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Help! I’m trying to use coupons and my budget is increasing, instead of decreasing!

I love getting good deals, especially drugstore deals. Ironically, though, ever since I started shopping deals with coupons and RR or ECBs and rock bottom prices my grocery budget has stayed the same or increased. I think part of the problem is that when I see a good deal–something almost free or a rock bottom price, I feel like I have to get it. It hangs over my head if I don’t!

How do you navigate through deciding which deals to take advantage of and which to pass up, especially if that product may not hit its rock bottom again before you need it? I really want to stick to my grocery budget and even decrease it. Shopping deals should help–but right now it’s doing the opposite. -Britney

I love your question, Britney! And I’m going to wager to guess that you’re not the only person who has struggled with this before.

Here are a few of my thoughts and suggestions:

1) Designate a Portion of Your Budget to Stockpiling

It’s imperative that you have a budget, which is sounds like you do. So kudos on taking that first step — many people don’t have that in place, so you’re already one step ahead of the vast majority of Americans!

I think it would also be really helpful for you to designate a specific portion of your grocery budget (no more than 10% to 20%) for stockpiling. This way, you know that you only have $XX amount each week to spend on good deals. This will help you focus on getting the best deals and prevent you from going overboard or overbuying.

Note: For those of you who are feeling like you don’t have any extra room in your budget to designate to buying ahead, be sure to check out my post on how to eat frugally and still stockpile when you only have $30 to spend on groceries each week.

2) Prioritize Your Buying = Needs First

When deciding whether or not something is worth purchasing, first determine whether it’s in your budget. If it is, then decide how high up on the priority list it is.

Are you almost out of the item? Is it something you go through rapidly? Or is it something you don’t use very much of or don’t really like?

Focus on your necessities first, before buying non-necessities. And don’t buy 15 jars of pickles at $0.25 per jar if you don’t even eat pickles in the first place! No matter how inexpensive something is, if you’re not going to use, it’s not a good deal to buy it.

3) Look for Ways to Save That Don’t Involve Coupons

Using coupons can be very helpful when you’re seeking to cut your grocery bill. However, they are just one piece of the money-saving pie. I encourage you to explore many other money-saving tactics that don’t involve using coupons to see if you can cut your grocery bill by implementing some of those, too.

You might find you can save more by making your own homemade cleaners instead of buying cleaners when they are on a great deal. Or, you might cut your grocery bill more by making inexpensive meals from scratch rather than spending a lot of time getting a great deal by combining coupons and sales.

What suggestions and advice do the rest of you have for Britney? I’d love to hear!

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  • Lila B says:

    If you’re new to couponing, it’s easy to get excited about getting deals. After a year, you begin to see that they come around again, and you’ll get more familiar with the pricing and best time to purchase certain things.

    • melissa says:

      Agreed. I’ve been couponing almost a year now and I’m starting to get used to the sale cycles. At first, you want to jump on every deal. Eventually, you learn that the deal will come around again.

  • Brandy says:

    I think the key is finding the buy at price. Once you figure out what is a good price to pay for something, you have a better idea of when something is actually a “good deal”.

  • Melissa D says:

    I think it takes a little bit of time too. When I first started couponing (and for a while after) I would end up spending more than I had before but I was also creating a nice big stockpile! I haven’t had time to coupon for about 6 months now except here and there and there’s things I still haven’t had to buy!
    So you might not see at at the beginning or for a while at first, but once you start to get a good stockpile going, you can be more choosy about how many to buy of things. You’ll eventually find yourself buying a lot less in my experience. 🙂

    • Jessica H says:

      I agree. Couponing didn’t save me much in the be.ginning, but once I started focusing on using my stockpile, I found that I needed to shop very little

  • cathy S. says:

    Yes, I was the same way at first because of the excitement and pretty soon my cupboards were bursting! I realized I was going overboard and I learned to adjust my spending. The best part was being able to spend even less for a few months and pull from my stockpile and it all evened out 🙂 I love having the extra during times when we have sickness or busy-ness and shopping is hard to get done.

  • elaine says:

    I agree with this answer.
    I’d like to add…Never buy something you will never use just because you have a coupon. I shop at Publix, Publix accepts competitor coupons, see if the store you shop at does.
    Plan your list get your coupons together before you leave for the store. Look at your store’s circular, match up your coupons, search online for coupons I set aside 15 minutes a day to this. It did take me 3 hours to work a system for my coupons, but now it is easy. Do what works for you.
    Also with a list in hand – you may still end up with spur of the moment purchases but are less likely to do so if you have preplanned your shopping trip.
    I have a 4-6 week stockpile of nonperishable foods & beverages (water iced tea) I live in a hurricane zone I will be stocking up weekly as I can afford it. Stockpile what makes sense to you, only what you can use before it expires and only what you can afford.

