Couponing and Budgets

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Couponing & Budgets - A week by week breakdown of how to coupon and build a stockpile slowly and without breaking the bank!

Couponing and Budgets

Yesterday, I was asked a question by a new member here at HotCouponWorld that I thought was interesting. She sent me a message stating that she was new to using coupons and had done her first shopping trip and had spent $300 at the grocery store and had only saved $80. She was wondering how she can flip those numbers and save $300 and only spend $80. This is a great question because it is part of the misconception that right out of the gate you should be able to save big bucks.

The truth is as a new couponer saving $80 is great! So many folk have now seen the TV show Extreme Couponing on TLC and so many folks are eager to try it out, and they can save, however the expectation that when you are first out of the gate with your first fist full of coupons that you are going to start saving 70-80 or 90% off your groceries is probably not going to happen.

So I wanted to take a moment to talk about how to coupon and stay within your budget and how not to end up spending more money than you normally would.

Setting A Grocery Budget

Even if you don’t have a budget for anything else in your finances it is important to set yourself up with a grocery budget. You cannot actually save money if you have no idea how much money you are spending. And if you know how much you are already spending on groceries then you have a benchmark for how much you are saving.

When I first started couponing we had a family of 5 (two adults and 3 kids) plus 2 dogs and two cats and our grocery budget was $400 a month. My grocery budget has actually never changed in the 7+ years I have been couponing. When I first started couponing my kids were 14, 6 and a newborn. Then 18 months or so later we added to our family our twins. Making our family a family of 7, and our budget was still $400 a month and I was able to get thousands of dollar’s worth of groceries for my $400 budget. Now that 14 year old is an adult and out on her own (although she still “shops at moms” from time to time). And our family is down to 6, although the kids at home are growing and so are their appetites. My budget is still $400 a month.

So, you may be thinking if your budget has stayed the same for 7+ years are you really saving any money. The answer is yes, with my $400 budget I am able to get at the very least double the amount of groceries than I could before I started couponing. Before I started couponing $400 did not go very far. We ate a lot of Hamburger Helper without the hamburger. Now we eat like kings (or queens). We have a stockpile full of groceries in our garage, two freezers full of meat, veggies, cheese and other good stuff. Before couponing we were not able to eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies outside of the cheapest things like bananas, oranges, apples, potatoes and carrots.

Now, because I save money on just about everything else I am able to afford more fresh produce in our budget and usually spend right around half of my grocery budget on produce alone, thus we are able to eat healthier. After 7+ years of couponing I am also able to actually save some of the money from my grocery budget. And when I say save, I mean actually put money in the bank and save it. It took quite a few years of working really hard but the savings I was able to get from using coupons and learning to live frugally allowed us to pay off our debt and buy our first house. Now my actual savings of anywhere from $50-$100 a month (that means we usually only spend $300 to $350 a month for a family of 6 plus now we have three cats and three dogs and a guinea pig) goes towards more fun things like fixing up our new home or mini vacations.
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OK so enough about me…here is how it all works:

Create a Grocery Budget

In order to save money you need to know how much you are actually spending on groceries each month. What you are spending right now on groceries (food, health and beauty products, household items like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, diapers, wipes, formula, pet food etc) is going to be your starting budget. Figure out what you are spending and I want you to write it down on a piece of paper. Your goal is now to see how you can get more groceries for your money and then begin to whittle that starting number down. If you do not know how much you are spending on groceries, go through your receipts, bank statements and check book for the past 3 months or so and tally it up. You need to have a starting point.

Using coupons and building your stockpile

If you are new to HotCouponWorld the first place we want you to check out is our Couponing 101 page (it’s located at the top of each and every page here. These lessons are the foundations of how to coupon and save. However a lot of new folks tend to skip over the whole stockpiling part. They may not see the value in it or they worry that we are talking about the crazy “hoarding” aspect of it as portrayed on the Extreme Couponing show. This is their first mistake because stockpiling is one of the single biggest keys to saving money with coupons. Without that key you will never be able to open the door to saving the “big bucks” with coupons.

