Couponing: Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers, Of Course)

By Elizabeth Scholes

We’ve talked about a lot of different ways to save money on groceries and household items.  But just in case you’re not clear on everything, here are a few “frequently asked questions” that might help.

Is any  day better than another day for shopping?  I’ve noticed most of the really great sales are on Friday and Saturday.  Should I be shopping those days or can I shop anytime I want?

Unless there are special sale days (ie: two day sale on Thursday and Friday), there really isn’t a better time to shop than another.  If you want to purchase the sale items on those special days, then, of course, do your entire trip then.  Just like with all planning, make sure the items you want to get from a special sale are worth the trouble of rearranging your shopping schedule.

Do you ever take advantage of “price matching” like Wal-mart has – where you take ads from other places and they match the prices?  Is that a good thing to do?

I do not price match much but it certainly is a great way to reduce the number of trips you take to complete your shopping list if there are several good deals at different stores.  The things to remember with price matching are to always know the store policy on price matching, take the ads with you, and be polite to the cashier who is going to the trouble of changing the prices for you.  Also know that stores will only price match on sales that have dollar amounts listed. No B1G1 or percentage off sales.

How much time do you spend preparing to shop?

After the sale ads are published, I sit down and review the ads and compile my list based on the things we need and the coupon match-ups for the week.  I collect all my coupons and put them with my list in my purse.  All of this takes me an average of 20-30 minutes per week.  If you’re new at it, give yourself a little more time but it will get quicker the more you do it.

How long does it usually take you at the checkout – the coupon processing part, I mean?  I was in line behind a person yesterday who had a bunch of coupons and it slowed things down for the rest of us.

Checkouts don’t take too much more time than usual.  If you have a lot of coupons, you might mention that too the cashier when you start checking out. Have your coupons ready to go before you hit the checkout so you aren’t holding up for unnecessary reasons.  Also make sure you’ve read the coupon correctly so you’ve gotten the appropriate items.  Remember to be patient with the cashier as he/she scans coupons. And don’t be afraid to look at the computer screen as the cashier is ringing up items and scanning coupons.  I’ve had several instances lately when the computer didn’t ring the item in correctly and it was solved quickly when I was kind and patient.

When you’re using multiple coupons, does the checker ever have a problem understanding what you’re doing? Do they all know how to process the more complicated transactions or do you sometimes have to explain?

I have never had a cashier question multiple coupons.  Do be sure you know the store policy regarding item limitations.  Unless someone is very new at the job, they should know how to handle coupons correctly.  Couponing is so common now that most know what to expect.

What if they’re out of the product that’s on sale?

Ask for a rain check!  Unless the ad states ‘limited quantities’ you can ask for a rain check on any item that isn’t on the shelf the day you go, even if they expect a shipment in before the sale ends.  Some stores require you to use the rain check within a certain time frame.  Other stores don’t have a expiration on them.  I’ve had to use a lot of rain checks, especially on items heavily reduced.  Just make sure you use the rain check before a coordinating coupon expires!

How many stores do you go to?

When I first started doing this and was heavy into creating my stockpile, I went to two grocery stores a week and maybe one drugstore.  Now that we have a consistent stockpile, I can be more flexible and pass up deals in an effort to condense my trips.  So usually I go to one grocery store and one drugstore per week.  Every other week or so I also make a trip to Costco to get milk and other basics we buy there.

How many times a week do you shop?

Once, unless something special comes up that I was not able to plan for.

Do they ever refuse to accept a coupon(s)?

If you are careful to get the right item as listed on the coupon, and use the coupon within expiration, you should not have rejected coupons.  Some stores aren’t taking Internet coupons anymore because fraud is so prevalent, but typically if they are coming from a reputable site (ie: smartsource.com), even that isn’t a problem.

How do you keep your stockpile inventory updated? Seems like you’d have to be pretty diligent at keeping that up and it could get messed up pretty fast.  Same with freezer inventory. I’ve tried doing that and before I know it the list is completely out of date so I just throw it away. I quit doing an inventory because I got tired of doing it over all the time.