  • Ashley P says:

    lol. My problem isn’t that I have no room in my budget for stock piling.

    My problem is that I have no room in my HOME for stock piling.

    We’re in a tiny 1 Bedroom, and I’m running out of places to put things.

    • Jen says:

      Under the bed, in a lidded basket by the door, on top of bookshelves, armoires, in any unused cabinet or part of cabinet. There are always places to put stuff. Buy some bed lifts for $5 and put bigger bins under the bed. There’s always somewhere.

    • Vanessa says:

      I’ve even seen people use those over-the-door shoe holders in their pantry or cleaning closet on Pinterest!

    • Samaree Totten says:

      When I lived in a small apartment, I stacked two totes in the tiny eat in kitchen area, put a plank of wood on top, draped with a pretty tablecloth. It was our table and pantry! I also put the bed on risers and stored food, toiletries and out of season clothes underneath.

  • Your budget will ALWAYS go up at first and then you will see it go down. Try to find ways to cut out those items you think you “need”. Are you buying spaghetti noodles at full price when you already have rotini at home? Substitute and use what you have!

    Also- I agree set a portion of your budget aside for stockpiling. Eventually you will be buying ONLY the items on sale with a coupon. Seriously look at what you already have- and make it stretch as far as possible. Also KNOW before you go- don’t walk into the store without a well laid out plan. Know your total OOP before you start shopping.

  • Laura says:

    I started couponing last summer and was the same way. I turned into a crazy woman trying to get all the good deals but I found my grocery budget also increased. I very rarely use coupons now and follow the “look for ways to save that don’t involve coupons”. Mainly I shop within the ad, I cook from scratch, use Bountiful Baskets for the majority of my produce and I even invested in chickens to supply us with eggs since we eat a ton of them! My family is eating so much better than when I was couponing and I spend less money now than when I was using coupons.

  • Ema says:

    Britney, way to go for being budget conscious! My Mom’s time-honored approach to saving is: If you weren’t going to buy it anyway, it’s not a deal! If an item is something you would never dream of paying full price for, then you should never buy it at all. Take an inventory of what you need in your pantry/ closet/ fridge for your particular lifestyle, and seek out the deals for those things. Don’t let shiny sale flyers get you distracted. I had to learn that too. Also, its harder to find coupons on staples like meat, grains, raw produce, etc, but buying those and making from scratch can still save you loads more than couponing for the pre-packaged versions of the same things. If you’re sale-savvy, you can get good deals on stale items too. Good luck!

  • Laura says:

    Right now, as you begin, you are buying to satisfy your current needs and adding to your stockpile with good deals. Once your stockpile is larger and varied, you will be able to ‘shop’ your own stock for current needs and focus more on deals to keep your stockpile stocked. Does that make sense?

  • Sit down and list EVERYTHING consumable you use on a normal day. These items are the only things I stock up on when they are on a good sale (ideally, also when I have coupons). Everything else that’s a good deal? If I know I can use it, and I have the money to buy it, I’ll get it. If I can’t use it but can get it for free or pennies, I may buy it and donate it.

    I used to buy everything that was a good deal, and it consumed not only money, but extra time as I planned extra transactions.

  • Patti says:

    I think the above comments are wonderful and on target. I still have shampoo that I bought when I first started to stockpile about 3 years ago. It takes a little while to decide how much of each item to keep. And even though I have tried some new items and found that I liked them better than the old, at first just try to get what your family needs right away and only stray from that if you can get an item FREE. I have gone out on a limb if it was a super good sale – such as when a chain of grocery stores here closed. Prices were 75% off so I decided to stock up on all kinds of things including makeup, cleaning supplies, etc. I think what we are all saying is it takes time to understand how to do it without busting the budget.

    • Sarah says:

      I agree. A few weeks ago I was disappointed because I missed out on a deal where razors would have been .99 then I looked in my stockpile and realized I have enough razors to last me a year! Once you figure out how much you use you’ll be able to know how much you need to stockpile. Keeping 200 things of toothpaste even if it was free is foolish and wasteful because it will go bad before you can use it. Ther are also websites that let you know when certain items go on sale so you know when to stockpile. Also some items go on sale more frequently then others. For example contact solution- only in April is it a really good deal- so I buy a year supply. Toothpaste goes on sale every few weeks so you only need a few on hand and never spend more than .50. It’s a learning process!!!!

