With a family of two adults and four growing kids, our food bills add up quickly and accounts for a large part of our monthly budget.  As you may have guessed from the title, today was our family’s first experience really using coupons.  Not that we have not used an occasional coupon here and there.  Today however was different.  We got the local Sunday paper and scoured the ads and cut out all the coupons that we wanted.  We also went to the grocery store website and got all the deals they offered.  Finally, we went to couponsurfer.com and printed out all the coupons we felt we could use there.  A grand experiment inspired in part by stories of those extreme coupon people you see on TV.

Pre-store Planning

     Before going to the store we learned a few nice tricks.  Our local grocery store, Kroger’s, allows you to load the coupons on our existing Kroger’s discount card.  It was very handy not having to print out and manage all those coupons. We were able to print out a list of all the items on the card so we would not have to remember them. Before going shopping you should check the store’s website for deals and coupons. This is very helpful to do. Couponsurfer.com required us to install their printer driver.  An important note on this is that we unchecked the box which adds the couponsurfer application to your browser.  We have had bad experiences adding these sorts of things in the past. 

Get Organized

     Once we had it all together we set off for the store.  At the store we got a couple of carts and began our shopping adventure.  The fun was trying to find each specific item on that we had a coupon for, a scavenger hunt of sorts.  We learned two specific things while shopping.  First, organization pays.  With about 50 different coupons it was very hard to keep track of what we needed and where it might be in the store.

      A helpful organization tip would be to get a coupon book/binder. You can make it easier and less time-consuming by having a book. Also some stores have a map showing where everything is located. The map can help you plan your coupon book aisle by aisle. We decided that it would be best in the future to organize our coupons by location to make things more efficient.  The second thing we learned is that sometimes having a coupon is not a very good deal.  Who really needs 4 cans of asparagus when no one likes it?  Also we could have saved forty cents on 4 cans of Del Monte green beans at $1.29 each but found on the shelf generic green beans on sale for .69 cents per can.  Sometimes coupons are not the best savings.

     After two hours we finally arrived at the checkout and loaded our groceries on the conveyor belt.  We watched the total ring up.  We had been using a calculator and subtracting out the coupons as we added items to the cart so it was a bit of a shock to see the total ($306.09) go way above what we anticipated.  Next the cashier applied the various discounts and coupons for a total savings of $97.73 and a total bill of $208.36.  This is a net savings of 31%!  Our calculations were within a few dollars of final total which was pleasing.

Rating Our Experience

     Overall, we had a good experience in the store.  At the checkout line, the woman behind us actually was interested in the coupons we had and how we were doing.  One factor that has held us back from this in the past is that we always felt there was a stigma to using a lot of coupons.  For a 31% savings however, how could you pass it up?

     An unforeseen bonus is that Kroger’s is associated with Shell gas stations and offers fuel points.  We earned enough points on our trip to fill the van and get .10 off per gallon.  Also Kroger’s, as many stores offer, has a survey which you could win one of 30 $100 gift cards.

     When we got home, we unloaded and put away the groceries.  We noted that a lot of the items we had purchased are actually name brand which is unusual for our family.  This is where another important point was noticed.  We nearly ran out of room in the freezer.  Saving money is great but if you cannot store the products, there is not much use in the whole thing.  We need to either plan ahead for space or expand our existing storage space. 

     Another thing we found out is that some stores offer double coupons where both a manufacturer coupon and store coupon can be used together to increase the savings.  We need to research the different store policies in our area and plan which stores to shop at.

Lessons Learned

  1.  Where possible, preload coupons onto a store card.  This saves space and time.  Print out a list of the coupons so the items can be easily tracked.
  2. Getting organized is very important for a successful shopping trip.  Having a coupon book/binder would be helpful.
  3. Just because you have a coupon does not mean you need to buy something.
  4. Keep your eyes open.  Sometimes better deals are listed on the shelf.
  5. You should not be ashamed to use coupons.  Many people do it and a lot of people are actually interested in it.
  6. Learn the different store policies and plan your shopping to get the most yields.
  7. A final and very important lesson is to plan ahead to make sure you have enough storage space.  Consider purchasing another freezer and storage racks.