We received this question from our reader, Amy:
I have been doing this [couponing] for about a month and a half and doing pretty good at it, but I just added up what I am spending and it is at least $150 a week and that isn’t saving us anything. I am using coupons on everything I can and doing the specials. There is 6 of us and 2 of them are teenage girls. I would love some help or advice.
I think this is a common problem for those just starting on their couponing adventure. Here are my suggestions on how to keep your budget in check:
:: Make sure you’re living on a cash only grocery budget. Pull out the budgeted amount in cash, put it in an envelope and only pay for your grocery items out of this envelope. For example, if you want to spend less than $150 a week, start by pulling out $140 cash. It’s impossible to overspend with cash and very easy to use a debit or credit card to justify “just one more deal.”
:: Set aside a small amount of your grocery/household item budget to devote to doing deals. I suggest you start with 10% of your budget. Put that amount in a separate envelope ($15 in our example) and only use this money to do your deals. Once the money is gone, you’re finished doing deals for that budget period. This will help to temper your couponing excitement.
Each month increase the amount you set aside for deals by 5% until you are spending 30-50% of your monthly budget on stockpiling deals.
:: Only stock-up on real deals. Especially don”t buy the multi-pack of anything at Costco. Use the remaining 90% of your grocery budget on items that your family immediately needs — food to round out your menu plan and toiletries and disposable household items that need to be replaced.
:: Only use coupons on items when it’s cheaper than the generic equivalent at WinCo or Walmart. Oftentimes, beginning couponers get a bit excited and start using coupons on regular priced items at Safeway, Albertsons or Fred Meyer just because they clipped them. You will absolutely not save money this way. Remember the strategic couponing formula:
Store sale or promotion + Manufacturer’s coupon + Store double =
A deal worth doing
:: Buy your non-couponing items at WinCo or Walmart and make sure you purchase the generic version if it’s less expensive than the name brand. Be committed to not overspending on the items your family needs immediately.
This post on how I fit deals into my week explains how most couponers shop might be helpful.
It’s important to remember that strategic couponing is more than just using coupons, it’s a total change in how you shop for your family and there’s a learning curve. It’s unrealistic to think that you can take a $600 a month grocery budget down to $400 in one month. You probably don’t have the time or energy to devote to a 25% reduction and honestly, there’s just not enough deals in a given month to warrant that type of savings.
If you’re just starting out, I would set your budget at about 10% less than what you spent last month. Every month after that, budget 10% less. Keep doing this until you hit a point where you can either go no lower or you’re as low as you want to go.
Read more about how to coupon in The Ultimate Guide to Couponing in the Northwest here.
Now it’s your turn: How did you keep your grocery budget in check when you started couponing?
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