Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Organize Those Coupons

I used to be a couponer of the first order.  Every week, I would clip the coupons from the paper (there was no such thing as online coupons at the time) and file them in a little expandable file that I kept with me at all times.  On the days that I was going to the grocery after work, I would take my shopping list and sort out the applicable coupons, noting a "C" and the number and brand of the item I had to buy.  So, if I wanted to buy toaster pastries and had a coupon for 50 cents off two boxes, the list would get a note that said "C Pop Tarts x2."

Did I mention that I had a really boring job at the time, and I was, um, multitasking at work?

Once I went full-time freelance, time at my desk was sacred.  If I'm sitting at my desk, I'm earning money, and couponing isn't typically part of the equation.  I still clip coupons from the paper and online, but it is increasingly hard to find the time to match them with my list.

So, I have devised the above system.  You will see that there is a single envelope for coupons.  This is because I no longer clip every coupon that seems promising such that I need to file them by category.  If I have clipped the coupon, it is because it is for something I would buy anyway.  This cuts waaaaaay down on the number of junk food coupons that accumulate; if a frozen dinner or convenience food isn't a good idea at full price, it isn't a good idea with a coupon.  (I make an exception for those favorite splurges that will get us out of the occasional jam.  For example, I try to make my own pizzas because I add more veggies and less meat, but having a frozen pizza or two in the freezer will save us from a complete meltdown on a really bad day.)

As far as grocery lists, you see three:  one is for Trader Joe's, the only place I can find a good selection of reasonably-priced organic meats and hormone-free cheeses, turbinado sugar, and cookies made without HFCS.  TJ's doesn't take coupons because they are almost entirely based on house brands, so when this list fills up, there is no need to sort coupons.

One list is for Dorothy Lane Market, our local upper-income, foodie-oriented bodega.  To save my budget, I only frequent DLM for locally-made organic butter and milk from grass-fed cows, plus some of the Bob's Red Mill grain items.  Buying anything else in DLM -- even a bottle of shampoo -- can be budget suicide, so unless I know I have a Bob's Red Mill coupon, I don't sort my coupons and I don't shop for anything other than the DLM-only items.

The big list is for Meijer, our local superstore.  Here is where the coupons come into play.  This list has everything:  food, health and beauty products, even basic automotive and household supplies.  When it is time for a Meijer trip, I sort the coupons, taking the ones for items on the list and the ones about to expire.  I add these last items to my list; remember, these are things I would buy anyway, so I will take the opportunity to stock up.  So, of all of my grocery trips, this is the only one that really involves couponing. 

I try to rotate among the lists to address the longest one, and I try to only go to a grocery store once a week.  Currently, our grocery budget for two people is around $100 a week, which sounds high until you realize that that is not just food (and really, the only food we are buying right now in any quantity is dairy) but also shampoo, make up, OTC medications, any household cleaners I don't make myself, ingredients for the ones I do, and the occasional one-off purchase like the injector cleaner I just bought for my car or the water bottle my husband just bought to carry drinks to work.  Not bad, I'd say.

The Analysis

Fast:  My couponing time is reduced to a couple of minutes of sorting before I do the big Meijer run, and I'm still taking advantage of the cents-off as well as the planning to get my items at the most economical locations.

Cheap:  Couponing is still one of the easiest activities for saving money, as long as you have a system that works for you.

Good:  I love a good organization system!

Fall Thermostat Challenge Update:  Thanks to a few cool days, the whole house AC has been off for 128.5 hours since Labor Day, or 5.35 days.  I had to turn it back on to combat the allergens, but I should be able to take another run at it soon.
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1 comment :

  1. Looks like the time spent on this more than pays for itself on the grocery trips.