Now that you have a grocery budget I want you to decide on a number that you can pull from that allotted amount of money that you can dedicate to stockpiling. When I first started couponing I allotted $10 a week to stockpiling. And then the rest of my budget ($90 a week) was spent on the normal everyday items that my family needed to eat and use. As you build your stockpile that number is going to shift.

Your goal is to find whatever deals you can each week that meet these four requirements:

  1. Free – If something is free after coupons purchase it and stockpile it. Take into account that depending on where you live you may still need to pay sales tax.
  2. Cheap – Aim for at least 50% off retail or cheaper than the price of generics.
  3. You can store it – It does not make sense to buy 100 bags of frozen veggies if you do not have room in your freezer for them.
  4. Within your stockpiling budget – This one is important! You need to stay within the set amount in your budget that is dedicated to stockpiling.

The Break Down

Let’s break it down and let me give you an example of what this is going to end up looking like each week over the course of time. In the following examples I am going to use my budget of $100 a week, your budget may be more or less depending on your circumstances and needs. The $100 a month at the beginning is going to be divided into $10 dedicated stockpile money and $90 for regular groceries. Those numbers are going to shift as we build our stockpile.


Week 1:

There is a sale on Crest toothpaste for $1.00 and with my coupons I can get 10 tubes for free. – Total spent is $0.00

At another grocery store I there is a deal on Kraft cheese $2.00 each, I have $1.00/1 coupons making each package $1.00 after coupons. I have (10) $1.00/1 coupons making it $1.00 a package so I get 10 packages – Total spent – $10.00

My stockpile budget for this week is now spent. I use the rest of my grocery budget of $90 to buy the normal things my family needs.

In my stockpile

  • 10 tubes of toothpaste
  • 10 packages of string cheese

Week 2:

Deodorant is on sale buy one get one free and I have 6 coupons for buy one get one free, that makes 2 free deodorants for each coupon I have, so I pick up 12 sticks of deodorant for free – Total spent is $0.00

StarKist tuna is on sale for 10 for $10 and I have 20 coupons for 50¢ off 1. That makes each pouch of Tuna only 50¢ each – Total spent is $10.00

My stockpile budget for this week is now spent. I use the rest of my grocery budget of $90 to buy the normal things my family needs.

In my stockpile

  • 10 tubes of toothpaste
  • 10 packages of string cheese
  • 12 sticks of deodorant
  • 20 pouches of tuna

Week 3:

This week there is a big sale on Kellogg’s cereal, it’s on sale $1.88 a box and I have 10 coupons for $1.00/1 making each box only 88¢ each – Total spent $8.80

At another store I find Barilla pasta is on clearance (with a 1 year expiration date) for 40¢ a box, I have 20 coupons for $0.35/1 making it just 5¢ a package after coupon – Total spent $1.00

I have spent $9.80 from my stockpile budget (close enough). I use the rest of my grocery budget of $90 to buy the normal things my family needs.

In my stockpile

  • 10 tubes of toothpaste
  • 10 packages of string cheese
  • 12 sticks of deodorant
  • 20 pouches of tuna
  • 10 boxes of cereal
  • 20 packages of pasta

Week 4:

It’s a slow week this week for sales and I cannot find anything that is free or a great deal because I don’t have any coupons to go with the sale. But, there is a great deal going on this week on boneless skinless chicken breasts at 99¢ a lb. So I am going to go ahead and stock up and get 10 pounds and freeze it. – Total spent $9.90

I have spent $9.90 from my stockpile budget. ). I use the rest of my grocery budget of $90 to buy the normal things my family needs.

