When people hear that I am a couponer, they often express amazement that I find the time for it. The time investment is a hurdle for a lot of people, so much so that they never try to overcome it. It’s valid to think about–time is money, after all, and your time is definitely valuable. I casually keep an eye on how much time I spend clipping coupons, making my shopping list, and meal planning versus how much I am saving to make sure it’s worth my while. I’ve never precisely calculated it, but with all the resources available to help me, it’s honestly not as much of a time suck as you might fear. Plus, once you realize that stores will practically throw money at you if you know where to look, you’ll never be able to go back to paying full price!

My most helpful secret trick (which isn’t really a secret at all) is the website SouthernSavers.com. Trying to “shop the sales” is sort of overwhelming when presented with a store weekly ad and the entire internet’s worth of printable coupons. Enter Jenny at Southern Savers (among others, but hers is the best, in my opinion) , who does the hard work of matching up coupons to what is at sale! You can simply go to her website and find the weekly ad for the store of your choice and she has all the sales typed out with a list of relevant coupons under each item. You can even click directly from the list to print a coupon if you don’t already have it.

My other secret trick is to do my deal shopping in small doses. I typically do my “big” grocery shopping at Kroger on Sunday. I usually have coupons planned out, but I normally only save about 20-30% on this trip. Definitely a boon to the old grocery budget, but not spectacular in the scheme of couponing. BUT THEN, I keep an eye on Southern Savers for what is on sale at other stores. I’ve chosen that Target, CVS, and Publix are feasible for me to include. I don’t shop all three every week. In fact, many weeks I only do my big Kroger shopping, and that’s fine! But if I spot deals at one of those other stores that I can’t pass up, I get my list and coupons all organized so I can get in and out extremely fast. I’ll walk in, walk straight to the item I need, and not even look at anything else. If I leave my coupon organizer at home I won’t even be tempted! (I will admit it’s also convenient to live in a city where I can plan a route to or from work that includes a location of each of those stores, or I can plan to go for a walk in my neighborhood and hit two of them. I know not everyone has that luxury.)

For example, I’m planning to stop at Publix on Thursday for an irresistible deal on Sargento snack cheese (I’ll report back on exact details if it works!), and on Tuesday I swung into CVS on my way to work (it’s literally on my way–on the street I drive on anyway–so could not be more convenient). I picked up a box of Playtex Gentle Glide, normally priced at $7.99. I used a $1.00 off printable coupon and $3.00 Extra Care Bucks that I had received from a previous transaction at CVS, so paid a little over $4.00 after tax, AND I received $3.00 additional Extra Bucks. I needed olive oil, so I immediately used those ECBs on a bottle of Filippo Berrio that was on sale for $4.99 (down from $8.99) and another $1.00 off coupon, to pay just over $1.00 out of pocket. For $5 and change, I purchased two items I need for less than either of them would normally have cost on their own!

Which leads me to my final trick: when a store offers you money, take advantage of it! I am not one of those couponers who will stockpile things just because they are free. (I just really don’t have the space for that.) But if I get Extra Bucks from CVS, I spend them. Recently I received $3 in an email for no apparent reason, and I went to the store and bought exactly $3.00 worth of kleenex. It was free! Kroger has a program lately of offering a “Free Friday Download.” You can download an e-coupon to your store loyalty card and literally just get something for free, on Kroger’s dime. Whatever that item is, I get it. It’s free! And it seems like the more you take advantage of these deals, the more likely stores are to offer them. So take advantage!

But for all the tips and tricks in the world, the real truth of it is that finding a bargain gives me a rush. Sometimes I feel a sense of amazement when I pick a stack of coupons up off the printer that I’m practically holding money in my handsAnd now that I know what’s possible with those little slips of paper and a little strategizing, I have a really hard time paying full price for things.

What’s your approach to bargain shopping? Do you like using coupons?

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman