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Coupons? Check.

Storage system that works for you? Check.

Now what?

Years ago I would clip a coupon here or there and use them only for items that I would buy anyway. It was great justification to spend extra money I didn’t have on fancy or organic items. I didn’t see how clipping coupons really saved me any money since the generic was usually cheaper anyway.

Well, the trick is to use the coupon when the item is on sale. And only buy things on sale unless you truly can’t live without them.

Here’s what I do each week when the grocery ads show up in my mailbox.

1. Dance eagerly down the street because the grocery ads came! (You remember what a grocery geek I am, right?) It’s an added plus that they come 2 days before the sales start, so I can decide if last week’s sale is better.

2. Sit down with the ads and a blank sheet of paper and a pen or pencil. A cup of Peets is always nice, too.

3. Methodically, go through each ad, jotting down what I think are good prices on things that I think I might have a coupon for or know that we need/will use. For example, when I started this process this week, I noted these items on my paper:

pringles $1.50
Knorr side dishes $1
Yoplait 10/$5
nectarines $0.99/#
pork strips $1.69
Ken’s salad dressings $1.49

4. After I’ve done that for each stores’s ad, I go through my coupon box and match any item that I have a coupon for with the sale price and jot that down on my worksheet. While I’m thinking about numbers, I do the math to figure out my per item cost for each thing. So, my paper looks like this:

pringles $1.50 – $1/2 = $1 each
Knorr side dishes $1 – $1/3 = .66 each
Yoplait 10/$5 – $.40x/6 (The “x” means the coupon will be doubled. If I buy 6, I can get them for $.37 each after the coupon.)
nectarines $0.99/#
pork strips $1.69
Ken’s salad dressings $1.49 – $1 = .49 each for spritzers

5. Then I make decisions, comparing what the different stores have to offer and deciding where I’m going to buy what. In this instance, I decided that $1 was not a good enough price to buy Pringles, especially since they’re junk. But, the other items are fair game, provided that the selection fits our tastes. So, my list looks like this:

pringles $1.50 – $1/2 = $1 each
Knorr side dishes $1 – $1/3 = .66 each
Yoplait 10/$5 – $.40x/6 (The “x” means the coupon will be doubled. If I buy 6, I can get them for $.37 each after the coupon.)
nectarines $0.99/#
pork strips $1.69
Ken’s salad dressings $1.49 – $1 = .49 each for spritzers

Now, I have a worksheet to work from for all my stores:

It’s not pretty and it’s full of hieroglyphics, but I know what it means. And it is an invaluable tool when I’m shopping. I still keep the ads with me, but this is an easy reference.

I’ll plan my menus based on this sheet as well as on what’s in the cupboard or freezer already. At a glance, you can tell that peaches and nectarines will probably be one of our fresh fruit selections, and that I’ll probably stock up on london broil, pork strips, or chicken.

Tune in next week for how I build menus from the sales.

8 Great Ways to Find Coupons
Coupons: You Gotta Know How to Hold ‘Em
Sources for Printable Coupons: and Red Plum

Next week: Meal Planning from the Sales

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  1. Great post. I'm looking forward to your menu building post :o)

  2. I pretty much do that too. I'm at a disadvantage, though, in not having a paper copy of the ad to preview, so I generally look at the previews that people post at A Full Cup. It so helps to be able to start thinking about it all a couple of days in advance of the sale!!

    My menus are based on what's in the freezer or pantry, filled in with what's on sale at the grocery. We try to have a low-cost meatless meal, too, once per week. (Think lentils & rice, veggie lasagne, omelets…)

  3. 1) I promise this question comes from curiosity and isn't a judgement;

    2) I'm not sure what city you live in;


    how much $ do you spend on gas driving to all these stores?

    You seem like a thoughtful person, have you ever done that kind of an analysis? $ saved on food vs. $ spent on gas driving to 3 or 4 stores to save $ on food?

    Also, how much is your time worth as a mom? These are questions I grapple with a lot. Is saving a few dollars worth the amount of time I (and my 5 month old) would spend in the car? I'm curious to hear how others feel.

