Part III: How to match up Circular deals & Coupons yourself
This part is pretty basic, but it will show you how to shop in season (by putting a price limit on how much you will pay for something) and how to compare best buys across different store circulars and look for coupons in your binder to match to those sales.
In my area, I have three grocery stores that I frequent: Lucky, Savemart, and Safeway. Each week the stores send me their circulars. These circulars contain the weekly specials. If you don't get them in the mail, not to worry they are online. Just Google the name of your store and you will be taken to the 'mother' site. For example the mother site for Safeway
is This site has an area on it devoted to Weekly Specials (usually up at the top, next to the Store locater button). Click on it and it will ask for your zip code to give you the specials for your area. This is really nice, especially if your husband brought in the mail and threw away all of the 'junk', or your mailman forgot to put them in your box.
It's really important to note the start date and end date
of the circular. Here mine start on Wednesday and run through Tuesday. Why is this important? Two reasons:availability and markdowns!
Availability is important because by the end of the week most of the specials will be sold out. Sometimes grocery stores will be kind enough to write you a rain check, but most of the time nowadays (at least where I live) I'm plain out of luck. They won't run out of produce, but the rest of the goods (rice, cereals, paper towels, etc) will get pretty meager as their week ends.
Knowing the weekly schedule of your stores helps you figure out when inventory comes into the store. All of the stores want to have a good supply of sale items on hand to keep customers coming in. They won't have much, but enough of certain items. In order to resupply important items, most stores will receive their inventory shipment the day or two before the start of a new week. Now, this is a good guesstimate but if you want to be really sure, ask the clerks when they get new shipments. You also want to ask the meat counter when they start marking down meats to make room for a new shipment. They will tell you the time the restocking takes place too. This is really helpful, especially if you have a lot of coupons for a specific product and want to make sure to get all you need.
What does knowing when the store marks down its inventory have to do with couponing? Well, remember way back in the beginning of Part I where I talked about there being little to no coupons for meats/dairy/produce? Markdowns are the store version of couponing. By grabbing up meat that's marked down, you will save a lot of money. Now, many of you may be wondering “but that meat is going bad soon! What use will it be to me?” Simple. Just freeze it. Or cook it & freeze it. Meat close to its expiration date can be safely frozen for as long as normal-far-from-expiry meat. It's a nice way to stretch the budget.
One little missing piece is the Monthly circular
. It contains the specials that the store will have all month long. This circular is not advertised well. In fact, to get it you have to be in the store and looking in the right place! The Monthly Specials circular will be located near the entrance, near the little basket that holds all of the Weekly Special Circulars. I always wondered why they had the same circulars right by the door that they sent out in the mail; now I know. I think it might be a distraction technique to keep you from seeing the Monthly Specials Circular! This little book is chock full of hidden savings. The best part is that not many people know about these specials, so they are less likely to be sold out. Also, you have a whole month to get these specials, which is really helpful if you can purchase more coupons for a specific product you really like. No time crunches here!
The key to using local circulars is using price points
. Price points figure very large in finding out if something is a good deal or not. Each area of the country is different, but there is a distinct price pattern for food in each of those places. Price point is the price at which something is a 'normal' price, a good price or a stellar price. What might be a stellar price for me might be an ok price for someone else. For myself, my price point is 99 cents and below for chicken, a $1.30 or less for pork and beef. Good prices for fish and seafood would be $2 a pound. I am not willing to buy anything above those prices because I know that these are the regular good sale prices. The prices are also seasonal. I find the best prices on meat to be in the fall. Produce that is 'cheap' is usually in season, since the increase in supply drives down the price. In California, citrus prices are near bottom right now. I can get Navel Oranges for 35 cents per pound right now. Things like a container of blueberries and an eggplant are more like $2 or $3 each. Near the end of summer the prices for both are much lower. Watching price points helps keep you eating seasonally. Locally is another story though. Bananas right now are super cheap, but it's because they are in full swing in the southern hemisphere, not because they are growing anywhere here in the States.
