon, I made a comprehensive list of items that we needed. Before I left, I made certain to ask everyone for their final approval. "Is this everything?" I asked. Once complete, I jump in the car and headed to the store.

I grab a cart, fill it up, and head to the counter for my final descent. I watch as the items are scanned and immediately bagged. The sound of crunching numbers and dollars signs soon alarms me. "It can't be too much." I thought. That was until the cashier pressed the final button and I was floored. I looked around the store, looked over at the few bags in the cart, and then asked if that number was correct. I asked if she could read the dollar amount again, because my eyes were playing tricks on me. Reluctantly, I pulled out my card, swiped it, and approved the purchase.

As I slowly walked back to my car, I imagine all the things I could have bought with that money. Where did I go wrong? I mean, I made a list. I follow the list and did not buy anything outside the staple items (meat, dairy, fruits, and veggies). There were no treats of any kind. I was confused.

It was at that moment that I realized how expensive groceries were. During the course of the month, I can easily spend more for food than I can on any other single expense, outside of the mortgage. Something had to change.

Let Me Introduce Dollar Saving Vehicles
In the time of struggle, we find ways to adapt. I knew that my spending habits had to be brought under control. The first stop was a grocery store discount card and the second was a book full of coupons.

Discount Card
Most grocery stores have a discount card. Typically, you can find them on key chains or in wallets. Discount cards are free and readily available, you just have to ask. At Food Lion, where I spend the most money, they post notices near food that highlight MVP items. MVP is another way of saying "sale" IF you have a card.

Yes, coupons are paper ads with a bar code. To use, one has to take a pair of scissors and cut them out of the Sunday paper. You might find a dollar amount ranging from ten cents to a couple of dollars. It just depends.

The Strategy for Keeping More Money in YOUR Pocket
The idea of owning a discount card was not too bad. I liked knocking off a few cents every now and then. The problem for me was cutting coupons and bringing them to the cashier. It just felt cheap. It's like bringing a jar of pennies to pay for stuff. As a man with a decent salary, I should not have to do it.

Once I put the ego down and realized that I am saving SERIOUS MONEY, the idea of was not so bad. So, if you feel like that, just trust me and know that I have your best interest at heart.

Where do I get Coupons?
There are a lot of places you can go to find coupons. Once you become more aware of their value, the sooner you will begin to see them everywhere you go. For starters, I tend to find coupons in:

  • Sunday paper: Typically, they are bundled with store advertisements and comics.
  • Online: My two favorite spots are Redplum and SmartSource. I found these are also the same companies that provide coupons in your local paper. Although, the ads you find online are not always the same as the ones in the paper. This means more opportunities for you. Please note that you will have to print these coupons from your computer, which usually requires a small application download.
  • Grocery isles: There are a ton of coupons that you can find near the items. I have found coupons in automated machines or a simple box holders.
  • Cartons, Containers, and Labels: Another resource is directly on the item's container. Inside cereal boxes, canned good labels, or redeemable stickers on the wrapper. Once you start looking, they will start showing up everywhere.
  • Manufacturer Sites: This last source is a little time consuming, but has potential. Go to the web site of your favorite product and join their mailing list. Doing this will add your email address to their scheduled mailings for special offers. They send stuff to you for a change.

Which coupons should I clip?
Clip or save coupons for items that you would normally buy. If you buy stuff just because it is on sale, not because you need it, then you may overspend on discounted items. Manufacturers often use coupons to entice customers to buy new or lagging products. Like normal, be smart about what you buy. If you think you might be interested in the product, go ahead and save it.

What should I do with coupons after I clip them?
Save all coupons in a handy pouch or notebook. It should be easy enough to carry around or place in the cart while you shop. Additionally, it should easy to open and organize on the fly.

Can we shop now?
Armed with a grocery list, pouch of coupons, and belly fully of food, it is time to shop. The secret is to take your time and compare deals against the shopping list. This means when it is time to buy cereal, look at all of your options, compare prices, sizes, and price per pound. Buying in bulk may mean more money upfront, but more product per pound. Written another way, you get more stuff or less money.

After a complete scope, identify your best deal. The best deal typically falls under a store or generic brand. At this point, you have to decide whether or not you can manage with something other than the highly advertised product. In my opinion, store brands are very competitive and often hard to tell a difference.

With your best deal in mind, take out any relevant coupons and begin your calculations. As you subtract coupon amounts from national brands, take into consideration MVP points as well. When done right, you can double or triple the savings by using the coupon on top of the in-store sale or discount card price.

During my last visit to the store, this is exactly what I did. My bill was over $130 before I introduced the discount card and coupons. As a result of the aforementioned strategy, I saved over $40 and could have even saved more had I brought a few other coupons from home.

If we use this savings as a guide, you can potentially save $160 per month and $2,080 a year. Not too shabby, eh?

Final Words
Saving money is important. I have seen unplanned events creep in and devastate family savings. While cutting coupons is not the end all, be all solution, it can provide some aid in this shaky economy. I don't know about you, but an additional $2,000 a year in an investment or retirement account is not bad at all.

I hope this was helpful. If so, let me know.

Until next time...


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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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