Guest Post by By Angela Russell from The Coupon Project:
Six easy ways to save time while you're out to save money
Are you spending more time each week finding the deals and less time enjoying your finds?
It's certainly easy to while away an entire weekend hunting down deals, pouring over circulars, and carefully clipping coupons. But if you're like most people and have other things to do, you might consider these easy time-saving tips that have helped me:
1. Don't go shopping the first day of the sale. When I started couponing, I had this sense of urgency to go out the first day of the sale to snatch up the deals right away. But inevitably, I'd get home and go online only to read about some amazing shopping scenario that I missed on a blog or deal forum. Then I'd have to decide whether to make a separate trek out to the store or kick myself for not waiting. Now I let the sales simmer for a few days and learn from the successes of other shoppers. (Of course, this does not apply to those amazing blow-out deals such as a clearance special or that amazing diaper sale at Walgreens a couple weeks back!)
2. Find a system that works for you and stick with it. I had read that a great way to organize your coupons was to sort them by categories. So that's what I did. But as my coupon stash grew, I quickly got frustrated. For instance, I might forget if I decided whether I'd filed canned pumpkin coupons in "baking" or "canned items" and waste my time flipping through stacks of coupons and maybe come up with nothing. (Only to find later I'd filed the coupon in "miscellaneous.") Finally I decided to organize my coupons in a system that was intuitive for me - alphabetical order. Now I can quickly file and retrieve them. In fact, last week it only took me 34 minutes to clip and file two newspapers' worth of coupons! Not only do I save time, I save money because I don't lose my coupons! Some of my friends don't clip their coupons at all and just file them by insert. That's great too. Read about what other people do, but decide ultimately on a system that works for you. And don't be afraid to tweak it if it's no longer working.
3. Find the deals, then plan your meals. It's easy to just hit the store when you find those great deals and end up with 20 cans of tomatoes, 6 packs of toilet paper, and not a clue what's for dinner that week. Save yourself some serious time by planning out your menu when you sit down to write out your grocery list. I generally like to base my meals around what's on sale that week. Around Superbowl, I found lots of great deals on salsa, sour cream, chips, and ground beef. Can you guess some of the dinners I made that week? A couple years ago, I took the time to make a list of about 30-40 dinners my family likes to eat and that are simple to prepare. I recommend you do the same. This will help speed up the process of meal planning and list making.
4. Organize your coupons and list by store layout. I frequently shop with my toddler and baby in tow, so I don't want to waste time at the store. "Get in, get out" is more my style. I visualize the aisles as I'm putting together my list so there's no back-tracking. I now say I do most of my shopping at home. What I mean by this is that I've spent most of my time planning my trip so I'll spend only a very short time in the store. On average, I spend no more than 15-20 minutes in a store tops.
5. Double-check your list, coupons, and deals before checkout. This one can save you a lot of grief! Before you get in the checkout line, take a minute to get your coupons in order, make sure you've gotten everything off your list, and make sure you've gotten the correct items and quantities of each item. This simple step would've saved me about a month ago. My local grocery store was running a "buy 10, save $5" type promo. Guess what? I ended up buying 9, so the $5 didn't come off. I didn't realize it until I was on my way home. Now I always make sure I do a double-check. It's easier to make a correction right then and there as opposed to having to hunt down a manager or deal with customer service later.
6. Limit your trips. Admittedly, I'm still working on improving my "shopping efficiency," but one of the biggest ways to save time is to simply consolidate your shopping trips. This might mean designating one day to do all your shopping. It could also mean taking a minute ahead of time to determine the best driving route if you are going to be hitting up more than one store in a trip. Work to consolidate your trips as best as possible, wherever possible. You might also work to designate one week per month as a "no shop" week. This will test the strength of your stockpile and your creativity in using what you've got.
Finally, remember there is always a deal to be had. Focus on a couple each week that are beneficial to your family, and don't worry about all the ones you might be missing. Remember your goal is to save money, but it's equally important to save time for the things that matter most to you. Happy saving!
Angela is the author of The Coupon Project, a blog chronicling her real life couponing adventures. Her goal is to encourage and educate other newbie couponers how to enjoy amazing money-saving success through easy-to-follow posts.