Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Coupon Without The Crazy: Efficient Shopping Made Easy

How are you all doing this week?  Are you starting to see some savings by shopping normally with a couple of coupons or at least seeing the potential?  I hope so!  If you missed the first part about downloading coupons you can find that here, if you're wanting a refresher course on paper coupons that can be found here.

So now that you have a couple weeks behind you of downloading coupons and you've got some printed out the next step is to use them.  This should be the easiest step right?  Almost!  As with the previous two weeks I'm only walking you through what I do and the things that have made this the easiest for me.  Take what you find and mold it until it works for you.  Let's go!
How do you remember to use your coupons?

The first step in actually using your coupons comes into play when making your grocery list.  

This is what my grocery list looks like for most of the week.  Any time I use something up or notice we are getting low it gets added to the list.  The Husband is super helpful in remembering to add items as well.  If you can get your family in on this it will pay dividends in the amount of time it takes you to compile a list each week! 

But of course I'm not going to take a dry erase sheet with me to the grocery store so in comes my all time favorite and most used app on my phone!  After trying multiple ways of creating a grocery list on my phone I stumbled across Grocery Pal and never turned back.  I'll walk you through my steps and show you why an organizational freak like myself enjoys it so much. :)

This is what greets me when I open the app.  I could choose to create multiple lists and for a while was keeping my list of meat separate so I could gauge how much we were spending on that each week.

Because I've been using this app for a while I have a fantastic history of information available to me.  I'm able to save prices and indicate whether that price is per pound, bag, or for an individual item.  This means that I am constantly keeping track of the lowest price I can get for any given item and know when it's worth it to buy or wait.  Items I buy frequently I add to my list of favorites.  This is where I always start my list making, going through my favorites and adding anything that is on my handwritten list.

As I add items from my favorites I cross them off the handwritten list.

Anything left on my handwritten list I go to my history to see if I've purchased the item before and have a price saved for it there.  If so it gets added, if not I type it manually into the master list and make an estimate at the price.

So here is an example of what my master list looks like after I've added everything.  At the bottom of the picture you'll spot one of my favorite features.  The subtotal!  Because I keep track of the cost of every item it creates a subtotal for me and as I add items to my cart I will see how much I can expect to spend at the register.  I LOVE this feature!  If I spend more than what I have budgeted for the week it's because I have made a conscious decision based on the sales available or a need to stock up on one item or another.  

I've made this into a game for myself.  Each week I try to get the total to come out less than what was estimated when the list was made.  Frequently I accomplish this by unexpectedly finding items at lower prices (by buying generic instead of name brand - always check prices regardless of what coupons you have) or realizing that the price isn't low enough to warrant buying it that week.  Of course sometimes this doesn't happen and my total is exactly what was estimated, but it's a fun game to play. :) 

Here is one of my other favorite features.  The blue boxes indicate that I have a coupon available.  I'm able to go into each item and mark what type of coupon I have and then it automatically adjusts the total to reflect that information.  I try to either have a coupon for everything on my list or for items to be at a discounted price due to a downloaded coupon.  Ideally both of these apply and I'm able to get a great deal!

These are the steps I go through each week.  At this point it's fast and easy, even getting in and out of the grocery store is faster because I know exactly what I'm looking for and what the total will come to without having to guess or stand awkwardly in a corner doing loads of math.  

Honestly, the first couple of weeks I used this app grocery shopping took longer than I thought possible as I spent time inputting the price of every item as I added it to my cart.  But now I'm able to know when something is cheap enough that I should stock up.  If I find that an item is lower than I expect I go into my list of favorites and change the price there, that way I am always estimating the lowest total price.  (I have a couple exceptions for items I buy frequently and are rarely on sale like eggs, these I keep listed at the general price and I know to really take advantage when it's anything lower.)  I found that the time spent initially has been well worth the investment!

How to compile coupons for use:

All of this may be well and good, but what if you're simply not sure how to go about compiling your coupons with your list, what then?  Let me walk you through how I do it.

I always start by making my list.  I don't look to see what's on sale or what coupons I have.  I'm simply making a list of what I need or am almost out of.  

Next I go through the Safeway circular looking for anything on my list that is on sale.  (The circulars are increasingly available online if you don't receive a physical copy.)  This is also where I will begin making judgement calls.  If I want chicken but beef is on sale then I will alter my list so that I will buy beef instead of chicken.  I then go through whatever coupons/personalized prices I have downloaded and adjust prices as necessary in my app.

Now is the time that I go through my paper coupons and do two things:
  1. Recycle any coupon that has expired.
  2. Pull any coupon that matches an item I have on my grocery list and place it in the Safeway category of my file folder.
Any coupon I will be using that week should now be in one place.  One last look through my list to double check coupons and prices and I'm done!  It's easy while going through this process to add unnecessary items just because they are advertised at a great price.  This is why double checking before you get to the store is so important.  If I do add anything to my list during this process it must meet the following criteria:
  1. Be something we need/use frequently i.e. toiletries, fruits, or vegetables.
  2. Be on sale AND I have a coupon for it. 
  3. There is space for it to be stored 
If those three things are not met I will not purchase the item regardless of what the price is.

Does this process actually save any money? 

Ahh, the big question.  Although it took at least three months before I had a system in place that worked for me and I saw consistent savings, using coupons is definitely worth it for me.  I am able to save 30% - 40% off of my grocery bill each week and so far this year I've saved $169, that's in one month!  The Husband and I eat a relatively low carb diet and before we did that my savings percentage was consistently 40% - 50%.  Need further proof that it's worth it to us?  Without spending anything outside of our normal grocery budget I was able to have enough stocked up so that we could go an entire month without major grocery shopping while I was in my first trimester and not feeling well.  Having that experience continues to encourage me that the work I put in is definitely worth it!

A small extra thing that saves me money each week is that rather than planning my grocery list off of a meal plan I shop and then meal plan based off of what we have.  This keeps the stockpile in a constant rotation and has greatly expanded my recipe base and the types of meat I purchase as whatever is on sale may not be something I've cooked with before.  

My challenge to you this week is to keep compiling coupons.  Give Grocery Pal a try but don't push yourself to try too many new things.  Maybe just use it to create your grocery list, or for an even smaller baby step, simply download it and become familiar with all the features it has as I only touched on a few.  

Next week we'll talk about how to keep a stockpile without being the crazy lady with groceries in every spare corner. 

Let me know how you're doing and happy couponing!

***This post is linked up at Living Well, Spending Less***

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