Not-So-Extreme Couponing

If you're like me and like to save money, consider yourself pretty organized, but don't have the time and/or patience to take couponing "to the extreme", then keep reading.

Using coupons has become very popular with money saving websites and Facebook pages dedicated to dishing out the latest match-up deals (combining coupons and in-store ads for major savings). There is even an entire tv series following the lives of "extreme couponers" from across the US.

I have to admit, it intrigues me. However it also completely exhausts me. These folks have taken using coupons to the next level - it's literally a full-time job. That, I'm afraid, isn't my calling.

With that said, I am a stay-at-home mom with 2 hungry little boys. I do think it is my job to find ways to use our money as efficiently as possible. So, the couponing buzz has inspired me to organize my thinking and my weekly newspaper to plan meals and save a few bucks here and there. It's free money people! And with a few simple steps, I'll show you how you too can cash in on some savings without giving up your day job :)

Here's what you'll need:
- a good pair of sharp scissors
- a small accordion-style file
- your favorite cook-books
- a long envelope
- a piece of paper and a pen
- your weekly newspaper (and previous weeks coupon inserts)

And here's what I do...

STEP 1 - Gather all the materials above and spread out at a large table. I usually sit at our coffee table in the family room after the kids go to bed on a Sunday evening. That way I can be working as I catch up on my shows on the DVR. (Multi-tasking at it's best!)

STEP 2Start clipping! You don't need to cut out every coupon, just the ones for products you already buy or would consider buying if you could save some money on it.

STEP 3 - Organize your coupons. If you haven't already done so, label the tabs in your accordion file into categories. Below are the ones I use. But feel free to organize in a way that makes the most sense to you. Then, as you clip your coupons, file them!

  • Kid Stuff (pull-ups, toys, games, books, etc.)
  • Household Items (cleaners, storage, office stuff)
  • Freezer (any foods that are found in the freezer section at the grocery)
  • Refrigerator (any foods that are stored in the refrigerator)
  • Pantry (non-perishable food items, soup mixes, spices)
  • Medicine Cabinet (pain relievers, band-aids, sprays)
  • Toiletries (cosmetics, toothpaste, shampoos, beauty products)
  • Restaurants
  • Other (coupons for magazines, haircuts, etc.)
STEP 4 - Plan your menu. I don't really enjoy cooking. Well, it isn't that I don't enjoy cooking, I'm just not very good at coming up with something to make at the last minute. Especially if it means opening the pantry or fridge and trying to concoct a meal with what I've got. But, I've found that if I take some time every few weeks to plan out a menu, then it takes the guess work out of it AND ensures that I have all necessary ingredients on hand. There are dozens of meal-planning websites with free printables to write out your menu. To help you make some choices, thumb through your favorite cookbooks, choosing a few from each one. Make note of the page #s so you can easily find the recipes when you're ready to cook that day's meal. Be sure to give yourself a few nights off for leftovers or dining out. I choose to only plan dinner as our daily schedule (and moods) change too much to plan breakfast and lunch too.

STEP 5 - Write down your list. For me, the easiest way to keep things all together is to write my grocery list on the front of a long white envelope. First, I write down all the ingredients needed for the recipes I've chosen. Then I'll add on any essentials (milk, bread) and things we are out of (aluminum foil, ziplocs, etc.). Finally, I'll sort through the coupons, looking for ones that correspond to the list I've already made. I also add some items to my list based on expiration dates of the coupons (if I definitely want to try or need that item). Once that is complete, I put all the coupons needed inside the envelope and seal it up. 

STEP 6 - Go shopping! Now that I have my list and my coupons all in one place, I tuck the envelope in my purse and head to the store. It's always good to keep the file with you as well just in case one of the store's deals match up with a coupon for an item that wasn't on your list. If you're store offers in-store coupons, and there is one for an item on my list, it's an added bonus! I'll keep the coupon with my envelope so I don't forget to use it. (Sometimes if there are a lot, I'll go ahead and open the envelope and stick it inside). I mark off the items on my list one by one and head to the check out.

STEP 7 - Watch the savings add up! I always feel like a kid at a candy store when I get to the register, rip open my envelope and pull out my stack of coupons. From the rush that I get, I can definitely see how some people get hooked and take it to the next level!

I spend $15/month on our local newspaper subscription, an hour or so planning and clipping and I typically save anywhere from $30-75 per shopping trip. I plan our meals on a bi-weekly basis, which means I end up at the grocery 2 times. That equals almost $60-150 in savings per month!

Have some good coupon websites, tips or menu-planning resources? Leave a comment and share them with me! You never know when I might decide to take my couponing "to the extreme"! :)

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