Part Eight: Taking it to the Next Level

beginnersguide_400_coupons

Congratulations! If you have made it this far and followed along each week of this Beginner’s Guide to Coupons series, then I have great news: You are officially no longer a beginner!

All this crazy couponing stuff that seemed so complicated and overwhelming at the beginning should be starting to come a lot easier and more naturally now. You are probably starting to get pretty good at finding deals all on your own, and you may even be offering tips to your own friends and family who are wondering how it’s done.

(If you are new to my blog or new to couponing, I strongly recommend that you start with Part One  before reading any further.  It will all make a lot more sense that way!)

From now until eternity (or until you win the lottery and no longer care about saving money), your weekly “assignment” will be pretty much the same: grocery shopping, drugstore shopping, maintaining your stockpile, and keeping your coupons organized.

As long as you stay committed to doing these things, you will probably continue to see your weekly and monthly out-of-pocket expenses drop while your average percentage of savings increases.

Now that you are no longer a “beginner,” there are a few more things to keep in mind in order to take your couponing to the next level:

1. Non-sale items will kill your percentages.

You probably won’t be able to avoid having to pay full-price for things every once in a while, but to see savings above 70% at the grocery store, almost everything you buy will have to be on sale or bought with coupons. This is why stockpiling is so important–buy as much as possible when it is at it’s cheapest, and there will be fewer things you have to pay full price for.

2. Change the way you plan your meals.

This is a hard one, especially if you are a decide-what- you-want-to-eat-make-a-list-and-then-shop kind-of person. In fact, I still struggle with meal planning, and find that most of our meals these days are planned about 5 minutes in advance.

Luckily for me, having a nicely varied stockpile helps keep things fresh, and there is always something to choose from. If you are a planner, then try to plan your meals for the week around what is on sale or already in your stockpile, thereby minimizing the number of non-sale items you need each week.

For great ideas on cooking from your stockpile, you can check out my Stockpile Meals series at:

http://www.livingwellspendingless.com/category/favorite-posts/recipes/stockpile-meals/

3. Work the drugstores.

It takes practice and planning to get really good at drugstore shopping, but the savings you can find there will make such a difference to your overall bottom line. Not only is it possible to save 90% or more on all your family’s toiletries and health-care items, you can also use your drugstore dollars to buy always-needed grocery staples (like eggs, milk, butter, & bread) that don’t often go on sale.

4. Take advantage of seasonal sales! 

Back-to-school time is an incredible time to stock up on office & craft supplies (not to mention school supplies) for the whole year. After-holiday sales are also a great time to get what you need for next year at rock-bottom prices. Planning ahead will save you money in the long run.

5. Stay organized.

A little bit of effort each week to keep your coupons and stockpile organized will save you much aggravation and help keep you motivated to continue saving money. Setting a regular shopping schedule can also help. The more couponing becomes just a natural extension of your day-to-day life (and less of an “effort), the easier it will be to continue.

6. Don’t burn out.

Deals come and go, and there will always be more. Don’t kill yourself trying to keep up on every deal or hit every store every week. You will end up with way too much stuff, and you will be exhausted and frantic from fighting a losing battle. Don’t freak out or feel like you’ve somehow failed if you do have to spend a little more an item.

Find a few great websites (like mine!) to keep up on, but don’t waste hours each day trying to find every deal. Successful couponing is a cumulative process, not an instant fix. Figure out how much time you have to spend each week on searching the net, gathering coupons, and shopping, and then stick to that time limit.

7. Share the wealth.

Extreme couponing puts you into a unique position of being able to get a lot of stuff–food, tolietries, medications–for very little money. You will probably even find that you end up with more than you need, but there are many, many people and organizations that could use those items.

I strongly encourage you to find places to donate your extras items. Shelters, food pantries, or charities like Operation Christmas Child are all great options, but there are many other ways to give as well.

So even though you probably don’t need it, I am going to give you one more assignment, but one that you can continue to repeat each week, until it becomes like second-nature.

Week 8 (and beyond) Assignment: 

1. Make your list, gather your coupons, and go grocery shopping according to the guidelines from Part 3.

For me it is helpful to pick one day of the week to do my weekly grocery shopping. (I always go on Thursdays, the day that the new ad begins.)

If your stockpile is full, just stick to the very best deals or the items that you really need. Go to more than one store if you like, but don’t feel like you have to.

2. Make your list, gather your coupons, and go drugstore shopping according to the guidelines from weeks 5, 6, and 7.

Again, you may want to pick a set day to do your drugstore shopping–Sunday is usually best to make sure the deals are still available. Be sure to plan your transactions in advance, and watch your OOP costs.

3. Keep your stockpile organized.

Maintain your system when you put your groceries away. A little effort each week can save you a lot of hassle and a big mess later on.

4. Keep your coupons organized.

If you are using the hanging file system that I recommended in week one you don’t need to keep more than 12 weeks worth of inserts. The easiest way to do this is to have 12 folders for inserts and fill them up each week, making sure to label each one with the date.

On the 13th week, replace the inserts from week #1 with your new inserts, change the label, and then page through the old insert and clip any coupons remaining that have not yet expired. (There will probably only be a few.) Then file the clipped coupons in your Couponizer book or small accordion file.

At the same time, take a minute to file any random loose coupons from your “to-sort” folder, and remove any expired coupons. This weekly organizing process only takes about 10-15 minutes and will keep your whole system running smoothly.

If you are using the binder system, be sure to spend time each week clipping, sorting, & throwing away expired coupons.

BGTC Wrap Up

And believe it or not, that’s it!

If, after all this, you are still struggling, I encourage you to go back and re-read the series from the beginning. There may be something you missed the first time around that will all become a lot clearer upon review. If you have any specific questions or comments feel free to visit www.livingwellspendingless.com and leave a comment under the corresponding post. I read each and every comment I receive, and even if I can’t always answer each question individually, there is often someone who can!

Live Well. Spend Less.