I want to spend .50 on $90,000 worth of groceries.
January 31, 2011 8:45 PM   Subscribe

How do people end up saving 75%+ in groceries by using coupons? Specific questions inside.

I grew up clipping coupons with my Mom. And I recently started getting into it more than I ever have.

I see that couponing is quite popular now has made its presence known on television and all over the internet. And I see people saying they get $300 worth of groceries for $4.00.

How does this happen?

Here's some examples I have:

1. Tide detergent on sale for $13.99 If I have a coupon for $4.00 off Tide and a store coupon for $1.00 off. Okay. I get $5.00 off. Which still leaves me with $8.99
2. I have three mfg's coupons for .75/2 Blue Diamond Almonds which are usually about $3.49. I can only use one mfg coupon over .50. So... I still pay $2.74 for each one.
3. I see that another store has cereal on sale for $2.99. I use my $1.00 off mfg coupon. I pay $1.99.
4. CVS has Aveeno shampoo on clearance for $1.50. I use my $1.50 coupon. That means I pay nothing.

So, I guess my question is, I use a lot of coupons and save about 30-50% off depending on what I'm shopping for.
But how do these people get these items for next to nothing (sometimes free) with coupon restrictions?

My local Kroger doubles coupons up to .50 and offers coupons - but they are mfg coupons unless it's their generic brands. The same with the other grocery store nearby. I have yet to find a grocery store that doubles more than .50 and rarely see any special "double coupons" days where they double up to a dollar or unlimited. I also rarely see coupons that are under .50 that don't say "Do not double."
In reality, it's usually cheaper to pick up things without coupons at Walmart.

So, are these people just buying items under $2.00? Like canned goods?

Can you give me some specific examples on what I could do to save like the coupon masters out there?

I've tried reading all these coupon sites that have tips - but I guess I'm missing something.
posted by KogeLiz to Shopping (18 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a guy that went extreme with it and lived on $1 a day for a month. He goes through how he did it day by day.

posted by bitdamaged at 8:49 PM on January 31, 2011

I think most of the "saving" comes from stacking multiple coupons (say, one .50 off mfg coupon, a .75 off store coupon), catalinas which are the coupons that print with your receipt when you use your shopper card at XYZ Grocer, and reward points/coupons from stores like CVS and Walgreens, which print based on purchases (i.e. you buy one tube of Burt's Bees chapstick you get a voucher for $2 off your next purchase at CVS). All of those, combined with scouring the weekly ads, will allow people to get pretty decent deals as long as they're willing to put in the time. And buy in bulk. And not actually pay only $5, you're probably actually paying $15, but you've got a $10 voucher for your next purchase.
posted by banannafish at 9:01 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

As far as I can tell, the way the extreme $4 for $300 worth of groceries works is that what you really get is $300 worth of "something". Which may or may not correspond to anything you actually want to eat.

I saw the $30/month thing, too - it seemed to me like he was subsisting on a lot of single-serv packets of cream cheese spread on pre-packaged carb food. If you're starving, well, it's something.
posted by Sara C. at 9:01 PM on January 31, 2011 [9 favorites]

There are websites that are devoted to this, which I don't know about unfortunately :(

However, the process is not as simple as buy X on this day and get it for a discount. You need to buy numerous items that you will have no interest in in order to reap benefits that ultimately give you cash back (or enough points that turn into some sort of currency at one store). Then using that. Additionally, you have to take 50 items that you are buying and ask the clerk to ring up various amounts of items differently so they seem like different transactions (which is fine) but which also takes time.

Essentially, you need to commit real time in order to do what you are aiming to do. I think I read about some woman who did about 1-2 hours of coupon searching/etc each day and then did all her shopping on one day at various stores which took another 3-4 hours.