I always have a running list of what complete meals I can make out of my inventory.  I cross out and add new as we go on a dry erase board in the kitchen. I also recently discovered a great way to keep the inventory neat and up to date. Frame an inventory template you create based on what you keep on hand (you can download a sample below to get you started) in a regular picture frame with glass.  Use a dry erase marker to keep track of how much you have on hand. Erase/update quantities as they as used and purchased!

Do you have to have a huge pantry or extra freezer to stockpile?

No. With careful planning, creativity and organization, you can learn to fit a lot in a little space.  Look for unused space in your home.  Spare closets, bins under a bed, or shelves in a basement or garage are perfect for non-perishable foods. Good containers that stack well can save a lot of room in the freezer.  It also helps to freeze things flat in ziploc bags so you can either stack them or set up like books on a bookshelf.

You mentioned that the sales follow a cycle. How often do different foods go on sale? like cheese, chicken, ground beef, etc.

Most sale cycles are anywhere from 3-6 months.  When beginning the coupon process, it’s a good practice to note the dates of rock bottom prices on things so you know how often the cycle is.  Of course, it’s different for different items. Sales on meat or cereal come around more often whereas things that are more seasonal, like lunchbox items, may come only 2-3 times a year.  You can always count on holidays to bring about great sales (ie: barbeques, baking, game day foods, etc).

So there you have it.  Hopefully this article has answered any questions you may have had.  But if you do have more questions, please share them in the comments section below and I will be happy to respond.

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Freezer & Pantry Inventory

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Homemade Goodness: Cheaper, Better & Not As Time Consuming As You Think!

by Elizabeth Scholes

Well, how is everyone doing with this coupon/savings thing?  Are you shopping more wisely and starting to see your grocery bills drop?  Is it becoming easier?  I sure hope so!

This week I wanted to share with you some ways our family saves lots of money and it doesn’t involve a single coupon!  It’s a little word that has gotten lost in our fast-paced society but one that is both frugal and satisfying.  HOMEMADE. We make many things at our home from scratch, or nearly from scratch, thus saving us a bundle.  Making homemade really doesn’t take much time and I love knowing exactly what is going into the food my family eats.  Plus, in most cases it is so much tastier!

Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Pizza crust and pizza sauce
  • Spaghetti sauce, Alfredo sauce
  • Hot chocolate mix
  • Pretty much any baked good (pancakes, waffles, muffins, cookies, cinnamon rolls, specialty or quick breads)
  • Salad dressings
  • Jam

When my kids were babies, I made all their baby food.  Not only is this easy, it’s so much healthier for your little one.  Simply puree fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, freeze in ice cube trays, and pop out for single usage.  You can even puree the meals you make for your family when your babies get closer to 1 year old.

You can make “convenience food” or lunch food like soups, burritos or quesadillas in large batches and freeze.

We also recently discovered homemade laundry detergent.  Oh. My. Goodness. For $4, we have great laundry detergent that will last our family of four ONE YEAR!!

Homemade cleaners are great money savers too.  All you need are some extra spray bottles, vinegar, water, bleach, olive oil, and dish soap, depending on the recipe.

This week’s challenge is to think about what you could make homemade instead of buying.  Do an Internet search for recipes and find a new favorite.  And to get you started, below are three “homemade” recipes available for download.

Spaghetti Sauce

Pancakes

Low-Cal Alfredo Sauce

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Warehouse Shopping: Cost Effective or Costly?

Warehouse shopping, such as at Costco and Sam’s, can be a great way to save money but it can also lead to the destruction of a good grocery budget.  It all depends on how you shop there.  First, let’s look at the cost and benefits of a membership.

A membership to Sam’s costs $40 or $100 per year depending on the type of membership you chose.  The Advantage membership is $40 and allows for 2 cardholders and the ability to purchase products in-store and online. The Advantage Plus is $100 and allows for 2 card holders, extended shopping hours, extra coupons and a percentage of savings on generic and name brand prescriptions.

