A Penny Saved…

Why is a penny saved, a penny earned? Anyone that uses coupons and rewards programs can tell you it can be hard work maximizing your savings.

I remember when I was young, clipping coupons with my mother. I liked looking at all the lovely things we could buy with the slips of paper. My mother would have us clip every single coupon in the paper, because who knows what you’ll end up needing. She would tell me that coupons were free money that came in our newspaper. Free money!? Sign me up!

My mother spent 3 hours organizing her coupons yesterday. Always clipping every single coupon she comes across, she has substantiated this chore with the excuse that she clips not only for herself, but she shares her coupons with her children. She clips diaper coupons for me, and dog food coupons for my sister, and she even finds Costco coupons for my sister in California. She carries little scissors around in her purse, in case she comes across a coupon she needs to clip in the field. Every time I see my mother, she has a little envelope filled with coupons for me. Aw, thanks Mom!

It’s great that my mom has time to do this, but even she can recognize that sometimes it’s not worth the effort. For instance, our local grocery store offers a rewards system where you can earn points, and then use those points toward discounts on gas. But she found out that her local gas station normally sells gas at a price that is the same, or even lower, than the discounted price she would receive from the store’s gas station. Not only that, she would have to drive farther to get the store’s gas station. So, she just doesn’t use the program, it really isn’t worth her time.

And that is the key to using your coupons and rewards to your benefit, not detriment. Your time has value. If clipping coupons takes up all your time, or you have to run all over town (or the next town over) to use your rewards, what is the point?

So, here are some tips to streamline your savings process:

Use an online coupon site. What I have found that works for me, is a free service, like coupons.com. I can open my store’s sale paper in one window and the coupon site in another, and go through and clip coupons for the items on sale. Why would I need coupons for something already on sale? Because I’ve been burned, that’s why.

I have found in the past, after coming across what I thought was a great coupon, only to find out that the item was still more expensive than its competitors items. For example, I once had a coupon for $1.50 of General Mills cereal, which would make the price $2.79 at my store. But when I checked my store’s deals for the week, they had Post cereal on sale $2.00. That coupon was really useless. It wasn’t saving me any money at all, and I spent time to obtain it.

Don’t spend too much time organizing your coupons. I normally split the coupons I get into 5 categories, I put them immediately into my coupon binder and the process only takes a few minutes. My coupon binder has 6 pockets. I leave the first one empty, then the other five are split into Non-Food, Pantry, Refrigerated, Frozen and Store.

The first pocket is empty, until I am actually shopping. When I’m in the store, and I have picked up an item, I move the coupon into the first pocket. then when I check out, I don’t have to fuss with the coupons I haven’t used on this trip.

Non-food is just that, anything that you don’t eat. From cleaning supplies to personal hygiene items; medication to dog food, it all goes into the same pocket. Why? There is no point to separating them out further, as I normally only do my shopping for household items once a month or less. Why spend time organizing them? How many dog food coupons can you have? Just lump them together.

I think the Pantry, Refrigerated and Frozen sections are self-explanatory. When I’m in the middle aisles, looking at Pop-Tarts, I don’t want to have coupons in my hand for frozen chicken. And vice-versa.

The last pocket, Store, is reserved for coupons that must be used in a particular store. So when I get my coupons printed out from my local grocery chain, I stick them straight into that last pocket. Then, if I find myself out and decide to do some shopping, all my coupons are at hand. I stuck some Macy’s coupons in that last pocket that I got in the mail. I didn’t think I’d get to use them, since I had no plans to visit the mall anytime soon. Then, when we were coming home from a family outing, we decided to talk a walk through the mall. We ended up at Macy’s and my older son asked for more school pants. (He has a strict school dress code this year, so I didn’t buy much at the beginning of the school year.) As I paid for the pants, I pulled out the coupons and ended up getting 20% off khakis that were already on sale. Score!

Post in the comments your favorite coupon cheat and look for future posts on rewards programs and my recent experience using Swagbucks. I look forward to hearing from you.

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