January 23, 2009

Back to Basics: Couponing Part Three {Implementing: When to Shop; Coupon Policies; Hidden Deals; Stacking Coupons; and Leaving a Good Impression}

{Every Friday during the month of January, I'll be posting my Back to Basics: Couponing series. Go here to see what the topics will be. I hope this series will help those of you out there who are just starting to use coupons to reduce your household budget. I'd love to hear what works for you! Add your ideas or links in a
comment.}

Back to Basics: Couponing (Implementing)

In part one of this series, I talked about the importance of collecting and saving every coupon that comes your way and methods to keep them all organized.

In part two of this series, I explained how to plan your shopping trips around the store sales and the items on sale that have coupon matchups; I also listed some of the different online resources you can use in planning your shopping trips.

Now that you've got a growing coupon collection and a budget-driven shopping plan, it's time to hit the stores! Let's grab some deals!

When to Shop

As I mentioned here in my post about couponing etiquette, your best bet is to shop your grocery store during off-peak times. You'll avoid the crowds and the long lines when it comes time to check out.

But you should aim to shop not just during off-peak times but during ones when the store will be well-stocked. For example, if you go late Saturday evening you might find the shelves emptied by the shoppers from earlier in the day.

Grocery stores do the bulk of their business on the weekends; if you shop during an off-peak time on a Thursday, you'll likely find the store personnel busily filling the shelves as they get ready for the shoppers to come. Mondays are also a good day to shop (later in the day if possible) because the store is being re-stocked after the busy weekend.

It may take you a few weeks to find the best day that works for you and for your schedule; once you do, try to stick with it because you'll get to know the cashiers who are usually on duty on the day and time you go shopping. It always helps to build positive relationships with them!

Coupon Policies

Despite many grocery stores being part of a larger corporation, there is often differing coupon acceptance and redemption policies from store to store and from region to region.

You have two routes you can pursue to get a clear answer on your local grocery store's coupon policy: you can contact the corporate office via their website or Customer Service 1-800 number and request a copy of the policy for your store be emailed to you (so you can print it and carry it with you) or you could ask your store manager for your store's policy. I recommend contacting the corporate office because having it in writing is invaluable.

If you find yourself in a situation where your coupons aren't accepted as per that store's coupon policy states they should be, you can request the mistake be remedied at the customer service desk. If the error is still not resolved, you can then contact the corporate office and use the coupon policy as a reference. As always, be gracious; it will get you much further than ranting and raving.

Hidden Deals

One of my favorite hidden deals at my grocery store is items on clearance or items that are reduced for quick sale. Items with expiration dates are often reduced in price when they're within a day or two of their expiration date; you can often find bagged salads, store-made procude cups or bakery items, meats, and dairy items at these quick sale prices.

Buying items at reduced prices is really a judgement call; my rule is if it looks fresh and fine and I know I'll use it within a day or can freeze it, then I'll buy it. I also shop at Kroger where the standards for freshness - even on reduced items - are very high.

Some of these perishable products have coupons available in your Sunday inserts or from other sources which, when applied to the reduced price, can make the item pennies or free.

If you're looking for the best day to shop for finding reduced for quick sale items, try Thursday (stores want to have their best presentation for the busy weekend) or the day before the new sale week begins.

Stacking Coupons

Stacking coupons happens when your store offers their own store coupons off a product and you have a manufacturer's coupon for the same item. You can *usually* use both of these together (depending upon your store's coupon policy) for greater savings.

Some grocery chains send their customers store coupons via USMail; some offer them within a magazine or other store publication. Look through the magazine racks that are usually found near the grocery carts for these.

It's important to note that you cannot stack manufacturer coupons; that's simply double-dipping and will only hurt all couponers in the long run as manufacturers and stores become more restrictive.

Leaving a Positive Impression

Be kind and friendly to your store staff; cultivate positive relationships. My five year old son loves chatting with one of the department managers at our Kroger; when I'm at the store without him, the manager asks how he's doing.

Remember that you're not just a customer in your store, but a guest. Be a good one! Use your good manners. Don't let your kids trash the displays. Try to clean up your mess if you drop something. Smile and say, "Hi!" It won't cost you a thing and it may just make that cashier's day to be treated with kindness.

Join me next Friday (01/30/09) for the final part of this series: Evaluating. We'll talk about tracking your savings, building a stockpile, and finding ways to give back.

Did I miss anything? Do you have any questions or suggestions? Leave a comment and share! I really do appreciate every comment you leave!

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