In my stockpile

  • 10 tubes of toothpaste
  • 10 packages of string cheese
  • 12 sticks of deodorant
  • 20 pouches of tuna
  • 10 boxes of cereal
  • 20 packages of pasta
  • 10 pounds of chicken breasts

Here is a bit of a turning point…take a look at the things I have started stockpiling! Now I have some ingredients that I can use to plan my meals around. I cannot eat the toothpaste or deodorant but I can eat the cereal, string cheese, tuna, cereal, pasta and chicken. These are things that I can now scratch off your weekly shopping list. I think I am going to see if I can shift $5 from my regular grocery budget on over to my stockpiling budget. Now my stockpile budget is $15 and my regular grocery budget is $85 a week.


Week 5:

Laundry soap is on sale this week for $1.99 a jug and I have $1.00/1 coupons making it 99¢ a bottle. I do a ton of laundry so I am going to buy 15 jugs of laundry detergent with my 15 coupons – Total spent $14.85

I have two printable coupons for $3.00/1 package of Bic Razors and there are 5-packs of the razors for $2.99. I go ahead and grab 2 packages of razors (that is 10 razors total) and get them for free plus 2¢ overage that I will apply to the other items in my order – Total spent $0.00

I have spent $14.85 from my stockpile budget. ). I use the rest of my grocery budget of $85 to buy the normal things my family needs.

In my stockpile

  • 10 tubes of toothpaste
  • 10 packages of string cheese
  • 12 sticks of deodorant
  • 20 pouches of tuna
  • 10 boxes of cereal
  • 20 packages of pasta
  • 10 pounds of chicken breasts
  • 15 bottles of laundry detergent
  • 2 packages of 5 razors

Week 6:

Ragu pasta sauce is on sale $1.00 each and I have 10 coupons for $1.00/2. That means I can buy 10 jars of sauce for 50¢ each – Total spent $5.00

Quaker Instant Oatmeal is on sale $1.75 each and I have 9 coupons for $1.00/1. That means I can get 9 boxes for 75¢ each – Total spent $6.75

Pantene shampoo and conditioner is on sale for $3.00 and I have coupons for $2.00/1 making each bottle $1.00 each. This is my favorite brand of shampoo. I am going to buy 4 bottles – Total spent $4.00

I have spent $15.75 from my stockpile budget. (OH NO I went over budget, but only by 75¢ I can just take from my regular grocery budget, no worries there). I use the rest of my grocery budget of $84.25 to buy the normal things my family needs.

In my stockpile

  • 10 tubes of toothpaste
  • 10 packages of string cheese
  • 12 sticks of deodorant
  • 20 pouches of tuna
  • 10 boxes of cereal
  • 20 packages of pasta
  • 10 pounds of chicken breasts
  • 15 bottles of laundry detergent
  • 2 packages of 5 razors
  • 10 jars of pasta sauce
  • 9 boxes of instant oatmeal
  • 4 bottles of my favorite shampoo

Week 7:

There is high value coupon this week in my Sunday inserts for $3.00 off any bag of Pedigree dog food. My mission this week is to find out where I can get that dog food as cheap as possible. This is the brand of dog food my dogs eat and I want to stock up! I check all of the stores in my area to see who has the best price. Turns out one of my grocery stores sells a 5 lb. bag for $3.05 everyday price (no sale needed!) Great I have 20 coupons making each bag only 5¢ – Total spent: $1.00 (A DOLLAR FOR 100 POUNDS OF DOG FOOD! I am officially HOOKED!)

Other than the dog food there is not a whole lot to pick up. I check my now growing stash of coupons at the trial size section of my local “Mart” store and find will be great for when we go camping or as stocking stuffers. I get 14 trial size shampoos, hair sprays and single packs of laundry soap all for free – Total spent $0.00

While in the store I notice that strawberries are on sale for $1.99 a lb. So I pick up $14 worth of strawberries (about 7 lbs.), take them home and prepare them and freeze them – Total spent $14.00

I have spent $15 from my stockpile budget. ). I use the rest of my grocery budget of $85 to buy the normal things my family needs.