  4. Katy,

    Great questions and all of them are ones that my husband and I have seriously addressed over the last 15 months since I started doing this. I've used this method in two major cities now, Kansas City and San Diego, and we've come to the same conclusions both times.

    All the stores that I go to are within 1-4 miles of my house and actually make a circuit. One is even across the street from my husband's work, so he usually makes that stop for me. I do all the stops usually in one 2 hr period – if I'm doing ALL the stores. I often choose 1-2 of the best ones and don't go to all of them. But, I often do.

    Since couponing we've been able to reduce our grocery bill by $200/month. Previously, I did all my shopping at SuperWalmart – and that still took 1-2 hours every week. I figure that the time spent researching and clipping saves me about $25/hr in the average week. Often, the savings is greater.

    Gas hasn't been an issue since we live so close to these stores and since I work it into other errands.

    I also don't shop every week. By getting things on sale, I stockpile and we can go 2-3 weeks if we need to, if I'm too tired, if the sales are good, etc.

    For me $200 is a little more than a few dollars, esp with 8 mouths to feed. This works for us. But, it may not work for everyone. So, please don't read this as "this is how you should do it." This is just how I do it.

  5. One of things I do like about your blog is that you freely acknowledge that there are many approaches to any issue.

    I live in NYC and do have a car and access to a variety of stores but am always wondering if it's the best use of my resources. Also, living in an apartment I don't have a lot of room to stockpile.

    I guess I could rent a storage space. Hmmmm…. 🙂

    (P.S. I grew up in La Jolla)

  6. Well, thanks, Katy. That is a hard-earned attitude. Not too long ago, I thought there was only one way to do things. Thank God, I'm learning otherwise. And I really hope that is evident here.

    Your situation is completely different — and probably needs a different approach. (My experience recently has been rural/suburban. And while I am attracted to the hubbub of the city and an urban lifeatyle, that's not where God has placed us in this season.)

    That said, I don't think that renting storage space is your answer. We once lived in 250 sq ft – me, FishPapa, and the 1st FishBaby. My husband became very adept at building shelving EVERYWHERE. A lot of it was unused overhead space. We still were able to stockpile at Costco, going every 4-6 weeks, but we lived w/ our stockpile in plain view. That didn't bother us. But, it might for other people. For us, that was one of the costs of living in a studio in Santa Barbara. (I have wonderful memories of that season, though! Wouldn't trade it for anything.)

    I encourage you to bloom where you're planted. And it sounds like that's what you're doing. Trying to find the best ways to use your resources.

    Do you read She talks a lot about apartment living and frugality and has some great tricks for small space living.

  7. You've discovered the secret to really saving money at the grocery: don't buy it when you need it, buy it when it is cheapest! I've been doing this for a few years and have really reduced my spending by maintaining a good stockpile. I'm also lucky in that all my stores are close. I don't overdo anything (although I admit I get so much free or near-free toothpaste I have to stop myself at 6 or so tubes) but I always like to try to be 1 unopened container ahead of the game. You know what I mean…a full jar of mayo in the pantry (bought on sale with a coupon) and a half-empty one in the fridge.

    Katy, if you come back and read this, even a few stockpiled items will save you money. Can you keep a box under the bed or make room on half a closet shelf?

  8. There was a day my mail carrier skipped my house on the day the grocery ads came. I had been waiting all day for her to show up with them, when she drove by, I think I almost cried. Only another avid bargain hunter would understand this 🙂
    Thanks for your Great post

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this! I am always on the lookout for new ways of doing things (as I know there's more than one way. My fear is that my way is not THE BEST way).

    I currently use the binder system – catagories for my coupons. I first read about your system over at Crystal's blog and I'm considering going that route. Flipping through pages is so cumbersome! I've also done the insert thing – HUGE FAIL.

    I am also thinking I'm not taking full advantage a AFC and HCW. I've visited both sites, but never really camped out. I think I should. (I've done GG, but I didn't feel I was 'hard core' enough to keep spending the money).

  10. Did I miss the menu building post…looking forward to it-this is WONDERFUL and I am learning so much!!! Thank you!