At this time of year, many people turn their thoughts to New Year's resolutions and making a commitment to change. Many of us yearn for a healthier lifestyle: to eat better, to exercise more. Others focus on the topic near and dear to me: saving money.
I am a devoted coupon shopper - everyone knows that! As a couponer, I pretty much always think about saving money, whether I'm shopping for groceries, booking a hotel or buying clothing. I view it as part of my job to be aware of the best prices for everything I purchase for my family. I commit to buying things at optimal times in order to save the most.
I can't tell you how often I receive emails like this one, though:
I really enjoy your column, but I just don't think I can do this. I genuinely want to save on my groceries, but couponing seems like more work than I have time for. I am in awe of the savings the coupon shoppers get, but I have no idea when the right time to buy something is, or what is a good price. Yet when I leave the store, my bill is always over $200 and I just cringe. Is there a baby-steps approach to this? - Sarah K.
There is no reason to be intimidated by grocery shopping. While saving on groceries can appear to be "all about the coupons," any good coupon shopper knows that it's just as much about shopping the sales as it is using coupons to reduce good sale prices even more.
Here's a game I sometimes play in my Super-Couponing workshops with shoppers who are reluctant to embrace couponing. I rattle off a list of staples, asking the person to name a good price is for that item. What's a good price for a pound of butter? A loaf of bread? A carton of orange juice? A frozen pizza? I hear the same answers: "I don't know." "I honestly don't pay attention to that." "I probably should know but I really don't."
Meanwhile, the coupon shoppers in the room gleefully rattle off the answers: "$1.99! 89 cents! $1.99! $3!" Savvy coupon shoppers understand that knowing the price you pay for items you purchase most frequently is an enormous part of saving at the supermarket.
Before you pick up a pair of scissors to cut your first coupon, know the best prices for your list of staples. This will help you recognize good and not-so-good prices for the items you'd like to buy. After a couple of months of paying close attention (it doesn't take long!) coupon shoppers develop a sixth sense about prices, too. You'll begin to notice the fluctuation of prices over time, a regular cycle of a high point and a low point over 12 weeks. With increased awareness of what you pay for each item, you will quickly begin to recognize the best deals.
A supermarket in my area recently offered a popular brand of rising-crust pizza packaged with a side of breadsticks. This pizza/breadstick combo usually sells for $10.99. The sales price was $5! There was a $1.25 coupon in the newspaper, which reduced the price to $3.75. With coupons, I was able to buy three pizzas for close to the regular selling price of one.
You don't have to be a couponer to save. Someone who pays close attention to prices week in and week out sees the pizza on sale for less than half its original price, knows it's the right time to buy and swoops in.
My baby-steps advice? Resolve to pay more attention to prices - not just the end total at the register, but the prices on individual products in your basket each week. Develop awareness of how prices fluctuate. Buy when the prices are lowest. When you're ready to add coupons to the mix, the real fun begins!
I'd like to add a note to all of my regular readers. So many of you have taken time in the past year to share questions about coupons and stories of how saving has changed your lives. Thank you for your continued readership. Here's to a new year of learning and saving for all of us!
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to email@example.com.