Getting Started

Couponing 101: Creating a Price Book

by Katie on August 30, 2011

When I first started to seriously use coupons, I found that I was looking at every deal as though it was a “great” deal.  Because I had not previously been mindful of the average prices for the items our household used on a routine basis, I wasn’t sure what was considered a good price, a great price, or a stock up price.  I ended up stocking up on items that were a good deal, but would have been a much better deal had I waited a few weeks until the price dropped more significantly.

It took me awhile to become familiar with what I considered to be a good price for items such as cereal, bread, peanut butter, shampoo, pasta, and so on.  While I was in the process of determining what those prices were, I found it useful to jot down the sale prices I would find for a particular item, the size of the item, and the store I found it at.

Over time, I used this listing to create a price book.  It served as a guide to help me judge when an item was at a good price versus when the same item was at a very low price that warranted stocking up.  The more I used this guide, the more familiar I became with the average prices of the items our family used.  It didn’t take long before I no longer needed the guide, and could easily spot out a great price with just a glance.

Had I not made out the price book in the beginning, however, I think it would have been doubly hard to find my footing with using coupons and getting the best proverbial bang for my buck.  So, what’s the easiest way to set up a price book if you are just getting started?


Think simple

It defeats the purpose of saving money if you spend a lot of money to create your price book.  I suggest using a basic notebook – especially since you easily pick one up for just pennies with all of the Back to School sales.  Slip a pen in the side (also ridiculously cheap with all the office supply store sales), and voila!  Your price book is ready to go.


Bring it along when you grocery shop

Simply slip your price book into your purse or coupon bag so it’s handy when you’re out grocery shopping.  As you spot an item on sale, jot down the name of the item, the size of the item along with the sale price, and the store that you found the item at.


Use the organizational system that works best for you

There are a number of ways to organize your price book.  However, the only right way to organize your book is the way that works best for you.  It doesn’t matter if a different system works best for someone else; if the system you use isn’t convenient for you, it won’t be an efficient way to keep track of prices for your family.

Whether you choose to organize the book by store, by brand, or by food category (frozen foods, dairy items, and so on), consistency is the main key.  As long as you log the items consistently, you’ll have an easy time referring back to your price book, and finding the best deals for your family.

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 in an upcoming post in the Couponing 101 Series.

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Couponing 101: Create a Budget

by Katie on July 5, 2011

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.

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Welcome to Fox 19 Viewers

by Katie on February 25, 2011

I want to welcome all of you who have stopped by Cincinnati Cents after seeing the segment on Fox 19 this week. It is my mission to provide my readers with tips for frugal living, lowering your weekly grocery bill, and helping you stretch your dollars and cents.

For those of you who are new to Cincinnati Cents, I’d like to take a moment to highlight the features that I post each week on this site. Every weekend, I post the best deals for a number of stores – Aldi, CVS, Kroger, Meijer, and Walgreens. The deals are listed in bold, with the applicable coupons listed directly beneath the item. The final price – what you would expect to pay after the coupons are applied – is posted in italics.

At the beginning of each week, I post our family’s weekly menu plan. I strive to serve our family well-balanced meals that are both nutritious and frugal in nature. Typically, my menus center around the items that are on sale at our local stores. I try to include recipes whenever possible for the meals that I mention throughout the month.

Towards the end of the each week, I post my personal week in review – highlighting the grocery purchases I’ve made throughout the course of the week. I calculate the original cost, my savings with coupons, and the total I actually paid out of pocket. I like to keep it real with these posts, and show how our family runs on a grocery budget of $50-$60 per week. It also serves to motivate me, as it holds me accountable for what I’ve spent each week.

In addition to these regular posts, I work to hunt down the best bargains, coupons, and freebies that are available each week. It is my hope that by sharing my personal stories, financial goals, and frugal tips, I can help others save money as well.

Feel free to wander around the site and check out the best deals for this week, including a rare B1G1 Free Chipotle coupon, free Finish Dishwashing Detergent at Target, and free Land ‘O Lakes Margarine at Kroger. If you have a question or are wondering how to begin the whole couponing process, feel free to shoot me an e-mail (katie at cincinnati cents dot com).

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Aldi

by Katie on January 1, 2010

Aldi operates their stores in line with their philosophy – “incredible value every day.” They pride themselves on their very streamlined processes, and strive to uphold the highest quality of customer service.

