I can remember sitting at my parents' kitchen table cutting out coupons for my Dad who was the primary grocery shopper in our house. I don't know that it did us much good then. Dad was a sale shopper, and if it was on sale, or he had a coupon, it was in the cart whether we would use it or not.
A few years later I found myself working at the corner grocery store, a small, family-owned local shop. When I worked my way up to helping out in the office, part of my job was to take all of the coupon fliers out of the leftover Sunday papers and cut and sort them. No doubt the owners of the store sent them to manufacturers as if they had been used. I'm pretty sure that was fraud, but the lottery caught up with them for fraud before any food manufacturer did. But I digress...
I started cutting coupons for myself about two months ago. So far they're only organized in a manila envelope. I depend on a few blogs to help me with deal matching since the big sites like Coupon Mom and Grocery Game don't match my local stores. But mostly I end up doing most of the matching myself. For the first few weeks, it was an absolute exercise in frustration. Going through my coupon pile over and over, and page after page of flyers from 3 different stores, trying to guess at regular prices, and wondering if Wal-Mart or a generic brand would be cheaper in the end anyhow.... I drove myself nearly to tears.
So I began to formulate a better strategy. I don't go wild with the coupon flyers. I still only buy a single copy of the Sunday paper. And when I sit down to clip, I ONLY clip things I know I can use. I hang on to the rest of the flyer and tuck it in the manila folder just in case, but it gives me a lot less to go through on match-up day. There are lots of sites with printable coupons as well, and this can get really crazy! I visit those sites only after I've made up my menu and shopping list and then see if there's anything I can use, maybe even adjusting an ingredient here or there if a coupon is available.
When I did this week's shopping and spent that grand total of less than $50, I had only saved $6 from coupons, and $4 of that was a catalina from the store for spending a certain amount 2 weeks before. So I think it is absolutely possible to do grocery shopping on a budget without stress about couponing! But of course I'm always looking for tips and tricks to do even better!
How do you coupon? Do you find it invaluable or frustrating? What about the idea that coupons are often for boxed or other processed foods? How do you fit those into your family's lifestyle? I'd love to hear from everyone and anyone out there!