Here is the first personal couponing story for our new series on how couponing works at your home. My great thanks to Nancy for submitting her answers so quickly and for offering so much helpful and humorous information! I know you will benefit from her advice and insight as much as I did!
I also want to thank everyone who has sent me their stories so far! I look forward to sharing them each week. If you would like to share your couponing story, just send me an answer to the questions below at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nancy's Couponing Story
How many people are in your household? - Two and a half. Our son is only partially here during the week but we do contribute food/personal items to him and his girlfriend to help them offset expenses and save them time too since they both have really busy schedules. I can shop cheaper so it really doesn't add much to our budget.
Why did you start couponing?- When I first got married , we bought our first home. It was during a time of incredible inflation and mortgage interest rates were double digit. Our mortgage rate was 15.75%!! I started couponing as a way to control something as we couldn't control that interest rate!
How long have you been couponing?- I began in October, 1981, so that's 31 years now and I have never stopped.
How much do you spend on groceries and non-food essentials per week?- On average, $75-$100 for 3 adults and two beagles. But I don't really budget by week since I never know when the deals will hit. We shoot for a monthly budget of $400. That, by the way, is the same budget we've had since 1988 when we had two little ones in diapers. Many months we don't use that amount, but in that we could eating out money spent as well.
How much do you save each week?- When I used to track my spending on a spreadsheet, it was a monthly tally and my savings would range from 68-74% off retail prices. So depending on what I spent, I never spent more than 40 cents on the dollar, and that would be considered a rough week.
How much time do you spend couponing and shopping each week?- That fluctuates depending on sales. Some weeks I get behind on clipping and filing which then sets up the panic when a good sale comes along and I have to spend time hunting for coupons I know I have! Weekly, if done properly, I spend about two hours clipping/printing/filing. Shopping is usually done on particular days, the first day of a new ad for either the grocery and/or drug stores. Occassionally I will shop more than once per week at each of those, again, depending on if there is a sale such as Super Doubles. When I shop, I go in with a specific list, and don't "graze" the store. So my shopping trips are quick as I purchase what's on my list and the only grazing I allow myself is to look at clearance meat items, if there are any.
How do you organize your coupons?- I'm so 'old school' ! I use a hand held accordian file system broken down by categories. But I don't even take that with me to the stores. I use business envelopes, make my list on the outside of the envelope, with the sale price beside the item, then the coupon amount (if it is to be doubled, it's the doubled amount) and how many I have coupons to use for that item. Inside the envelope are the coupons that match the list.
Where do you shop for groceries and non-food essentials?- My main store is Harris Teeter, although I do pick off deals at Kroger, Lowes, Aldi's as well. CVS is my main drug store as they seem to have to best deals week to week as well. Although I will pick off good deals at Rite Aid and Walgreens as well.
Do you have a weekly/monthly grocery planning/shopping routine?- Not at all. I've found over all these years that being open to whatever sales come along allows me to keep my savings at the highest level I can. So I'm driven by the sales and that routine makes it pretty avant garde!
Does anyone else in your household help with couponing and saving? If so, how do they help?- Routinely, no. But my husband did add a lot of shelving to help control the stockpile. He turned a laundry room coat closet into a shelved area, added shelving in the walk in pantry since we have 9 foot ceilings and all that space above the door frame was wasted, and added a second shelf above the washer and dryer area too.
What’s the worst part about couponing?- Cleaning out the coupon file. With so many random expiration dates, it's a never ending process of clearing out expireds. When I first began couponing, most coupons either didn't have an expiration or they good for at least a couple months! The changes over the years have required much more time and effort to keep pace.
What’s the best part about couponing?- SAVING! I cannot imagine over these 30 years what I would have spent had I not been a coupon user and deal shopper! It is a way of life.
Do you have a stockpile? Feel free to send a photo if you would like. - Oh my goodness, yes! Photos are posted above.
Do you do any meal planning? If so, do you plan weekly, monthly or at the beginning of each day?- When my children were young, I did plan meals and it was based on what was on hand, never went to the store to buy what we needed for a meal that day or meals that week. Now that the demand is not there to feed children daily, we take a more relaxed approach to meals. I look in the freezer, pantry and decide pretty much a day in advance of what we'll have the next day or two.
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone just getting started in couponing?- That it is perfectly alright to NOT use a good coupon! The frantic approach to saving money is a trap and getting a deal for the sake of the deal is costly over time. If it is not something you will use or can donate, let it go, it's ok :) Put your efforts into stocking up on items you use routinely, such as paper goods, cleaners, personal care items first, once you have that stockpile going, then you can relax and backfill when the stars align (coupons match good deals). Try not to do everything at once, take it slow. The goal should be to take the least amount of money out of your wallet when you shop. Forget about shopping by "cost per ounce" or "cost per unit" when couponing. If you have to buy something without a coupon, that measure applies but rarely would it apply when couponing. If I can get a smaller size free with a coupon vs spending any money in addition to my coupon to get a larger size, I'll take the FREE one every time - cost per ounce? Zero.
My Dad said this many times over the years, "Coupons are found money" and that's the way I look at coupons, as cash. I wouldn't walk past a coupon on the ground any more than I would walk by a dollar bill on the ground!
Is there anything else you want to share about your couponing journey?- I've seen tremendous changes in the production of coupons over these three decades and expect nothing but change to continue. No matter where you live, there are deals to be eeked out, some areas are harder to accomplish those goals but we live in an area with a lot of competition and that's to our benefit. I've lived in areas where traveling 35 miles each way to the best grocery store for deals was a twice monthly trek, I've lived in areas where I had to drive a "circuit" to hit 5 of the same chain because they only doubled the first 5 coupons (fortunately gas was cheaper then!) that would take about an hour to accomplish. Weigh your costs and find what works, it's very much worth the savings over a lifetime!
One funny story - when we moved from Charlotte to Maryland, the movers came to pack up. I had enough 4 lb dog food bags to fill one large wardrobe box. The packer asked me, "How many dogs DO you have?" My reply, "One, a doberman." He asked, "Does he eat a lot?" I replied, "No, just two cups a day". Naturally he looked at the shelves with all the dog food and I had to add … "I got them free." He asked me how I did that. I had to explain and then he asked me to write down how I did that so he could share that with his wife.
Same conversation took place again for the laundry detergent (this was all powder detergent as liquid detergents hadn't hit the market yet - yes, I'm THAT old!). And of course when the movers carried in these boxes on the MD end of the move, the boxes were marked "Dog Food" and "Laundry Detergent" and the questions were repeated by that group of men! Hopefully they took the written instructions home and started couponing!