Strolling for discounts can definitely save your family lots of money, but it’s not for everyone. Honestly speaking, if you don’t have the time, space, buying habits, organizational skills or inclination, the couponing process will cause more headaches than it is worth. Don’t be fooled, unless you are properly taught how to master the art of couponing, being a serious couponer can potentially be hard work! It takes hours of going through circulars, matching them with sales advertisements, and driving to stores; wherefore, the average person doesn’t have time for this. The finest couponers often treat their coupon habit like a part-time job and I do not recommend couponing for those who are organizationally challenged. By this I mean, successful couponing requires you to track websites and newspaper coupons and research manufacturer offers, as well as expiration dates on a continuous basis. Additionally, you have to bring the right coupons when you shop and not leave them at home or in the car. Therefore, you must pay close attention to detail.

Nevertheless, once you actually get the hang of all of this, you could potentially save or cut your food budget using coupons greater than half.

According to the Harvard Business Review, Americans redeem $3.7 billion of coupons annually. If you are a first timer, there’s this emotional high: “Oh, my God, I’m saving money!”

On the other hand, for the heaviest coupon users, it’s as much a sport as anything else.

Additionally, according to the Review, only about 1 percent of coupons are ever used. If coupons weren’t a good deal for manufacturers and retailers, they would stop printing them. I have found that once you begin using coupons, you will be astonished at how much money you can potentially save! You may actually be able to purchase your groceries for a fraction of the usual price if you find the right coupons.

As a suggestion, to get the most out of your savings, wait until the item you want is on sale, and then use the coupon during the sale. This allows you to save more money and makes the item quite inexpensive. Sometimes it is even free! Now, this may mean that you must save the coupon for a while rather than use it immediately. You might also need to shop at additional stores, but the payoff makes it worthwhile. Subsequently, before using a coupon, really look to make sure you are getting the best savings.

Often times, coupons can be deceiving, as they will not yield you the better deal. Succinctly put, an educated consumer is the best couponer! Never automatically assume that the coupon item is the best bargain in the store. To become better at couponing, set aside one day each week to go “couponing.” This will help you make things more efficient. Although you should always clip coupons that you happen to find, taking one day per week to really search through the internet and newspapers certainly will assist you in the next week when you go shopping.

If you are willing to apply the tips below, you should be able to save money on your grocery shopping trips.

• Know average prices so you can spot a good deal. How will you know a good deal from a terrible deal if you don’t know how much items normally cost? The more aware you become while you shop for groceries, the more familiar you will become with pricing.

• Check unit prices. A unit price is the price for one unit of the item you are buying. For instance, when you are buying items in a multi-pack, there are usually a few options for size or brand. The way unit pricing works is that the bigger the bulk of the item, the less you will often have to pay. Also, knowing the unit price will help you determine how much you will save per unit when you do buy in bulk. It will also assist you when trying to determine between two brands. For example, you are trying to buy a package of tortillas. A 27 ounce package will cost you $1.50, and a 66 ounce package will cost you $3.15. The first package will cost you $0.06 per ounce where the second option will cost you $0.05 per ounce. You can see in this situation, you would be paying about one cent less per ounce with option 2. However, if you didn’t want to have 66 ounces of tortillas, you wouldn’t be losing too much money to buy a smaller portion. If this was a one-time purchase of tortillas, then the smaller option might be better for you. However, if tortillas are part of your weekly grocery list, you would be throwing away $0.45, to buy the smaller packages, not to mention the extra time it takes you to repurchase the tortillas every week.

• Buy first, then meal plan. Step 1: only write down sale items on your grocery list. Step 2: price match the best deals each week. Step 3: research new meals to prepare with the items you bought on sale. This is by far the most underutilized grocery shopping money saving habit. Most people will tell you to meal plan and then shop. Hence, that introduces too much of a temptation to purchase things that are not on sale (or unnecessary), to complete the recipe for the meal you planned. By shopping first, and then planning your meals, you will have to work with what you bought on sale. In order to meal plan with what you bought on sale at the store, simply type in the main ingredient you want to use and then type the style of food you want to make.

• Focus on sale items. This step is crucial for saving money on groceries. Your list should consist of what’s on sale each week. Learn to appreciate variety in your diet, and it will save you a fortune over time.

• If it’s on sale (and you use it), stock up. Stocking up on items that go on sale is always a good idea. You even stock up on produce by picking out items that are not ripe yet. This will give you a few days or weeks before you have to consume them. Just be aware of expiration dates when stocking up.

There are many different views regarding the topic of couponing, depending on how consistent you are and how involved you become, couponing can either be bad or good. Does couponing save you money? It can, but it can also cost you money at the same time! If you are just clipping a couple of coupons here and there, only using them on items you normally would purchase anyway, then, they can save you a few bucks. If you are taking advantage of sales, coupons and other deals for things your family normally uses, it can save you thousands.

To learn more or to have me visit your church or facility and host a coupon class, you may contact me directly at kupongirl50@yahoo.com. My next coupon class is Saturday, Aug. 19, at Ettrick Community Center, 20621 Woodpecker Road, Ettrick, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. To register, call 804-706- 2596. 

Happy couponing

• Petersburg resident Sharon L. Johnson is a couponing advocate who teaches classes on how to save money with coupons. She is also the founder of a coupon clipping club tht meets monthly at the Petersburg Public Library.