The most commonly asked question asked at my Strategic Couponing class is this: How do you practically plan and execute shopping trips? It’s very difficult for beginners to visualize how to do multiple transactions and how to make this work during their week. I thought it might be helpful to give you a quick glimpse at my “deal” trips this week.
First, it’s important to note that I make a distinction between “deals” and “regular” shopping trips. My “regular” trips are usually to WinCo and I am buying only what I will need in the next four weeks at the most. I buy generic and typically don’t use many manufacturer’s coupons as WinCo’s generic prices almost always beat their name brand prices with a coupon.
These trips are filled with mostly bulk purchases — grains, spices, pantry items. I also pick up items for my kids’ lunches/snacks and items I need to fill out my menu plan for the next 3-4 weeks. They are probably very much like all of your WinCo trips — about $70 for 5-8 bags of groceries.
My “deal” trips are much different. They are done at Safeway, Albertsons, Fred Meyer or QFC (if I’m in inner-Portland already), are much smaller than a WinCo trip and focus on 1-3 items on sale.
When I started couponing, I was hitting several stores several times a week. Why? I was addicted to doing deals and I was having an absolute blast. My children were at the age and stage where they tolerated the trips well and my husband was jacked at the deals I was scoring. During that year, I filled my stockpile and drastically reduced the amount of money my family was spending on groceries and household items. Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. That investment yielded incredible savings. Plus, I was having fun.
Now that I have a healthy, working stockpile, I have shifted my couponing strategy and typically do a maximum of 1-3 deals a week. I often take weeks off from doing deals because either it doesn’t work for my family to shop or I don’t need to stockpile what’s on sale.
When I am excited about a deal and my stockpile is running low on that sale item, I usually shop on Thursdays when I have a babysitter at home when I can do some serious deals in a short period of concentrated time without my kids. Here’s what my day looked like yesterday:
8:00 — Drop the big kids off at school (babysitter relieves my husband at 9:00)
8:15 — Hit Safeway for deal transaction #1:
Bought 4 Quaker Oatmeal Squares on sale $1.99 each when you buy 4 = $7.96
Bought 3 Safeway Pizzas on sale $2.99 each with store coupon from Frozen Foods Booklet = $8.97
Used (4) $1/1 Quaker Oatmeal Squares coupons (-$4)
Used 4 Safeway doubles (-$2)
Since Safeway only doubles four manufacturer’s coupons per transaction in Oregon and SW Washington, I almost always do small transactions. The bummer is that this requires more time (and lots of car seat buckles for those of us with little children). The bonus is that trips take about 7 minutes from leaving the car to returning to the car.
8:40 — Walmart to price check, find deals for Monday’s Walmart deals post and do a personal transaction.
9:45 — Safeway for transaction #2. It was the same as #1 with the addition of a bag of oranges (on sale for $2.49 Thursday only).
10:20 — Pick my son up from school and go home to drop off pizzas.
11:15 — Meeting with Africa New Life‘s Child Sponsorship Coordinator in West Linn. So much more about this to come!
12:40 — Safeway for transaction #3. Same as #1, but this time I added spinach to the mix.
Now, I totally realize that not everyone can hire a babysitter in order to do deals. But most of us do have one or two times during the week that, if we are prepared ahead of time, can run in and complete a transaction or two while we are out. If I disregard the time I was doing “business” activities, I really only spent about 90 minutes max doing deals (including driving time). And here’s what I got:
Safeway — $38.28 for 12 boxes of cereal, 9 pizzas, 3 bags of spinach and 8 lbs of oranges
Walmart — $.78 for 6 travel laundry detergents, 4 bags of oatmeal, 4 containers of floss and 1 jar of crushed red pepper
A 90 minute investment yielded me cereal for three months (about 1 box a week?), 9 main dish dinners (pizza), 2 weeks of smoothies (oranges & spinach), floss for 2 months and laundry detergent for our entire summer vacation — all for under $40.
Many of you will wonder why I went to Safeway three different times during the day instead of just completing three transactions at one store. It’s pretty simple: I’m a wimp and like to coupon unnoticed.
This said, I don’t think there’s a problem at all with asking your cashier if you can do a couple of transactions. I suggest you do no more than three in one stop or you run the risk of irritating the employees, especially at Safeway. Couponing can be nerve-racking enough without worrying about ticking your cashier off, so if you’re nervous about doing multiple deals, just go to different stores either in one day (like I did — en route to other appointments) or throughout the week.
Coming next week: Practical ways you can fit couponing into your family’s schedule.
New to couponing? Check out the Ultimate Guide to Couponing in the Northwest here.
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