One of my favorite tactics in life is to apply the 80/20 rule to everything. In a nutshell, the 80/20 rule states that you get 80% of the benefit of something from 20% of the effort you put into it. The trick is that you have to have a good understanding of what you’re doing to be able to figure out what the 80% benefit is and the 20% effort is.
This brings us around to coupons.
When Sarah and I first ran into financial troubles, one of the first tactics we wholeheartedly adopted was that of couponing.
At first, we clipped every coupon we thought we could possibly use. We would have fistfuls of them at the store and we’d match them to everything that was on our list. The more couponing, the better.
The only problem was that collecting dozens (hundreds?) of coupons with any sort of organization became a pretty big time sink. After a while, we started to look carefully at what we were doing and we began to notice a few things.
First of all, we were better off being selective about the items we were buying and focusing on things that provided good value regardless of coupons, then matching coupons to those good items. Coupons for awful trash bags really didn’t save us much money or time. We were better off figuring out the good trash bags, then just watching specifically for coupons on those bags.
Our biggest discovery, though, was something we called the “one month strategy.”
Simply put, if you take the weekend coupon flyer and set it aside for four or five weeks, then use the coupons, you’ll find that the store sales often perfectly matched many of the coupons.
It turns out that companies, when promoting their products, often put coupons in weekend flyers, wait a few weeks, and then use store sales in an effort to consistently pump up the sales of their products.
Since stores will happily take your unexpired coupons whether the item is on sale or not, you can easily double-dip the savings this way.
The method is simple. When you get a flyer, just put it aside for four weeks. We would often date the cover of the flyer so we’d know. When the four week mark is reached, go through the flyer and clip the coupons that actually match your needs.
You’ll find that the coupons now match up reasonably well (not perfectly, but pretty well) with the items on sale at the grocery store. Thus, your coupons will further reduce the sale prices, causing you to save even more. I’ve found myself paying pennies for orange juice and eggs and other household essentials thanks to this strategy.
It doesn’t add much effort to the process, either. It just helps you to double dip on the grocery and household savings.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.