Saturday, June 25, 2011

How to plan a shopping trip

DH tells me that when he tells his coworkers at work that his wife got 8 bottles of Jack Daniels BBQ sauce for $0.14, they ask "how is this possible?" Well ladies and gentlemen, there really is no secret trick here. It takes time and dedication and motivation, and you have to be able to learn from your mistakes and not dwell on deals you might have missed or transactions that didn't go perfectly.
With that said, I thought I ought to outline how I've typically been planning my shopping trips. Pre-couponing, our method was pretty straightforward. We kept a list on the fridge that we would add to during the week when we ran out of something. On Saturday or Sunday morning, DH would plan the dinners for the week (since he's the chef in our household) and tell me what he needed from the store. We would never even look to see what was on sale that week, much less use coupons.
The method these days is a little more complicated. Fortunately, couponing doesn't have to mean going over the weekly ads with a fine-tooth comb and trying to remember each and every little coupon that you have. There are several websites I consult multiple times a week:
  • Southern Savers: The nice thing about this site is that since they're based in the South, their Kroger ads come out sooner than ours do (King Soopers' sales run from Wednesday to Tuesday, Kroger sales run from Sunday to Saturday). This site also gets the weekly ad matchups posted quickly; the drugstore ads are almost always posted by Thursday evening. The bad thing about the site is that the prices are not always the same (things tend to be a bit more expensive up here in Colorado). Another thing I wish this site had was a better rating system; they'll put an acorn symbol next to the deals they think are really great, but other than that there isn't a whole lot of guidance.
  • Hip2Save: this is one of my favorite coupon sites. It is updated very regularly (many times a day) and has almost all of the giveaways, daily deal sites (such as Groupon), as well as weekly ads for drugstores and grocery stores. Again, this site is not local, so the prices aren't always the same. I do think this site does a better job of finding all the great deals each week though.
  • Denver Bargains: the obvious advantage of this site is that it is local. The prices are always correct, and they also post deals at local restaurants and attractions. They also have a rating system, which will help guide you (especially in the beginning) in deciding whether to stock up on an item that week or just buy enough for one or two weeks.
  • Bargain Blessings: another local site, and this one has a really good rating system too.
Ok, so now you know which websites can help guide you to coupon matchups. The whole point of couponing is to save you money, right? I'm sure everyone has seen Extreme Couponing and wished they could get out of the grocery store paying next to nothing. Well, that's not going to happen in the beginning. Unless you have massive quantities of coupons available to you and can live on floss, body wash, and dehydrated noodles, you're still going to have to spend money. What you're going to want to focus on is sticking to your budget and simultaneously increasing your percent savings. Think about it this way: you're going to spend the same amount of money you've been spending on groceries (or you can lower your budget a bit, if you want) but you're going to be getting at least 50% more product for the same amount of money. Eventually, you will have built up your stockpile to the point that you won't be spending much at all on groceries.
So the first few weeks, still buy what you need for the week, but if you can alter what you buy a little bit to match up with sales it will help. For example, if you normally buy one brand of lunch meat every week for lunches, but there's a different brand on sale that week, buy the brand that's on sale! Even without coupons, you're already saving money on something you were going to buy anyways. I do this for produce and meat every week, as there aren't a whole lot of coupons for these products.
Once you've determined how much you will spend on things you need for the week, you can then decide what things you're going to stockpile. You've found all the good deals by doing the research online, so now you have to figure out what things you'll actually use. Make sure you have enough coupons, and make sure you are familiar with your store's coupon policy. For example, King Soopers limits you to 3 like coupons (not items) per transaction, so plan your stocking up accordingly. Some people get around this by doing multiple transactions in the same trip, others might make multiple trips in one week or just stick with using 3 like coupons.
Once you've made your list, you might want to arrange it in the order that you go through the store. For example, I usually shop produce, then meat, then personal items, then dairy, then packaged products, and finally frozen items. Arranging your list to match up with the way you progress through the store will keep you from forgetting an item and having to run back and forth. Before you head to the store, double check that you have all your coupons (I use a small binder clip to keep my coupons together). I also bring my accordion file, in case I run into any unadvertised deals that I have a matching coupon for. Grab your reusable bags and you are ready to go!

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