      • bridget says:

        sarah what website do you use that tells you that?

        • Sarah says:

          I am looking for the one I used to use when I first started but can’t find it. I did find this one:

          It it might be a good Ask the Reader Post- Crystal could do… I think after doing it for a few years you just start to see the patterns. But I am sure lots of people have tips they could share about the best time to buy items.

          I’ll keep looking for the calendar I found a couple years ago, but maybe the other link will help.

      • Janet says:

        I have a one year limit as well. I try to have a good idea of how much of an one item I will use in a year. Once I have that much of it, I will only “buy” that item if I am getting it for free to replenish my stockpile.

  • Just keep in mind – your budget doesn’t increase – it’s your spending that went up. If you have a budgeted amount, then when it is gone, you stop buying. Period. Otherwise, you’re just setting up for problems down the road. If you limit the amount you use for stocking up on stuff, that may help. For example, if you have $45 a week for everything, use $40 for groceries, and $5 to stock up as a general rule. Tell yourself you can only go over the $5 amount if it comes out of that week’s other $40. So you have to have your bases covered for the week before you go after ‘deals’. It’s the best way I know to make sure you don’t run out of money before you run out of month. With time and experience you’ll find out what numbers work for you. Good luck!

  • Wendy says:

    One of the biggest things for me was to STOP clipping coupons for products I wouldn’t buy. Once I had all those $1 off coupons for energy bars, it was hard to turn down the sales when I could get them for pennies – even though I won’t eat them and my husband is picky about brand. Not having the coupons in the first place saved me the clipping/organizing time, plus the time I would stand there in the store wondering whether $0.09 plus tax was worth trying a new brand, plus the nagging feeling I was missing something if I passed up the deal.

  • ashlie says:

    If you don’t have lots of room in your budget… remember that a deal is not a deal if you have to pay money you don’t have! Remember, another deal will always come along… at a time when you might have an extra $5.00 dollars. Don’t blow your budget goals just to get a couple extra bottles of shampoo… especially if you already have what you NEED. 🙂

  • I would add one thing… sometimes coupons aren’t the best way to get the best deal. So often, coupons are for name-brand items when their generic counterparts are still cheaper than coupon prices.

    I tried the coupon lifestyle for awhile and then realized it wasn’t worth my time since I could save far more by just shopping every month at a deeply discounted grocery store (Food4Less in my area) whose generic prices made coupons unnecessary. I still love to take advantage of a great deal when I find it (and love the non-coupon discounts and deals you share on this site, thanks!), but I gave up going to different stores, clipping coupons, and trying to keep track of everything and I still keep our grocery budget under $250 a month for the 5 of us without all the stress by just meal planning and shopping generic and non-packaged bulk foods when possible.

    • JessicaE says:

      Wow, $250 a month is impressive! I’d love to know more about how you do it.

      • I just made a few simple changes. The biggest impact (more than $500 a month worth) is shopping at a no-frills grocery store like Food4Less, WinCo, etc. where I already know I’m getting rock bottom prices. I buy pantry items out of bulk bins at these stores when I can (pasta, baking mix, oatmeal, snack foods, etc.) rather than paying extra for the brand name and packaging on the same items (but I don’t make my own mixes usually, as many people do. I find them affordable enough in the bulk bins to not have to make myself).

        I plan dinners before I shop (I use Pinterest for this — it’s a fun way for me to keep track of meal plans and also check out all the great ideas the Internet has to offer, and I can pick and choose between recipes that share ingredients I’m planning to purchase for that trip like sour cream or green onions, etc. to minimize what I have to buy). We eat meatless 2-3 nights a week. My husband travels and when he’s out of town, sometimes we’ll eat even simpler just for a break (pasta with parmesan and tomatoes, chili mac, sandwiches, quinoia with steamed veggies, etc.) but for the most part, we eat typical dinners. We do easy breakfasts (cereal, oatmeal, toast, scrambled eggs, etc.) and same with lunch. We entertain often and do a lot of potlucks, BBQing, and easy-to-feed a crowd meals when we do like soups and stews or spaghetti.

        I buy extra of something if it’s a great price and I know we’ll use it (for example, bought 6 jugs of Minute Maid at my last trip on sale for $0.75 ea. because I knew we would drink it all, and we did). Otherwise, I pass. It’s not worth it for me to have 20 tubes of cheap toothpaste in the cupboard if I can’t afford to buy peanut butter because I blew my whole budget on toothpaste.

