Sunday, January 1, 2012

Coupons: Saving Time and Saving Money

      Many people I talk to voice the same concern..."I really need to save money.  I just don't have time to do that coupon thing right now." Tons of people ask me how I do it.  How do you work full time, take care of your kids, run a website, and still have time to coupon? 
      Do I neglect my family and my job?  Absolutely not.  Here are some things that I have done to save time while saving money!

1. I stopped using a binder.  I know, I know, all these 'extreme couponers' on television carry these massive binders around with them.  Been there, done that.  I just realistically don't have time to clip 5-10 inserts each week, file them in a binder, and weed out the expired coupons.  I found myself going crazy every night when the kids went to bed, trying to keep up with it!  I converted my coupon organization to a standing file folder bin.  Each week, I separate my coupons inserts into piles; smartsource, P&G, RedPlum, and General Mills.  I put them in a file folder with the date and the name of the insert.  Ex.  Smartsource 1/1/12  I put the folder into the bin.  That's it.  I don't clip anything.  Takes about 2 minutes on Sunday.

2. I organize my grocery list by aisle.  I have walked through Price Chopper so many times I can see the store in my sleep.  When I first started couponing, and switched from Hannaford to Price Chopper, I would waste about 45 minutes each time I went there, scurrying around the store, trying to locate the items I wanted, with no rhyme or reason.  Now, I start my list with toiletries, then fresh produce, paper products, etc., and end it with meats, dairy and frozen foods.  I walk through the store and check off the items one by one, and don't have to backtrack at all!  Price Chopper actually has a little brochure with all the general items and the aisle they are in, right at the door or at customer service.  Now, I save about 30 minutes each trip, one, because I have the exact item and quantity written down, so I eliminate browsing time, and two, because everything is in order.

3. I utilize the matchups I post.  You readers never have to scan an ad and figure out what the best deals are...I do that for you!  The funny thing is, when I'm ready to go shopping, I'll pull up my own Price Chopper deals on this blog, and go right from that list!  Plus, the more you coupon, the easier and quicker it is to spot a good deal.  There are many days I will look at a circular ad and laugh at an 'advertised sale' that really isn't much better than regular price. 

4. I leave my kids at home.  I love my children dearly, but my son, who is almost 2, is prone to having a meltdown at the exact second I'm about to cash out.  After a particularly bad meltdown in Target, and having to abandon my cartful of deals, I decided that I would shop alone whenever possible.  I grocery shop once every 2 weeks or so, and I block out about a hour when I know my husband will be home to take over.

5. I shop in the evening or early morning.  I HATE shopping after work.  I HATE shopping at noon on Saturday.  The stores are crowded, there are people everywhere, and the lines are LONG.  I prefer to shop on Friday night after the kids are in bed, or early Sunday morning, before we go to Church.  The stores are generally pretty empty, products are usually in stock, and I have lots of time to check out with my coupons and not worry about holding up the person behind me.  Plus, I find that the same cashiers and managers are there, and they have gotten to know me, which makes it easier to get any potential problems taken care of.

6. I only clip the coupons I need.  Since I started using the file folders, I spend about 10 minutes clipping the coupons I want, as opposed to the 3 or 4 hours I was spending before.  I stick my internet printables into their own folder, and clip them as I need them.

7. I stockpile.  A stockpile is a place in your home (cupboard, shelf, drawer, etc.) where you can keep a lot of non-perishable items like canned food, pasta, shampoo, etc. When a good deal comes up, I try to figure out how many of that item my family will go through in a 3-6 month period, and get that much.  It saves us so much time not having to run out to the drugstore to pick up toilet paper or tissues!  My husband used to run out late at night to grab contact solution when we would run out.  We used to speed to the drug store to get children's tylenol when the baby was sick.  Having all necessary products on hand eliminates these time consuming (and expensive!!) trips.

8.  I set limits.  When I first started couponing, I wanted to go to CVS, Rite Aid, Kinneys, Walgreens, Walmart, Target, Price Chopper, Hannaford, Dollar General, etc., and get EVERYTHING.  I would stop after work, before work, when the kids went to bed, at lunch...I was obsessed!  (This commonly happens with newbies!)  However, I now have my preferred choice of stores, and my price point for various items.  I limit myself to one big grocery trip every two weeks, and 1 drugstore run every weekend.  Occasionally if a freebie deal or an extremely good deal on something we need pops up during the week, I will run in after work (I am fortunate enough to have a Kinneys, CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens that I pass daily to and from work,) but for the most part I stick to just these trips.  It amounts to about 2 hours a week of shopping, with a savings of about $200 per week.  Completely worth it.

      Does it take time to start couponing?  Absolutely.  No one is going to do it for you.  However, once you get started and comfortable, it can potentially take you only 2 hours a week to make a list and shop!  You probably used to spend that much time running out for things you needed 2-3 times a week, you just didn't realize it!

      Here's a way to organize your time.

1. Choose a night to plan your shopping trip.  Make a list of the things you need.  Check my matchups for the things that are great deals and add them, even if you don't need them. (This will help you build your stockpile and eliminate those trips out when you run out of something.)  Give yourself about an hour to do this. 

2. Get your coupons together.  Clip the coupons you need and put them in an envelope for each store you plan on shopping in.  Put your list in order by aisle (if you can.)

3. Pick a convenient time to shop.  Give yourself about an hour for 1 store, 2 hours for multiple trips.  I have actually taken a cooler with me on a multiple-store trip, and stored my ice-cream and frozen veggies inside while I picked up yogurt and milk at a second stop.  Going home in-between stores would have cost me another 25 minutes!  (Leave the kids at home if possible...maybe a trip after work before daycare closes works best for you...find YOUR best time.  I LOVE shopping at 9pm on Friday, but if you are a morning person, this would not be your best option!)

4. Keep a running list of things you run out of.  When you have 4 jars of peanut butter, then 3, then 2, then 1, make sure you add peanut butter to your list.  Write things down when they get low instead of when they are gone.  This makes your list-making easier and less-likey to forget an item you need often.

5. Take a break when you need to!  If you get too overwhelmed, take a week or two to just relax and reenergize.  I've had bouts of frustration with couponing, and after about 2 weeks, I'm ready to hit the stores again!

6. Meal plan.  Try to utilize things you have an abundance of.  When tuna goes on sale, I plan a meal of tuna helper!  When turkey is cheap, we break out the mashed potatoes and gravy.  When the rare bag-o-salad coupons come out, we have tuna salads with ready-to-make biscuits and the free dressing and croutons from the stockpile!  You will save a lot of money if you plan your weekly meals around the sales that week. 

I hope you are less overwhelmed after reading this article.  Couponing is my favorite hobby, and I really believe it is possible for the average person to still have enough time to devote to saving money.  It's probably the first hobby that will save you hundreds of dollars!  Not a minute wasted!  Two hours of planning and shopping for $100 of savings equals a salary of $25 per hour!

Happy Shopping!

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