About five years ago, I was sitting in the atrium of my school working on homework between classes. At the table next to me, a girl in another class was talking to her friends about how she started couponing. She explained that she had purchased about $40 worth of items at CVS, and then had used coupons and sales, in addition to previously earned "extra care bucks" to continue to make weekly purchases for little to no money. Until this moment in my life, I knew very little about coupons. Coupons were found in the paper, or sometimes on items, or those little machines in the aisle. Well that changed rather quickly....
When I went home I spent some time googling, found out this girl was pretty spot on in her description, and a crazy coupon lady was born. In the beginning I went a little nuts... We are still living off the razors, hair care, toothpaste and deodorant I purchased back then. When I was really into couponing, I even had a few $0.00 receipts.
So how do you get started couponing? I could write a book, but honestly, Southern Savers, has one of the best coupon tutorials. It's what got me started. When starting, I suggest only tackling one or two grocery stores and a drug store. Driving to multiple stores to get the very best deal, just makes me resent couponing. If you weren't already couponing, than saving anything (even if it's not the most) is already better for your budget!
Not ready to coupon, but still want to save? You can make decent changes in your grocery budget by just following some of the couponing principles. First, grocery store prices follow a sale cycle, usually six weeks. By purchasing an item when its at the lowest price, and buying enough to last until it bottoms out again, you can save yourself quite a bit of money. Southern Savers gives the following scenario: you can buy a box of cereal each week for $4, costing you a total of $24 OR you could buy six boxes of cereal on sale (with coupons) for only $6 and SAVE $18. Additionally, you won't have to make as many grocery trips, saving yourself time and gas!
Gone are the days that you had to pick up a newspaper, and scour the weekly adds and match up your coupons with the current sales. Many coupons are printable, and sites like Southern Savers do the matching up for you! You can select items, print from a link, and print out your shopping list. They also have a coupon database, and an option to search for an item.
One of the biggest changes that we made to our grocery shopping habits, regardless of whether I am in the mood to coupon or not, is paying attention to "buy it now" prices. Southern Savers offers a suggested list. This is a list of items and what prices are appropriate to stock up on. These items are available regularly at this low a price with a coupon (sometimes even lower). Being aware of this has really prevented me from making impulse buys. I just cannot bring myself to pay double for something we really don't need!
Here's a recent shopping scenario:
My son drinks almond milk. The best (non coupon) price for Silk Almond Milk is at Costco. You can purchase a 3-pack for $7. That's $2.33/container. As almond milk lasts longer than regular milk, purchasing three cartons at a time is fine. Grocery store prices are generally >$3.00 each. So Costco's price isn't bad, but I can do better!.
Recently, Kroger offered Silk (on sale) at $2.99/container, and when you buy three, you receive a dozen organic eggs for free! I was able to print 3 coupons for $1 off each container of silk milk. This makes the milk $1.99 each, a savings (from the Costco price) of $1.02 on three containers. However, when you add the "cost" of the eggs, the savings are much greater. There was also a coupon for a FREE silk container, when you share with friends, but I had used this in the past. If you were able to use that coupon, you would pay $3.98 for three milks ($1.32 each) AND a dozen eggs.
At the time there was no coupon available for eggs, BUT I have seen a similar scenario where there was. Usually you can use a coupon on this type of "free" item also, bringing your total down more.