My Precious Pennies

I will be AWAY until late February as we do this moving thing...again.

Ginger from Attention Target Shoppers & Tricia from 1stopmom
will be holding down the fort in the meantime - thank you so much, ladies!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Coupon Counselor: Prep work

Last week we covered a few coupon systems that you can use to organize your coupons.  This week, we will be covering how to prepare for a money-saving shopping trip.  Honestly, I think that the preparation stage takes more work than anything else.  The preparation stage is the most important one, and it ensures your success (and sanity) when you finally get out to the store.  I will be touching on some topics that readers suggested in the Coupon Counselor giveaway 2 weeks ago - if you have any other questions regarding the preparation stage, please feel free to email me.  If you choose to leave a comment, be sure to leave your email address so I can answer your question!

Next week, we will be covering common couponing techniques to use while you're out and about at the store, so make sure you don't miss out!

Today, we will discuss how to make that all important shopping trip plan!

Where do you start from?!  I'm so overwhelmed with everything!
How do you decide which coupons to use at which stores and when?
How often do you shop?
Is it better to price match at one store or to go to different stores?
How do you tell whether or not a coupon will work?
What's an efficient way to organize everything for the shopping trip?

Where do you start from?!  I'm so overwhelmed with everything!
Start with a "goal" list of everything that you need that week.  It's a place to start from and a place to go back to if you get overwhelmed.  Your goal list should consist of everything that you need to survive for the week.  Just for the record, I never stick to my goal list because of the many steals and deals out there, but it's a place to start from. 

How do you decide which coupons to use at which stores and when?
There is no secret process to this.  Coupons will come again.  Sales and deals will come around again.  So I basically use a coupon when I need to.  My guidelines for using a coupon is very simple:
  1. I need the item this week (it's on my goal list)
  2. It's a great deal, free, or a moneymaker when combined with the current sale.
I will admit that there are times when I've used a coupon, and a better deal came around the next week.  But that's not a biggie, because the deal will come around again.  Besides, if I followed my own guidelines (I needed it or it was a great deal) on using coupons, I really didn't lose out.

How often do you shop?
I like to shop just once a week, and maybe twice a week if there's time-sensitive CVS or Walgreens deals involved (i.e. expiring coupons, 2 day sales...etc.).  I only go to one grocery store (the commissary) and I go to CVS on a weekly basis.  I only go to Walgreens if the deals are good enough to warrant a trip.

That being said, please don't be under the assumption that I leave my house twice a week and that's it.  I make a lot of trips out, but I try to make only one shopping-orientated trip a week. We might stop by Target or Walmart after Gymboree, but since we had to go to Gymboree anyway I do not consider those "shopping trips".

It's important to minimize your trips - gas has been going down, but it's still a hassle to go out and shop, especially if you have a young child or the weather is bad.  It really helps to save money if you're not just out strolling the mall.

Is it better to price match at one store or to go to different stores?
My personal stance on this is that I would rather go to different stores than to gather up my huge load of ads and price match at a single store.  I very rarely take advantage of price match offers, and only if we're talking about a big ticket item like a camera or a TV.  The reason for this is because every employee knows how to ring you up, BUT not every single employee will know how to do price matching.  I just don't want to have to deal with waiting for a manager and going through all that trouble.  It's just not worth it to price match on simple everyday grocery items. 

How do you tell whether or not a coupon will work?
There is no concrete way of telling whether or not your coupon will go through.  I've had crisp freshly clipped coupons refuse to scan, and once I had a crumpled coupon that I found at the bottom of my purse go through with no problems.  Some stores have really specific systems, while other stores will actually let a coupon go through for an item that you didn't purchase.  The important thing is to read the fine print on the coupon.  Take a note of any specific brand line that you have to purchase, or any minimum size requirements.  If at any point you do not understand the fine print, feel free to ask the issuing company. 

I once received a coupon for Kotex products, and on the coupon it said "available at Walgreens".  I didn't know if this was an advertising thing that just means "Kotex is available at Walgreens", or if it's meant to be taken as "only redeemable at Walgreens".  So I did a google search for the coupon issuing company and sent them an email.  They said that it was just an advertising thing - and the response took all of a day to get back to me.

What's an efficient way to organize everything for the shopping trip?

Make your shopping list, and separate the coupons that you're going to use.  I use a accordion folder, and I put my "to use" coupons behind an index card.  When I put the item into my cart, I move the coupon in front of the index card.  When I go to check-out, I just grab the entire stack of coupons in front of the index card.

For stores like Walgreens or CVS where I'll only purchase "steals and deals" items, the price of each item is readily available in the ad so I'll work up an entire transaction plan.  Then I paper-clip all of my coupons behind my shopping list in the order that I'm going to hand them to the cashier. 

I do not take ANY of my other coupons with me.  If it's not on my shopping list, I don't buy it. Part of it is just to get into the mindset to stick with your shopping list.  Make it your goal to get in and out of a store as quick as possible - don't give yourself a chance to browse and pick up random items. 

If you have any other questions regarding the preparation stage, please feel free to email me.  If you choose to leave a comment, be sure to leave your email address so I can answer your question!  Later this week, I will be sharing my list of my "steals and deals" items - basically things that I refuse to pay for, things I won't pay more than $1 for, and stuff that I won't even buy unless they're moneymakers.  Make sure you're subscribed to My Precious Pennies (you can subscribe in the upper left sidebar) or keep checking back to catch that awesome list!

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