This post is the fourth installation of my How to Coupon series for coupon beginners. Check out my previous How to Coupon posts for more information on things like how to find coupons, types of coupons, sale flyers, and company policies.
Something that you’ve probably figured out about me by now is that… I’m a pretty organized girl I make meal plans, I make grocery shopping lists, I create chore charts, I write to-do lists, I have eight different calendars in my Google Calendar, and I just bought a filing cabinet that literally makes me shiver with joy when I think of all the organizing potential it holds.
I’m a little obsessed.
So it shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise that I’m about to show you exactly how to create the perfect setup for utilizing your coupons. I know I’ve said it before (and I’ll say it again)… I love Google Docs (now Google Drive). Google Docs is the perfect tool for coupon list organization.
Create a Coupon Spreadsheet
First things first, you have to make a list of all your coupons. I know, I know. That sounds terrible. But, hey, if you’re serious about saving serious cash, this is an essential step (and, I swear, it only takes about 10 minutes a week to do this).
After you clip out all your coupons, create a spreadsheet on Google Docs that mimics the way you are going to physically organize your coupons (like frozen food, hair products, cereal, etc.) and add each new coupon to it every week. I put all of my categories in the first column, and then, going horizontally across the top, I list: name of coupon, specifications, quantity owned, and expiration date.
Here’s a picture of part of my spreadsheet so that you can get an idea of what I’m talking about:
As you can see, I’ve capitalized the brand of each coupon in order to make scanning through the list even easier.
You’re probably wondering why making this spreadsheet is so important. To be honest, this is actually something I just recently started using, but I can’t believe that I didn’t come up with the idea sooner.
Having a list like this on hand makes it super easy to read through all your coupons when you’re making your shopping list. Not only that, it makes it even easier to get rid of expired coupons. Each week when you’re doing your coupons, just find which ones are expired according to the list and remove them from your stash.
Another great way to utilize this list is to reference it while you’re in the store. Some people bring their entire coupon collection into the store with them while they’re shopping but, if you’re too embarrassed to do that, another option is to keep it in the car. Sometimes you’ll come across sales that haven’t been advertised in the sale flyers. If you think it might be a good deal, just check your coupon list on your smartphone by using the Google Docs app (or, alternately, using a printout of your spreadsheet) and watch the savings roll right in!
Having a list like this is truly a phenomenal resource that makes coupon-ing so much easier.
Using Coupon Blogs to Make Your Life Easier
The next step to saving tons of money is to figure out which coupons you are going to use and where you are going to use them.
Coupon blogs are a great way to speed up the process of coupon-ing. You just click on the store you want to shop at, and all the deals are listed along with their applicable coupons. The problem with these sites is that different parts of the country get different coupons in the same exact flyers. So the coupons in my flyer this week might (and probably will) be a little bit different from the coupons other people get in Georgia or California.
Most coupon sites are based in the South, as that’s where the stores with the best deals are (if you’ve watched Extreme Couponing, you probably have noticed that most of the people on the show are from the South). This poses a problem when I’m trying to make my list, because, while some of the deals will match up, not all of them do. This is another reason why making a coupon spreadsheet really helps. If you find a deal you like on a coupon site, instead of rifling through your gigantic pile of coupons to see if you have it (and then wondering if maybe you just missed it, and have to look through them all over again… not like I’m speaking from experience or anything ), you can just go and check your spreadsheet. It’s so much easier to scroll down a list of your coupons (this is where capitalizing the brand comes in handy!) than to have to physically look through them — trust me.
My absolute favorite coupon blog to use is Living Rich With Coupons. You can search her blog by store and look up the weekly deals. Here’s a small preview of what that will look like:
One great thing about using this site is that, if you’re a beginner and not totally sure whether a sale is really a good deal or not, she includes the green checkmarks to indicate the best-of-the-best prices. Usually there are a lot of other great sales that don’t have checkmarks, but it does take a little bit of experience to truly know if something is a good deal or not. Trial-and-error is pretty much the only way to figure this out for yourself, unfortunately.
As you can see, the way this site works is that she lists the deal from the sale flyer and then lists all the available coupons for that product. Sometimes there might be one coupon, as with the tomatoes above, and other times there might be a huge amount, like with the cereal. The underlined coupons send you to a link where you can print the coupon, whereas the non-underlined coupons are from coupon flyers — she includes the name of the sale flyer (“SS” is an abbreviation for “SmartSource”) and the date that it was released (some people like to organize their coupons that way).
At this point, it’s up to you to decide which coupons you want to use with which deal. While coupons like the $1/3 General Mills listed above is non-specific and lets you have many options as to which products you can buy, the more specific coupons (like $0.50/1 Cinnamon Toast Crunch) are usually a better deal.
Using the sale flyers and the coupon blogs, decide which products you’d like to buy with which coupons. Sometimes the same product will be on sale at the same time at different stores. If it’s a product that I really want, I’ll often go out of my way to a different store if it’s a better deal. If it comes down to the same amount, I’ll just pick it up where I’m already going to be shopping. Sometimes deals like CVS’ Extra Care Bucks or Stop & Shop’s gas savings program affect where you’d rather spend your money, so it really depends on the person.
Create a Grocery List Using Your Coupons
Writing up my shopping lists each week is one of my favorite things to do. I keep a Google Doc on my computer entitled “Grocery List” that I add to sporadically during the week, when I think of something that I need to get. I have my list separated by store and try to list the items in the order that they’re laid out in the store (like, for Stop & Shop, I start with the produce and end with the dairy) so that I make the most of my time and don’t have to double back for things.
After you decide which deals you’re going to take advantage of, it’s time to make your shopping list. I start out by filling my list up with the things that I’m going to buy, regardless of coupons or sales — like meat, bread, milk, etc. We get these things every week, so they’re always on the list.
Next, I make my meal plan and, depending on what’s on sale that week, I’ll come up with what meals I’ll be cooking that week and add those ingredients to the list. I usually try to incorporate items that are on sale into my meals — like, if chicken is on sale, I might make my Crockpot Sweet & Sour Chicken.
Finally, I add to the list the items that I’m going to be using coupons for, which are usually staple items that I’m stocking up on (my next installation of this series is going to be on creating a stockpile!).
The only thing left is to go shopping! Make sure to have your coupon stash with you just in case (whether it’s in your shopping cart or in the car), as well as printouts of store coupon policies. At the beginning of the week, I pull all of the coupons that I’ll be using out of my big folder and put them in a safe place in my purse — if there’s a lot, I’ll even separate them by store so I don’t get mixed up. Give your coupons to the cashier after she rings up all of your items… and watch the savings multiply!