By sado27 on Flickr
Two weeks ago TJ from Measuring Flower shared with us a basic overview of couponing. For me, her post created more questions than it answered. So I decided to do an interview style post to hopefully answer some more questions and dig a little deeper into how coupons can be helpful for us. So sit back and enjoy!
Lisa: I keep hearing about people who go buy, say, $50 worth of groceries for $10 by using coupons. How often does that realistically happen, and how much effort does it take?
TJ: I would say I have 80% savings like that about once a month (and I used a calculator to figure out the percentage, by the way; there’s no way I did that in my head, lol). My savings are most often around the 40 or 50% range. Since I have been couponing for a while, it is easy for me to plan and prepare for these kind of savings. When I first began, it took a little more effort because I didn’t understand all the rules surrounding couponing. Once I had them down (and they are easy to learn), it became second nature. For me, it takes maybe 30 minutes to plan my shopping trip. The keys to spending less time planning is to use a good deal site (like Coupon Mom or the Grocery Game) that cuts out a big chunk of the work and to keep things very well organized.
Lisa: I have heard about stores that double coupons, but I don’t know that I’ve actually seen one. How common are they? And is it really true that their prices are often higher than other stores?
TJ: They are very common! Kroger, King Soopers, Safeway, all double coupons (this site will help you find your grocery stores in your area that double coupons). When a store doubles coupons, they usually only double up to a certain point. For example, King Soopers doubles or matches coupons up to $1; for example, a 50 cent coupon is worth $1 and a 99 cent coupon is also worth $1.
These are typical grocery stores with typical grocery store prices. Their full prices are more expensive than, say, Wal-Mart; however, when these stores have sales, they are going above and beyond to beat Wal-Mart prices in order to draw people into their store. These grocery stores will push what are called “loss leaders.” These are the featured items on the front of their newspaper ads. The store intentionally loses money on these items to lure shoppers into their stores with the hopes that they will purchase other, more expensive items as well. The key to this is sticking to the loss leaders (and these prices are often further reduced when combined with coupon) and not getting anything at full price. Grocery stores will also sponsor unannounced sales, marked with special signs or flags. These sales are discovered by accident while wandering the store or through deal-sharing websites (like Coupon Mom, Deal Seeking Mom, WeUseCoupons.com, etc.)
Lisa: I live way out in the country and don’t subscribe to a newspaper. How can I find coupons–other than trying to get my hands on the paper of the city where I shop once a month?
TJ: You can print coupons through sites such as Coupons.com, Shortcuts.com, and grocery store websites. You can also upload electronic coupons onto your grocery store loyalty cards through sites such as Cellfire.com and Shortcuts.com. Plus, you can purchase coupons and coupon inserts from coupon-clipping services like CouponsThingsByDede.com. And you can find coupons inside product packaging, in the mail, with samples, or by emailing companies to ask for coupons. If you belong to a group (church, 4-H, etc.), you can start a coupon club. This is something I’m working on with the ladies group at my church and I will probably post about it when I get it figured out.
Lisa: I shop at a discount grocery store (bag your own groceries, big bulk section, cheaper than any other store around), and they won’t accept coupons printed online. I don’t have time to hop over to another store to see if a coupon I found online makes the other store’s price cheaper. Any comments on this?
TJ: That is perfectly fine. If the cost to go to other stores is not made up and surpassed by the savings, don’t do it (that includes the cost of gas or time). And do keep in mind that you don’t always have to use coupons to save big. Simply aim to buy items when they are on sale as opposed to purchasing them full-price.
Lisa: I use very little of prepackaged items. I make about 95% of our diet from scratch–from bread to baby food. And we drink water and don’t snack. It seems that most of the coupons available are for ready-made items, drinks, and snack food. I buy in bulk a lot (especially 25 lb bags of grains and legumes, which gets me 5% off). We eat corn tortillas instead of corn chips. I make my own bread. We eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies; I even can my own beans to have on hand for emergencies. Are there still ways I can use coupons?
TJ: Yes! A big part of coupons that are available are for non-food items. You can use coupons for toothbrushes, toilet paper, paper towels, razors, shaving cream, medications, vitamins, feminine products, shampoo, conditioner, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, cleaning supplies, lotion, toothpaste, soap, contact solution–just to name a few (I found a coupon for each of these categories just by flipping through my latest edition of SmartSource). You can also often find coupons for Bob Evans sausage rolls, butter, tortillas, oil, milk, breakfast cereal, oatmeal, hot sauce, pet food, kitty litter, tea, and more (again, I found one for each category in the same SmartSource). Many coupons are for pre-prepared foods and snacks, but I don’t use any of those either. And I too bake most of our bread and can, freeze, or dehydrate our garden’s plenty. To be honest, my biggest savings come from non-food items like toilet paper, floss, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, shaving gel, razors, and body wash–all of which I get for free by combining coupon with sale.
Lisa: Anything else you think would be helpful?
TJ: Yes! Just because you have a coupon for something doesn’t mean you have to get it, neither does it mean it is the least expensive option. For example, soup. I am always finding coupons for canned soup. If I find Campbell’s soup on sale for $1 a can at my local King Soopers, I can use a coupon that requires I purchase 4 cans to get 40 cents off. That is 20 cents off per can, since they double coupons. However, I can purchase the equally as good store-brand can of soup for 60 cents. So why buy the name brand even though it’s on sale with a coupon when the store brand at full-price is just as good and cheaper? In fact, the truth behind many store-brand products is this: they are the EXACT same thing as the name-brand. That’s right. The name-brand companies will package their name-brand cans (or boxes or whatever) and package extras of the identically same stuff to sell to stores for their store-brand products.
Lisa: Thank you so much for answering my questions. You’ve certainly given me some food for thought! I’m going to have to check out one of those coupon-managing sites before my monthly shopping trip!
TJ has a lot more information on couponing on her site at Measuringflower.com. So head on over there and browse around a little, and tell her thank you for making this information so readily available.
Do you have any questions or advice for TJ or me? Want to share your coupon story? Please comment!