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The Coupon Lady: Couponing basics

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This week, I’d like to go back to couponing basics. I firmly believe that the successful use of coupons can save families hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each year.

Couponing does take time and effort, but if you make it a priority it will pay off.

Most extreme couponer blogs will tell you that each hour spent on couponing can save a family anywhere from $25 to $50. I’ve even seen a statistic saying it can be up to $100 an hour when using those “extreme” methods.

My own personal average is $50 to $55 per hour. One reason my average is lower is that I don’t shop at a lot of stores. I normally shop at one grocery store and one drugstore a week because of time constraints. My goal is to minimize time spent couponing and still have great savings for my family. But still, most families agree that any job that paid $50 an hour would be well worth it!

Using coupons is only half of the equation. The other half of the savings equation is the weekly sales. Just remember this: coupons plus sales equals big savings!

A smart shopper knows what’s on sale by reading the ads in each Sunday’s newspaper and then matching coupons to them. Kroger, CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid sales run from Sunday to Saturday, and Food Lion, Bi-Lo and Publix sales ads run Wednesday to Tuesday.

My favorite method of coupon matchups is pretty low-tech. I take the ads that come in the paper each week and look through them to discover which sales look the best to me. Next, I take the ad and try to match coupons for each item that I’m interested in buying. If it’s something that is at a good stock-up price, usually 40 percent or more off retail price after sale and coupon, I circle the item.

If I’m well stocked on the item, then I’m not interested. My goal is to save money, not waste it by purchasing things I don’t need.

Not everything I buy will have coupons. With meat and produce, I look for 30 percent to 50 percent savings. I own a small deep freezer, so I stock up on whatever meats or produce that are on sale for the week in order to make several meals at once. If you don’t own a deep freezer, just buy enough of the sales meat for that week’s dinners.

Buying produce in season will also save you money.

If you shop at a store that offers price matching, you can save time by using other store ads to get a better price. I also make sure to bring all competitors’ coupons if shopping at Publix or Bi-Lo to take advantage of their competitor coupon policy.

I only buy in amounts that I plan on using within three or four months. For example, if I have a good supply of condiments, I will skip the sale the next time it comes around. I do sacrifice some savings by just purchasing smaller amounts, but I do not have to store six months or a year’s worth of product to save money.

Even if you do not have lots of storage space, you can still save with coupons. A small home just has to be more careful and concentrate on purchasing smaller things, such as personal care or hygiene items. I use many storage options to organize my stockpile. I recently purchased several over-the-door shoe hangers. I used one to organize small packages, mixes and bags in our pantry and a second in our laundry room to organize cleaning wipes, cleaning sprays and air fresheners. This would also be a good idea for organizing bathroom supplies in a small bathroom.

As you become familiar with the concept of hunting for the best prices, then you will also discover that buying several times at once is not as strange as you once thought. With a little practice, you will be saving like a pro!


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