Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Coupons revisited

A couple of weeks ago, I posted the results of my coupon experiment, in which I found that a $2 local newspaper would not pay for itself in useful coupons. Based on this experiment, I concluded that for me, couponing was not the best strategy for cutting the grocery bill. However, in the past week or two I've had cause to revise this position slightly, as I've had a run of better-than-usual luck with coupons. My recent (pardon the pun) coups:
  • First, last week Coupons.com spat out several coupons that looked potentially useful. These included a 50-cents-off-two coupon for Land O' Lakes butter and a $1-off-three coupon for Birdseye frozen veggies. I clipped these just on the off chance that I'd be able to stack them with sales—and lo and behold, this week's sale flier for the Shop-Rite revealed that both these items were on sale, the butter for $1.99 a pound and the veggies for 99 cents apiece (for packages averaging around 12 ounces). So I ended up getting two pounds of butter for $3 (the coupon doubled) and three bags of veggies for $2. That beats our usual price of $2 a pound for frozen veggies from Trader Joe's (though admittedly, theirs are organic), and even our usual stock-up price of $2 a pound for butter, by a significant margin.
  • The same sale at the Shop-Rite included 8-pound bags of World's Best Cat Litter for $6.99 apiece. That's still more than we pay for our regular Swheat Scoop litter, but I have sometimes wondered about trying World's Best to see whether it might be less prone to "tracking" (i.e., ending up all over the house). And what do you know, last week's TipHero incuded a link to a product rebate for World's Best, good for a free 7- or 8-pound bag. So assuming they honor the rebate (and if they don't, I'll sic the Better Business Bureau on them—I've done it before and never failed to get satisfaction), I'll have gotten about a month's supply of cat litter for 44 cents' worth of postage. (Well, and 30 cents for photocopying. I always keep documentation for these things because I'm paranoid.)
  • Coupons.com also provided two coupons for General Mills cereals: one for $1 off three boxes and one for 75 cents off one box. And once again, ba-da-bing, a sale popped up to stack with them, this time at the A&P. They were offering four boxes for $6, "must buy four." This is a deal that normally would be good but not quite good enough, since the largest box available as part of the sale was the 14-ounce Wheat Chex or Corn Chex, and a 14-ounce box for $1.50 still doesn't quite meet our normal 10-cents-per-ounce cutoff for cold cereal. (I came up with this guideline after calculating that it's roughly the cost of the ingredients for homemade granola, and I've never revised it because it just makes the math so easy.) However, my $2.50 in coupon savings (since the 75-cent one will double) reduces the total cost of the four boxes to $3.50—87.5 cents a box, or 6.25 cents per ounce—making this deal a definite bingo. Unfortunately, when we stopped by the A&P we found they'd been cleaned out of Wheat Chex and Corn Chex, probably by shoppers who had the same idea we did. So we had to take a rain check, but that's okay—as long as we can get back to the store before the coupons expire on the 24th, we're golden.
  • And finally, my Rite Aid Wellness Plus newsletter included a link to a store coupon for $5 off two Mitchum deodorants. Since Mitchum costs $4 for a small and $5 for a large at the Rite Aid, this works out to $1.50 each for the small size or $2.50 for the large. This would be a pretty good deal by itself, but what makes it a great one is that I also happen to have two 75-cents-off manufacturer coupons (one from my regular Smart Source insert, and one from the duplicate insert I got with the newspaper, which may end up paying for itself yet). So with these, I can get the small ones for 74 cents apiece or the large ones for $1.74. Not too shabby (and not a moment too soon, since the deodorant I bought during my last trial membership at BJ's is about to run out).
So with these minor triumphs, I've been rethinking my position on coupons a bit. And I've decided my new position is something along these lines: coupons can be worth the effort, but only if you don't have to pay for them or otherwise go out of your way to get them. In practical terms, this means that in future I'll give more careful consideration to the coupons I can get for nothing (from SmartSource, Coupons.com, and other freebie newsletters). Rather than dismissing them out of hand, I'll print out all those that I can see any potential use for (meaning those for which I'd be willing to take the product at any price). Then I'll examine my sale fliers more carefully to see if I can stack any of the sales with coupons I have to turn a so-so deal into a good one, or a good one into a great one. In other words, I'll follow pretty much the same strategy I've used in the past—just a bit more carefully.
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