Costo’s membership ranges from $55-$110 per year. The Gold Star membership is $55 and allows for 2 card holders, extra coupons mailed to you monthly, and the ability to purchase in-store and online.  The Executive Gold Star membership is $110 and allows for 2 card holders, extra coupons in the mail, and 2% cash back on all purchases throughout the year. You will get a check at the end of the year for your percentage back.  If the total does not equal $55, you can take your check in and they will refund the difference.

Outside the normal expected goods at warehouses, they also have excellent competitive prices on prescriptions, tires, contact lenses, glasses and much more. Throughout the year you can find excellent prices on toys, books, clothing, Halloween costumes, movies and CDs, and specialty items.

Our family has a membership to Costco and we figured out that if we only bought milk there regularly we would pay for our membership 2.5x in a year with the amount we save!

And now I want to tell you the secret to saving at warehouses.  Are you listening very closely?  It’s all about what you buy and knowing your prices.  Just because something is sold at a warehouse does NOT mean it’s a better deal than your neighborhood grocery store.  You must look at the unit price to see if it’s a better deal. If you aren’t familiar with that term, unit price is figured by calculating the total price times the number of items the package contains.  I often pull out my calculator and check unit prices while I’m at Costco to compare it to what I know the grocery store price is to see if it’s a better deal.

Some people hesitate to shop at warehouses because the quantities are often so large.  If you have room in your pantry or freezer and your family will consume something in reasonable time, then it might be well worth it.  Another way to get around the large quantity is going in with a friend to split the purchase.  My sister-in-law and I have
shared huge packages of toilet paper, fruit and other things to help us both with our budgets and storage space.

Bottom line:  when you’re warehouse shopping, go with a list and a set amount to spend and stick with it.

This week’s challenge. If you’re a warehouse member, try calculating this week to see
if what you are buying is really a better deal than the grocery store. If you aren’t already a member, ask a friend who is if you can accompany them. Sometimes you can also get a guest pass for a day to “test out” a membership.

Drugstore Shopping – Yes, There Are Great Deals!

by Elizabeth Scholes

Shopping at Walgreens or CVS (or other national chain drugstores) is perhaps one of the best kept secrets out there.  I admit, I was skeptical of shopping at drugstores at first because everyone knows they are so much more expensive than Walmart or Target, right?  The key to saving at these stores is all in the timing.  Yes, it’s true if you went in and bought something regular priced there you would pay a good 20% more than you would at another store, but if you shop sales, sometimes you can get things nearly free!

Since I began shopping at drugstores about 2 years ago, I have not paid more than a couple of dollars for name brand contact solution or name brand razor cartridge refills.  And remember the week on stockpiling?  Yep, you guessed it.  My family has a linen closet with our own mini drugstore where we can get extra toiletries as needed that we paid for a fraction of the regular price.

The same couponing tips apply that I’ve shared with you in the past weeks. Check your ads, match-up coupons with already low prices, and stockpile when it’s a great deal. Remember you can stack manufacturer coupons with store coupons and Walgreens and CVS produce TONS of store coupons each month. Just like the grocery stores, most coupon blogs will do drugstore matchups as well.  Use them to your advantage!  Maybe the best thing about drugstores is how often they have B1G1 free or B1G1 50% sales.  This allows you to get the most savings.  Here are some scenarios to show you how.

Robitussin Cough Syrup – on sale for 2/$6
Use two $3/1 coupons = $6
Total price for 2 cough syrups = FREE!

B1G1 Blue Diamond Almonds, 2/$3.59
$1/2 Blue Diamond Almonds, exp. 1/31/12 (SS 10/16/11 R)
$0.60/2 Blue Diamond Almonds, exp. 2/29/12 (SS 11/20/11 R)
$0.50/1 Blue Diamond Oven Roasted Almonds,
exp. 12/31/11 (Curves Value Book)
$0.75/2 Blue Diamond Oven Roasted
Almonds, exp. 2/29/12 (SS 11/20/11 R)
As low as $1.30 ea. after coupon wyb 2!

