The Couponing Learning Curve: Start Where You’re At

When I first started reading the frugal blogs two years ago, and practicing my own version of kosher coupon shopping, I went through a range of … emotions.

I felt relieved by the possibility of being able to (drastically) reduce our food budget, but at the same time I was stressed out by how long it was taking me to plan our meals, make my lists and cut my coupons.

I’d hit the stores and feel invigorated by getting all these great deals. Seriously, I’d be buzzing for days thanks to a few free tubes of toothpaste.

But that couponing high would crash down when I’d look at the big frugal bloggers and read about how they were managing to feed their family of five on less than I spent on one stinking piece of brisket. These bloggers were spending $35, $45 and even $75 a week — all of which seemed like impossibly low sums of money to spend on any kind of food, let alone kosher food.

I’d check out the pictures of all their best shopping trips and feel pangs of jealousy. Actual jealousy, as crazy as that may sound, over their doubled coupons. I’d think: I will never be able to get my budget that low, so why even bother?

Well, I still don’t think I could ever possibly spend just $35 on a week’s worth of food, but I have managed to significantly shave our budget down over the last two years. Twenty four months ago, I was spending at least $1000 a month on food and household items. Today we spend between $400 and $500 per month, including our bulk orders of meat. That’s a savings of at least $6,000 a year. In my book, that’s real money and I’m proud of what I’m doing for my family.

By being so open about what we spend on food, I am hoping to encourage those of you who are struggling with your food budget. I do shop with coupons and I do stockpile our frequently bought products. But most of all, I just pay attention. I have (mostly) managed to stop the slow leaks by no longer turning a blind eye to what we are doing at the stores.

What I don’t want to have happen on this blog is for you to feel like I used to feel: “Oh I can’t ever possibly spend that little. What’s the point in trying?” Odds are, we will never spend exactly the same amount, because what works for my family more than likely isn’t going to be what works for your family.

Maybe you have two parents who work outside of the home, so you need more convenience foods or just don’t have the time to deal with shopping every week.

Maybe you host more often on Shabbat or chag, so you need a bigger entertainment budget.

Maybe you have food allergies in your family on top of kosher food, so you must buy more costly gluten-free, dairy-free, or peanut-free prodcuts.

Maybe you have more kids, older kids, younger kids, or no kids. Maybe you have grandparents living with you.

Maybe your spouse is less vegetarian-(during-the-week)-friendly than mine is.

Each one of us has our own families and our own finances. We all have to do the best we can with the time, money and energy we have. But if you’re struggling under the weight of your food budget, I firmly believe that couponing can help you.

I know that the learning curve can seem steep, but start where you’re at and keep taking baby steps as you move forward. I have no doubt that even with small steps you will see big savings!

Okay, experienced couponers: Do you agree that the learning curve is masterable? Have you seen significant reductions in what you’re spending at the store as a result of strategic shopping?




  1. Jennifer H. says:

    The learning curve is masterable. Don’t go crazy trying to do a Target run for something less than a dollar. If it happens, great! If not, you’ve still saved money. As you stated above, take on what you have time for or what you have room for. Also, every few months, challenge yourself to utilize that stockpile in your pantry which will help in the overall expense department.

    • Great tips, Jennifer! I must admit that I only go to Target/CVS etc. when there are multiple items on my list. I almost never make a run for just one or two things — even if they are free. Our time is valuable, too 😉

  2. Since we keep cholov, pas and bishul yisrael, we can easily sepnd a ton of money on food. I, too, look at other peoples shopping trips and get jealous, but realize that this is a choice that I (and husband) have made and that we will somehow make it work. Couponing has been a tremendous help because it makes the things that I can get at a regular grocery store very cheap and makes room in our budget for our other overly priced kosher items. Example of an item that some can get really cheap and stock up on is tuna fish, I can’t pay less than a 1.95 per can, so tuna isn’t wasted in our house. Luckily, my husband can get chicken and meat at a pretty reasonable price because of his job. So I guess you win some and lose some.
    Whatever the case is, I believe that Hashem gives everybody only what they can handle. It is our job to take what He gives us and use it properly. I know that Hashem is always there when I need Him and that Hashem has come to my rescue many times. Hashem led me to learning about coupons and sales at the same time that we paid off our debt and bought our house.
    I no longer go shopping without being fully prepared. I know exactly what I’m going to buy and how much I am willing to spend.
    Not only has couponing reduced my monthly bills, but it has also taught me that we don’t NEED everything right now!! Be patient, and eventually you can get it at a great price.

  3. I love this blog and I have learned that couponing is very manageable. Although I do admit, I still have some more to learn. I think a big part of my success is not being intimidated at the register. I have learned to be extra poliet to the cashier and to make sure I am super organized so I am not confusing them unnecessarily. I think being alittle ‘older’ helps. I can being more like my grandmothers – who both used to embarass me to no end when they would return moldy English muffins or go to the customer service counter because they were mischarged $0.50. And here I am – cough- 20 years later returning mushy lettuce to Costco or asking them to recheck a receipt.

    This onth I have saved $30 at Hallmark and have only spent ~$12 out of pocket. We have gotten some fun Chanukah gifts for next to nothing. And I love all the free internet offers!

    • Very true about not being intimidated at the register. Funny how 9 interactions can go really well and that one can throw me off my game!

  4. Thank you for this, Mara! I was beginning to feel a little discouraged. You just helped me remember that I live in one of the most expensive parts of the US, have certain dietary stuff that I can’t compromise on, and, uh, that thing about the non-vegetarian-friendly husband? Yeah.

    One thing I am learning is that as I cut out more and more packaged and conventional foods from our shopping list, it means less coupons are available for me to use. Maybe I need to make a list of what I do buy so I can find deals more easily…

    • @Bookish – Aw, don’t feel discouraged! When I first started couponing, I only did toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc. Even if you “only” do those items, you will be able to cut a big chunk out of your monthly spending! Have you seen this post on coupon misconceptions re. junk food? That might have some helpful ideas for the non-packaged/conventional foods!

  5. Couponing can be very frustrating and overwhelming at first. I feel like I’m almost there in terms of knowing what I’m doing. I am better organized with the coupons now, and know which deals are worth doing, based on what products we use. What I need to work on now is cutting the time it takes me to prepare for a trip to the store. I’ve definitely saved on toiletries and cleaning supplies. And cereal.

    Speaking of coupons for non-junk food, did you see the coupons in this week’s insert for Cuties? My kids live on these when they are in season and these coupons will help us!!

    • @Rivka – Yes!!! Last year, there were oodles of Cuties coupons. Lots of printables, and frequently in the weekly inserts, too. I got so spoiled, I’d hold them ’til they went on sale (5 lbs for $3.99 if I recall correctly was my target price) and then get them for even cheaper! My kids also LOVE cuties! Glad to see the coupon wave for them is starting up again.

  6. Wow, I guess I didn’t realize there were so many coupons for cuties! I just signed up on their website for coupons and special offers. Yay!

  7. I was so overwhelmed when I first started too. I didn’t understand the idea of store coupons and manufacturers coupons. But slowly I am learning what items are worth putting time and effort into and which ones are not. Last month was a seat of the pants kind of month. I didn’t meal plan, I didn’t follow my shopping budget. Everything went a little wonky and I was way off my game.

    This month we are back on plan and everything is falling into place again and I can see the savings piling up.

    It is a good reminder that you don’t have to do it all. Start small and it can grow from there.

    Thanks, Mara!

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