Friday, November 15, 2013

the completely normal persons guide to coupons.

im going to take a wild guess here and say that you probably dont use coupons. because its too time consuming. too complicated. to inconvenient. the money you save wont pay for the newspapers/printer ink youre using. there arent coupons for the things you use most. it tricks you into buying things you dont need, making you spend more money than you would have without them. 

and for the most part, youre entirely right. yes, you read that correctly. couponing, at least in the way that most people think of it, IS time complicated AND time consuming AND inconvenient AND expensive (you know there are people who buy coupons from other people? im not kidding, just search #couponsofinstagram). and it doesnt work for most people. 

it certainly didnt work for me. 

see, for the past year or so (mainly due to continually decreasing incomes for both of us) ive worked my butt off trying to trim off any and all unnecessary expenses so that we can at least occasionally enjoy the finer things in life like disneyland and fancy dinners. naturally i started with groceries, because, like most moms, i was sure we were spending way to much in that department. 

and what was the first thing i did? i subscribed to the la times and read some blogs and joined and figured that if i learned how to use coupons it would fix all of our grocery budget problems and life would be so much easier. and boy was i wrong. for the first couple months, our grocery/target spending actually went UP, by a lot. 

it was really disappointing. but over the course of the next few months i slowly figured out what works for us, and these days id say were probably spending about half of what we were spending on groceries/household consumables at this time last year. and thats saying something because im on a MUCH more restricted diet now than i was then. 

and honestly coupons are a very small part of that equation. one day ill write a more detailed post about all the ways ive been able to trim down our grocery spending, but since a lot of people have asked me how i make coupons work for me, i thought id share a few (completely normal) tips on how to make coupons work for you:

1. forget everything youve seen on tlc or read on a couponing site. everybody claims to have a proven method to couponing, and if you do exactly what they do than youll save money too. but it wont work. why? first of the majority of these people treat couponing like a full time job. spending 40 + hours a week just planning their grocery trips. second, these people are not you. they do not have your lifestyle, your kids, your pets, your dietary preferences/restrictions, your job, your hobbies or live in your town (just an fyi, prices and promotions vary GREATLY geographically,  for example, NOWHERE in southern california doubles coupons). and what works for them PROBABLY wont work for you. you have, have, HAVE to figure it out on your own terms, in your own life. 

2. it takes patience. if you think youre going to start seeing massive results right away, i hate to break it to you, but stores have these super secret "price cycles" throughout the year so that any given item is only at its cheapest every three or four months, and unless youre somehow able to get the inside scoop, its going to take a while to figure it out (heck, i still dont completely understand it). 

3. its all about stacking. just using manufacturers coupons, or just buying whats on sale or just a store coupon is probably not going to make a very exciting difference in your overall spending. you need to learn the stores coupon policy and "stack" as many discounts as possible onto each item. for example, i LOVE method laundry soap, but its pretty expensive, so what do i do? i wait till its on sale at target (where its already the cheapest), and then ALSO use a manufacturers coupon, PLUS a store coupon if one is available (target has fantastic printable coupons), AND a cartwheel discount, AND THEN pay with my redcard to get an extra 5% off. and when you can get a $17 bottle of laundry soap for $11 (real thing that actually happened), well, thats pretty dang exciting. 

4. your best coupon deals are probably not going to be on food. you may have noticed that my example for awesome coupon stacking was for laundry soap and not say, cereal. and theres a couple reasons for this, one, food products generally have a pretty low retail markup and grocery stores operate on a very low profit margin, so food products generally dont get discounted as much as non-food products. two, manufacturers coupons are, like the name implies, only for manufactured products, so for folks like us that dont eat much processed food, there arent a whole lot of food coupons that are all that useful. 

5. heck, your best coupon deals may not even be on groceries. there are so, SO many other places that put out coupons that you probably never even thought of, restaurants ( is a great place to get deals on eating out), fast food places, clothing stores, hardware stores, and when youre shopping online, a two-second google search will result in a discount nine times out of ten. so if you keep an open mind about coupons, youd be surprised at how useful they can be outside of the grocery store. 

6. if you werent already going to buy an item at full price, then buying it with a coupon is actually costing you money. seriously. coupons are actually designed to trick you into spending more money while thinking youre spending less. heres a really extreme example: last christmas my mother in law came to visit and was SO excited and COULD NOT stop talking about how at thanksgiving she really needed new work pants and her favorite store was having a giant sale and she had a coupon for an extra 30% off and if she used her store credit card she got a $20 giftcard for every $50 she spent so she was able to get about $2000 of clothes for $400, PLUS got $80 in giftcards and she saved SO MUCH MONEY. and on the surface this is a really exciting story. except if you were paying attention to the very beginning of the story you would know that she originally went to the store for work pants and thats it. so really she should have walked out of the store for like $100 (or less, given the coupon and giftcard promotion), but instead spent FOUR TIMES as much on clothes she probably wont even wear (since she was only there for pants and all the rest was impulse shopping) because of the perceived savings. so my number one golden rule of coupons is that if i dont need something badly enough to buy it at full price, then im not going to buy it at all, no matter how cheap it is (the only exception to this rule is when things are completely free and im at that store anyway). 

so long story short, you can use coupons productively without crazy extreme couponing antics, IF you take the time to carefully stack deals on the items that you already buy. but if youre looking for a magic bullet to "cut your grocery bill in half" (like the coupon mom method claims to do), then coupons are probably going to leave you disappointed.  

stay tuned for tomorrow when i update you about my new sponsorship options!!!

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