        I also don’t eat organic or on the extreme side of healthy. We eat plenty of fresh produce, of which I buy the affordable stuff often and splurge on more expensive items occasionally. For me, I found that coupons took far more time and effort than was worth it FOR ME (I realize this is a great thing for other people, but for me, there were simpler things I could do that took my budget from $900 a month on groceries to under $250 without doing coupons.

      • Marie says:

        We also are a family of five and our budget is $220 a month. I mostly shop with coupons at Target and Walmart. And everything else I get at Aldi’s with the exception of milk and eggs from Sam’s. I buy meat on great sales and stockpile it using a food savor storage system so nothing gets freezer burn. Last time I got chicken breasts on sale for less then $1 a pound I bought 30 pounds and it’s lasted over 7 months. Just this week I realized we were down to 3 boxes of cereal, all the same kind so I knew it was time to stock up. There was a deal where you bought 6 and got $9 off instantly plus a catalina for milk and eggs. I bought 12 boxes and they ended up being under $1 a box, when they are normally $4. But I only do cereal deals 2-3 times a year. Besides the staples I don’t do a typical grocery shop every week or everyother week. This week I bought 4 boxes of crackers. By doing this and having a stockpile I don’t need to buy regular items often and it’s how we can stay under budget.

  • Jen says:

    I just cleaned out and got rid of a lot of things that I bought at extremely good prices, but never used, including food (cake mixes, hamburger helpers, cereal), lotions (sunscreen) and OTC medicines especially. Something to keep in mind while doing future stockpiling, for sure.

  • Brittany says:

    Ditto. Sometimes I think I’d save more money by not reading money saving blogs. There are too many deals I think I need or want and I end up spending more than I would have otherwise. The irony.

    Of course, it’s called self-restraint which I guess I don’t have. 🙂

  • Connie says:

    I have saved the most focusing on buy-one-get-one deals (which usually makes the brand name cheaper than generic, even generic on sale b/c it’s never 1/2 off) and other items on sale. If I have a coupon good but if not, oh well.

  • Wendy says:

    I do better when I don’t read about the great deals on line also. I look at the sales papers from the stores I normally shop at and can see what’s a good deal myself and if it’s something I would normally use. I don’t do the drug store game because the drug stores rarely have things on sale I use—why would I buy something just to get an “extra buck?” I had to throw away expired CVS extra bucks last month because I hadn’t been in the store for so long because they didn’t have anything on sale I would normally use. Just decide what’s right for your family. The decision to stop stockpiling was one I made a few months ago and I actually spend less money now and I’m less stressed.

    • sona says:

      We have never had a problem using our ECB even after the expiration date.

    • Katherine says:

      If I find myself getting close to expired ECBs, I’ll just pick up diapers, baby wipes, or milk. We always need those. It IS an extra stop if you didn’t have anything to buy there otherwise, but at least then you’re getting something for the money. That being said, I only do ECB or RR deals now for diapers, baby wipes, and body wash for my husband. Everything else generally lasts long enough that I can just put it on my regular grocery list.

    • Andrea says:

      I haven’t done Extra Buck deals in quite some time and I find that I’m spending less money! I feel like I get better deals at Target.

  • Amie says:

    I had a similar experience when I first started couponing. I was usually able to roll my ECBS, but I’d have a hard time not wasting money with RRs. I asked and my Publix actually accepts RRs since they are manufacturers coupons. This helped out since I could buy the freebies I wanted and then use the RRs toward my groceries. You may want to ask about this if you shop Publix. I no longer work near Publix so now I need to be more strategic. This week I spent about $30 of my “grocery” budget stocking up on diapers at Walgreens and ended with $13 in RRs. I spent them in separate trips on newspapers, milk, and cheese which were all things I really needed and were competitively priced. This allowed me to stick to my grocery items and not waste my RRs. If I’d just spent those RRs on anything, I wouldn’t have really been saving at all on the diapers and I may as well have just gone to Walmart.

    • Karen says:

      The Jewel store where I used to live also accepted RR as long as they were marked as manufacturers coupons.

  • Jillian says:

    One way we have saved a lot of money about $75 every 2 weeks, instead of buying fruits and vegetables at grocery stores or fruit stands buy we buy them from a Farmers market. They are the best, you know everything you are buying is fresh and local and the farmers want your business so they will come in with low prices (asparagus $2.00 for almost 3 lbs). We do use coupons but I do not “stockpile”. Buy only what your family needs for one month. If there is a coupon for a frozen pizza and you don’t like the brand Don’t buy it.

