When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Friday, November 7, 2014

Clipping Coupons

If you've been following my blog in sequence, then you know that I am a single mother. I'm still (at the time of this posting) looking for work. I have miraculously qualified for government assistance for food, which takes a tiny load off my mind--there are still real bills like utilities and rent and fuel to pay. However, even government money has its limits. Before I applied for help I started pinching pennies where I could. One of the age-old time-tested ways to save money is with coupons. My grandmother used to go grocery shopping with an exact amount of money and a list. If she used a coupon, then the money that saved her would go into a savings jar. While I'm not capable of doing that for two reasons: 1) SNAP is an electronic system and 2) even if I use my own money I never have cash so I use my debit card; what I can do with coupons is get more food for the same amount of money.

Okay, I don't see myself as ever becoming a super coupon clipper. I'm not going to waltz into a store to buy a case of sodas and walk away with extra cash because I came on BOGO day with double coupon points or anything like that. I'm also not going to spend hours gathering sales papers and creating weekly notebooks of where to shop for which specific item. As much of a data junkie as I am, that would be data overload for me and I would squirrel off something fierce, never finishing what I started. I applaud anyone who has the savoir faire and patience to put in that much effort. Kudos to you and you deserve to reap the rewards of all that work. I know that's not the route for me. I try to use coupons for items that my daughter and I will actually consume. She's a chicketarian--eats only white meats (chicken, pork, occasionally turkey)--and I feel guilty if too many items in the shopping cart are for myself alone. So, I don't just clip coupons for the sake of clipping. In fact, I don't actually clip coupons in the old way. I don't get a newspaper or coupons in the mail. I don't read the weekly grocery store ads. I get my coupons from the Internet.

Two of the sites I use are My Points, which gives me "points" that I can then exchange for other things like gift cards or certain catalog items, and Inbox Dollars, which actually deposits cash (okay, pennies, but it's still real money) in an account with them until I earn enough to request a check. Both of these sites are your typical reward site--they want you to spend real money with their partners so that they will continue to gain revenue from advertisements, etc., and they send you copious amounts of emails to get you to partake of this deal or another. However, I'm broker than broke, so the points/cents are just a fringe benefit for me when it comes to the coupons. (I also earn minuscule points and pennies at a snail's pace by clicking on the emails they send.) The cool thing about it--forget the rewards--is that the coupons actually work! Yep, I give them to the cashier and my grocery tab drops a bit.

I've been using my particular system since August. I go through each of my respective sites and scroll through the 300+ coupons that each has to offer. There is a lot of overlap. Sometimes I end up with two or three copies of the same coupon by accident. General rule of thumb is that the coupons will expire within a month from the printing date. Occasionally one will be good for a couple of months. It takes 2-3 months for the rewards to register with either site, but the savings are immediate at the cash register. I suppose that's the extent of my super couponer patience. I'm willing to put in the time to browse the sites, select the products I know we might use, and then cut them out (they usually print three to a page) after they print. I even started to organize them into my own hand-made coupon organizer because I usually do one big shopping trip a month. So far, I've saved between $30 and $45 each month with just coupons. If I shop at Publix and catch a lot of their in-store deals, I can bump that up to as much as $65 for the month. With coupons, I am able to fill our fridge and pantry for somewhere around $300 each month. That works out to less than $2.00 a meal for each of us (my daughter and myself) each month.

I still think I spend an awful lot on groceries each month. I'm sure there are some people on the Internet, legitimately or otherwise, who can claim to spend the same amount to feed many more people, or much less for two. Yet, I'm pretty proud of myself that I am making efforts to squeeze out as much as I can when I go grocery shopping (the only kind of shopping I get to do, actually).

Oh, another neat aspect of using coupons for me and my daughter: I use my pile of coupons as our shopping list, with a few essentials that rarely have coupons (bread, eggs, milk) thrown in. We treat our shopping trips like a scavenger hunt to see how many items in the pile we can find. Yeah, I do end up tossing out some of my coupons unused. That's just another price of the system. One note I learned by accident: there is a limit to the number of coupons you can use at Walmart in a single transaction. I'm not sure what that limit is, though, exactly, because a CSM overrode it for me just to get me out of the line.

How do you stretch your dollars? Please share your ideas with me in the comments below.

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