The thing to remember is that you can use a coupon for each item you are going to leave the store with, no matter how much it will actually cost you in the long run.  This is when
it comes in handy to have multiple copies of the same coupon.

These drugstores also offer money back rewards in the form of either Register Rewards (Walgreens) or Extra Care Bucks (CVS).  This means that when you buy
something that has these rewards, you will get a certain amount of money back for your next store trip.  The best way to use these is to “keep them rolling” and continue on each trip to buy things that get you money back.  Just don’t forget to use it!!  Here are a
couple scenarios for that:

Complete Multi-Purpose Contact solution – on sale for $8.99
Get $8.99 ECB
FREE after ECBS!

Colgate Optic White Toothpaste, psa $4.69
Get $2 ECBs (Limit 2)
$1/1 Colgate Optic White Toothpaste, exp. 12/3/11 (SS 11/13/11)
As low as $1.69 ea. after coupon and ECBs!

Both Walgreens and CVS have rewards programs that are free and yield great savings and benefits.  Each are unique in their own way.

Walgreens has a free in-store or online sign up.  As of January 1, 2012 you will not need to scan a rewards card to receive the benefits but you will need to enrolled in the program. The current rewards plan of earning 10 points for every dollar spent is also being eliminated beginning 2012 but they are releasing a new benefits program that has yet to be announced.  We can all stay tuned for that! (If you are already enrolled in the program, make sure you go online and check your point balance and cash in those points before January 31, 2012!  You can redeem them to get gift cards to various places and free gifts.)  Register Rewards (RR) will stay the same.  RR expire 2 weeks from the date issued.  They will print out as a separate coupon after your receipt so make sure not to throw it away. Walgreens also offers their monthly in-store coupon book at the front of each store.  These are great to stack with manufacturer coupons.

For more information on Walgreens Rewards, go to .

CVS also has free online or in-store sign up.  Again, you will get an Extra Care card you
will want to keep with you to scan each visit.  CVS does not offer points but does keep track
of quarterly spending and you will get back 2% of your purchases in the form of ECB.  ECB expire 1 month from the date issued.  There is also this wonderful machine at the front each CVS store that you can scan your card at each visit and get additional store coupons. Again, great for stacking with manufacturer coupons.  Be aware that ECBs print out at the bottom of your receipt so unless you’re diligent about checking your receipt, it would be  easy to throw them away.  CVS will alsooften send you emails for 25% off total purchase or $5 off a $25 purchase.  Hand those coupons to the cashier FIRST because you want to make sure to get the most money off the top of your bill.  Then scan coupons and then any ECBs you have.

For more information on Extra Care Rewards, go to https://www.cvs.com/CVSApp/user/extracare/extracare.jsp.

Shopping at CVS and Walgreens can be very rewarding and can help you stockpile toiletries quickly.  It’s super fun to see your total drop drastically as the cashier rings up your purchases.  It can be hard to make a second trip to a store but some weeks it may be well worth it.  Just keep in mind the temptation to grab those “extras” while you’re there that may be marked up significantly.  Stick to your list and you’ll be safe.

This week’s challenge:  Sign up for CVS and/or Walgreens rewards program. Look through their ads in this week’s paper (their sales run Sunday-Saturday). See if you can identify any
great deals with the help of any blogs or the coupon look-up site, CouponTom.com.

Retail Shopping – Ways to Save

by Elizabeth Scholes

Christmas – the birth of the long-expected Christ, time with family, making special memories, and…..shopping!  No matter who you are, chances are you’re going to do some shopping this season.  You can learn to save money each time you do any retail shopping using today’s tips.