    • Andrea says:

      It depends on where you live. Our farmer’s markets are not cheaper, nor are the local orchards. In the summer and early fall, I can buy locally raised produce cheaper at the grocery store than at the farmer’s market.

      • Lisa says:

        I agree, where I live I can drop $40 a week on produce and fruit for a week or 2 and still need some things from the grocery store. It is better quality and local, but not always in my budget. Plus you can be lured by the other things they are selling. I try and get in and out fast and know what I want or I get way too many things and eat up my entire budget.

    • Joyce says:

      Our farmer’s markets here are actually more expensive than store prices, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought strawberries where the bottom half are all bad (as in mushy goo). It’s sad, because I would love to support local farmers…but I can’t afford to spend $3.50 on a quart of strawberries when I can only use half of them and only have a day or so to do it in, especially considering I can get them at Walmart or Kroger for cheaper where only a few are overripe. But, it really encouraged me to start my own garden, which is waaaay cheaper!

      • A great way to make strawberries last longer is to mix one part vinegar to ten parts water and then rinse the strawberries in it. I do this all of the time now and my strawberries last way longer which saves me money!

        • Joyce says:

          Wow! I use vinegar for pretty much everything, but I didn’t know this! Does it work for all fruits? Thanks so much for the tip, I will definitely be using it in the future, especially when we go out and pick a lot to freeze for the winter (it takes so long to process them all)!

    • Jessica says:

      Our farmer’s market here in Columbus Ohio is ridiculously expensive, which is crazy because Ohio is full of farm land. $5 per pound of “second” tomatoes? $8 per quart of strawberries? Can’t afford that!

  • Chelsea says:

    These are all great tips!

    I think the biggest thing that has helped my budget with couponing is to try and cut out the extra processed foods I started picking up. I noticed many of the items I was getting were unhealthy for my daughter, and by researching online I found that it was incredibly easy to make a lot of these items from scratch and cheaper than I was able to get with sales and coupons.

    I’m no “health freak” by any means, but I felt a little guilty buying all the junk food with coupons. Even if I couldn’t recreate the item, I realized that we were better off by not spending the .25 on a box of poptarts, even if it was an awesome deal, and I had more money in my pocket. Now, I coupon strictly for toiletries or staples that we need and use or are needed in donation banks. After cutting out the processed extras, I saw my coupon spending decrease a lot. And after cooking from scratch more, I also saw my grocery budget shrink as well.

  • Amanda L says:

    I did the same thing in the beginning!! I went crazy with drugstore deals and had way too much of everything. I made mistakes in buying things we didn’t like and actually gave away 2 huge boxes of toiletries I knew we weren’t going to use.

    I will say that it is paying off big time now. I haven’t bought razors in over 2 years and probably have enough to last us for several years to come.

    I also am able to watch for GREAT sales on the products we love. Any time I find a great deal I buy one or two to keep the stockpile going. If we’re really low I may buy more.

    You also do have to learn to say no. The big that helped me pull it in was setting a weekly amount I wanted to stay below instead of a monthly amount. This forced me to pick only the best of the best and the things we truly need each week. I still stockpile and I still buy great deals, I have just limited myself.

    I also had a baby which has cut my time to go run drugstore deals down dramatically!! 🙂

  • Shelly says:

    We I started couponing my grocery budget stayed the same but the amount of items I was getting increase a lot. I used to give away a lot of items to others.
    Now I keep us stocked up on the items we use and I usually know the best prices from my price book. So if it is something I can use and it is free or a good price according to my price book I will purchase it. If not I just skip the deal.
    Just don’t be afraid to let a deal go by, it is sure to come back around.

  • karen r says:

    One thing that really helps me is to have something iin mind that I intend to buy with the money I save. For example, I am planning a small family vacation. Every dollar that I cut from my budget will go towards that trip. So when I’m shopping, I think would I rather have this great deal that costs $10 or $10 for my trip. It keeps the perspective.