I've thought about this, even on the not-so-extreme level, and it requires too much work considering I make enough to just buy the stuff on its own.
posted by darkgroove at 9:19 PM on January 31, 2011

Best answer: Thanks for asking this. I'm trying to figure it out too. I got a lot from this post and the blog (linked above). Also A Full Cup and Grocery Coupon Guide are helpful. I really do not have the hang of it yet, but one thing that I think I need to get the hang of is collecting the Sunday circulars, then holding onto them for about 3 weeks, at which point for some random reason, the stores put a lot of those items on sale, if I understand all of this correctly. You also have to buy things just to make money -- see this comment, for instance.
posted by salvia at 9:40 PM on January 31, 2011

That Mefi thread is as much as I know about this, but one of the tricks that they use now that was not available back in the day is the "catalina" that prints out at the register, and the idea is this:

Certain coupons will print out at the register depending on what you buy. (maybe an orange juice catalina will print out if you buy sugar pops cereal) You can learn in advance, from the web, what purchases will trigger what catalinas. These change often.

So if you want a catalina for orange juice, you go looking for ways to save on buying sugar pops cereal.

Then you buy a bunch of sugar pops at a discount, and get a bunch of catalinas which make your orange juice heavily discounted.

Now you have a lot of sugar pops (which you didn't want) and orange juice (which you did). The guy who was doing the coupon blog that got posted to the front page here would drop off all his unwanted extra stuff at the local food bank.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:25 PM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Trent at the Simple Dollar has explained his successful use of coupons:
How We Organize Our Coupons and Execute Our Coupon Strategy
Coupon Organization: A Survey of How People Do It
The Challenge of Couponing

He doesn't use the coupon blogs, but many of his readers do and explain their techniques in the comments.
posted by barnone at 10:26 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Various strategies:

Wait for it to go on sale:
Often times an item that you have a coupon for will go on sale before the coupon expires. Instead of paying $1.59 before coupon for some pasta, wait for it to hit $.89 first.

Acquire more than one coupon:
Some coupon websites have forums to trade coupons. There's also a few websites where you can order specific ones, though your standard sunday coupons are often different values in different parts of the country. Also, you can buy multiple copies of a sunday paper to get more coupons (and for high-value useful coupons, you can trade them later for that one coupon you DO want).

Multiple transactions:
You can only double one coupon, but you have two of them -- split up the transactions into two. Pay for one with a debit card and the other with cash (I've done this legitimately before because two different people needed two different receipts).

Buy more than one:
If it's a non-perishable, or can be preserved for a while (you'd be surprised at what you can freeze), buy ten of them when they're on sale and you have a coupon. Frozen pizzas for $2? Spend twenty bucks and have 'em in the freezer for those lazy days. You may feel a bit weird buying A WHOLE BUNCH of something at once, but when you don't need to buy it again for six months...

Have the coupons sorted and ready BEFORE you check out.
For the love of god, don't sit there like a tool flipping through an envelope for that one coupon. Be a smart person and sort out what you're going to use AS you pick out the items. You look a lot less idiotic if you make it easier on the cashier.

Have a storage solution.
Make sure you have room for all those cans. If you've got a garage, getting some wire shelving can really help. Sort everything by expiration date and use up the oldest first. Remember also that just because it expired yesterday doesn't mean it's going to give you food poisoning and make you die -- it just means eat it fast. Also remember that a freezer is easier to keep cold if it's full.

This was my strategy for buying food before my Other Half berated me one too many times about it and I told OH to do it instead. When I move back to a city that actually has coupons again, I'll start doing it again now that I'm on my own.
posted by Heretical at 2:18 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's $300 worth of usually unhealthy crap you may never use, and will pile up in your basement until it goes bad and you throw it out. For the amount of time and effort you need into acquiring said piles of crap, you could bag groceries at the store and probably come out better, over the long run.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 4:37 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are you looking to play this as more of a game theory experiment or are you actually trying to eat the food you buy?

If the former, yeah, you have to learn what products spit out what coupons, what day double coupons are done, religiously scour the internet for unrestricted coupons, visit 3-4 different stores (preferably one that deep discounts and one that honors competitors coupons) and go through the register multiple times. Plan on buying a lot of things you do not need, which might be good if you think they would be useful at a food bank.

