National Coupon Month: Stretching those Precious Pennies

-by Jessica Lindsey

When you’re feeding yourself, your husband and five small children the grocery bill can add up to a staggering amount.

For Wichita mom Amy Strait, it was too much to handle when she realized her grocery bill was as much as her mortgage. She was ready to make a change, but didn’t want to sacrifice the family’s favorite foods.

“I got to looking at the obscene amount of money spent on groceries
and decided I have to do something about it,” says Strait. “I’m not willing to feed my family beans 7 nights a week and I’m not going to start buying all generics. I wanted to spend less money on groceries but I didn’t want to change anything about the way we eat.”

Strait made a system that worked for her family and saved $4,100 in a year by using coupons.

Sharing her experience:
It wasn’t an immediate savings, but she was able to get to a point where she is now spending half as much as she used to on her grocery bill. From nearly $1,000 to less than $500 a month.

The time Strait spends cutting coupons, watching sales flyers and strategically shopping is worth it in the end, she says. It wasn’t an option for her to get a job outside the home to bring in more
income because she wanted to stay home with her five children, all under the age of 8, so she devoted the time to saving money instead.

“I can save more money doing this for 10 hours a month, for example, than I would make working a part-time job for 10 hours a month,” explains Strait.

Strait is eager to share what she’s learned to others around her. She teaches a free class at local churches where she offers all the tips of her system. She’s quick to point out that each family has to find
a way to make saving money work for them and that they may not want to do everything she does, or they may want to take what she does even further and save even more.

“I’m not original,” says Strait. “Most of what’s here I’ve learned from reading online. I’m not reinventing the wheel.”

Strait’s top tips for saving money on groceries:                                                                                                                              Collect a lot of coupons: Strait buys a local Sunday paper each
week and clips the coupons her family uses. But she goes above and beyond this simple step to achieve maximum savings.

Strait asks family and friends to give her the coupon sections if they aren’t going to use them. She also buys a Kansas City newspaper and has it mailed to her each week. By having multiple coupons for the same item, Strait is able to watch sales and stock up on that one item for a deeply discounted price.

There are many websites that offer coupons for a few cents apiece. If Strait knows she is going to buy a certain kind of cereal or frozen food item, she will search for that coupon and buy a large number of them. Strait will then purchase the item with a coupon when it is on sale to get the most bang for her buck.

“I may be spending $4 to buy coupons but I’ll have a net savings of $40 to $80 with it,” says Strait who says www.hotcouponworld.com is a great site for finding coupons and tips. “It’s definitely
worth it.”

The other advantage of purchasing coupons online or purchasing
newspapers from larger cities is that the coupons have higher values. Bigger markets offer bigger coupon values, says Strait.

Another smart way to find coupons is by signing up for emails and mail advertising from specific companies that you frequently purchase from. You will receive coupons directly from them which saves you time and money.

Stockpiling is key:                                                                                              Stocking up on frequently-used items by purchasing them with a coupon while they’re on sale is key. By having these items on hand when you need them, you’ll avoid ever having to pay full price for them at the last minute.

Strait, for example, buys canned green beans only once per year. She knows her family eats two cans per week so in the fall when they go on sale Strait purchases 100 cans with coupons during the sale. She gets them for less than $.25 a can, much less than she would spend running to the store every other week to grab a can when she needs it.

The important part is to know what your family will use and to only buy what you can afford.

“It’s not going to save you money if you go into debt stocking up on foods that you can’t afford or won’t use,” says Strait.

Set a budget for stockpiling, says Strait. $30 a month, for example, then work on building your stockpile slowly over time. It will vary from family to family, says Strait, depending on what you use, how much you use and how much space you have to store it.

Here are some of Strait’s best tips on when to stockpile basic items based on sales:

•Purchase a stockpile of canned goods and cereals in the fall.

•Purchase stockpiles of baking items, stuffing and holiday treats during Thanksgiving sales.

•Fill up your freezer with Lean Cuisine and other frozen meals just after January 1 during sales targeting new dieters.

•Stock up on picnic supplies to last you all year during Memorial Day sales.

How much time you put in will determine what you get out of it.

To stock up on coupons, learn sales rotations and figure out where the best prices are it takes time, says Strait. It can work for everyone, but it’s not a miracle cure that just begins to drop groceries right in the sack for half the price, it takes some work.

In the beginning, Strait says, she spent as many as 6 to 8 hours a week planning meals and shopping lists and finding coupons to get the best deals. She spends barely a quarter of that amount of time now.

Depending on your schedule, your family, your desire, says Strait, you may want to spend several hours a week planning grocery savings, or only several hours a month.

“You can coupon to your own time availability,” says Strait. “Make it work for you. But remember that someone who coupons for 30 minutes a week isn’t going to save as much as someone who has 5 hours a week to coupon.”

“Everyone has to find the groove that works for them,” adds Strait. “It’s a process.”

Create price lists:
One step that Strait says is important for her is making price lists. It takes some time and effort, but Strait says it pays off in time spent going to multiple stores when it isn’t necessary.

A price list compares the price of a single item at multiple stores. A price list for diapers, for example, would include the brand and size of diapers then compare the price at each store.

“That way you can compare and see if it is even cheaper for you to use a coupon at one store that it is for you to just buy it at the other store at normal price,” says Strait.

Create price lists for items that you use the most. You can do 20 different items, 30, 50, as many or as few as you want.

“It really made me a better shopper,” says Strait. “I can compare sales ads and the coupons I have to the store price and know if it is a good deal without going to several different stores to check.”

Don’t try to make 50 price lists in one day, adds Strait, do it over a period of time. Each time you go to the grocery store make a not of the price and size of a couple items your family uses frequently. Over time it will build up and you will be able to be an informed, comparative shopper.

Save more and give more:
By paying attention to sales and stocking up on items throughout the year at deeply discounted prices, Strait is able to set aside food items to donate as well.

If you can afford it, she said, when you have five coupons for a certain box of cereal and it is practically free, buy all of them, set the four aside for your family and start a box of items to donate.

She keeps a box in her garage and adds to it so that anytime a food drive it taking place at church, school or anywhere else, her family can donate without more than they would be able to if she was to walk out and pay full price for those items right then.

To read more of Amy’s tips and find out if she has any workshops going on, check out her blog at www.amyscouponclass.blogspot.com or email her at amyscoupons@cox.net. The blog also contains links to many of Amy’s favorite tip and coupon sites.

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