Aldi Store FAQs
  • Aldi features mostly non-name brand grocery items at their stores, and offer very low prices on many of their items.
  • You’ll need to bring a quarter with you to access a grocery cart for your Aldi shopping trip, as all of the carts are linked together. Just insert a quarter in order to “free” a cart for your grocery shopping trip. Once you’re done shopping, link it back to the existing line of carts, and your quarter will be returned to you.
  • Aldi does not offer complimentary bags for your groceries. You can either bring a reusable bag from home, or you can purchase an Aldi bag on your way through the checkout lane. Aldi does offer empty boxes for their customers to use as an alternative to bags (similar to the boxes available at Sam’s or Costco).
  • Aldi ONLY accepts cash or debit cards for payment.
  • Aldi does not accept coupons.
  • If you are not satisfied with the quality of the Aldi store brands you purchase, simply return the unused portion (or even the empty box) along with the receipt, and Aldi will not only reimburse you for the cost of your purchase, but will give you a replacement item as well.

Aldi Online Resources

Current Aldi Deals

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Getting Started: Organizing Coupons

by Katie on August 21, 2008

Now that you have accumulated a nice stash of coupons, you’ll need to determine what system of organization works best for you. There are many different systems available for consumers, but the best system is the one that is most efficient for your lifestyle and personality. Below I’ll outline the most common organizational systems.

If you are just beginning to use coupons, and want a simple system, the envelope system could work well. It is very inexpensive and does not take long to put together. It requires 8-12 blank envelopes and a rubber band. The basic concept entails that the envelopes are labeled according to categories – dairy, frozen goods, personal care items, and so on. Whatever categories you typically hold coupons for would warrant a separate envelope. Certain envelopes can also be designated for specific stores. For instance, all CVS coupons and ECBs could be placed into a CVS specific envelope. Once the coupons are sorted into the appropriate envelopes, slip a rubber band around them, and they are portable enough to stick in your purse or the side pocket of your car to be accessible for the grocery store.

While this is a relatively inexpensive option, there are also certain disadvantages as well. Envelopes are not very sturdy, and tend to tear apart after a short amount of time. It can also be difficult to sort through all of the envelopes while in the middle of a grocery run. Coupons relevant to current sales could easily be missed due to simply overlooking them.

A better take on this idea is the Couponizer, which is a complete coupon sorting and organizing system. This seven piece system, which retails for $19.95, comes with the following components:
  • The Couponizer – an 8″ x 5-1/4″ booklet with 18 grocery coupon pockets, 4 non-grocery coupon pockets, 3 gift card/shopper loyalty sleeves, and shopping pockets
  • Shopping List – a 20 page tear off list pad with cardboard backing
  • The CoupStacker – a pre-sorting mat which is color coded to match the pockets on the Couponizer
  • The CoupTracker – a 15 page spiral bound list pad with cardboard backing
  • “Your Guide to Smart Savings” – an instruction booklet with spending strategies and coupon tips
  • Blunt tip scissors
  • A clear vinyl zippered carrying bag

This system is very compact and an efficient way to not only organize your coupons, but clip and sort them as well. I have a link on the right side of the blog that goes directly to the Couponizer website if you’d like to check out this system.

Another method that tends to be successful entails utilizing either an index card box or a photo storage box. The basic concept is the same for both. Using dividers, coupons can be separated into various categories. The further subdivided these categories are, the more efficient this system will be. For example, if you divide personal care items into a few sections, such as toothpastes/toothbrushes, hair care, make-up, etc. it will be easier to locate the coupons you are looking for once you are in the middle of a grocery store.

The last method takes a bit more time and effort to compile, but it can be efficient, especially if you a very visual person (like me!). The basic premise entails using a binder – either a simple 3-ring binder or a zip-closure binder. Coupons are placed into baseball card sheets. Each baseball card sheet has nine separate pockets on each side, allowing eighteen coupons to fit into one sheet. The coupons can easily be divided by allotting a few sheets per category. In addition, the pockets of the binder can hold weekly ads, corporate coupon policies, scissors, and a calculator.

The advantage to this system is the accessibility of the coupons during a grocery run. If a sale item is found, it is easy to flip the pages of the binder, and find the coupon you are looking for. You are then able to view nine coupons at once, instead of flipping through each coupon one by one. The obvious disadvantage, however, is the size of the binder. While it does fit well into the front section of a shopping cart, it is not always a feasible solution if you have a baby or a toddler riding in that section.

