Just a short time later, Mel - who'd been couponing since the spring - emailed me the links to some choice resources (http://www.iheartcvs.com/ and Gina's blog to name a couple). It started to dawn on me while skimming the entries how having access to such organized information could be a boon to our budget. Before long, I was making regular trips to CVS - and soon Shopper's Food Warehouse and other grocery stores started advertising coupon doubling and tripling specials. My husband and I eventually abandoned our dependence on Sam's Club for almost all of our groceries in favor of capitalizing on the loss-leaders at Giant and other local grocery stores, with occasional trips to Sam's.
Neither Mel nor I are regular $X/week budget-busters (at least not yet...). We witness in awe the finesse of those whose well-honed couponing skills have consistently brought weekly grocery budgets to dazzling minimums (especially, as in the case of blogger Crystal Paine, those who manage to eat healthfully while doing so!). Do we occasionally net big discount runs? Oh yes, and they are incredible highs when we manage to pull them off. But we are both still learning new strategies every day for saving money in our everyday purchases. Who knows how our skills will have been refined in the coming year?
If you're new to the couponing world, or just looking to increase your couponing power, be encouraged! As in our case, you don't need to spring off your starting block with record-breaking runs. Think of it this way: what if you could save just 8.3% of your grocery and household goods budget? Many coupons' face values come to 20% or more of an item's retail price. Buying meats on sale and produce in season can save you 50% or more off retail - so by making small changes in your approach, you can easily exceed 8.3% savings in a simple shopping trip. Baby steps to savings.
You're saying, "OK, but why 8.3%?" 8.3% is 1/12th - so if you save 8.3% over a year, you've just saved yourself an entire month's worth of grocery and basic household expenses. How could that break down for a family? Let's do a sample family, featuring husband and wife, and two kids, one in diapers. I'll try to keep estimates conservative.
Milk - 8 gallons - $24
Yoghurt cups - $50 (Yoplait and Dannon coupons appear regularly)
Cheese - $10 (four bags/blocks)
Eggs - $5 (two dozen)
Produce - $60 (Could you save $60 in a year on your produce purchases? So doable.)
Meat - $80 (Way doable, especially if you do a couple one or two meatless meals each week.)
Prepackaged cereal, lunch or snack foods - $50 (you could do this in cereal and granola bar coupons alone)
Frozen veggies - $15
Frozen pizza - $5
Desserts - $20
Food basics subtotal: $319
Basic Family Toiletries (where CVS really pays off!):
Her shaving cartridges (8): $18
Her shaving cream: $3 (1 bottle)
Her face cream: $10 (one bottle)
Her cosmetics: $12 (combined)
Her feminine hygiene products: $6
His shaving cartridges (12): $24
His shaving cream: $5 (1-2 bottles)
His aftershave: $4 (half bottle in a month)
Shampoo: $12 (4 bottles)
Conditioner: $12 (4 bottles)
Soap: $10 (4 bars)
Hand Soap: $7 (three bottles)
Toiletries Subtotal: $218
Toilet paper: $6 (9 rolls)
Paper towels: $10 (8 rolls)
Laundry detergent: $2 (half bottle)
Fabric softener: $2 (half bottle)
Anti-static dryer sheets: $1 (quarter box)
All-purpose cleaner: $2 (half bottle)
Sponges: $4 (for 4)
Dishwasher detergent: $3 (half bottle)
Household goods subtotal: $30
TOTAL saved: $567
Of course, your actual consumption patterns will vary depending on your family's unique circumstances, but the point is this: could you come up with a couple of $1 coupons to save on all-purpose cleaner in a year's time? Sure! If so, you've just saved yourself the cost of a month's worth of all-purpose cleaner. Can you try to save $10.90 each week, either by a few coupons or loss-leader strategizing? Just $10.90 saved each week adds up to a month of general food and household expenses - essentially for free! And think what you could do with that $567...
A few ideas:
- A family weekend getaway with some special extras.
- Put it toward your mortgage (or if you're saving for a house, your down payment savings!).
- Fill some new backpacks for back-to-school charities, or fill some boxes for a children's Christmas charity event like the D.C.-area Little Lights Christmas party.
- If you attend church, up your regular giving. Suddenly, where there seemed to be no wiggle room, you've found a twelfth of your regular budget to spare.
- Fly some friends or relatives into town - maybe some grandparents to keep the kids busy for a bit?
- Take yourself and someone else out for a cup of fancy coffee every week.
- Buy yourself some time and sanity - by hiring a house cleaner for a once-over, or regular service!
- Host a party. A big one. Feel zero shame in serving couponed Pillsbury Savorings and loss-leader fruit salad.