  • bridget says:

    i think also for me i shop at a couple of stores and that’s it. at one time i was doing 3 grocery stores and 2 drug stores a week and yes i was saving but yes i was also spending because if i was going to make the trip why not get all the deals? Well, i’ve realized that the reason is i was spending WAY too much money. for myself i stick to CVS for my household products and diapers and Costco for meat and our local produce stand and Publix. Now thats still 4 stores but i don’t go to everyone every week. i only go to costco about every 6 weeks and cvs whenever i find good deals (every couple weeks usually). CVS is nice because you have a month to use the bucks. I go to publix about every 2 weeks and the produce stand every week or 2. Now i try to only hit 1 or at the most 2 stores a week and cook from my stockpile other than that. I agree on don’t buy what you don’t need. I usually make sure to put whatever free or new item i pick up in my meal plan the following week so i know it gets used, otherwise i don’t bother with it.

  • Hrmmm…this is a REALLY good question!

    I think for me two things were key:
    * were we actually going to use it before it went on sale again? If I had some at home, would I use that up and this up before it went on sale again?
    * What is my “buy” price?

    Once I figured out these two things, it was easy to see the savings. I had spent a lot on things that sounded good and were a great deal – I had 15 bar soap, several boxes of cake mixes and a few other things we had gotten for free or very close to free – and then I realized that we literally weren’t using them. I started focusing on things I could get for free (toothpaste seems to be one here) or things we used regularly – mostly toiletries, paper products (mostly TP since we rarely use papertowels and we use cloth napkins) and occasional treats. The rest I just focused on a “buy” price for. Those items include meat, fruit, baking supplies, and pantry staples. Occasionally I use a coupn for those but I can normally get those below my “buy” price with a sale on the store brand. If I really like a name brand and have a coupon and a sale to get it below a sale price, then I’ll do that.

    In any case, figure out what works for YOU and do that. That’s the most important thing – and it does take a little time to figure it out!

    Blessings as you figure it all out,

  • Susan says:

    I would echo many of the comments already made.

    I went overboard in the first year or so after I started couponing. It was a rush to get so many great deals, but in hindsight, it was the beginning of a disaster in many ways. First, our diet went downhill. We ate much healthier meals before I “discovered” couponing and bought too much processed food. We never ever ate Hamburger Helper until I was able to get tons for super cheap or even free. Then we ate a lot of HH, then we realized we didn’t even like it, then I gave a lot away. I’m ashamed to even think about it.

    After a year of coupon craziness, we went back to the basics, and we are eating a much more healthy diet and I am spending quite a bit less than when I was couponing heavily. I’m no saint and we consume our share of junk food, but instead of always looking for rock bottom prices on processed junk, the main part of our diet is fresh produce, meats and dairy, and whole grains. For me, one of the main keys to saving money on groceries is plan ahead and not waste food. Don’t buy more than we need, and use what we do buy. For example, if I roast chicken, I plan for several meals (for example roast chicken, burritos, chicken salad) instead of eating roasted chicken one day and putting the leftovers in the fridge where they spoil and end up getting tossed. I love a nice fresh salad and eat it most days, but I buy a little less fresh produce than I think we’ll eat so that it won’t go to waste, then keep a small supply of canned or frozen veggies for when we run out of fresh. Works for me.

    I shop sales and use coupons where I can, but I only stock up on certain pantry items, such as peanut butter, tuna, or pasta for example, when it’s a good deal. And everything fits in my fridge, panty, and kitchen cupboards.

    I’d caution against stockpiling for anyone who tends to be a pack rat or isn’t highly organized by nature. While it’s a good idea to have a small stockpile of food on hand for emergencies, nobody needs a year’s supply of anything, not in this day and age. My exception is organic beef — I buy a quarter steer and it lasts us a year. But the only reason I buy that large of a quantity is because that’s how it’s sold around here. But for 99% of the foods we regularly consume, keeping 2-4 weeks supply on hand is more than enough.

    Storing food in places like under beds is ridiculous. Great way to attract mice! And unless you are super organized, you can easily lose track of what you have. BTDT! I bought two large bottles of ketchup because it was a great deal and I thought we needed it, only to later find 6 bottles buried in the garage. Again, ashamed of myself! But I don’t think I’m the only one who has experienced this. Everyone knows themselves, and if you foresee yourself “losing” food because you have too much and nowhere to store it, then reign yourself in.

    Crystal’s advice is right on — focus on your needs and maybe pick up one or two extra items, if you know your family will use them and the price is right.

  • Dee Wolters says:

    I only use coupons at CVS and Walmart, as I buy 90% of our food at Aldi- no coupons. But even at CVS I have noticed that my spending for personal care items has only decreased slightly, BUT I am buying higher quality items. I was a totally generic buyer for these items before I started playing the drug store game, but I have found that by using name brand products (at very low prices or free) we are enjoying better products. I don’t think I would pay full price for most of them, but by combining sales and coupons and EBC I am paying generic prices for name brand products- and in many cases, we are finding the quality is better. Hope that makes sense, and helps.