The key to savings is time.  You have to put in time and effort in order to save, but it’s so simple that soon it will be second nature.  Most stores offer multiple coupons, online promo codes, and specials and you can find them with a simple internet search.  Each time you plan to go to a store, check online first to see if there are any savings.  There are actually websites that compile this information for you.  One I like to use is www.retailmenot.com.   Completely dedicated to Black Friday and Christmas 2011 promo codes is www.promocodes2011.com.  Keep in mind that you may need a printer to  print a coupon.  You may also find that you’ll save more if you shop online.  At this time of year many stores are offering special online incentives and many offer free shipping. Internet shopping is very safe now, and for major retailers, you should not be fearful to enter in your payment information.  Be sure it is a credible retailer before purchasing online.  Be careful with mom & pop businesses unless you are sure of their policy on secure payment.  You could also purchase a gift card (in store) and then use that as payment if you feel safer doing that.

Another great thing about online shopping is websites like www.shopathome.com and www.ebates.com.  These sites allow to you shop through their host site and get a percentage of cash back for your purchases. Most store percentages are between 3-6% but often they will offer even up to 50% cash back for certain stores.  If I do any online  shopping, I always go through one of these to earn extra savings.

ShopAtHome.com requires you to sign up to join.  They send cash back checks when you reach $20, up to once a month.  The drawback is that if you have not reached $20, your money sits in their hands until you reach $20, which may take a long time if you don’t do a lot of online shopping.

Ebates.com also requires you to sign up to join. They send cash back quarterly and they will send however much you have earned in that quarter.  There is no minimum cash back requirement.  This site allows you to choose if you would like your check mailed to you, deposited in a Pay Pal account, or donated to a charity of your choice or family member.

Christmas shopping (or any shopping for that matter) doesn’t have to exceed your budget and be a headache.  If you plan wisely and look for coupons, you can save a lot.  Don’t underestimate the savings that can add up from 10% off or free shipping.

This week’s challenge is to look for coupons for any stores where you plan to shop.  If you do a lot of online shopping, look into setting up an account at one of the cash back
websites.

Grocery Gateway – Stockpiling

By Elizabeth Scholes

If you came to my house today, you would find 20+ lbs of various meats, 5 bags of sugar, 6 lbs of butter, numerous canned goods, 5 tubes of toothpaste, and on and on.  No, I am not fearful of the world ending or waiting for a big storm to come.  I am saving hundreds of dollars by stockpiling!

So far we have talked about coupons and matching up great deals, but take that one step further and you have stockpiling. In my opinion stockpiling is where you see the biggest cut in your grocery budget.  Before we talk about how to create a stockpile, let’s look at some of the reasons why it is beneficial.

  • You will already have food on hand for meals or for meals that only require minimal ingredients to buy during your weekly shopping trip.
  • Because you have ingredients for meals on hand, you will eat out far less which saves lots of money, not to mention helping family structure and your waistline.
  • You won’t have to run to the store because you ran out of _______ and spend full price for it.
  • You can be far more prepared with spontaneous guests, parties or charitable giving.

Creating a stockpile is simple.  Watch for your regularly used items to go on sale at their rock bottom prices and buy enough to last your family for 3-4 months.  The reason for that length of time is because that is the length of most sale cycles at grocery stores, meaning that item will most likely not be that low price again for 3-4 months.  Just last week I bought 6 jars of Peter Pan peanut butter for $.99 which will last our family about 5 months.  My savings was $1.80 per jar!  When you do this little by little you will create a wonderful stockpile that has cost you far less than buying here and there.  It also makes your weekly shopping trip much less because you have so much on hand.  Some weeks I buy only the basic necessities like bread, produce and milk because that is truly all we need.  Other weeks I need more odds and ends to make complete meals and/or there are lots of great deals to stock up on.

Keep in mind that while you are creating your base stockpile you probably will not see your budget drop.  It took me 4-5 months before I started consistently saving enough to meet my budget goals, but in 2 1/2 years time we have gone from $400 monthly spending to $280.  Always keep track of your spending so you know when it might be time to challenge yourself to spend less.

As a rule, only buy what your budget and space allow.  You do not want to spend your entire weekly budget on chicken breast and sugar and not have enough left to buy milk and bread for your family.  You also do not want to buy 10 boxes of cereal if you don’t have anywhere to store them.

