Beginning Couponing: Make a Shopping List

If you’re new to couponing, you may be confused about how to start incorporating couponing techniques into your weekly grocery shopping. Lucky for you, we have a quick start guide to incorporating couponing into your shopping list routine. This step-by-step method will help you combine multiple couponing techniques to get the most savings on your weekly grocery needs.

1. Decide on your budget.

First, you need to set a budget. Hopefully, you have determined a monthly budget for your family’s overall spending needs and know what your monthly grocery spending should be. To determine your weekly grocery budget, divide your monthly grocery budget by 4.35 (fun fact: that’s the actual average number of weeks in a month, not 4!). Then divide that grocery budget into “immediate” and “stockpile” subcategories. The “immediate” number is for food that you will eat this week. The “stockpile” amount goes to building up a supply of nonperishables for future use. You’ll use it to buy more than you immediately need on goods you know you’ll eat, when the price is low on those goods. Then you won’t have to pay more when the price goes back up. If you’re just starting with couponing, you probably don’t have much of a stockpile built up, so most of your budget will go to your immediate needs. As you build up your stockpile, you won’t have to spend as much on immediate needs because you’ll be able to use the stockpiled items you already bought.

2. Find coupons and matchups to begin your shopping list.

Next, you’ll want to gather all of the coupons you’ve received from fliers or email newsletters. But even more importantly, you’ll want to find “matchups” for your specific grocery store.

A matchup is when a coupon lines up with a sale on a particular item, so your savings are compounded. The store usually runs the sales, and the manufacturer provides coupons, so you may find some of your favorite foods have matchups for multiplied savings.

There are a few ways to determine the matchups in your area. You could first look at the store circulars to see which items are on sale, then try to find coupons for those items. Or, if you’ve been gathering coupons all week, you could try to find store sales on the coupons that you have already accumulated. You could even search online for “coupon matchup” plus your city to see if someone has already done this work for you. Make a list of the matchup items, keeping in mind that these need to be items that you will actually use at some point. It does not make sense to buy something that will just go to waste. These matchup items might go to your immediate needs or your stockpile, but you do not want them to go to the trash.

Note on your list how many matchup items you can buy, based on the number of coupons you have, the specific sale, and the store’s policy about maximum coupons. Add up the cost of these items and make sure you’re still within your budget, both overall and within the specific categories of “immediate” and “stockpile”.

Make a menu plan

Once you know which matchup items you’ll be buying, you can plan out your family’s menu for the week. If you don’t have a stockpile built up yet, use as much of the matchup items as you can to utilize those savings right away. This is your time to get creative! If potatoes and beef cubes are on your matchup list, you could make a hearty beef stew. If chicken and shredded cheese are on the matchup list, you could make a cheesy Mexican casserole dish. There are a ton of possibilities if you use your imagination, and the internet, of course. There are several recipe sites that can help you figure out what to put together with the ingredients you already have on your list. Once you have a stockpile built up, you can also factor that into what you plan to make.

Don’t forget breakfast food and snacks, too! If your family doesn’t mind leftovers, you may be able to make extra dinner food and stretch that to lunch, but if not, you will need to plan what you will eat for lunches as well.

Rounding out your list

Once you have the recipes and the menu planned out, see what other ingredients you will need to make those recipes. Of course, you will want to try to find sales or coupons for the other ingredients. This may take some reworking of your menu plan, depending on your remaining budget after factoring in the matchup items.

Don’t worry if this is difficult at first. You will get better at meal planning over time. Once you get a sense of the foods you will typically need for your family’s favorite dishes, you can keep an eye out for those coupons over the week.

Final steps

After making your list, add up the total cost of the items you are planning to purchase, and compare to your budget again.

If you exceed your budget significantly, you may need to go back and rework some of your planned menus. Look at the highest-priced foods and see if you can find a coupon, a substitute for the item, or a recipe that doesn’t require that ingredient.

If you only go over budget a little, try to take out some of your planned stockpile items to get back under budget.

Double-check that you have all the coupons you will need, and write down the total number of coupons you plan to use. Then you can check your receipts later to make sure you used all of your coupoons. If you are planning to shop at multiple stores, separate your list and coupon numbers by store. Then plan your shopping route, grab your coupons, and get to shopping!

You can shop happy knowing you have maximized your savings and kept within your budget.