Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Extreme Couponing Lite Part IV: Anatomy of a Shopping Trip

In last week’s article, Extreme Couponing Lite: Organization, I explained how my coupon binder works. this week I will be taking you through a typical shopping week with me, from clipping to checkout.
First, I always start with my list. I work on the list throughout the week as we use things up so I know exactly what I need and don’t have to go scrounging in all the cupboards.  Usual things that we need every week are milk, bread, lunch meat, cheese, and produce. Those things are generally a given, so that’s where I start looking for coupons and deals. A couple of those things are easy: I always buy Wegmans White Whole Wheat bread, and I always buy cheese at Aldis, unless I know I have a great coupon. I check my binder, because I always clip the coupons for products I know I will use, even if they are not the normal brands I buy. 
Next, I check the coupon database for coupons on the things I know we’ll need. We always use both regular cow’s milk and non-dairy milk like soy or almond every week. That’s where I’ll start looking for coupons. Silk has had a number of coupons out recently, so I’ll print those out. Then I’ll see if there are any coupons for cow’s milk -- Horizon and Organic Valley often have coupons. To do this, simply go to the coupon database and search “milk.”  You’ll see what coupons are available for related products and where to get those coupons, whether they are printable or in a recent newspaper insert.  If I can’t find any coupons for organic, I’ll buy my cow’s milk at Aldi because I’ve found their prices to be the lowest. (No, I don’t always buy organic milk. I try to if I know I have extra room in the budget that week or there is a coupon, but at $5.99/gallon it just isn’t feasible all the time.)
Because it makes my life so much easier during the week, next I do my meal planning. I’ve already perused my coupon binder and the inserts, so I have an idea of what is on sale. I also try to meal plan using what I have in my pantry already, since I like to stock up. Usually at least 3 of our meals for the week are from the pantry, and at least 2 are meatless. Both ideas really make a difference at checkout. When I’ve done my menu plan, I add what I will need to the list, and again check the coupon database if there are coupons available for those items.

**Note: I am currently working hard to offer a coupon database that you can access directly from MindfullyFrugalMom!
Finally, I do some online research to see what the good deals are this week. It’s easy to find national drugstore deals online, but to really make a dent in your bill, find a site that does coupon match-ups for the store that you shop at the most. On MindfullyFrugalMom, I focus on Wegmans simply because that is where I shop the most.

Now, you might be thinking, but this will take so much time!  The first couple of times you do it, yes, it might take a few hours from start to finish to plan your list. I like to think of it as a job. In the example below I saved $27.23.  That weekend I spent an hour and a half to plan, clip, and organize.  In that case, my hourly "wage" was $18.15. Not too bad! And I did it while I was watching tv after the kids went to bed. 
A couple tips for when you are at the store:
Have your list organized before you leave. I use an blank junk-mail envelope, write the list on the outside, and stash the coupons inside. 
I organize both the list and the coupons inside by where the item is in the store. I know that sounds pretty over-the-top, but it saves time in the store when you’re trying to price check the item to see how much your final price will be after the coupon.
When you get to the cash register, first hand the cashier your reusable bags (you are using them, right? :) ) I’ve found on recent trips that it works best if you give the cashier your Wegmans (or other store) coupons first, then “real” coupons, then printables last. The computers sometimes have issues with the printables and if you keep them all together it’s easier to keep track of them going through. 
Here is a receipt for a recent Wegmans trip:
And a close-up:

My inital total was $86.57, but it dropped down to $59.34 after coupons. I love it when the coupon section is longer than the list of things I bought!
Happy Shopping! I hope this series helped you save money, eat healthier, and live more Mindfully Frugal!

If you missed any of the first three articles in the series, check them out here.

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