Back to Basics series: I’m clipping, I’m dealing….but I don’t feel like I’m saving money.

I hear this a lot from new folks trying to learn this. You’re faithfully going to CVS or Rite Aid every week, you’re adding free stuff to the stockpile, but it doesn’t feel like you’re saving any money. Don’t despair. Take a deep breath and read these tips.

First, do you even have a grocery budget? If not, sit down and do one. Realistically, what do you want to spend and what can you afford to spend every week on groceries. Got a number? Good. Now, take $10 or $15 off that number, and that is what you need to trim from it when you go to the store this week.

Trimming $10 or $15 off the average family’s weekly grocery trip is easy. No impulse purchases, none! No magazines at the register. Scan your refrigerator and cupboards before you go to eliminate duplicate purchasing-especially on perishable items like bread, lunch meat & produce. Be realistic about what your family will eat in a week. Eliminate chips & soda & junk food if you have to, something, anything but find a way to cut at least $10 from it. If in doubt, underbuy what you think you will need–it’s not the end of the world if you have to run in for milk & bananas.

Ok, now that $10 or $15. That is your bargaining/couponing/stockpiling money. That is your seed money to get your stockpile going. That is what you can use to go to CVS or Walgreen’s or whatever. That’s it. So for some of you, that may mean, you go to Acme, you do one cereal transaction at $11.70 and that’s it. That’s all the couponing/stockpiling you do this week.

And that’s ok. I understand and remember what it’s like to be new at this–you see all these freebies and fantastic deals and you just want to go out and get them all at once. Slow down. There will be other deals, I promise. I’ve been “extreme couponing” for 5+ years, and if the deals stop, it will be the first time in 5 years. Sure there are slow periods, but there are always deals.

If your grocery budget is $100 a week, and you’re spending that on your weekly trip and another $50 on couponing & building your stockpile, then that’s why it doesn’t feel like you’re saving. By all means, if you have the extra $50 to spend on cereal at Acme that will be $0.67 or $1.17 a box, then by all means, build that stockpile–as those are stockpile prices for me (when you factor in the milk, normally I won’t spend more than $0.50/box). But if money is tight right now and you don’t have it, don’t spend it.

It helps to take some of the pressure off, the feeling of “I need to go out & get all this cheap stuff!” No you don’t. A good stockpile takes 3-6 months to build up. Don’t worry, before you know it, you will wonder where to go with all the free stuff.

Also keep in mind, it’s like we’re trying to run on an ice-skating rink. Food prices are constantly rising. Every time I turn around, another news report or the WSJ is reporting about rising food prices. So it’s a constant game of catch-up. But keep plugging away. Also, sit down and make a list–what would you really like to have in your stockpile? Cereal? Shampoo? Diapers? What is most important to you–and focus on finding deals on those items.

You have some of the best extreme couponing minds working on this site, so stay tuned!