However much or little time they have, I think everyone eventually has to set some limits to their bargain hunting, otherwise they risk making themselves crazy or getting burned out. No one can take advantage of every single deal! It has really been helping me lately to set some "rules" for myself, so that I make the best use of my couponing time. Some of these were inspired by the example of other frugal bloggers (especially Crystal at Money Saving Mom), and others I developed purely through trial and error. Of course, everyone's rules will be different, but I hope these are helpful to some of you.
1) I don't cut out or file extra copies of coupon inserts. I get the Sunday Washington Post each week, as well as the Red Plum inserts by direct mail every Wednesday (since the Post no longer carries them.) Each week I try to cut out all the coupons and file them in my large coupon box. However, I also get an extra copy of the Smart Source insert from a local paper, and my mom and sister also send me extra coupons. For a while, I was always behind on cutting out and filing all the coupons, so lately I have cut back. I cut out and file one copy of each coupon, and just keep the my extra inserts and coupons. Before I shop, I try to go through my extra coupons and take out any extra copies that I think it's likely that I'll use. I usually have planned out my great deals beforehand, so I basically know what coupons I'll be using. Of course, I'm risking not having the extra coupons for an unexpected deal, but it's a risk that worth it to me for all the time I'm saving.
2) I don't do mail-in rebates. I have established this rule for myself by trial and error, after several purchases where I planned to send in the rebate and never filled it out. It's hard sometimes to pass up a product that would be free after the rebate, but just remind myself how stressful I would find it to keep up with the paperwork. My only exceptions to this rule are if the rebate form can be filled out online or if it is a very substantial rebate (usually on a non-grocery product, like a new cell phone.)
3) I don't do catalina deals at stores at which I don't regularly shop. This is an important rule for me because of my limited transportation. Catalinas, in case you don't know, are coupons that print at the cash register at the grocery store. A lot of the great catalina deals out there are store coupons for money off your next purchase, e.g. "Buy 3 products, get a coupon for $5 off your next purchase." Often these deals will make the original 3 products very cheap or even free, if you count the catalina, but that is only true if you actually use the catalina on something you need anyway. Basically, these deals always require a return trip to that store, usually within a coupon of weeks, since the catalinas usually expire quickly. That's fine if it's a store that I visit regularly, but not if I have to make a special trip.
4) I shop at CVS, but I don't do Walgreens or Rite Aid. This rule goes with the one above. Playing the "CVS game" and constantly rolling over my ECB's requires me to shop at CVS nearly every week. Walgreens and Rite Aid have simliar programs, and we have all three stores in my town. However, I quickly discovered that I could not keep up with multiple programs, so for now I am simply sticking with CVS. I would consider hitting one of the other drugstores for a really fabulous deal, but not one that would require me to keeping going back (i.e., a catlalina-type deal).
5) I try to step back and let go. Some weeks I don't get all my coupons organized and my shopping trip is somewhat chaotic. Sometimes I forget a coupon or the cashier makes a mistake. Sometimes I forget to take advantage of a deal or don't have time. Sometimes I am too late to print a really good internet coupon. At these times, I have to just step back and let go of the pressure. I save what I can, and I'm proud of the money I am able to save for our family. Missing out on one deal won't really affect our bottom line too much, and there will always be more deals to take advantage of in the future.
More Works for Me Wednesday tips are here.