If the latter, you are doing it mostly right. Maybe add in a day of circular reconnasance at multiple stores, and then conform your menu list to the products you like that are on sale versus planning your meals and trying to find the best prices for the products on your list. You wont see $300 for $5, but you will see a deeper discount than you otherwise would.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:18 AM on February 1, 2011

Yeah in order to get a lot of stuff for zero dollars, you won't be buying the items on your weekly grocery list. The point is to anticipate what you'll use/need and buy it when it hits the sale cycle. You also buy a lot of toothbrushes, deodorant and stuff like that. I've not paid for toothpaste in YEARS.

Like some other posters have said, it's a LOT of work and frankly not worth it to me. I do, however, hang on to those $1/1 Aquafresh coupons and clean up when it goes on sale for $1/each at Kroger.

I don't have any links to contribute, but there are blogs that spell out your strategy. Most of the blogs/websites are mom-orientated but that doesn't really make a difference in the savings content.
posted by ACN09 at 5:28 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have yet to find a grocery store that doubles more than .50 and rarely see any special "double coupons" days where they double up to a dollar or unlimited.

I live one state over from you in NC. We have Harris Teeter stores that double coupons up to $0.99 and during "Super Doubles Week" doubles coupons up to $1.99, and during "Triple Doubles Week" triples coupons up to $0.99. Of course without coupons this chain is the most expensive in the area so you don't want to buy anything without a coupon.

So here is what you need to do to save HUGE:
1.) Find a source for multiple newspaper coupons which means trash picking or getting neighbors and friends to give you theirs. You can also buy coupons on-line.

2.) Look into other sources of coupons such as having them loaded onto your loyalty card, printing internet coupons, picking up coupons at the grocery store in the aisles (called "blinkies") and at checkout for next time (called "Catalinas.")

3) Find a site that matches up coupons to sales. My paper, the News & Observer, does this as well as sites like Southern Savers.

4) When you find an exceptional deal, buy big. Walgreens is running a sale on Lipton Tea-- something we drink a lot-- buy 2 boxes for $5.00, buy $15.00 worth and get $5.00 back. It is worth it to me to make a few trips this week for this deal because the normal price per box is over $4.00. If I make 3 trips, I can get enough to last 6 months or more (18 boxes.)

5) Know your prices. The Lipton Tea Deal is a good deal because I know how much it costs in almost all the stores around me. Another deal (buy one can of Folgers, get one free) is NOT a good deal because I happen to know their starting price for Folgers is nearly double what I can buy it for in the grocery store.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:51 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Geckwoistmeinauto is incorrect; people can eat very healthily while playing "the grocery game." It does depend on a store that doubles -- or even triples! -- and on playing your "catalinas." You also have to pay attention to the sales cycle, which runs 12 weeks, if I recall correctly. Often items go on a "small" sale some time in that cycle and a "BIIIIG" sale sometime in that cycle. You are aiming to buy your items from that category of food during the big sale.

If you are the person who buys stuff you won't eat to get the catalinas, which typically means you get the "bad food" free AND a discount or freebie on what you actually want to eat, most hardcore couponers donate that food to charity, and many donate really significant amounts.

Regarding the sales cycle; I one time had my coupons from the Proctor & Gamble brandsaver circular that came every couple weeks in my Sunday paper and I just happened to hit the grocery store during mega P&G sale week of the 12-week cycle. I stocked up on OVER A YEAR'S worth of toiletries, household cleaners, paper goods, etc. -- buying only my preferred brands, which turn out to be mostly P&G, I had no idea -- and payed ONLY A THIRD of regular price. And my store doesn't double. I also got a whole bunch of catalinas (it was like $2 off your next trip for every 5 P&G products bought or something like that) that reduced my next week's grocery bill considerably. I don't usually "stockpile" but we had decided to stock up a whole bunch before our first baby came so a) we didn't have to shop at all for imperishables the first three months and b) we'd have a big stock of toiletries and stuff that would make the sudden shock of diapers and other baby costs less of an impact on our budget.