So where do you store all this extra stuff?  It’s usually fairly easy to find space, even in smaller homes.  A few empty shelves in the basement or garage, unused shelves in a linen closet or child’s closet and under the bed storage boxes are all good ideas.  We keep our stockpile in the basement storage room on some extra shelving.  The key is keeping it organized so you can easily take inventory and actually use what you have.

Also do not underestimate what can go in the freezer.  We have an extra refrigerator in our basement that we use but an extra freezer is not necessary for stocking up.  However, if you have a large family or want to stock up on lots of meat and freezer goods, the savings far outweigh the cost of a freezer and the electricity it uses.  When you buy meat in large family packs, go ahead and separate the meat into 1 lb ziploc bags.  Better yet, cook it first and then you won’t have to wait for it to defrost and cook before using. Smoosh freezer items down flat so you can stack the bags or stand them up like books on a bookshelf.  With proper stacking and good containers, you can fit a lot in a freezer and a full freezer uses less energy than an empty one.

Some things that freeze well:

  • Meat
  • Shredded or block cheese (defrost in fridge, NOT microwave)
  • Certain in-season produce (I like to wash, spread flat on cookie sheets to freeze and then transfer to ziploc bags)
  • Eggs (beat whites and yolks together and pour into ice cube trays, 1 large egg = 2 cubes)
  • Breads, muffins, pancakes, waffles (defrosts quickly for an easy, fast breakfast)
  • Butter
  • Milk (pour a little off the top to allow for expansion.  Thaw in fridge and swirl gently before drinking)
  • Freezer jams
  • Nuts

This week’s challenge:

  1. Look for spaces in your home that could be used for your stockpile.
  2. Go through your freezer and pantry to organize and weed out things that have been there too long.
  3. Look through the weekly ads and see if there is anything you can buy more of to start  stockpiling.

 

Grocery Gateway: Developing a Strategy & Making a List

 by Elizabeth Scholes

Have things you need to buy?  Check!  Have coupons and a system for organizing them? Check!  Have a list and shopping strategy?  Let’s work on that today!

When making a list, you’ll want your weekly local store ads, a piece of paper (or phone, or computer, if you’re a techie-type person), internet access and your coupons.

First, browse through the ads and jot down anything you need for that week. Also jot down any items you think are a great deal that you might want to stock up on even if you don’t currently need it (ie: canned vegetables for $.39, boneless skinless chicken breasts $1.29/lb).

After you’ve looked at the ads on your own, get on the internet and look up some blogs. There are thousands of bloggers out there who daily and weekly do research and blog about store deals for readers like you and me. They do the majority of the work for you! These posts about store deals are most often called “store matchups”.  Here’s an example of weekly matchups for HyVee from my favorite local blogger, Tracie, at  www.pennypinchinmom.com.

BABY / CHILD
Pampers Diapers select varieties, 48 to 96 ct. – $19.77
Use $2/1 Pampers Box of Diapers or Pants, exp. 11/30/11 (P&G 10/30/11)
Final Price: $17.77

BAKERY / BREADS
Sara Lee 100% Whole Wheat Bread 20 oz. – 2/$4 or $2.00 each
Use $0.55/1 Sara Lee Wheat Bread, exp. 11/30/11 (RP 10/23/11 R)
Final Price: $1.45 each

BAKING / INGREDIENTS
C & H Pure Cane Sugar – $1.88
Use $0.50/1 C&H Granulated Sugar, exp. 12/31/11 (RP 10/16/11 R)
or use $0.75/2 C&H Sugar Product, exp. 12/31/11 (RP 10/16/11 R)
or use $1/2 C&H Sugar Product, exp. 11/25/11 (RP 08/28/11 R)
Final Price: As low as $1.38 each

Nestlé Toll House Morsels select varieties, 10 to 12 oz. – $2.77
Use $0.50/1 Nestle Toll House Dark Chocolate Morsels printable
or use $0.50/2 Nestle Toll House Morsels printable
Final Price: As low as $2.27