Now a lot of you live in different areas with different lowest sale prices. You might not know what they are right now and that is all right. After a few weeks of looking through circulars you will have a much better feel for what is a good deal and what is just a 'normal' sale price. Some people write up price books where they write down the best price they can find for a particular good each week. Over time a pattern will emerge. I just keep a mental track of prices, so when I see, for example, chicken priced at 89 cents a pound, I know to stock up! For now, you can 'make up' your own personal price points. How much are you willing to spend per pound on chicken, beans, rice, and other goods. How much are you willing to spend per gallon of milk. These are somewhat arbitrary figures, but unless you have just moved somewhere chances are you already have some idea of the 'normal' price for meat, milk, and other groceries. Use those prices (or even lower ones!) and go from there.
So, now that you have your Store circulars, make a nice cup of coffee & spread them out in front of you. I get three, so this iswhat they look like
The Monthly Specials Circular looks like this
.For the MONTHLY SPECIAL INSERTS:
Go through and pick out the deals that look good to you. Look online for coupons for those products. Sometimes Ebay has coupons you can buy to use on the specials. The way to go about these specials is to look for any and all coupons for these products and, once you've collected as many as you want, go out & get them. You have an entire month to get them. You can choose to get a few each week or do a special, larger purchase at the end of the month. Remember these sales are not well advertised, the sale is long term which means that there is a lot of restocking, so they are unlikely to be sold out. This is also a good peak into seasonal specials. Ketchup and mustard invariable ends up in the summer monthly circulars, whereas baking supplies end up in the winter monthly circulars. This is a great way to get a handle on the sales cycles throughout the year.For the WEEKLY SPECIALS INSERTS:
Get out a sheet of paper and divided it into the number of store circulars you are looking at. I have three columns on mine.
Pick one circular. I picked to go through the Safeway circular first. Most circular layouts are similar. The front page and the back page are like the the outside aisles of the supermarket. Most of your good deals on produce, meats and dairy will be here. Concentrate on these. In the column titled Safeway, I wrote down the best deals for meat & produce I could find on the outside pages. Then I went through the middle pages. After writing down the specials I want, I look through my coupon binder and pull out any coupons that fit.
I write down each 'special' that falls into my price points, the size/weight, the price and, if there are any coupons for that particular item, I write down what type of coupon I have. In my case, I use abbreviations: SC means Store Coupon, C means Coupon (manufacturer's coupon). Here's a visual of the chart.
A few examples:
Safeway Chicken Quarters 99c/lb
Navel Oranges (10lbs) 3.49
Dawn Dish Soap (90 oz) 6.99
Jello Pudding (6 pack) 2 for $5 SC-Y C-Y (Y just means yes, I use checks as well)
I do this with each circular. If both stores are having a sale on oranges for 99cents a pound, I write it in both columns. I also write down any limits that a store might place on an item right next to the item.
This seems like a lot of work, but it takes me, at most 30 minutes once a week. Usually closer to 15 minutes, but my little one likes to figure out ways to distract me. I've mentioned that I'm really particular about organizing my coupons and my list sounds like, well, an extension of that peculiarity. It's not, I promise. The reason for listing each item along with its size and price is so that you can do cross comparisons between the stores. This way you can get the best prices with the least amount of work. It's also very useful in finding out which store has the most deals and therefore is the one that you need get to first. For example, both Savemart and Safeway have a special on Pepsi. Savemart has a limit of 4 on that special, whereas Safeway has no limit. It makes sense for me to stock up on soda at Safeway to tide me over until the next sale. My husband loves soda, and I find that buying little treats for him makes him feel special and much more inclined to sticking to the budget in other areas. And I can swing a dollar for soda, especially if I can also use a coupon on it! Some coupons have size limits, so even though it looks like the larger size container of Dawn Dish Soap looks like a better deal at first, the coupons I have are for the smaller sizes. The coupons make the smaller size a much better deal. So while it may have been smart to get the bigger size, it was even smarter to get the smaller size with a coupon!
And that is all there is to matching up coupons to your local sales. Currently I focus on the three supermarkets but I hope to expand into looking at the Rite Aid, Walgreens and other store circulars. Right now my little one is very demanding, so I don't have the time or patience to sift through more than a few inserts. As he grows a little more independent I am sure I will start looking at the other circulars and getting more deals. That is what is so wonderful about couponing; it is a sliding scale
that can fit from being the most complex and time consuming to being very simple and taking little time. And both extremes will save you tons of money!