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Couponing In Three Easy Stages: Easy, Medium, Hard

I hear you: Your budget is tight, you need to make cuts somewhere, you’ve noticed your grocery bill is creeping upward, and you don’t know where to start. Why, may I suggest a foray into the wild and wacky world of coupons?

But you say, coupons are only for processed food that I don’t use. You say, coupons don’t save me as much money as buying generics. You say, coupons take way too much of my time and never ending up saving me that much money. You say, I don’t need to save money, I’m a multimillionaire!

Well, I can’t much argue with that last one, but I can speak to the other concerns.

First of all, when you say that coupons are only for processed foods, what I hear is that because I use coupons, you believe that my family and I eat only processed foods. No, no, I know that’s not what you necessarily meant, but it’s what I hear. And I am not going to tell you that we are the most clean-eating family that you will ever meet, but I can also note that we avoid certain ingredients as much as we can, we eat as organic and clean as we can, and we try to be generally healthy (and mostly vegetarian). And still, I use coupons to save approximately 30% per week on our groceries and household items. So trust me – couponing is useful even if you don’t subsist on chips and fake cheese and frozen dinners, although yes, things of that nature are definitely overrepresented by coupons because that’s where the marketing dollars go.

The truth is that there are coupons out there for fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables (including organic); there are coupons for basics like milk, eggs, flour, and sugar; there are coupons for meat, fish, and chicken. And if you don’t shop at a large mainstream chain grocery store, keep in mind that smaller stores, and even co-ops, sometimes take coupons, though they may have different rules or specific coupons that can be used. Still, savings can be had.

Plus, don’t forget that there are coupons for things beyond edibles. There are coupons out there for everything from school supplies to paper goods to pet needs. And as for where to find them, yes, there are coupons in the Sunday paper – and that’s where I recommend you start – but there are also printable coupons, coupons you can load onto a store card, and coupons you can use through apps on your smartphone, and those more unusual spots may be where the coupons you’ll use are lurking. Don’t worry. I’ll help you.

Bottom line, though, is that in all of these cases, there are often deals available for the things you are already buying and maybe even things you skip buying sometimes because they are too expensive.

As for only buying generics, well, often that is true. And I’ve found that a lot of the time the store brand is equal in quality to or maybe even better than the name brand. And this may surprise you, but there are often coupons, sales, or deals for store brand goods, so you can save a good bit of money by going generic. But there may be a family member of yours – maybe it’s you! – who is brand loyal for certain items, no matter what. Often, if you catch a sale and can combine it with a coupon, the brand name item will be cheaper than the generic. So don’t assume that brand names are either a necessary expense or off limits in your shopping cart.

Do coupons take a lot of time to organize, clip, and use? That is really up to you. Nobody is going to shame you because you bring a single coupon with you on your next grocery run and save an entire dollar (a dollar this week, a dollar next week – could you use an extra $50 a year? I bet you could find a way to spend that!). Start small, start slow. I don’t know about you, but in my family’s budget, every little bit helps.

Finally, fine, you’re a multimillionaire or you simply do not use anything ever that has a coupon associated with it and I will never convince you otherwise. Got it. In that case, how about using coupons to get things for pennies or free that you can donate to those who are less fortunate? There are many, many coupons for shelf-stable items – boxed, canned, and jarred – that may not be your family’s preference but that a food pantry would welcome. Imagine if every single person put one shelf-stable item in his or her cart at every shopping trip to donate later on. The food pantries would be very well stocked.

If you’re still reading and you’re still interested, then welcome! What I am going to do over the next few weeks is teach you to coupon in three easy stages.

My three stages will take you only so far, though. If you want the experts who save 80% every single week, there are blogs upon blogs out there that you can follow. I personally don’t think it’s a realistic goal for the average person, although I have had weeks where I have saved 50-60% or more on things my family needs. Most of the time I save what I save and I am happy about whatever that may be. Over time, you’ll see that it really adds up.