Welcome to the new KOAB series, Couponing Basics. I know that many of you are already couponing pros, but for those of you that are struggling to kick your savings into high gear, this series is designed for you!
But before we start talking about the ins and outs of coupons, I want to talk about some other stuff.
It’ll just be this one post, I promise, but this stuff is really ESSENTIAL to realizing a significant savings in your grocery budget.
You see, in my experience, coupons are only part of the money-saving equation. The secondary part.
First and foremost, you need a solid foundation of good “behavior” when it comes to money.
If you aren’t being a good home economist, all the coupon savings in the world still won’t tighten your budget.
In fact, it’s entirely possible that the money you save by using coupons will get frittered away somewhere else in your budget. Surely you know the rationalization I’m referring to: The “Oh, I can treat myself to this new pair of shoes because I just saved $50 with coupons at Target” rationalization!
But I want you to be rock stars at coupons. I want coupons to be a blessing to your budget. So, I’m going to spend one post talking about what I see as the five essential steps to set a good foundation for savings.
These are the same steps that my husband and I took to get our grocery budget under control. I know it can seem like a lot at first, but trust me – this will make all the difference in the world!
#1. Get real about how much you’re spending
Do you know exactly how much you spend every month on groceries? How about rounded up to the nearest $20? Could you maybe venture an educated guess?
The truth is that most of us wouldn’t know. Not even within $100. I know I couldn’t have told you accurately how much we were spending on groceries four years ago.
It’s hard to keep track of, we’re busy, and frankly, we probably aren’t being mindful enough when we do our shopping. I mean, really, how often do you swipe your credit card at the grocery store without even listening to the amount the cashier told you? I know I’m guilty of that!
But here’s the problem with not paying attention: You can’t spend LESS unLESS you know how much you’re spending.
To figure out how much you’re really spending, you can use Mint.com, or keep a receipt log in Excel, or switch to cash envelopes (real or virtual).
#2. Make a Budget
Once you know how much you were spending, it’s time to focus on how much you want to be spending. As I’ve said before (in fact, just yesterday!) there is no set percentage.
Your grocery budget simply needs to be a reflection of your income – balanced against your other expenses.
If you bring home $3000 a month, and spend $1500 on food, your budget won’t work. Unless you have no kids, no pets and no mortgage!
Don’t forget to build in a way to keep track of your spending going forward, too. There’s no use in having a budget if you’re not going to stick to it!
#3. Make a Menu Plan
I know, I know. I said this series was going to be about couponing. But I promise you, a menu plan is truly a foundational money-saving strategy. I won’t rehash all the reasons that menu-planning saves you money, but if you want to read more about that, you can check out these posts.
#4. Make a Price Book
Again, I’ve talked a lot about price books, but I can not stress enough how important it is for you to know this stuff.
It’s so easy to get sucked into SALE signs. We’re like Pavlov’s dogs – we see the sale sign and think, ‘Bargain’! But the truth is a sale sign may not mean good deal. In fact, often its nothing more than a marketing technique.
To make your price book, start with the 25 or so most commonly purchased items. For us, that’s eggs, bread, milk, produce, ground beef, chicken, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurts, fruits, veggies, etc.
Write down the price and the price per unit (for example, a $1 bag of pasta that weights 16 oz = $.0625 per ounce). That way you can compare easily between the different stores that you shop at.
You can keep a price book with pen and paper; you can do it with Excel; you can even use your Smart Phone. To learn more about how to make a price book, read this post.
#5. Track the sale cycles
Once you have your price book, you will begin to notice that the price of most things fluctuates. Greatly.
One week, a box of Cheerios will cost $3.75. The next week, it’ll be up to $4.25. Then down to $3. There will be all sorts of sales and specials, but once every (approximately) three months, that box of cereal will hit it’s rock bottom price, probably somewhere around $2.
Most food and consumable goods have a 12-week sale cycle. Southern states tend to have a shorter cycle of about 6-8 weeks. In addition, seasonal items have an annual rock bottom price. BBQ supplies are cheapest in the summer. Frozen treats are costliest in the winter. Baking supplies are clearanced out after the winter holidays.
The more you know, the more you save. So start tracking those sales cycles in order to save as much as possible.
So that’s it: The five things you need to do to set a good foundation for saving money. Do these five things and you can save around 25% or more – without ever clipping a coupon.
Of course, since this series IS about couponing, I will be back next week to tell you how to take your 25% and turn it into 50% or even more. But first, get going on these five things!