Recently, my wife and I had some guests over to visit. While here, one of the guests used the restroom on the main floor of our home, where we have a large closet where we store supplies over the long haul. She observed that there were about twenty bars of soap, several bottles of Old Spice body wash, several large bottles of shampoo, and six boxes of our son’s favorite breakfast cereal (Yogurt Burst Cheerios) stowed away in there, and when she came out, she made a half-curious and half-sarcastic comment about them.
Here’s the real scoop: every item listed above cost us less than a dime. In each case, we saw a tremendous buying opportunity matching coupons to a sale and we simply stocked up big time on those items, leaving us with a large closet stuffed full with unusual items. I like to call it anticipation buying.
Anticipation buying revolves around four distinct principles.
First, there are some items that we will continually use over time. Soap, shampoo, oatmeal, Yogurt Burst Cheerios (without them, our son would riot), flour, sugar, some fruit juices, milk, coffee, razor blades, toilet paper – these are items that we use over and over again and continually need to stock up on. Because we’re aware of this, we can use a specific plan of attack for these items to get low prices on them.
Second, there are irregular opportunities to find such items on sale. These items pop up on sale on a completely irregular basis. Brand A shampoo might be on sale one week, then two weeks later Brand B will be on sale. Not only might national brands be running a promotion where items are on sale in stores, but individual stores might select different loss leaders to get people in the door.
In order to keep up on these individual sales, we just follow the grocery flyers in our Sunday paper (and in other flyers we get in the mail throughout the week). I usually have flyers for all of the local grocery stores and I keep an eye out for their big sales by reading their flyers each Sunday over breakfast.
Third, there are irregular opportunities to find strong coupons on such items. I clip every coupon for items in the above categories that are of acceptable brands from the Sunday paper, and if I see a very good coupon, I’ll stop at the local convenience store early on Monday morning and ask for the inserts out of the old Sunday papers (the cashier always says “Sure” and I start scavenging for coupon inserts). Sometimes, I can get as many as fifteen of the good coupons – if they’re for $1.50 off an item I know we’ll use frequently, it’s like cash in the pocket.
So, we patiently clip all coupons for these items and save them until there’s a sale, then stock up. I have the coupons. I have the flyers. I then just wait for them to sync up. Usually, it happens about a month or so after I clip the coupons (yep, the one month coupon strategy at work).
Another tactic to note: quite often, individual store flyers will have coupons that match the manufacturer’s coupons you have. Often, you can use these coupons simultaneously. So, let’s say my local Fareway ad has a coupon letting me get Herbal Essences shampoo or conditioner for $1.99 a bottle (limit 6) and I have three “save $3 on 2 bottles” coupon from the manufacturer. I just take all of them there and walk out with good shampoo and conditioner for $0.49 a bottle.
Here’s a real-world example. Recently, I had several copies of a coupon that permitted me to save $3 on any two bottles of Old Spice body wash. I waited until I noticed a sale – and not long ago, there was one at a local Walgreen’s. The individual bottles were $1.79 on sale there. I took in my wad of coupons and picked up ten bottles, paying $0.29 a bottle. I walked out of the store with ten bottles of soap, having spent less than $4 total – and it was just a five minute stop on my normal shopping trip. That’s how you save money.
What’s the long-term effect? The result from doing this regularly is quite interesting. Our regular shopping lists almost never have these “anticipation” items on it. Instead, they almost always just list the food items we need for the week, which means that at the grocery store, we rarely even visit big sections of the store. We mostly visit the produce aisle, the meat counter, the dairy area (for milk, etc.), and a few other specific places (pasta, canned items, bread when I’ve not made any), and that’s about it. Our grocery bills are cheaper and our shopping trips are actually quite a bit shorter because we’re not going over to the far side of the store to pick up shampoo or toilet paper – the time invested in executing this strategy is partially redeemed on ordinary shopping trips.
When I first started The Simple Dollar, I had a very simple coupon strategy that didn’t save me a whole lot of money. It’s been fun to watch the strategy evolve over the years – first syncing it with a grocery list and evolving that strategy a bit, then discovering the figuring out how sales and coupons synchronized and now evolving that strategy a bit. I used to believe that perhaps coupons weren’t worth the time invested, but I’ve found more and more that if you do it intelligently, there are some serious savings to be had – and it doesn’t take as much time as you might think.