Erin's story is the fifth couponing journey we are sharing in our weekly series about how couponing works at your house. Erin shares that she has been couponing since she was 8 years old and cooking for her family since she was nine!
My great thanks to Erin for sharing her story! She has some very good advice for those just getting started on couponing and meal planning and for those who like to buy organic produce.
I also want to thank everyone who has sent me their stories so far! I look forward to sharing them every week!
If you would like to share your couponing story, it's not too late! Just send me an answer to the questions below at firstname.lastname@example.org. To see the previous stories, click the links in the box above.
Here is Erin's couponing journey:
How many people are in your household?
2 for now. My husband and I. We plan on starting a family in the next year or two.
Why did you start couponing?
I started clipping coupons when I was 7 or 8. My parents were divorced and my mom worked full time. Money was tight, so I thought I'd do my part and pitch in by saving some money on groceries with coupons. My grandmother would come over a few nights a week and cook for us. She taught me quite a bit. By the time I was 9, I was in charge or cooking for my mom, my sister, and I. I did a lot of the meal planning and made sure I set out something to defrost. I scoured the Sunday paper for coupons and read through the grocery store flyers. I was in charge of the coupon envelope and the list when we'd go shopping. Most of our meals consisted of rice, pasta, cheap cuts of meat, and canned veggies. That was 25 years ago and I still scour the Sunday paper for coupons and I'm still in charge of the coupons and the list. Most of my meals now consist of brown rice, lean cuts of meat, and fresh vegetables. Some things have changed, but my desire to save money has not.
How long have you been couponing?
25 years...and I'm only 34. lol
How much do you spend on groceries and non-food essentials per week?
Our budget is $50 per week for groceries and toiletries. I usually spend the full $50 since we do buy a lot of fresh fish, organic produce, organic milk, and fresh items.
How much do you save each week?
I save AT LEAST 50% each week. I'm very diligent about tracking down coupons for products we actually use. Earthbound Farms is an amazing company that provides coupons on a weekly basis for their organic produce. I usually end up paying the same amount or less for organic spinach than I would for regular thanks for EB Farms and HT's doubling of coupons.
How much time do you spend couponing and shopping each week?
I usually spend 2 to 3 hours each week finding, clipping, and organizing coupons as well as preparing my shopping lists. Depending upon my stockpile, sales, and any super doubles events, I spend an average of 1 to 3 hours shopping each week. Some weeks I don't even step in a grocery store, as we have enough of a stockpile to get us through our meal plan without needing any extras.
How do you organize your coupons?
I have a 3 ring binder with tabs and baseball card inserts.
Where do you shop for groceries and non-food essentials?
Harris Teeter is my main store. I can find just about anything I need there and when something is super cheap or free, I go back several times to get extras of the item until the sale comes around again. I don't live near an Aldi, but if we are out and about, I make it a point to stop by and double up on our errands near by. If we are visiting friends in Durham, I'll usually stop at the Southpoint Aldi. Or if we are visiting friends in east Raleigh, I'll stop at the one on Sunrise near Knightdale. We are also fortunate to live near Kroger, Lowe's, Food Lion, and Target. I usually just go to these stores for sale items. I also will occasionally go to Earth Fare, Whole Foods, or Harmony Natural Food Store for items that I can't get at Harris Teeter, such as bulk bin items and organic brands that Harris Teeter doesn't carry. I tend to hit the farmer's market more in the summer/fall as well.
Do you have a weekly/monthly grocery planning/shopping routine?
I call Sundays "Christmas Morning" because getting the paper and going through the ads and coupons feels like Christmas morning. You get all excited ripping through the paper and you find some surprises inside. My husband thinks I'm nuts. :) I'll check the online coupon sites a few times a week to see if there's anything I'll use. On Wednesday mornings, I check most of the grocery ads and also read your blog to see if there are any items we need or are able to get at a low cost. I plan my shopping around the ads on Wednesdays. I shop a couple of times a week after work. There is a Harris Teeter on the way home from my office. If there is a coupon event, I'll also hit the grocery stores on the weekend.
Does anyone else in your household help with couponing and saving? If so, how do they help?
My husband will occasionally let me use his computer to print extras of a coupon. I also will drag him with me to the store from time to time, but I've found that I usually end up spending more money when he's with me. He gives me the sad puppy dog eyes and says "please honey? It's my favorite." I usually cave. I also like to get an idea of what he'd like to add into the meal plan. He'll look for things that he thinks he'll eat (he's pretty picky) and then I know what items to look for coupons for.
