August 17, 2010

Back to Basics | Couponing {Part 2 of 4}

This is the second part of my how-to couponing series that originally ran in January of 2009. Enjoy and please leave comments sharing what works for you!

{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 (Planning: Assess Your Needs, Store Deals + Coupon Matchups, Online Resources, and a Budget-Driven List)

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.

Now that you've got yourself some coupons, it's time to start using them to save some serious cash. Let's get started!

Assess your needs

First, check your family's schedule for the week. Is every evening busy with activities or does your week look to be slower paced? Do you have school aged children or working adults who need packed lunches? Are you doing any entertaining of any sort?

It's important to align your meal plan with your family's schedule to save time and to save yourself stress. Busy nights are perfect for slow cooker meals and slower paced nights are a great opportunity to cook a doubled recipe of a meal that can be frozen, giving you dinner for that night and dinner for a future (most likely busy) night.

It's also important to note that many of you out there are dealing with food allergies, intolerances, and special diets. Building a meal plan each week that takes those specific situations into account will help you stay sane while keeping your loved ones healthy. I don't have any specific food issues at my house; my hat is off to you Head Chefs who deal with this on a daily basis.

Once you have a good idea of your meal needs for the week, go look in your pantry , refrigerator, and freezer and see what you already have that can be used in your meal planning. Then write in which meals you'll eat each night. Need help coming up with ideas? Go visit Orgjunkie's weekly Menu Plan Monday for hundreds of meal plans with recipe links from smart moms around the blogosphere. Other good resources: Carrie's Cooking, Meals.com and AllRecipes.

Build your grocery list directly from your meal plan and add in the other items that you need every week which is usually the perishable items such as milk, eggs, fresh fruit, and fresh veggies.

For more on meal planning, read my post about it here.

Store Deals + Coupon Matchups and Online Resources

This is where the hard work of fellow bloggers really helps you; you generally don't have to do all legwork of grabbing your store ad and matching up current sale items to current coupons all by yourself. More likely than not, there's a blogger in your area who posts the sales + coupon matchups at your local grocery store(s) every week.

If you're fairly new to couponing, I advise sticking to your primary grocery store in the beginning so you can learn the ropes and begin building a small stockpile of items that you get for rock bottom prices. If you want to step up your couponing game, you're probably ready to try shopping at CVS and Walgreens; see my post explaining how to save money at CVS right here and my post explaining how to save money at Walgreens right here.

Check the Grocery Gathering at BeCentsAble to see if your local grocery store is listed; the Grocery Gathering is a great place to start looking for the best ways to stretch your grocery dollars.

Another great resource is the coupon matchups found each week at the Coupon Mom's huge website. Again, this is free.

Many newbie couponers find that the coupon matchups found at The Grocery Game help them while they're learning the ropes. This is a fee-based service, but they do offer a fairly low price for the first four weeks ($1.00). I did use this myself in the beginning of my couponing journey and then cancelled after the initial trial period. It is useful, but then so is a good Google keyword search. By that I mean simply that if you dig around the blogosphere long enough, you can generally find what's on sale at your local store + coupon matchups.

If you can't, you can do the legwork yourself. Grab your store's weekly ad circular out of the Sunday paper, in-store, or search for it online at your store's website. Look at what's on sale; if you shop that store fairly regularly, you'll know when a sale price is actually a real deal as opposed to just a teaser price. Now grab that menu plan you just wrote - are there items on sale that you can incorporate into your menu plan? You'll save the most money if you build your menu plan around sale items and items that you can get for a rock-bottom price with couponing.

To find those coupon matchups on sale items on your own, sign up for free registration at Hot Coupon World. You'll be able to access the Coupon Database and search for current coupons on products that are already on sale at your store.

Ok, now you've got a menu plan and a pretty good list based on what you need for the week. Let's talk about the last piece of the puzzle...

A Budget-Driven List

The whole point of doing all the steps listed above is to save you money. Your best bet is to set a realistic budget for your weekly shopping. If you've been tracking your spending, you know how much money you've beenspending at the grocery store each week. Using that number as a starting point, challenge yourself to spend less this week. Maybe it's just 10-20% less; maybe it's more. It really is a personal decision and it's one that you need to re-evaluate week-to-week as you build a small stockpile and you become more experienced in using coupons to save money.

Your best bet? Track your spending and saving even after you start couponing. This can be as simple as an envelope to save your grocery receipts. If you (like me) love a good spreadsheet, you can download my friend Andrea's grocery spending and and saving Google Docs spreadsheet; find it here. I love using it!

Next Friday (01/23/09) we'll tackle the stores! Come back and read Implementing
{When to Shop, Coupon Policies, Hidden Deals, Stacking Coupons, and Leaving a Positive Impression}
.

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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