This is part of the Saving Money on Groceries series.
Does it pay off to clip coupons and stock up on deals?
The short answer: Probably. It kind of depends on what your goals, resources, and limitations are.
Getting the basics of frugal shopping down (described in the previous posts in this series) is much more important. If you aren’t well on your way in those areas, clipping coupons is going to be time consuming and irritating, at best. But if done right, it can save you a lot and not take much time or effort!
For example, for our family of two adults and two small children, we have a base monthly grocery budget of about $260 (some months we succeed, some we don’t). This includes a monthly or bi-monthly costco trip and all groceries and personal and paper goods – pretty much anything you’d buy at the grocery store. When I really focused on using coupons efficiently and stocking up on good deals, we got to the point where we were spending $150 a month. That’s not a lot! Since moving, I haven’t been doing as well in this department, but I’m getting back on track.
Here’s what you should think about when evaluating whether coupons and stocking up are for you (I’ll be giving more details on these areas in later posts):
1. Your Goals
- Need/Desire. If you’re fine with what you’re spending and don’t feel it’s necessary to do more work to save some money, don’t worry about it! Focus on some other goals. If you have certain preferences, like for organic foods or a certain amount of convenience, consider that as well. You still may be able to save a decent amount.
- Frugal Methods. If your goal is to really cut back your grocery budget, start out by making sure your current shopping practices are frugal.
- Saving Toward a Goal. Then if you want to cut back further to meet a tight budget or to save money for some worthy goal (good stewardship, vacation, savings, getting out of debt, whatever), give coupons and stockpiling a try. I recommend giving it a good shot for about 3-6 months to determine whether the ROI makes it a worthwhile creating a long-term habit.
2. Your Resources
- Time. Figure out if you can reasonably carve out the time to start up and maintain this effort. It will be less time-consuming after the first two or three months. For me, it took about 4-6 hours a week at first (basically a whole evening or two). Now it’s an hour or two a week at most and is completely manageable.
- Coupons. There are many tips for finding coupons for free. I haven’t been very successful at it, but that doesn’t mean you won’t. I found a good deal on a weekend newspaper subscription. Most papers provide a free trial period. If their website doesn’t say, call and ask. You can also save up and buy a subscription at regular cost. It’s likely still worth it. It’s $150/year in our area to buy one, and like I said earlier, I saved about $100 a month. Just explore your options and see what seems reasonable. There are also coupons you can print. More on that later.
- Stocking Up Cost. You can save a lot just using coupons without stocking up. But it certainly helps. I stock up on items that are super cheap or free, enough so that I don’t have to buy those or similar items for a few months. The savings add up! But sometimes it costs a bit to stock up. This is true for meats, for example. My best advice is to start out with one or two items a month that you can stock up on, and just work from there. Pretty soon your stockpile will start to save you money each month.
3. Your Limitations
- Time. Again with the time issue… some of us have more time than others. And all of us would rather be doing other things (but be aware that it can actually become a fun and challenging hobby!) Figure out how much your time is worth. Literally. I used my pre-SAHM salary to figure out an hourly rate and used that as a measure for whether my monthly grocery savings was worth it. It was, and then some.
- Patience. I’m not the most patient person, so you’ll probably be fine. If you approach this with some good tools and advice, you can see some immediate savings that will keep you motivated to complete the 3-6 month trial.
- Store Availability. Not all stores are located close enough to you to be reasonable sources of savings. Find the ones that are and focus on them. It’s reasonable for me to make my trips to Winco and run down the street for coupon and stock up deals at Albertsons. If there are cannot-resist-deals at Safeway (usually for meat), then I’ll drive an extra 10 minutes to go there. That happens a few times a year. You get the idea. Just use common sense. Don’t spend too much gas money going to a million stores every week chasing deals.
So, take a look at your life, personality, goals, resources, limitations, and so on and decide whether it’s worth a try. If it is, spend a few weeks figuring out your plan of attack and then spend 3-6 months implementing it (and trying different ideas). At the end of that period, see whether your savings are worth the continued effort!
In the next post I’ll describe what I did to get started, what I learned, and what I do now. I’ll also point you to some great resources and articles.
Next Post: Coupons and Stocking Up – How do I do it?