This is the first of a regular series of columns on shopping smart and saving money.
With the holiday shopping season in full gear, this is a great time to start saving on groceries and household items to help cover expenses, like holiday dinners, gifts, decorating, parties and family fun.
Last year when TLC began airing “Extreme Couponing,” I said to my husband, “I’m going to learn how to do this.” How hard could it be the people on the show look like regular folks, right?
So, one Sunday I holed myself up in my office and decided that day I would learn this new extreme couponing skill. And what I found knocked my socks off.
There are hundreds of websites that basically do the work for you. These sites put together weekly sale prices with current coupons and give you a basic road map for major savings. And they also teach you how to do what is referred to as strategic shopping, which can save your family anywhere from 50 to 90 percent off of your grocery bill.
In the upcoming weeks, I’ll share some strategic shopping skills that we learned to help you take the baby steps to big savings, just like we did.
But first a little true or false quiz:
1. I have to buy in bulk in order to save.
2. I'd need a lot of time in order to use coupons effectively.
3. I need to have a garage-size warehouse in order to store my savings.
4. It takes 20 hours per week of research in order to save at the grocery store.
5. The stores hate couponers, so I will feel uncomfortable when I’m shopping.
6. Couponers buy junk food.
7. You need hundreds of coupons in order to save.
8. If I don’t get $1,000 in groceries for $20, then I’m not successful at this process.
All of the above are FALSE.
1. You do not need to buy in bulk; as a matter of fact; sometimes it’s better to buy a smaller-size product to yield higher savings.
2. Saving money doesn’t need to be time consuming. Anyone can do it by pre-planning their shopping trip. Then you spend less time in the store because you already know what you need.
3. We were surprised that we were able to use the limited storage space in our home and still yield big savings. We do not have a garage or a basement full of groceries like you’ve seen on TV. And when we have more than we can use, I give some to my mom, who is retired and really appreciates the savings.
4. It doesn’t take 20 hours per week of research to match coupons to sales prices because there are so many fabulous websites that do the work for you. You can check in with these sites on Tuesday/Wednesday for grocery shopping deals and on Friday/Saturday for the drug store match-ups. They evaluate the best deals and you can create your shopping list based on their sites.
5. The stores do not hate couponers. They don’t like difficult people, though. The stores make money on coupons. They are reimbursed by the manufacturer for each coupon plus 8 cents. Coupons are a wonderful promotional tool to get you and retain you as a customer. I know that we have made major changes in our shopping habits based on trial of products/stores based on the use of our coupons. So a sharp retail marketer will take great care of their coupon customers.
And, when we have a question for customer service based on a coupon error, it’s important to be respectful and courteous. Many stores like to help you save so that you’ll shop there often. Think of them as your partner in savings. That said, when I encounter a store that isn’t helpful, I go elsewhere in the future.
6. Coupons are not issued for only junk food. We have used coupons for milk, orange juice, cereal, produce, chicken, fish and frozen vegetables, as well as toothpaste, shampoo, shaving items, body wash, soap, cosmetics, paper goods, household cleaning items and pet supplies. You can choose the items you want to purchase that work best for your family’s needs.
7. You do not need hundreds of coupons in order to save. It is recommended that you have one set of Sunday coupon inserts per family member. We have three in our family, so we buy two Sunday newspapers, use The Gazette insert and get a set from my mom. That makes about 3.5 sets per week and supplies us with all that we need to yield major savings for our family. I’ve been advised to reward the people who may give us their coupons with some of our surplus, and we do that for my mom, who loves it.
8. Because products are on sale every six to eight weeks, we do not need to buy 100 jars of marinara if we’re only going to use one jar per week. In eight weeks we’ll have used only eight jars, the product will be on sale again and we’ll still have 92 jars in stock. I personally don’t have the space or the muscle power for that.
In the coming weeks we will provide more information and details about strategic shopping. But getting started today is the key to big savings in the future. I estimate that our family will save about $10,000 this year, and now during the holiday season we can afford an occasional little splurge.
Strategic Shopping Holiday Tip
Gift card promotions are available in many stores during the holiday shopping season. Some stores offer a $10 coupon good for your next shopping trip when you buy a certain number of gift cards. Other stores offer a $10 gift card when you purchase select products or spend a designated amount of money during one shopping trip. These are great savings opportunities, especially when you couple them with a coupon for some of the products you may be buying anyway. Be on the lookout for these gift card promotions and read the fine-print carefully to be sure that you are meeting all of the criteria. When in doubt, ask a store manager for assistance.
Marlyn Setren Ferguson is the founder/creator of the Strategic Shopping Network, www.strategicshoppingnetwork.com. She is a volunteer contributor to The Gazette. This is her first column.
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