As some of you all might remember, around a year ago, I tried my hand at the “Extreme Couponing” game. I went as hard as I could for a couple months there, but found that (due to a lack of stores that double coupons in my area and my general preference for eating fresh, organic, unprocessed foods) I could only ever manage to reduce my grocery bill by about 20 – 25% at the most.
So I took a look at how long it was actually taking me to collect coupons and decided I needed to do some cost – benefit analysis. The result is that I now do “bare minimum effort” couponing these days, and still manage to save about 10% off my weekly grocery bill, and often up to 20% off most online purchases.
If you’re like me, and want to save money but maybe not enough to actually be “extreme” about it, here’s how you can do it too.
1. Stock up on staples during Catalina deals.
A “Catalina” is the machine that prints coupons at the register. What a lot of people don’t know is that most of the major conglomerate consumer packaged good companies (P&G, Nestle, General Mills, Unilverer, etc.) offer targeted deals via these magical machines several times a year.
These deals are generally structured as “Spend X amount on our brands, and get a coupon for Y off your total grocery bill on your next visit.”
So, for example, a recent one I did was spend $30 on P&G products and get a $10 coupon. So, I bought a mega-pack of Charmin toilet paper, a large bottle of Downy fabric softener, a few boxes of Puffs tissues, and a Covergirl foundation. I would have bought all these items – toilet paper, laundry products, cosmetics – at some point anyways. But by stocking up during the Catalina deal, I get it at effectively 33% off, not to mention that the stores will routinely do additional sales on top of the Catalina.
In short, stocking up on your staples during a Catalina deal generally means you’ll get your staples at about 40-50% of their usual costs. So how do you find out about these fantastic deals? They’re usually advertised in the weekly circular for the store, and often the store will have in-store signage in the relevant areas as well. In other words, you just need to be a little bit observant, and you should be able to cash in on the savings.
Total effort: 2-3 minutes per week, $100-$150 a year
2. Download these apps, then use them.
There’s a plethora of apps these days that will pay you money to upload a picture of your receipt from your grocery trip. Ibotta, SavingStar, Snap by Groupon, Checkout 51, Shopmium, BerryCart…just to name a few. (Links are to my personal referral code, btw.)
These aren’t “get rich quick” apps…if you’re like me, it’ll take you a year or so to build up about $60 across the apps. But they’re dead simple. You just scroll through AFTER you’ve done your shopping, see if any of their offers matches what you bought, and voila, you’ve earned anywhere from $0.10 to $2.00.
I like these after-the-fact apps, because they don’t encourage me to buy more than I usually would, which is a phenomenon I noticed when I used paper coupons. And unlike most paper coupons, which usually subsidize bad-for-you processed foods, the apps usually have fresh and generic offers to get you to use the app at all, so you can make money on produce, pantry staples, etc.
Total effort: 5 minutes per shopping trip, total savings around $60 – $100 a year.
3. Never buy non-grocery items at full price.
If you’re buying something online, you have the option to double-awesome your purchase. First of all, go to whatever website you need to buy something for through a travel shopping portal, like Rapid Rewards Shopping or MileagePlus Shopping. These portals will give you extra miles/points for whatever you buy often at a tune of 3-5 points per dollar, which, when combined with a points credit card, can help you rack up travel points FAST.
Then, check RetailMeNot and Google for promotional codes. No matter what the website, you’re likely to at least find a code that gives you free shipping, but sometimes you can get 30-40% off as well. Always, I repeat, ALWAYS look for a coupon when online shopping.
But not all of our lives can be lived online. Sometimes you need something right away. But IRL stores are not immune from our coupon craze. I use the Coupon Sherpa app to find in-store coupons that I can serve up on my phone. Just a few days ago I took my mother to Old Navy and got 20% off her purchase, then picked up some craft supplies at Michaels where I got 40% off a single item.
Total Effort: 1-2 minutes each time you shop. Total savings: $300-??? a year depending on how much you shop.
All in all, I now spend maybe 10 minutes a week total “couponing” and still get about 50% of the benefits that I got when I was spending several hours a week couponing. That’s a win for me.
What “lazy” couponing tips do you have? Share in the comments.