On Monday I promised some more tips for using The Grocery Game to save on your grocery bill, so here you go:

Before I go any further, please let me say once more: The A#1 key to using coupons, no matter what your system, is that if you buy things you don’t need you aren’t saving money. “Do I really need this?” I suggest you make this question your mantra as you work with your coupons. When you first start out, the awesome deals tend to cloud your better judgment now and then! It will get easier, and you will be less susceptible to temptation as you get experience. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you make a mistake, but do keep trying.

File folders vs. clip ‘n’ sort

The two basic filing methods for storing your coupons are to either put each weeks’ coupon inserts in a file folder, or to go ahead and cut out the coupons so they can be sorted by category. Either method works with The Grocery Game. I started out using file folders – I marked each folder with that week’s date, and put the two or three coupon inserts inside. This worked well for a while, but it does have a few drawbacks. Every time you want a coupon, you have find the right folder, and then flip through the appropriate insert to find the coupon you want. That makes for a lot of flipping back and forth! Also, it gets difficult to purge the expired coupons, since some of them expire within a month, while others are good for 6 months or more.

Eventually, after I had amassed a huge stack of folders, I decided to clip and sort from that point on. It takes a few minutes to snip out all the coupons, but not as long as I had thought. I can realistically get the whole week’s coupons clipped and sorted in about 15-20 minutes. When it is time to retrieve the coupons, it is much easier to refer to categories, rather than flipping back through the inserts. The grocery game list tends to be sorted by category, so often I just grab the “toiletries” pile and all the coupons I need are right in one spot. Also, about every month or two, I quickly flip through the coupons and purge any that expired unused. This keeps the number of coupons down to a manageable level.

If you do clip and sort, try putting the new coupons at the front of each section each week. That helps you know where in the group to look for a particular coupon. If the list shows that a coupon is recent, you know to look near the front. If the coupon is from several months ago, you know to look near the back. This will cut your search time even more.

Keep in mind

The store’s sales tend to rotate, so in order to save the most you will need to stock up when things are on sale. If you build up sufficient reserves, then you can live off of your sale items until they go on special again. Whether or not you’ll be able to get all of your groceries at the lowest prices depends on several variables. I’ve found that we can get enough free or 50 cent toothpaste for a small army, as well as all the shampoo I want for $1-2 a bottle, or less. At some point, you have to stop buying all but the best deals for those, or you’ll be drowning in them. On the other hand, there are some other things, like soups, yougurt, and canned/frozen vegetables, where we eat more than we have coupons for. In this case, especially if you have a large family, you could consider buying one or more extra copies of your local paper, so that you will have enough coupons. Many grocery stores will honor up to 3 of the same coupon. It only costs an extra dollar or two for the paper, which more than pays for itself if you need more coupons.

Final tip

Finally, you’ll probably notice several coupons for restaurants as you are going through the inserts. I recommend clipping these and storing them either in your purse or in your car’s glove box. (This tip also applies to those community coupon books you buy or receive in the mail.) This way you’ll have them handy when you need them. If you have to remember to get them out before you leave the house, you won’t do it. Besides, we hardly ever decide on where we’re going until we’re halfway there!

Remember, if you don’t have the discipline to coupon responsibly, then the responsible thing to do is to skip couponing. You’ll waste a lot of time, you won’t save yourself any money, and you’ll end up with lots of waste and junk. If you think you do have what it takes to get the most out of coupons, then give it a try. With a little practice, you should be able to find real savings, which is always great when you are trying to live within your means!