  • Lisa says:

    I don’t have a lot of advice-I feel like I could have asked the question. I am also trying hard to lower my budget-or just get more from the amount I have and it is hard not to fall into these traps. Sometimes I don’t look at any store add for a week or 2 until we need something other than produce and it helps to not read the “deals” that you missed-if I don’t see it I don’t feel I need to get it to “save”. I will also maybe hit Aldi in that span and just get what we are out of. I sometimes think I might save NEVER looking at the adds and matching coupons. I would only buy what we were out of and at whatever price it was-we might still spend less overall and I wouldn’t feel the pressure of missing a good deal. I feel like a hoarder when I buy something because it was a deal and we didn’t need it and probably couldn’t afford it.

  • Tania says:

    I’m very new to the couponing/stockpiling thing myself. I’m not sure if this is helpful to Britney but I am very judicious about what I buy, even with coupons. I don’t buy processed junk. I rotate my grocery shopping between 3-4 stores. And be careful not to get “addicted” to this shopping game. Just practice being content (and grateful) with what you purchase for the next 2-3 months and see how that goes. Keep a price book to help you learn prices.

  • Andrea says:

    I think many of the folks commenting here have hit the nail on the head, so I’ll try not to beat a dead horse.

    I’m able to coupon a LOT and get great prices – I never buy store brands for the most part. Exceptions are things like beans, milk, eggs. I get plenty of produce, meats, and healthy foods even with coupons. You just need to be proactive and contact those companies that you like to patronize (Hi, Organic Girl and Organic Valley? More coupons, please!), and request that they send you coupons. I’ve even gone so far as to tell the rep I’m speaking with if things are tight for me, and how I’d really appreciate a coupon or two for their product as I can’t otherwise afford it on our budget. Now that I’m working out of the house, money isn’t nearly as tight, but I still call to ask for a coupon if I can’t find one in the paper or online. 🙂

    As far as not needing anything with a years’ supply, I disagree. My stockpile is another “emergency” fund for us. I prefer to try and keep about a years’ worth of dry goods on hand, as well as HBA and cleaners/laundry products. The only reason I do so is because we’ve gone through a long stint of unemployment for me, and there are better things to spend money on when you’re getting an unemployment check. Having contact solution in the home, tampons under the bathroom sink, and things like graham crackers and canned tomatoes make life a little easier when you are literally pinching every penny and rolling change at the grocery store register.

    • Stephanie says:

      Agreed. My best friend’s income was cut 90% last year and the only reason they are not on food stamps or lost their house yet is because they had nine months of stockpile in their house. She will eventually find a job but it is taking longer than hoped. Walmart had 500 applications for six positions which amazed me.

  • Hello Britney,
    There’s some good advice given above. I would like to ad my two cents if that’s ok.

    I tend to coupon a little different from everyone else–you need to find something that works for you and your family. Last year I saved almost $12,000 at the grocery and drugstores by using coupons.

    Many people make the mistake of getting their coupons from the Sunday paper, clipping those coupons and heading to the store on Monday morning—BIG MISTAKE! I am not sure if you are shopping like this or not, but if you or any other readers are, here is my suggestion, ONLY use your coupons on sale items, never use your coupons on a full priced item–you will not save any money that way, even if you are using a coupon.

    I have been couponing long enough to know that when a coupon comes out—whether in the Sunday paper or online, that before the expiration date, you will be able to get that item for free or almost free before the expiration date. So inother words, if there is not a sale on that item that week–there will be soon.

    You also need to have a good stash of coupons to stock up on those free/almost free items, because you do not want to have to run back out in three weeks to buy that item and pay full price for it.

    I suggest having an even amount of coupons for those drugstore bogo sales. I also suggest one Sunday paper per family member, if there are three in your family, then buy 4 papers (for the even number of coupons).

    I hope this helps some.


  • Kim says:

    I was in the same boat until I found myself staring at my stockpile of foods that were so unhealthy but I bought just because I got great deals. After reading many website on healthier eating, it also led me to recipes for many items I can make myself. I might not get them for free, but I save a LOT of time, energy and stress over not getting the deals I “need.” Now I just concentrate on cutting coupons for the very few items I still purchase (toothpaste, razors, hair products). Most other items, I now make myself (laundry & dish detergent, lotion, etc). I work 40+ hours per week and have small children and even I can make it work.

