Stockpiling When You’re Flat. Dead. Broke

I’ve done a couple of posts on couponing herehere, here, and here.
If you read them, and you’re like me
{and if you’re like me, you read them because you’re procrastinating}
you smiled and nodded and disregarded “because.” 

You don’t want to coupon because
it’s a lot of effort
you don’t know where to start
you have no money and all you buy is generics
you have no money and can’t afford the paper
or
you have no money.

You’ve heard about how people have saved so much on their grocery budget while couponing–hundreds of dollars a week!
But you know that your grocery budget isn’t even one hundred dollars a week, and while they’re “saving” money on Ritz crackers and Lysol wipes, you’re wondering if you should really buy those apples at Walmart because a dollar a pound really adds up. A nice salad with all the trimmings is a luxury you just aren’t willing to shell out the cash for.
Maybe you started couponing but realized you were spending money on things because they were cheap, even though they didn’t really fit into the budget.

Does this sound familiar?

Well slackers, this is my life. This is how I coupon. I don’t usually go into a store, drop a fat wad of coupons into the cashiers hand and watch my total drop down to practically nothing. If couponing were that good in real life, then coupons would be better than cash. Maybe there are some who can get away with that, but let’s save the reality show madness for them and be realistic here, okay? 
These are lessons I’ve learned through trial and error of stockpiling while broke.

1. Coupons will only save you so much.
Yes, there are coupons and deals for free items. Nine out of ten times they will be for cleaning products, and when they aren’t, they’ll often be sold out by the time you get your kids loaded up into the van. There are Coupon Divas who live and breathe couponing and spend hours calculating out the sales and free deals and percentages. But most coupons are for a price off of an item. As much as possible, use the coupons when the items are also on a store sale, or with a store coupon. While using a coupon for a retail priced item will help the budget, waiting until it’s a loss leader at the store with a coupon can be invaluable. 
Example: You have a coupon for a brand name of frozen vegetables. Say the retail price is $1.99 a bag, and you have a $.50 off 1 coupon. You get the veggies for $1.49 a bag–which is probably what the generic frozen veggies are. But if you wait until those veggies are on a big sale, only $.89 a bag–then your coupon for $.50 off really packs a punch. You just scored the veggies for $.39!
In the first scenario you saved about 25%. (Mathites, correct me if I’m wrong.)
 In the second scenario you would have saved 80%!

2. Coupons will save you money but…
Coupons will, without a doubt, cut a percentage off your grocery bill BUT. But, but, but. If you weren’t planning on buying Ritz Crackers and Lysol wipes this month, even if they are cheaper than the generics–you won’t save any money if you buy it anyway. None. It’s the whole spend-more-to-save-more philosophy: Ritz crackers at a dollar a box? Great! But if you’ve got $50 for groceries for the week a dollar a box is a lot of money. Go buy a pound of apples.

This also applies to deals, sales, and warehouse items. The other day I got sucked into the Costco mentality. I bought both a bag of puppy food for $14 a bag, and a huge bag of dog food for $30. We buy our dog food from Costco, and I thought I was saving myself a trip buy stocking up. The downside? There wasn’t an extra $30 in the monthly budget for stocking up on dog food. I ended up returning the extra dog food and instead stocked up on cereal at Smith’s for about a dollar a box. We eat lots of cereal and will definitely use it this month: a good buy.

 This is one area I personally need work on. I recently had a great coupon: buy a box of Ritz crackers and any Coke product and you get $1.50 off. The Coke 2 liters were already on sale for $.89 each, so it was like getting a free Coke and $.61 off the Ritz crackers, which were also on sale for $2.39 or something. Lots of numbers there, but basically I got Ritz crackers and a 2 liter coke for approximately $1.78. Which, frankly, is an awesome deal. But to be perfectly honest: I didn’t need the crackers or the soda. Whatever the deal is, you need to be honest with yourself about how necessary the item is and if it’s a “deal” if you can’t really afford it. It’s easy to get swept up into thinking how much you are “saving,” which exactly what the manufacturers want you to do. They are tricking you into thinking it’s “worth it” to stock up at this price, even though you weren’t planning on buying it now.

