Guest Post by Beeb Ashcroft from SuperCouponGirl.com
When you first get into couponing, you will quickly notice that you're visiting at a lot of new stores. One of the great things about coupons is that you can use them to find fantastic deals at stores that might not have been worth shopping at previously. However, all these new opportunities to save can get a little overwhelming, and you may find yourself running around all day trying to snag the deals at every store.
You may ask yourself, “Is it even worth it?” People often say that they won't use coupons because they don't have the time to keep track of all these sales or run to 5 different stores. I've had people tell me that I'm just wasting time and gas by shopping around, so I'm not really saving anything.
While I think it is entirely possible to waste time couponing, I also think that it is just as easy to get a big reward for your time–and it all comes down to your strategy. Here are five strategies I've learned for shopping success:
Shopping strategy #1: Map Out Your Stores
Sit down and write a list of the stores near you, and how far away they are. The price and proximity of these outlets will determine your best strategy for true savings.
For example, I have a Safeway grocery store and a Rite Aid drugstore which are a 3-minute drive from me. There is also a Walgreens drug store and a Fred Meyer grocery store which are in the next town–a 30- minute round-trip.
There are several factors I consider when deciding where to shop. First, there is price and coupon policy. Safeway doubles coupon but has high shelf prices; Fred Meyer does not double coupons but has lower shelf prices. Proximity is a big factor, too: Even when I don't have a coupon for something I need, it usually make the most sense to buy it at Safeway despite the higher prices, because I would waste time and gas if I made a 30-minute round-trip just to get a few things.
However, when the sales are really good, I find it's worth going a little out of my way. I shop at Safeway for my day-to-day needs, but when the other stores have great sales, I plan a trip based on that. I check coupon matchups for my stores online and if I can see that it's going to be a great week at Walgreens, I will take an afternoon to go up there. While I'm in the vicinity, I will also pop into the other nearby stores that also have interesting sales running. This way I do it all in one shot, making one efficient trip.
But I will only do this if I consider the sales to be really good; if there's only one cheap or free item that I don't have a big need for, I'll skip the sale.
Shopping Strategy #2: Take Note of Prices
As you learn the sales in your area, you'll start to notice what the prices are like at each store and this will help you determine which stores are worth your time. You can either make a price book or use a spreadsheet (see here for an example), or just make a mental note of where the best deals are.
When I first starting using coupons, I visited a lot of stores frequently, and jotted down prices of key items in a notebook. This way, I became accustomed to the pricing strategies of stores I was previously unfamiliar with. Once you get a grip on which stores regularly have the best sales, you can narrow your focus to just those stores.
Shopping Strategy #3: Organize Your Shopping Trips
If you're planning to drive a little out of your way to take advantage of a worthwhile sale, then organization is your key to success. As you plan your shopping, think: What other stores are in the vicinity? Can you maximize your efficiency by getting deals at other places during this trip? Make a detailed list and assemble all of your coupons ahead of time. (I often print Money Saving Mom® coupon matchups and take that with me as a list!) Double-check your list and coupons before you leave so that you don't forget anything.
*Bonus tip: Pack a snack! If you're spending the afternoon hitting up several stores, bring something to eat along with you. There have been several times where I got quite hungry during my bargain-hunting-bonanzas, and ended up buying a package of chips or a candy bar to tide me over. Unless the item you're buying is free with a coupon, save yourself the possibility of spending extra and bring a snack or two along with you!
Shopping Strategy #4: Make the Most of Your Trips
Of course, the most efficient method of all is to do your out-of-the way shopping when you're planning on being in that area anyway. I often have to run to the next town to do other errands; so if I have time, I'll incorporate a Walgreens or Fred Meyer trip along the way. I always think twice before I make a special trip just for groceries. If I have to spend extra time and gas money in order to bargain shop, I want to make sure that I'm saving much more than I'm spending.
I've taken it even further, and done what I call “Coupon Roadtrips”. My fiance and I often make the two-hour drive from our home on the Oregon coast to Portland so that we can visit family and take care of necessary errands. If I have time, I check which stores are going to be along the route and see if there are any good sales happening. I certainly wouldn't drive all that way just to use a few coupons, but if we're driving by a Wal-Mart anyway and I know that there is a great deal happening, why not stop?
Shopping Strategy #5: Remember That Your Time Is Money
My time is invaluable, and I won't go out of my way for a sale unless there is a big reward. Think of your time in terms of an hourly rate: what would you charge for your time at a job? Keep that figure in mind as you decide which deals to go for.
If I spent all day chasing sales just to get a few tubes of free toothpaste, then I would not getting a good return on my time investment. But If I can spend the afternoon shopping and get $100+ worth of merchandise for free (like I did here), I consider that a worthwhile use of my time.
As you learn the ropes of super savings, you'll quickly discover what deals are worth pursuing, and what can be skipped. Trust me, with a little bit of thought and planning, you can have great success shopping around–without putting too much wear on yourself or your car.
Originally from London, England, Beeb Ashcroft moved to the US in 1989. Currently residing in a resort town on the North Oregon coast, she works out of her home as a freelance journalist. In her spare
time, Ashcroft enjoys clipping coupons and finding the best grocery deals. She chronicles her adventures in savings at her blog, SuperCouponGirl.com.
photo by Roadside Pictures' Photostream