Many people don’t bother to clip coupons for various reasons, mostly revolving around the belief that a fifty cent coupon doesn’t make it worth the effort. On the surface, I agree – without a very clever coupon strategy, it’s probably not worth the effort.
About two months ago, I was talking about this very fact with a friend of mine who works for Hy-Vee, the large grocery store chain here in Iowa. He gave me a tip: he said to take the coupon section out of the Sunday paper and put it aside for four weeks – don’t even bother to look at it. Four weeks later, open it up and clip everything that’s even remotely of interest, whether you’d buy it normally or not.
At that point, take the wad of coupons to the store and just look at the shelves. Magically, most of those coupons you have will sync up very well with stuff that’s already on sale on the shelves. When you combine the sale price and the coupon, you’ll usually be able to get items for next to nothing.
I tried this myself, actually. I saved the flyers from mid-December and then just cut them up earlier this week to take them to the store. What did I find? About 40% of the coupons I cut out matched up with items on sale. I wound up getting T. Marzetti salad dressing for less than a dollar, a package of diapers at the cheapest rate I believe I’ve ever bought them for, and a container of quite good vanilla ice cream for $0.19 – and those are just the ones I remember.
Why does this work? Coupons in the newspaper are usually the first wave of a product push from large companies. They’ll put out coupons to start bumping up the sales, then they’ll move onto sale prices later on in the promotion. The reason for doing these in waves is so that the overall product sales trend looks solidly positive and not just a big spike with a fall-off. Plus, coupon users who use the product, like it, return to the store, and notice the item on sale are often willing to buy the item again. I’ll admit to noticing this working for me in the past with products like V-8 Fusion.
After discovering this nifty attribute, I’ve quickly moved to a big adjustment in my usual grocery shopping strategy. It no longer matters whether I “sync up” with the arrival of the Sunday paper – I just need to clip the coupons roughly a month after I receive the flyer and use them the next time I go to the grocery store.
So, as before, I make a shopping list each week. I just keep writing down staples that are getting low along with ingredients needed for any meals that I’m thinking about making. I usually use a notepad on the refrigerator for this, along with Remember the Milk.
Sometime shortly before I go, I get out a month-old coupon flyer and clip everything that might match something on my list. I’ll also clip anything that I know we can always use – like diapers – along with anything that’s a potentially reasonable purchase, like salad dressings because we often eat salad.
After that, I head out to the store when it’s convenient (often early on Saturday mornings) and use the coupons effectively. Whenever you see a sale item that you also have a coupon for, you’re usually doing quite well and can often get a pretty good item for just pennies – or at least far cheaper than the normal price and usually notably cheaper than the generic version.
This technique saved me about $20 during my last grocery store visit – compared to normal retail prices – for about thirty minutes of extra effort at the breakfast table, cutting coupons and putting together the grocery list. That $20 doesn’t include the fact that the grocery list kept me on task at the store, helping me find items I actually needed and ignore items I don’t. That’s a worthwhile frugal activity, in my opinion.