Saturday, March 05, 2005

Coupon Shopping

My wife and I have a weekly food budget of about $50. My wife takes control of the shopping. In an effort to feed the four of us, she's taken to coupon shopping, and she's getting really good at it.

See, the principle behind coupon shopping is something like this:

Manufacturers are keen on getting their products off the shelves. Obviously, they're motivated by profit, so they want you to buy them. However, sometimes they have other reasons to want to move the product.

Maybe they're going to introduce a new product and they want to free up shelf space. Maybe they want to get you to try the new product. Maybe they want to get something discontinued out of their sight. Maybe they have improved the quality of a product, and they want to get people to try it in the hopes they'll change brands.

So the company and the store will employ a variety of measures to make this happen. These include events, sales, and coupons.

The good news, for us, is that because the reasons a company puts an item on sale are often the same reasons they'll make coupons for them, you can usually get your coupon and a sale price for a product to meet up pretty easily. This means you can get the item very, very cheaply.

Prices are always different. Walk into three different grocery stores, find the same product, and odds are you'll find three different prices. One store will have the product on sale, and the other stores will have different shelf prices than each other. You can even go into the same store three different weeks and find three different prices.

And coupons, of course, expire.

So, the trick becomes being willing to go to three or four different stores, on an all-out quest for the absolute lowest prices on every item and comparing that with the coupons you have.

All of this takes time. The whole process takes time. You have to clip the coupons, scrutinize the sale papers, and visit all the different stores (one friend of ours actually goes to three different stores to check prices on Monday morning, then goes back to the same three stores to make her actual purchases on Tuesday morning).

I know it all sounds like a time-consuming, terrible hassle. It is. But the old adage is 100% true: Time is money. If you're willing to take the time, you can save the money. The less time you're willing to give to a purchase, the more money you're going to pay. No one pays more for anything than the person who decides they must have something and that they must have it now.

We're actually eating pretty well this way. In fact, I think we'd be eating great easily, if it wasn't for the little rub that I'm trying to lose weight at the same time I'm trying to get out of debt. Trying to eat healthy while we eat cheap makes it harder than it would otherwise be.

But she's doing a great job of it. Right now, we've got a freezer full of Lean Cuisine meals I use for my lunches at work that she got by combining a sale and coupons.

I wasn't able to get those even before I was on the budget.

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