Needless to say, the options for organizing coupons are limitless. There is no right or wrong solution. Whatever system best fits your lifestyle is the system that you are more likely to stick with in the long run. And, after all, that is the purpose of the whole couponing idea!

Do you have a unique couponing system? If so, be sure to share it with us! I’ll be adding more posts to this series in the next few days, discussing the CVS ECB system, Walgreens register rewards, and how to organize a weekly grocery run.

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Getting Started Series: Accumulating Coupons

by Katie on August 18, 2008

When utilizing coupons, it is important to know the “lingo” that manufacturers and stores use. Here is a basic run down of terminology and what it means:

- BOGO – buy one get one free
- 2/$4 – this means that 2 items cost $4
- $1/2 – this means that you will get $1 off of 2 items
- OOP – means out of pocket, or the money you actually spent on a purchase
- exp – stands for expiration, such as when a coupon expires
- MIR – mail-in rebate
- IR – instant rebate
- ECB – extra care bucks (given out at CVS)
- RR – register rewards (given out at Walgreens)
- wyb – when you buy

While there are other shortcuts that are used when discussing coupons, these are most frequently encountered.

The next important step in beginning your couponing adventure, is accumulating a store of coupons, and subsequently organizing them. Purchasing a Sunday paper is an easy way to begin storing coupons. Currently, both UDF and Walgreens are selling the Sunday Enquirer for $0.99. This is a considerable savings over having the paper delivered to your home.

There are some weeks when the coupons are especially good, such as the first weekend of the month when the P & G BrandSaver coupons are distributed. On weekends such as these, I will often buy multiple papers (6-8) in order to capitalize on the high value coupons that are offered. I add the cost of these extra papers into my weekly grocery budget, in order to make sure that I don’t negate the savings that I am trying to procure.

You can also ask friends and relatives who receive the Sunday paper to save the coupons that they do not want/need aside for you. Likewise, if there are coupons that you might not use, you can save them aside for other family members. Then once every few weeks, you can coordinate a coupon swap with each other. A few other methods might be worth trying as well. Local recycle bins often have leftover papers if you feel adventurous enough to pick through them and look for coupons. Another thought is to call your local library and ask what they do with the coupons from their Sunday papers. They might be happy enough to save them aside for you to pick up on Monday morning.

Online coupons can be a very lucrative way to save money as well. The sites that I mentioned in the first day of my “Getting Started” series are all very easy sites to access, and usually have many coupons that match up well with the weekly sales at the local stores. You can access the sites by clicking here to see the first day of this post.

Food, personal care, and cleaning product companies are all very interested in customer feedback. Oftentimes they have feedback forms on their corporate websites. Once you leave your comment, you can also ask that they send you coupons in the mail. Most companies are more than happy to send a few to their patrons who enjoy their products.

Sometimes you are also able to find coupons at your local grocery stores. Many products, especially new products, have tear pads with coupons on them. There are also peelies on products which are coupons that can be used at check-out. It’s important to keep your eyes open for these, as they can assist in your savings efforts.

Do you have any other ideas for accumulating coupons? If so, please share your ideas with us. I’ll share methods for organizing coupons in tomorrow’s post.
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Getting Starting Series – Day One

by Katie on August 16, 2008

I have had many people ask me lately how to get started with couponing. It does seem very overwhelming at first when you begin looking at ECBs, coupons from the Sunday paper, online coupons, catalinas, instant rebates, mail-in rebates……the list could go on and on. However, if you begin with a simple approach, and gradually add in more elements as the weeks and months progress, it is much less likely that you will become burnt out with couponing, and more likely that you will not only stick with it, but truly begin to benefit from the financial blessing that it can bring.

So, I will be running a series throughout the next several days to address how to begin couponing, and how to make it manageable for your lifestyle. During this time, if you have any questions that I’m not addressing, please feel free to e-mail me, and I can address those as well.

The first step to this process is understanding how coupons work, and what the different types are. The most basic coupon is the manufacturer’s coupon that most of us are accustomed to seeing in the Sunday paper inserts. These coupons are accepted at most stores (Aldi, Sam’s, and Costco are exceptions in this area), and some stores double the coupons. In the tri-state area, both Kroger and Meijer double manufacturer’s coupons, although their policies differ. Kroger will double every coupon that you bring in (even identical coupons), up to $1.00 total. So, if you have a $0.35 coupon, it will double for $0.70, clearly boosting your savings. If you have a $0.75 coupon, though, it will only double to $1.00 as this is the cap off limit. Meijer also doubles coupons up to $1.00, however, they will only double 2 identical coupons per transaction. After the first two, the other identical coupons will be redeemed at face value.

