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Friday, October 22, 2010

beginner's guide to coupons (week 4)

part 4: building a stockpile

***Updated 9-7-11***

By now you should be starting to feel pretty confident about your coupon skills.  You've created a system for organizing your coupons, you've mastered the process of making your shopping list, and you are even getting good at filling your cart with sale items, and then making sure they ring up correctly.  You're starting to save a lot of money on your grocery bill, and you like it.  You may even be surprised at how fun and addicting using coupons can be.

(If you are new to my blog or new to couponing, I strongly recommend that you start with part one of my beginner's guide to coupons before reading any further.  It will all make a lot more sense that way!)

Up to this point, we have mainly focused on the “how” of using coupons–how to get organized, how to make your list, how to shop, how to check-out. It has all been very practical, step-by-step advice on the physical process of saving money with coupons.

In order to take your coupon savings to the next level, you have to also understand the “why.” Delving into the “why” too soon can just be confusing, too much information all at once. But now that you’ve got the basics down pat, I think you’re ready to dig in a little further.

Saving signficant money with coupons happens only when you change your whole way of thinking. Most people, (including me, pre-coupons), simply make a list of what they need before going to the store, and then buy what’s on the list, regardless of whether it is on sale.

Savvier shoppers may try to pick the cheapest brand, or even make an impulse buy on a sale item, but the general process is the same, while the more relaxed shoppers among us just go to the store and buy what looks good.  You know who you are.

Extreme coupon shopping is completely different. The goal is to buy as few “needed” items as possible, while mostly just stocking up on the items that are on sale. The key is to stock up when items are at their lowest price. Done cumulatively and consistently, week after week, you will soon have a well-stocked and pleasantly varied pantry of food to choose from.

As your stockpile grows, you will find that your list of “needed” items goes down each week, resulting in lower and lower grocery bills each week. (But don’t get your hopes up, it probably won’t ever make it all the way to $0)

If you’ve watched TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” you may think the only way to have a stockpile is to dedicate a whole room of your house to creating your own mini-Walmart.

That is just not true.  You do need to have a good variety of items to choose from in your stockpile, but it isn’t necessary to buy everything on the shelves every time it goes on sale.

There is a big difference between smart shopping and hoarding!

After 2 weeks of coupon shopping, you may have managed to get your stockpile off to a good start. This week you are going to keep working on building that stockpile, following the shopping guidelines from last week, as well as work on creating a functional stockpile somewhere in your home.

week 4 assignment:

1. Make your list, gather your coupons, and go shopping according to the guidelines from Part 3.
  • Since right now you are working on your stockpile, feel free to stock up on any item that you use regularly, shooting for a goal of at least 50% off.
  • Eventually you will be able to get more selective with your shopping and focus only on the very best deals, but at the beginning 50% is a great goal to shoot for.
  • Don’t feel like you’ve failed if you are “only” saving 30 or 40%.  ANY savings is better than none, and sale prices can vary a LOT by stores and regions.
  • If you feel very motivated, you can repeat this process for multiple stores. The more stores you shop at, the faster you will build up your stockpile since different stores have different sale cycles.
2. Create your stockpile pantry.
  • Spend an afternoon reorganizing your pantry in a way that makes sense to you.
  • Be sure to put the newest items in the back so that you use up the older products first. It is much easier to stay organized if you start organized, so before your pile of food becomes completely overwhelming in the next month or two, I highly recommend giving some thought to your system.
  • Make your food items easy to spot and grab so that when you are planning your meals, you have no trouble finding an item.
  • If you don’t have a pantry, try to make space somewhere else. Is there some space elsewhere in the house you can clear out, perhaps in the garage or a closet in an unused bedroom? Don’t be afraid to get creative! Trust me, you’ll need the space.
For more tips on creating your stockpile, you can watch this little video of my stockpile:

And that’s it for this week: just shop create your stockpile. It might seem like a small assignment, but be prepared to spend several hours preparing your list, gathering your coupons, and doing your shopping (especially if you decide to go to more than one store), and depending on how organized you already are, getting your stockpile in order may be a challenge.

Stay tuned for next week's assignment and, as always, please post any questions or comments you may have below.  I do read all my comments, and I make an effort to respond and answer questions as best I can.

Click here to go to Part 5: Walgreens


  1. Hey Ruth...just wondering if the store sale price (i.e. price with store club card) is factored into the savings? If an item is regularly $8.99, but is on sale for $5.99 with your club card, and I have a coupon for $3 off, have I saved $3 or $6?

  2. I'm not sure I totally understand the question, but as far as I'm concerned (and the way that I calculate my percentages on my shopping totals), if the regular price is $8.99 and you end up paying $2.99 after sale price and coupons, you've saved $6, or 67%. Does that help?

  3. I haven't seen anyone address how much of a stockpile is smart vs. one that borders hoarding. 60 days, 90 days, 120 days?

    I live alone and just recently started couponing. While I have been enjoying having some extras in the pantry, I'm feeling really uncomfortable with having too much.

    Some of the photographs of stockpiles are simply ridiculous especially when most items go on sale every six to eight weeks.

  4. Amanda, I think it really depends on your own preferences and lifestyle, as well as how many people you are trying to feed. I know a lot of coupon shoppers love to donate extra items to local food banks and other charities. Others like to keep a large stockpile on hand in event of a natural disaster or catastrophe. Here in Florida, having now lived through one hurricane, my husband and I like to keep a well-supplied "end-of-the-world" closet, but we are also planning to fill several boxes for Operation Christmas Child using mostly things I've gathered through coupon shopping.

    When you are just getting started, it can be a little bit of trial and error, but if you feel like you are accumulating too much, you can always cut back on the number of items you purchase or make a donation to a local food pantry. This time of year there are plenty of opportunities for donating food!

  5. GREAT RITE AID TRIP!!! Thanks to all your tips and great suggestions! I just wanted to share what I got...
    1 nivea lotion
    1 Pure and Natural Diapers
    2 bags of Pistacchios
    1 Aveeno shampoo
    2 Similac Formula (ready to serve)

    I paid only paid $3.02 out of pocket and recieved $8 in UP rewards!!!
    I had a $5/$25 coupon plus two $1 off non-prescription purchases. In addition I used two $5.00 Similac Checks and various other coupons !!! THANKS. Keep up the good work!

  6. Thanks, Ruth...you did answer my (very poorly worded) question. :)

  7. Belated thanks for your reply!

    Unfortunately, I'm not working right now so I'm not in a position to donate any extras and since I have a 60-day supply of most items, I've been able to greatly reduce my grocery budget for November.

    That doesn't mean that I'm going to stop stockpiling food at super-low prices when I can but I'll be spending a lot less this month.


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