The Coupon Rotation

Over the years, I’ve talked about several different methods Sarah and I have used to manage coupons at the grocery store.

At first, I wasn’t really convinced that coupons were worth the time investment. We clipped them leisurely, mostly as a Sunday morning breakfast activity.

A bit later, we started getting really organized. For me, this switch happened after witnessing some friends and other bloggers saving quite a bit of money with their couponing systems. We started using a coupon binder that kept many coupons organized. We would blow through Sunday newspapers, clip everything that made sense, and organize them using a simple system so that we could easily pull them out at the store.

A few years later, we started transitioning to using an online coupon strategy. We found that we were missing out on a lot of discounts by sticking solely to the Sunday newspaper. However, we were also learning that sometimes, coupons were encouraging us to buy things that we wouldn’t otherwise buy.

So where does that leave us?

Right now, I use a strategy that I call the “coupon rotation.” I truly feel like it’s the best balance of time investment and coupon value that I’ve yet found, because it really doesn’t add too much time to my grocery store preparation and usually saves me $10 (or sometimes more) per visit. I’m pretty sure I could save more than that, but it would involve a major increase in time investment.

So, how does it work?

First, I prepare a list. As I’ve mentioned before, we prepare a weekly grocery list based on the grocery store flyer. We use that as a meal-planning tool. On top of that, we have a whiteboard in our entryway where we jot down things that are needed during our next grocery store visit. I use those things to prepare a grocery list for the week.

At the same time, I have a small checklist of things that I add to our list regularly. Milk, eggs, trash bags, dry pasta – these are things that we buy pretty often. I keep this list on my phone and mark them throughout the week if I notice we’re running low, so I use that to help make my list, too.

Once I have that list, I stop by the computer and start looking for coupons. This process takes about fifteen minutes.

I hit a bunch of coupon sites very quickly. The ones I typically hit are Coupons.com, CouponSherpa, and Redplum, along with sites for my usual grocery stores. (It’s worth noting that I visit these sites just for food, hygiene, and household coupons. For deals on higher-priced items, I shop around quite a bit.)

I just look for coupons that match what is already on my list. I don’t add anything to my list while looking for coupons. I’m solely focused on stuff that matches my list.

I also look for coupons that match items on my “repeat items” checklist. If I find a coupon that matches something on that list, I print it off, even if it’s not on my actual grocery list for the week.

One last thing – I go through my saved pile of coupons from my “repeat items” list. I keep those organized by expiration date. It’s usually a small stack of around 20 coupons, so I can just flip through them quickly and see if any match my current list. I usually do this while the printer is actually printing so that I’m doing something instead of sitting there watching pages pop out.

All of this takes about 15 minutes and I usually discover five to ten coupons that match items already on my grocery list, the values of which add up to $10 or so. I’ve found that if I invest significantly more time than that, I can easily increase the savings to $20 or $30, but the time jumps quickly to an hour or more. That extra time isn’t nearly as effective as my fifteen minute routine, so I only dig in deeper every once in a while.

Couponing isn’t a waste of time – I can usually save $10 for 15 minutes of effort and not buy anything I wouldn’t already buy. However, it’s also not useful for me to spend extensive time digging for more savings, because the amount I dig up per minute goes way down the longer I spend. This seems to be the “sweet spot” for me.

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