  • After I first stockpiled for 4-5 months, I completely stopped stockpiling and only bought what we were out of for a month or so. That way I could see what we really needed in the stockpile (flour) and what was just an extra purchase because it was a “good deal” (Cheez-its).

  • Jessica says:

    I started playing the drugstore game in late 2007 when my DH lost his job. The deals were better then. I remember in January 2008 this great CVS deal came around and I stocked up on enough paper towels to last us for 3 years (we only use a roll a month, so it was just 36 rolls!).

    The past year, the deals at the drugstores have died down and I haven’t even shopped them in 2 months. I still have a huge stockpile of toiletries even though twice a year I go through it and donate to a domestic violence shelter and I share with my family members who have no drugstores near them.

    In order to stay on budget while couponing, you have to prioritize. Buy what you absolutely need with your grocery money, and then use what’s left to get those coupon deals.

    • Sarah M. says:

      I agree that the deals are nowhere as good now. I was remembering how a couple of years ago I got 4 packs of Huggies diapers for free at Rite Aid, but I haven’t seen any kind of great diaper deal in several months. I’ve stopped playing the drug store game for that reason (and because I have two more little kids, which makes getting there even more difficult!).

    • Niki says:

      I agree about the deals not being as great as they once were:(
      And how in the world do you only use one roll of toilet paper in a month? LOL. I need to know so I can teach my DH and children:)

  • Jessica says:

    It sure is a learning process for what deals will work for you! I used to play the drug store game at Walgreens, but it only took me a few months to realize it was not really worth it for me. Prices are so inflated that if I did not have a sale to spend my RRs I would use them on huge marked up items. Then once I had a $5 RR that was expired by one day and the store would not take it. I was crushed….lol.

    The rewards offered by drug stores trick you as well. You buy something and get $3RR but then go back and when you buy another thing it feels like a deal all over again. Unless you can constantly use the rewards and not pay much out of pocket each time it is not a great deal.

    I get much better deals by stacking coupons at Target. I also get a discount at target because my husband works there, and I use the target card for 5% off (Don’t worry, I bring cash and pay the balance right after the purchase!)

  • Amie says:

    One other thing that I do to save with coupons is check a coupon data base or google coupon codes when I need something. I needed batteries the other day and found a 55 cents off coupon, I needed an oil change and found a $10 off coupon, new sandals for my boys – a free shipping code, etc. This helps me save on my overall spending and is something I never would have considered a few years ago. I try to make it my habit to look for a coupon before I run out and pay full price on an unplanned item. I always compare generic to coupon savings prices and do my best to combine sales and coupons. I do keep a stockpile and cook from scratch. When I can’t roll ECBs or RRs, I spend them on things I really need like diapers, Pull Ups, and milk. These items are often fairly priced.

  • Audrey says:

    Like most, I always try to pair a coupon with a sale. Also, I try to just use coupons for items that I was going to purchase anyway, not just any item that I happen to have a coupon for, even if it is a good deal. Sometimes, the good deals win out, but trying to stick to just using coupons for items you are going to purchase anyway is a great way to use coupons to decrease your spending, not increase it.

  • One thing I forgot to mention- do NOT chase the savings. SPEND less not save more. BIG difference. I see some sites posting “HOT deal on Amazon- save 80%” but then post a $200 pair of shoes! Don’t look at the % off or % saved- look at the REAL out of pocket cost. My bank accounts feel how much actual CASH I take out- not what % I “saved”

    • Stacey says:

      True, true! It’s not how much you save, it’s how much you don’t spend!

    • Rebecca says:

      This is how I look at it too! I always think about how much I am spending, not how much I am saving. This is the best way to save money.

  • Allison says:

    When I started couponing, I also spent more initially. Like a number of the other posters here, I had a moment, staring at 20 yogurts with candy topping sitting in my fridge, when I realized how unhealthy our diet was becoming. Now, I look for deals only on what we can’t make, grow, gather, glean, or hunt ourselves. Making a batch of homemade yogurt for an hour of time is so much more satisfying than clipping coupons and shopping!

  • Erin says:

    My grandfather, a very frugal man, use to say, “don’t save yourself into the poor house!” He use to tell me this when I was tempted to buy something just because it was on sale or was a good deal.

    Also, I recommend a cash budget. Your budget can’t go up if your using cash because when its gone its gone.

  • I find that for cleaning supplies, coupons on brand name products are not terribly helpful. But I also don’t make mine from scratch. I find rock-bottom prices on no name products.

    This article gives more details on how to spend less:

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