In my stockpile

  • 10 tubes of toothpaste
  • 10 packages of string cheese
  • 12 sticks of deodorant
  • 20 pouches of tuna
  • 10 boxes of cereal
  • 20 packages of pasta
  • 10 pounds of chicken breasts
  • 15 bottles of laundry detergent
  • 2 packages of 5 razors
  • 10 jars of pasta sauce
  • 9 boxes of instant oatmeal
  • 4 bottles of my favorite shampoo
  • 20 bags of dog food
  • 14 various trial size items
  • 7 pounds of strawberries

This is starting to get fun. My stockpile is growing and there are defiantly things that I don’t have to buy each week to plan and prepare meals for my family because I have them already in my stockpile. I can now make spaghetti, tuna sandwiches, cereal and oatmeal for breakfast and the kids have cheese snacks in their school lunches. Let’s take this up a notch! I am going to dedicate $20 now to stockpiling and only $80 a week to my regular grocery shopping.


Week 8:

Frozen vegetables are on sale 10 for $10.00. I have coupons for $0.75/1 making them only 25¢ I have 10 coupons – Total spent $2.50

Canned fruit is on sale for 50¢ a can and I have coupons for $0.50/3 making them 33¢ a can. I have 14 coupons so I am going to get 42 cans of fruit – Total spent $13.86

Window cleaner is on sale for $1.50 a bottle. I have coupons for $1.00/1 making them 50¢ a bottle. I have 6 coupons so I am going to get 6 bottles – Total spent $3.00

I have spent $19.36 from my stockpile budget. . I use the rest of my grocery budget of $80.64 to buy the normal things my family needs.

In my stockpile

  • 10 tubes of toothpaste
  • 10 packages of string cheese
  • 12 sticks of deodorant
  • 20 pouches of tuna
  • 10 boxes of cereal
  • 20 packages of pasta
  • 10 pounds of chicken breasts
  • 15 bottles of laundry detergent
  • 2 packages of 5 razors
  • 10 jars of pasta sauce
  • 9 boxes of instant oatmeal
  • 4 bottles of my favorite shampoo
  • 20 bags of dog food
  • 14 various trial size items
  • 7 pounds of strawberries
  • 10 bags of frozen vegetables
  • 42 cans of fruit
  • 6 bottles of window cleaner

Wow! After only 8 weeks of couponing I am really starting to see my stockpile grow. I think I have the hang of it now. I will just keep slowly building up my stockpile a few things at a time. The more I can stockpile the more items I have on hand at my house to plan meals out of instead of paying full price for those items each week or as I need them. Pretty soon I will be able to shift more and more from my regular grocery budget into my stockpile budget so I can buy more. Over time I am going to have more coupons too so that means more deals! Pretty soon I am going to run low on some of the items I stockpiled earlier, so that means I am going to need to make sure I have my coupons ready the next time those things are on sale. Cereal for example, those 10 boxes are not going to last very long when we eat two boxes a week. Next time I am going to try and buy more for my stockpile on the things we use a lot of.


So that is how it is done, one or two items each week that you stockpile. Build that up over time. Give yourself a good 6 months to a full year to really see the savings. It can take that long before you really see the full year of sale cycles. While there are some things that go on sale every 4-6 weeks, there are other things that only go on deep discounts two or three times a year. Keep in mind that you should always pay attention to seasonal produce and meat sales and stock up and freeze (or can) those items so that you have them later when the prices are higher.

Stockpiling is a mentality. You can carry on the concept to other things outside of groceries too. For example when the great back-to-school sales are going on I stockpile office supplies for both myself and my home office but also for the kids to have supplies all year long. There is nothing worse than having to pay $1.50 for a pack of notebook paper midyear when I know I can get for 5¢ a pack at the back-to-school sales.

Slow and steady wins the race! Hang in there and don’t give up!