What’s the worst part about couponing?
It's time consuming. But with the amount of money that we are saving, it's worth the extra time.
What’s the best part about couponing?
Do you have a stockpile? Feel free to send a photo if you would like.
YES! I do have a stockpile. In September, we moved from a 1300 sq ft house to a 3000 sq ft house. In the prior house, I had a tiny little pantry and then part of my overflow was in the closet with the washer/dryer and in the linen closet upstairs. My husband told me that if I accumulated anything else, I had to throw something away to make room. When we moved, I packed up my pantry and started to put it in the expansive pantry in the new house. It didn't even fill up 1/3 of the space. I really lucked out in our new house. We have a two doored pantry along with extra cabinets on the other side of the wall and a butler's pantry. My husband told me that as long as things fit in the pantry and the doors would close, I could keep buying extras when they are free or dirt cheap.
I recently lucked out on a pasta/pasta sauce deal at Harris Teeter. I had rain checks for B2G3 free for Barilla pasta and Barilla pasta sauce. I also had coupons that went along with the deals. HT recently changed their policy where you can use more than 3 identical manufacturer coupons. The first 3 would be doubled. The remaining would be used for face value only. I ended up spending $1.72 for all 10 pastas and 10 pasta sauces and then Barilla spit out a $2.00 off coupon. Essentially Harris Teeter paid me to take 20 items from their store! Thankfully with the new pantry, I was able to squeeze all of the items onto the shelves and the doors close. Whew! Crisis averted. I actually use the linen closet for linens now. :)
Do you do any meal planning? If so, do you plan weekly, monthly or at the beginning of each day?
I try to plan 2 weeks out. I then have an idea of what I need to be on the look out for as part of my stock pile gets low. Sometimes I'll just put "veggies" as the side dish and then figure out which veggies are on sale that week or the next week. I don't always follow the menu to the T. If I work late and don't have time to make something more time consuming, then we'll swap it out with another night that takes less effort, which usually ends up being either a salad with tuna or grilled cheese with soup.
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone just getting started in couponing?
Don't get overwhelmed! I know a lot of people get overwhelmed with finding coupons and then going out and using the coupons on an item that isn't on sale. It's not always going to be the best deal, but if you are just starting out, you have to practice to make perfect. After a while you'll start to discover when the sales cycle is and then start setting your coupons aside until the item is on sale.
The very BEST advice I can give is to meal plan using the items you already have while keeping an eye out for some of your favorites as they go on sale. If you try to shop based upon your meal plan, you aren't getting things at the best prices.
Is there anything else you want to share about your couponing journey?
I've found that the majority of the coupons that I use are either from Facebook or from a particular company's website. I think a lot of newbies just look in the Sunday paper and think "Well, I'm never going to use these products. I can't save any money! These aren't products I buy!" It's simply not true. My husband and I try to eat healthy and buy a lot of organics. I've contacted most of the companies that we tend to buy products from (i.e. Amy's, Kashi, Cascadian Farms, Nature's Path, Newman's Own, Morningstar, Stonyfield, Earthbound Farms, Chobani, Maranatha, Organic Valley, Seeds of Change, Teeccino, etc) and most of them have been more than happy to send us coupons or keep us on a mailing list for future coupons. Mambo Sprouts and Common Kindness have some great coupons for organic items. For produce and fresh fish, there aren't coupons out there. If that's the case, you keep your eye out for the best sales or you use your extra savings on other items to put your grocery money towards the fresh fish and fresh produce.
I've attached two pictures.
The first is my most recent haul during Harris Teeter's super doubles. I bought 1 Brookside fruit pack, 10 pastas, 10 pasta sauces, 2 morningstar farms frozen items, 1 bag of HT organic animal crackers, lean pork loins, 1 Liberte Greek yogurt, 3 two pound bags of mahatma rice, a clamshell of strawberries, 2 clamshells of Earthbound Farms organic spinach, 1 zucchini, and a loaf of HT bread. I had rainchecks for some of the items. Coupons for a lot of the items. I ended up spending $15.33 and then got a catalina coupon for $2.00 off my next order from Barilla. The savings on the receipt said $36; however, that doesn't account for the savings with rainchecks.
The second picture shows 2 shelves of my mostly organized pantry. I have a total of 10 shelves. That makes for some great stockpiling!
WRAL username: erinlikescoupons