When I was just casually couponing with Sunday paper coupons, shopping only at a store that didn't double (it's a pretty regional thing, I used to live near two stores that competed on doubling and tripling coupons; nowhere where I live now does any of that), and using coupons only for things I actually needed, which included very few packaged foods (which is what the majority of coupons are for), and not paying much attention to the sales cycle (because I don't really have space to stockpile or brainspace to track the cycle), I pretty routinely saved 25% to 40% from coupons, the 40% being if I happened to hit the sales cycle right.

(You do get coupons for natural foods, btw, if you keep your eyes open -- I've had them for lettuce (Dole), apples (apple growers of america), eggs and milk (dairy council of America), various meats (their respective advertising groups), etc. You also get coupons for wine. And sometime you get coupons that are like "Buy a steak, get $3 off a red wine from this vineyard" or whatever.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:25 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think as mentioned it all depends on the stores you have at your disposal--I could routinely make couponing worth my while back when I live in upstate NY and had access to multiple major grocery chains that fought with each other tooth and nail by doubling and tripling way beyond the paltry .50 limit Kroger uses. Where I am now, not only is doubling limited, you can't stack/combine any coupons, and it seems to be unspoken store policy to make using coupons a big pain (I almost always end up having to wait for a manager to come key stuff in for the cashier, they examine my coupons like they're circumspect despite being Kroger-generated!!, for reasons I don't comprehend sometimes the cashier behaves as though the machine doesn't automatically check to see I bought the right things and then goes rummaging through all my bagged groceries to make sure I actually the product, they often "forget" and press the total button before scanning them so I have to make a trip after checking out to the customer service desk to get a refund, etc.). Multiple transactions to make the most of coupons? Pffft. Forget it. So while I don't doubt you can play the game adequately even if you don't want to live on boxed cereal (albeit spending lots and LOTS of time and running around doing so because of the indirect way to do it and all that), I think it depends on store policies where you live. Because when they're like they are where I am, you're right, it is much more effective to just use other thrift approaches (shop/plan around weekly sales, stock up on non-perishable items when they go on deep discount, etc.). As someone mentioned upthread, even where couponing isn't as lucrative/easy, it's still easy to feel like you never have to pay for toiletries at least.
posted by ifjuly at 6:39 AM on February 1, 2011

I coupon.

First, you go to a store that doubles coupons THEN you only buy when that item is on sale. You also need a good supply of coupons for those kinds of savings-in other words, you get all your friends who do not coupon to save you theirs.

I also think sometimes these people inflate their figures-using a before-sale price as their benchmark and then going from there.

IF you want to eat normally and healthfully don't expect to get those kinds of savings. But it can still be worthwhile-I get things like hot sauce for practically free and haven't needed to pay a dime for dish soap in awhile.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:07 PM on February 1, 2011

Best answer: I like Krazy Coupon Lady's blOg. She has a beginner's section that I found really helpful.
posted by purenitrous at 9:05 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

We don't have so much of a couponing culture in the UK, but there's a major chemist/toiletries chain that gives 25% off own-brand products and 10% off other products if you fill out an online survey and hand back the receipt. I used one today to buy hairdye, the hairdye was already on offer, so I got a pretty good discount. I don't need to stock up on anything at the moment, but when I do I use one of these vouchers, or will get one by buying something cheap (a chocolate bar etc) and then doing the survey and going back for my cosmetics/razors/shower gel. The drawback is being suckered in to buying too much stuff because it's cheap, which is why I tend to now do this seldom.
posted by mippy at 8:22 AM on February 2, 2011

Couponing101.com and the Krazy Coupon Lady blog were the biggest helps to me as I started couponing.

I know you say you've read all the coupon tips sites, but I strongly suggest that you start reading coupon blogs! Besides the 2 sites above, I follow sites specific to the stores I shop at most frequently (iheartpublix.com, iheartcvs.com, and iheartwags.com). I have a separate folder for coupons in my feed reader and I set aside 15 minutes a day to read through them, add to my weekly shopping list, and print out any coupons that they match up to other coupons I already have.
posted by kro at 11:10 PM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

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