couponing {weekly preparation}

For a while, I have wanted to do some posts in regards to my couponing - not just noting what I saved, but more about my processes. I have at least three post ideas floating around in my head, so I decided to finally create one today.

Today's focus is on the process I use to create my shopping lists each week, and how I decide where to shop. Let's start with some basic fundamentals:
  • Grocery ads come out in Wednesday's newspaper (our Food Lion ad arrives by mail on Tuesday)
  • Drug store ads come out in Sunday's newspaper
  • For grocery stores, I shop at Harris Teeter, Bi-Lo, and Food Lion. We have some Lowe's and Bloom stores, but they aren't very convenient so I don't bother with them.
  • I shop at all three major drug stores: CVS, Walgreen's and Rite Aid.
  • No, I do not shop at all six stores every week. More on that later.
  • You need to know who doubles coupons and up to what amount. For me, Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter double coupons under $1.00 every day (Bi-Lo's policy varies by area). Food Lion doesn't double at all, but they offer store coupons (printables online) that can be stacked. Drug stores do not double.
The absolute core to all of my couponing is one website: Southern Savers. Everything I know about couponing, I have learned from her website ("her" is Jenny). I also arranged for her to do a workshop in my town several months ago. For anyone that lives in the southeast, I'd highly recommend using this site as your couponing foundation. I try to visit her site as close to daily as I can. Of course, that's often unrealistic, so I just catch up when I can. It's a blog-style site, so you could stay on top of things using a feed/reader.

The process I'm going to detail below is the same for grocery stores and drug stores. I do it twice a week (Wednesdays and Sundays, obviously). I have been couponing for about 6-7 months now, I think. I've tried various things and so far this works best for me.

 - First, I go to the Southern Savers website on the appropriate day and look for the three relevant posts. The grocery stores are always posted by Wednesday morning. The drug stores are usually posted ahead of time, so you could actually do your preparations before Sunday if you wanted.

this is what the top of one of her grocery posts looks like:

- I highlight all of the text from the post, copy it and paste it into a Word document. I do this three times (one for each store). I save this document with a dated file name. The original file is going to be huge, but we will fix that later. This week's was 22 pages when I first started.

- At the top of the Word document, I create a "Need" and "Watch" list. I will open last week's document and copy it over to the new week. Since couponing is about buying what's at it's best price, you often are not purchasing what you actually *need*. Therefore, I keep a short list of items at the top that we truly need in the near future. The *watch* list are items that I want to try and get soon, but I can wait a little bit to get a good deal. These are usually items that either we are out of but don't need immediately, or things I've noticed we're low on. I still keep a paper grocery list in our kitchen drawer where we write down things as we think of them. This is when I'd take that list and add those items to the need or watch lists. Later, as I work through the grocery store ads and coupons, I will make notations by each item if I have a coupon or if there is a particular store I should purchase the item.

here's what the top of my list for this week looks like right now:

- Now it's time to dwindle down that obnoxiously long list into something more manageable. The list from Southern Savers does not necessarily include every item from an ad. She tries to focus on things that are truly a good deal. Stores are bad about advertising "huge savings" when it's really just 10 cents cheaper. She weeds out that stuff for you. She also pairs any existing coupons for you. Here is what a section might look like:

The item, size and price are in black. Underneath each one, in red, are coupons that apply to that item. If they are from a newspaper insert, she will note the type and date (RP 11/15 is the Red Plum insert from the November 15th newspaper). If it's a printable, she includes a link so that you can easily go print it. (Note: these links will still be active when copied into Word). Sometimes, she will note what the final price would be after sale/coupon, particularly if it's a really good deal. The only difference for drug stores is that rebate type deals are listed as well (ECBs for CVS, RRs for Walgreen's and SCRs for Rite Aid).

- So, now I begin working my way through the list. First, I delete the information lines at the top of each post because I already know that stuff. I typically will delete the category headers as I work my way through, as I have not found them to be terribly helpful in my shopping. On the actual product lists, there will be tons of items that I will not need or want to purchase and I just delete those lines immediately. This may be products that we would never use (like Depends) or it may be something that I have a big stockpile of. Some items I might have to think about for a minute. It might be an OK deal, but not a great deal. I will leave it or delete it based on the level of need. If I have two bottles of mustard already, then I'm not going to buy another unless it's a really good deal. But if we are almost out of ketchup, I'll settle for an "OK" price. Note: For the most part, I don't do anything with the coupon information at this point. However, if I notice a printable listed that I will probably use, then I will go ahead and print it at this time. *When I completed this step, my list was down to only 5 pages (and this was a week that includes Super Doubles at Harris Teeter).