Online coupons are another great way to save money. The important thing to remember about these coupons is that some can be fraudulent. There are a few things that are ALWAYS present on a legitimate internet coupon. First of all, the coupon will have an expiration date, it will state whether it is a manufacturer’s coupon or a specific store coupon, and it will have a scanable bar code (for more information, you can check out a recent news story here). The majority of these coupons are able to be printed off twice per computer. The most popular sites for these coupons are Coupons.com (a quick link is in my side bar), CouponBug, SmartSource, Pillsbury, and Betty Crocker.

Some stores are hesitant to take internet coupons because there has been some fraudulent use of them in the past. However, according to corporate policy, Kroger, Meijer, Walmart, Target, Walgreens, and CVS will accept them. In the past, I have printed off the company’s corporate policy and carried it with me. It has served me well in the rare instances that I have been questioned about these coupons.

Catalinas are the extra coupons that often print off when you check out at stores such as Meijer, Kroger, and Walgreens. These coupons vary widely, from $5 or $10 off your next order to a certain dollar amount off your next purchase of a certain item. There are also “peelies” which are coupons that are attached to an item that you purchase at the store. These can be peeled off and used at check-out.

So there’s the basic run-down on types of coupons. My next post will address coupon lingo such as BOGO, wyb, and so on. In addition, I will discuss how to accumulate a stash of coupons and how to keep them organized.

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Frugal Friday

by Katie on August 8, 2008

I am starting a “Frugal Friday” series this week. This series will discuss what we have done recently to save money and how we have managed to trim back our budget. This week’s edition is all about grocery shopping.

Back in May, we had a set budget of $125 per week for our family’s groceries. Invariably, however, we would come up to the check-out counter (usually without any coupons) and pray that the bill would be manageable. More often than not, it would reach $150 or higher. Our grocery bill was steadily climbing to $600 a month! And to top it off, we would shop on Friday, and by Wednesday, we were searching the fridge and pantry for food as the shelves were almost bare.

My husband and I knew that we had to make a change in order to keep our budget manageable. I started buying the Sunday paper and clipping a few coupons. I also began surfing the internet, looking for coupons to print off. As the weeks passed, I began to see the grocery bill creep down a bit, and I felt encouraged by my efforts.

Around this time, I was looking through money saving blogs, and stumbled upon the concept of stockpiling. I had never heard of this line of thinking before. The basic idea of stockpiling is such that grocery stores price their items in a cycle, and during certain weeks of this 10-12 week cycle, these items hit a rock bottom price. It is at these times, when a wise consumer should take their coupons and purchase a multiple number of these items. This will ensure that the customer has enough of this item until it hits rock bottom once again. By utilizing this method, shoppers should never have to pay full price for the great majority of products.

So, armed with my coupons and my new plan to stockpile, I approached June with a whole new attitude. I decided to keep my grocery budget at $600 for the month in order to jump start my stockpiling efforts. By the end of June, not only had I stayed within that budget, but had managed to create quite a store of extra items including chicken legs, pasta, and boxed noodles. I felt that I was on the right track.

The following month, my husband and I decided to cut the grocery budget back to $500 a month. I felt a little concern that I might not be able to cut back so much and still be able to provide adequately for my family’s needs. I prayed over this decision, and asked God’s guidance in my efforts. I slowly began grocery shopping each week, stockpiling on the items that were at their lowest prices, and clipping every coupon that I thought might be useful. As the end of July rolled around, I realized that my efforts had been more than fruitful. I had not gone over my $500 budget which was a HUGE accomplishment in and of itself. However, I had also stocked up on so many pantry, frozen, and personal care items, that I was scrambling to find extra storage space in my house! I felt so truly grateful for God’s provision and His answer to my prayer.

It is now August. We have cut our grocery bill for this month down to $360! Almost half of what it had been three months ago! It is week one, and we are right on track. With only $90, we have purchased more groceries than we used to for $150 a week. We hope to trim our grocery budget back even more in the upcoming months, until we reach a level that is manageable for us. It’s been an eye-opening journey so far!

What have you done recently? Share with us the money saving ideas your family has used, and what has or has not worked for you.

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