Betty Crocker Cake or Frosting, select varieties – $1.77
Use $0.75/2 Betty Crocker SuperMoist Cake Mix AND Ready to Spread Frosting, exp. 11/26/11 (GM 10/02/11)
or use $0.50/2 Betty Crocker Cake PLUS Frosting
Final Price: As low as 2/$2.79 or $1.40 each

Pam Cooking Spray select varieties, 5 or 6 oz. – $2.48
Use $0.50/1 Pam Cooking Spray printable
Final Price: $1.98

C&H Brown or Powdered Sugar select varieties, 2 lb. – $1.98
Use $1/2 C&H Sugar Product, exp. 11/25/11 (RP 08/28/11 R)
or use $0.75/2 C&H Sugar Product, exp. 12/31/11 (RP 10/16/11 R)

Notice how she categorized the items? The entire ad will be broken down into categories and matched up with available coupons. The sale price will be listed, as well as the final price using the coupon. The coupons are noted either in (parenthesis) if they were circulated by newspaper inserts or magazines, or by a printable link if they are found online. Remember from last week’s post that coupons are listed by the date they were circulated; therefore the Pampers coupon listed above will be found in the Proctor and Gamble insert that was in the October 30th’ newspaper.

You’ll also notice that for some items there may be several places to find coupons for a single product. This allows you option of either purchasing multiples of the same product if you want to stock up, or choosing whether you want to print a coupon or cut it out. The printable coupons are especially helpful if you’re just starting out and don’t have a back supply of Sunday paper inserts to cut from.

The items that are green are at rock bottom price. Rock bottom price means that this is about the lowest that product will go and it will typically not go that low for 3-6 months again. If you see an item in green, and you regularly use it, this is a great time buy several to build your stockpile. If you have been keeping a price book for items you regularly buy, you will be able to spot a great deal when you see one. Sometimes something in the ad is on sale for a mere $.10 off (not a great deal) and other times the store is actually losing money on the product because it’s such a fantastic deal!

Go through the entire blog post and jot down the items you want to purchase as well as the coupon’s location. I recommend printing any coupons as you are making your list to save time. If you are not accustomed to planning meals off the weekly ads, you might try this. For example, if chicken is on sale, you might incorporate it as the main ingredient in a couple of meals. If apples and sweet potatoes are in season, use those as your go-to produce picks for the week.

Once you have written down all the great deals you want to take part in, go ahead and add to your list those items you have to have regardless of a sale price. For those things, I recommend checking to see if you have a coupon for it by using www.coupontom.com. This website allows you to enter the specific brand name or generic product (ie: yoplait or yogurt) to find any currently circulating coupons.

Once everything is on your list, go ahead and clip the coupons you need now. Put them in some kind of envelope to take with you to the store, and then when you’re in the checkout line, you’ll have all the ones you need right there ready to go.

Right now many of you are probably wondering how many stores you should shop at to get the best deals. It’s up to you really . If you have time to go to 2-3 stores and there are incredible deals at all, go ahead. That just means more savings for you, providing the distance between stores isn’t eating up your gasoline. If you have time only for one store per week, go to the one that has the most deals that week. Or if you have a favorite store that you are loyal to, just make your list based off their ads. The important thing is to start paying attention to the ads (don’t just dump them in the recycling bin when they come in the mail!) and pair up already good deals with coupons to get even greater savings!

This week’s challenge: look at some of the grocery store matchups and familiarize yourself with the format. Try to make your shopping list based off the ads, even if it’s just for a few items to get started. If you don’t get ads delivered to your home via USPS, you can view ads online at the store’s website or swing by any grocery store to get them at the front of the store.

Here are some of my favorite places to look:
Hy-Vee: http://www.pennypinchinmom.com/2011/11/hyvee-weekly-matchups-1191115/
Price Chopper: http://www.pennypinchinmom.com/category/grocery-stores/price-chopper-grocery-stores/
Other stores all over the country (click on the state and then the store you’re looking for): http://www.becentsable.net/store-deals/