- I have noticed that some things will tend to be on sale at multiple stores at the same time. Sometimes the deals are the same, so it's just a matter of what store you ended up shopping. But, I always review my list for duplicates because often times, an item will have a better deal at one store. Keep in mind the coupon policy as you are doing this. For instance, this week Yoplait was on sale at Food Lion and Bi-Lo for the same price. I have a $0.40 coupon so it makes more sense for me to buy the item at B-Lo because my coupon will be doubled there.

- I typically do not spend much time reorganizing the lists in any particular order. The lists usually are not that long, so it's not really worth the effort. However, if it's a "big week" (like triples or super doubles), I may spend more time making the list easy to shop with.

- Most weeks, I will take just a few minutes to leaf through the physical advertisements for each store. The only reason for doing this is to see if there is something featured that's on my need list. If it's not on the Southern Savers site, it means it's not a great deal, but if it's something that I need anyway...better to save a little bit if I can.

- This is the point where I need to try to decide at which stores I will try to shop this week. There are weeks when I will try to hit all three grocery stores, but only if absolutely necessary. I rarely hit all three drug stores.

***The previous steps shouldn't take long and are pretty mindless (easy to do while watching TV or something like that). This next step is a bit more tedious. There are a million different ways to organize coupons and I'm not going to go into that now. I keep mine in a binder by type (i.e. beverages, cleaning, frozen, etc).

- I now go straight down my list in Word, checking my coupon binder for coupons that might work with an item. Off to the right of the item, I note whether there is a coupon and the details. Once I've done that, I delete the coupon related information provided by Southern Savers. Deleting these lines helps tremendously in creating a shorter list. This week, my list was only 2 pages when I was done!

Here are my notations:
    NC = no coupon
    $1.00 (or any dollar amount) = the value of a coupon that I have
    $0.50 (D) = the value of the coupon and a note that it will be doubled
    $0.75 x2 = the value of the coupon plus a note that I have multiple coupons that I want to use
    $1.25/3 = a note that the value of the coupon is based on buying a certain number of items

- As I'm doing the above step, I'm also pulling the coupons I find out of my binder. I have an envelope for each store and coupons for that store go into the appropriate envelope, which makes shopping much easier. Keep in mind, I try to only pull coupons for stores I'm planning to visit. There are times when I pull them for 2 or 3 stores and don't end up hitting them all, but I try not to waste my time if possible.

and here is what a portion of my condensed list looks like:

- I print this list when it's complete and put it in my binder. When it's time to go grocery shopping I usually take my entire binder. Primarily I only use the envelope and my list, but I like to have my binder handy "just in case". When I go drug store shopping, my lists are usually very short and I only take it and the envelope. Once in a while I will find that I need a different coupon when I'm in the store. Since the stores and parking lots are small, it's not a big deal to just run out to the car and get what I need.

So...that's my process. And though it seems complicated, I've got it down to a science and it runs pretty quickly and smoothly. Plus, it can be broken up into smaller tasks and doesn't have to be done all at the same time.

Super Doubles + Triples
Since it's Super Doubles week, I thought I would address these *special weeks* really quickly. Harris Teeter, on occasion, will have a week for one of two special coupon offers. Remember, they double coupons under $1.00 every day, always. SUPER DOUBLES is when they double coupons under $2.00. TRIPLES is when they triple the value of coupons under $1.00. Both are awesome ways to save big money and get lots of free items. There are only a few things that are different about these weeks...
1) HT only doubles 20 coupons per day. Normal shopping doesn't usually take me near that mark, but with these special offers, it does.
2) Shop early and often. Inventory can really be an issue on the items that are a great deal. Unless you are there when they open on Wednesday morning, you're likely going to miss out on something you want. So, your best bet is to make multiple trips if possible. This allows for more inventory to arrive, and also you can hit that 20 max over and over. I've heard a recommendation to go on Tuesday night before the next ad hits. The stores will most likely have restocked for the following week, but the special offers are still valid.
3) Southern Savers will put together special lists for these weeks. It will include items that are free or very good deals. These might be duplicates from items in the ad, or it might just be that the doubled/tripled coupon makes the item a fantastic steal from the regular, everyday price.
4) I follow all of the steps for a normal week like I detailed above. But then I go through my binder and look for coupons that I might want to use. It might be something that we use a lot so I should take advantage of the extra savings.
5) These special weeks take a little bit more time for preparation, but it pays off because the savings are tremendous.


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