Over the past several months, I’ve had a number of readers e-mail me, asking about money management and how to begin using coupons. I’ve received questions about how to set a budget, how to begin stockpiling, how to plan out a grocery shopping trip, and how to put together a menu plan.
Once you’ve been couponing for awhile, I think it’s easy to forget how confusing it can be to wade through ECBs, Register Rewards, double coupons, stacking coupons, separate transactions….yikes! It can become very overwhelming, especially when you’re standing at the register, unsure if you’ve managed to put everything together correctly in order to cash in on your potential savings.
I am hopeful that this Couponing 101 Series will be a helpful guide for those of you who are just beginning to use coupons. For those of you who are long-time pros at couponing, please feel free to pitch in your two cents’ worth on these posts. A new perspective or a different method is always helpful. For any new couponers, please don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have. I know I had way more than my fair share of questions when I first started using coupons!
Most people begin couponing for the obvious reason – to save their family money. However, it’s difficult to know whether or not you are saving money unless you are tracking how much you spend on groceries each month.
Keep track of your grocery spending on a weekly and monthly basis
The easiest way to track your grocery spending habits is to simply pick up a small notebook that you can keep handy, either in your purse, at home, or in the vehicle you drive most often to the store. Each time you stop by the grocery store, regardless of whether it’s a full grocery run or if you’re just picking up a gallon of milk, jot down in the notebook where you went and how much you spent.
At the end of the month, add up the amounts of all your stops to determine your total spent on groceries. This will give you an idea of how much your family is actually spending on food, personal care, and cleaning items each month. Once you have this frame of reference, you can work towards lowering your budget according to your family’s specific needs.
Set a grocery budget
It’s important to set a budget for your grocery purchases so you have a concrete goal to work towards. Without a fixed goal in mind, there’s no way to measure your progress over a course of time.
It can be difficult in the beginning to know where to set your grocery budget. It’s easy to be swept up in the excitement of the great deals you find, and you might feel tempted to stock up on every bargain you come across. However, if you find yourself spending the same amount or more each week, then you are negating the savings potential of using coupons.
You need to be realistic when you’re setting your budget. If your family is spending $600 each month on groceries, it’s not likely that you’ll be able to reduce it to $400 in the span of one month. Instead, you might aim to spend no more than $550 for your first month, which would only entail cutting $12.50 out of your weekly grocery budget.
Lower your grocery budget gradually
My advice is to lower your budget gradually as you become more proficient at pairing coupons with the weekly store sales. When I first began couponing, I left our grocery budget at $150/week for the first month. At the end of the month, I found that I had a nice stockpile started on many different items. I then felt comfortable lowering our grocery budget at that point.
Since that time, I have lowered our weekly grocery budget down to $50/week. I attempted to adjust it to only $40/week, and quickly found that this budget was insufficient to properly supply our family’s needs. It’s imperative to make your budget changes gradually, and to be flexible enough to know that you may have seasons where it will fluctuate based on life situations and circumstances.
Shop with cash
Although it’s easy to use a debit or credit card while you’re out grocery shopping, there’s something very visual about paying for your purchases with cash. It makes it very simple to see exactly how much you’ve spent, as well as how much money you have remaining.
Plus, the old adage holds true – you can’t spend what don’t have. If you’re shopping with cash, it’s more motivating to keep track of exactly how much you’re spending while you’re in the store. I’ve found I’m much less tempted to throw unnecessary items in my cart when I know I’m paying with cash, and have left my safety net – my debit card – at home.
Do you have a question about using coupons? If so, please feel free to either e-mail me (katie at cincinnaticents dot com) or leave a comment on this post. I’d be happy to feature your question/concern in an upcoming post in the Couponing 101 Series.