For the longest time I've never really enjoyed clipping coupons or even saw the benefit of doing it. I think I always had a picture in my head of what clipping coupons was, and how the return on your investment of time was rarely worth it.
A few months ago now we started cutting our expenses back quite a bit to save a bigger down payment on a house, and as part of that process we started scaling back how much we could spend on our grocery budget.
We use the cash envelope system for high spending categories like groceries, to ensure that we don't overspend. The system works wonders for us, however, when we first started using it again we realized that our grocery budget was just too high. We needed to find ways to cut it back. So one way we decided to cut back was by clipping coupons.
Extreme Couponer? Or Casual Clipper?
I think one of the disconnects I've always had with clipping coupons was that I had this picture in my head that in order to save any real amounts of money you had to go a bit coupon crazy like some of the folks on TLC's TV show Extreme Couponing, spending 8-10 hours a week to save money. I just couldn't see myself doing that. But I had to admit that coupons are a big business, and more people seem to be using them every year to save money.
According to Coupons.org, coupon redemption in the United States increased 63% in 2011, and Americans saved $3.7 billion as a result. That's a lot of savings! Some other interesting couponing facts:
The bulk of redeemed coupons — 89% — are still clipped from newspapers, and Internet coupons represent only 1.5% of those used, according to Coupons.org, but that's changing quickly. In 2011, 20% of smartphone users took advantage of mobile coupons, a 117% increase over 2010.
The site predicts that online coupon users will grow from 2.7 million in 2010 to 35 million in 2014 — an increase of almost 1,300%.
Think it's not worth the bother searching for all those coupons? Coupons.org reports that “an hour of smart couponing is estimated to yield about $100 in savings.”
So an hour of couponing can result in $100 in savings? OK, that sounds like it might be worth my while to give it a try.
Finally Giving It A Chance
After finally deciding to give couponing a chance I decided to ease my way into it.
I wasn't going to go crazy with double coupons days, searching for hours for online coupons and price matches, and other couponing strategies. I was just going to find the coupons that we got in the newspaper every month, as well as signing up for the grocery store's coupon book mailing list, and then start clipping those coupons to see the results.
Clipping Coupons & Strategic Buying
So a few months ago I started doing just that. I've found that we get a new circular with coupons from our grocery store in the local free paper every two weeks or so. We also signed up for our grocery store's rewards card. When signing up for that they sign you up to receive a monthly coupon book with some extra coupons and savings included.
So what I started doing was saving those circulars and coupon books that we got in the mail until the night before I would go shopping. Then I would sit down and start looking at the coupons and comparing it to the list of things we needed to buy that week. I would be strategic about what to put on our shopping list, doing my best to buy things that were either on sale or that we had a coupon for. If there was an item that was an especially good deal I would buy a few more of that and stock it away.
You Can Save More Than You Realize, With Minimal Effort
An hour of smart couponing is estimated to yield about $100 in savings. – Coupons.org
So after clipping even just the coupons that we get in the mail every month, and doing some strategic grocery buying, we've been saving on average 18-25% off of our grocery bills. With minimal work, that's not too bad! I'm sure if I put more time into it I could save even more. Here are our 4 most recent shopping trips.
- Trip 1: Spent $300, used coupons to save $70. 23% savings.
- Trip 2: Spent $250, used coupons to save $60. 24% savings
- Trip 3: Spent $180, used coupons to save $45 off price. 25% savings
- Trip 4: Spent $220, used coupons to save $40. 18% savings
So even just spending a half hour to an hour of coupon clipping and checking for sale items the night before I went shopping was able to save us about 23% off the total on our last 4 shopping trips. On a grand total of $950 in groceries purchased we saved $215, bringing our total actually spent down to $735! I think that definitely made it worth my time, I'm sure we could have saved even more if I had worked harder at it!
Grocery Shopping Tips
So what are some of the things we did at bare minimum to enjoy these grocery savings?
- Clip the coupons that come in the mail: We get regular grocery store circulars in the mail that include coupons for our local grocery stores. We take those out for later reference and clipping.
- Sign up for grocery store rewards, get extra coupons: A lot of grocery stores will have rewards programs that can not only save you money on your gas purchases, but will lead to them sending you coupon books and extra savings in the mail. Ours also includes a generic “save $5 on $50 in groceries” coupon every two weeks. Save those coupon b0oks for clipping.
- Do your best to buy things that are on sale: In reading some of the coupon sites it is stressed that if you want to save the most money you need to adjust your grocery list to buy more things that are on sale, and not just trying to find coupons on the things you want.
- Match coupons to sale items if you can: If you can find coupons for items that are already on sale, you can double up on the savings. I did this on my last shopping trip buying frozen meals that were on sale using a coupon so that they came out to about .50 cents a piece.
If you are really gung-ho about saving on groceries there are a lot of other things you can do as well, like stockpiling when you find good deals, never buying anything that isn't on sale, making more frequent trips to the store to buy on sale items, using online coupon sites like Coupons.com and RedPlum and coming up with a coupon organizing system.
There are a lot of great tutorials out there like this one that can get you started on the process. After saving hundreds over the past couple of months I've realized that there may be more of a return on my time in strategic grocery shopping than I thought.
How about you? How do you save on groceries, and what strategies do you employ?