3. Stock up when it’s smart.
This is a hard one. Sometimes there is just no wiggle room in the budget. You can get creative but I’m not going to tell you to “cut back” somewhere else like all the magazines do. Every article I read assumes I get $30 pedicures and $5 gourmet coffees and go to the movies once a week and eat out at least once a week.
Um, no. I don’t.
So “cutting back” sometimes just isn’t feasible when you’re living bare bones. What I will tell you is to examine your grocery budget. If you eat meat for every meal, is there a meal or two you could do without? Even a few dollars at a time can really start adding up the savings. 
Here’s an example:
in the summer, you can buy ketchup for only a $1 a bottle–particularly the generic brands. Our family eats ketchup year round. My kids would happily live on a diet of corn dogs, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets if I let them. So every time I can, I try to pick up a couple of bottles of ketchup. It’s only a few extra dollars out of pocket right now, total. 
Now in October, rather than running to the store when ketchup is totally not on sale, I can run downstairs from my pantry and grab a bottle. Ketchup in the winter can cost $3 or more a bottle for the smaller bottles! 
Think about things your family eats on a very regular basis: this is your starting point for a stockpile. If you eat cereal every morning? Look for coupons and hunt the ads for cereal campaigns like a hawk. If the only thing your picky four year old will eat is spaghetti? Watch for spaghetti sauce sales. 

The things your family eats every single week are the things you are buying anyway. It makes no sense to buy them at full retail even when living paycheck to paycheck–especially then. Like I said, make small adjustments to your grocery budget (hey! ramen can be dinner!) and use the money towards a little stock pile. 

4. Buy it now?
I try to clean out my coupon binder of expired coupons every couple of weeks, and definitely before a big shopping trip. I have a hard time letting go of the ones that are expiring in the next few days. What do I do? Use them now, rather than waiting for a sale? It’s better than wasting them right? Or do I just toss them knowing another coupon will come around eventually? 

This is where you really need to think about the item you’re buying. Is buying the brand name version now (with a coupon) going to save you that much money over buying the generic later, without that coupon? Are you buying it just because you have a coupon? Is it an item you need in your precious stockpile, or is a favorite treat of yours you like to hide under the bed and eat when the kids aren’t around? In short, would you buy it soon anyway? 

I can’t see any other reason manufacturer’s put an expiration date on their coupons other than to sucker us into the BUY IT NOW mentality. As American’s we hate losing out on a deal, and it’s true whether it’s a car or cheap sandwich meat: if it’s a limited time offer we don’t want to miss it! If at all possible, don’t be the person who feeds into that. Buy it only if it benefits you before another coupon rolls around. 
Example: a great coupon on Ziploc baggies. It expires tomorrow, and there are no current sales. You’re going shopping. Do you buy it? Well, how many Ziploc baggies do you have the in house? How often do you have to buy Ziploc baggies? Can you wait until there is a sale that’s possibly cheaper than buying it with a coupon at retail? Do you even use Ziploc baggies? {Be honest here!}

5. Is getting a newspaper worth it?
Many Coupon Divas shout the praises of newspapers. They say they are an absolute must. They say get multiples of the paper so you get multiples of coupons! 
I’m not going to ask you to jump up and subscribe to four copies of the Sunday newspaper. If you do, watch for special promotions. Only get the Sunday paper, if that’s the cheapest option. And only get as many papers as you can actually afford–keeping in mind that four papers not only costs more, but can you afford to use four of each coupon?
Here’s what I recommend: beg, borrow, or buy a Sunday newspaper. Look over the coupons and decide how many of them you’d realistically use. I clip far more coupons than I’d ever use, but generally speaking the price of the paper is less than what I save each month. There is almost always a coupon for cereal in the paper, as well as yogurt. We eat a lot of that stuff, so even when a week or two goes by that I don’t use much of the other coupons, those coupons pay for my subscription.
When there’s some great coupons that you really want more of, call around to friends and neighbors who get the newspaper. Chances are, they are willing to share a coupon with you. Anyone who knows me knows I’m always looking for soy milk coupons–and when they have them, they’ll send them my way. If there’s a lot of coupons you could benefit from, go buy an extra paper! Just keep in mind that at $2.50 a pop from the gas station, the savings need to outweigh the cost of the paper!
If you really don’t feel like you can start a subscription, see if there’s a neighbor willing to share a subscription with you. You can go through it together, or take turns on who gets to clip the coupons first that week. It’s a thought, right?

There are no right or wrong answers, and I’m learning right along with you. I’m sorry I went off on this.. I just feel like it’s a topic that’s not often covered on the couponing blogs. It can be so hard to start couponing when you don’t have a lot of money. Even if I had an “extreme” amount of coupons, I couldn’t afford to use them all. Be realistic, and watch as your savings start adding up. There will be benefits, and you may not notice it till you run out of ketchup and thank your lucky stars you have six more bottles in your pantry.
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2 Responses to Stockpiling When You’re Flat. Dead. Broke

  1. Sinful Sundays says:

    Thanks for all of these tips. I have been trying to coupon but I always get SO overwhelmed and many of the items that are coupons, I usually never buy anyways. I'm going to start getting the paper though!

  2. newbiemama says:

    I'm so glad you enjoyed the post! Couponing can definitely be overwhelming! Once you get past the learning stage it comes pretty easily. Feel free to email or comment with any questions!

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