Coupon Warrior!, by GRITS (Girl Raised in the South)

You look at the economy, and you are alarmed. You see the direction the world appears to be headed, and your eyes glaze with near panic. You realize you must prepare for disasters and shortages, but you are overwhelmed by the scope of the project and wonder how you can ever afford to build a stockpile of necessities.
I hope I can throw out a few ideas that will help you build up that stockpile over time with a painless, cost-effective method.
I’ve always hated to shop. The grocery store was a place I raced through, snatching only what I needed and hoping to pick the fastest check-out line. I’d paw through the Sunday coupon pages and the weekly grocery store circulars, hoping for the rare free can of dog food or cup of yogurt, but that was the extent of my interest.

All that changed when my feeling of impending doom induced me to stock up, ASAP. With the possibility of hyperinflation or supply disruption staring us in the face, accumulating consumables while our money is still worth something strikes me as a sound investment. Besides, we live in an area prone to power blackouts from hurricanes. Although my electrician husband installed a transfer switch for our generator, one never can predict how long the power could be off or how long the fuel would last. I decided to buy more supplies in a gradual manner without busting the weekly budget. So I took a closer look at those shiny sheets and ads.
It’s a game, and saving money by spending it can be fun. With attention to detail, one ought to be able to accumulate extra food and household supplies for little or no extra expenditure. I’ve been filling the space under the beds and in the cabinets without spending much more than normal and without attracting attention. In six months’ time I’ve accumulated at least an extra three to six months’ worth of canned food, laundry detergent, first aid items, paper goods, and other household items. I vow not to pay full price if I can help it. Here are a few hints I’ve learned.
Name brand versus store brand: I used to believe that the store brands would usually beat the price on the name brands even considering the coupon discount. At full retail, that’s true. But I suggest you hang on to the coupons, bide your time, and lurk like a Moray Eel waiting in its cave to snap up good stuff on the cheap.

For instance: We enjoy a particular brand of salad dressing. Okay, perhaps you hard-core survivalists press your own olive oil, ferment vinegar from your home-grown apples, and add herbs from your lush garden grown from heirloom seeds. However, olives and apples don’t thrive in my warm, humid neck of the woods. Besides, we actually like the bottled stuff. Anyway, I looked for the $1.00 off two bottle coupons in my Sunday paper or on the Internet, waited for the buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO) deal at the store, and bought two 16 ounce bottles for $2.79 instead of $7.58. Because the deals and coupons come out regularly, I have accumulated enough salad dressing for six months of steady use. Because I don’t have to buy more any time soon, I can now use the money I would normally spend on salad dressing for other things.

From time to time, use of coupons paired with a sale can give you a positive cash flow at the checkout. Once I actually made money buying salad dressing. Because I had two $2 coupons for a new flavor of a brand I don’t usually buy, I decided to watch for an even better deal. Before the coupons expired, a store offered a BOGO on the salad dressing, two for $3.79. With my $4 worth of coupons, I actually got paid 21 cents for trying the new flavor, which, by the way, is very good, premium stuff. Two $1 off coupons for organic tomato sauce earned me an extra 22 cents when I bought the items for 89 cents each. A Publix coupon for $5 off the purchase of two pharmaceutical items, coupled with a $1.00 manufacturer’s coupon earned me $1.22 at the checkout because the two items came to a total of $4.78. Profit made: $1.65 plus I got to keep the goods.
Which brings me to another point: Some stores let you use both their store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon on the same purchase. Make sure the store will honor both. If they do, it’s a great way to stack savings.
Watch for the “blinky” coupon machines posted around the store aisles as well as coupons in the Sunday paper and on the Internet. In a blinky I found a BOGO coupon for Curly’s barbecue. I decided to save the coupon, which had a decent expiration date, in case I spotted a special. A few weeks later, a store offered a BOGO on the same item. I used the coupon and scored over two pounds of cooked, seasoned pulled pork for free. The retail totals over $13 . The meat tasted even better for not costing anything and released funds for other items. Cha-ching!

Speaking of BOGO offers, they have allowed me to gradually stock up on can after can of chicken, tuna, beef stew, vegetables, chili, soup, butane lighters, and vitamins. Those BOGOs allied with a coupon can create outstanding deals. I’ve learned that the BOGO deals come around in cycles. Collect your coupons and wait for the opportune time to grab them.
A word here about canned meat, especially for the testosterone set: Guys, I know you think bigger is always better, but listen to a woman for a moment. In a grid-down situation, you don’t want to open that huge #10 can of beef unless you have a crowd to feed all at once. One of those cans contains more servings than a family of two or even four can consume in a whole day (unless you’re feeding teenage boys). What happens to the leftovers if you don’t have refrigeration? Try to store it in 90 degree heat until it starts to smell funny? Maggot food, anyone? Your dog will enjoy it if you don’t wait too long to give it to him, or else you’ll make him sick, too.
On the other hand, I understand big cans of freeze-dried food will keep for a few days if properly packaged. That should give you time to consume it before it grows fur you can neither spin nor weave.
Think small and consider the neat, no-fuss solution. Reasonably sized canned food does not require further cooking, hydration, or even warming, to make it edible. Some cans have a flip top so you don’t even need a can opener. A couple of five ounce cans of tuna or a 10 ounce can of chicken, a 14-½ ounce can of tomatoes and one of corn will feed two people a nutritious, reasonably palatable meal. No big deal if you can’t eat all the vegetables. They won’t give you dysentery if you eat them at the next meal. From a previous blogger I’ve also discovered B&M brown bread in cans, which is not much more expensive than fresh bread and will store nicely. That illustrates the variety of food available in cans.

Dried beans and rice are cheap, great storage items and have many uses. However, they take a lot of preparation and cooking, are deficient in many nutrients, and get mighty boring mighty quick. On the other hand, if you could somehow harness your natural gas production they would make a fine energy source.

Other perks: See what premiums are available in your local stores. I can’t tell you anything about Kroger or Safeway because they don’t exist where I live. The Winn-Dixie stores in our region offer discounts for gasoline purchases. As you buy food and other goods the credit accumulates on your store card. Certain items earn you extra points. You have to use the discount in for up to 20 gallons by the end of the calendar month. My last gasoline fill-up was discounted 30 cents per gallon, though I didn’t spend more than $200 at Winn-Dixie that month. The Shell station charges a few cents more than the cheapest gasoline in the area, so I still saved about $5.70 over what I would have paid at the BJ’s supermarket. That $5.70 could have translated into a few cans of beef stew or a half dozen cans of tomatoes, with the BOGOs offered.

Some stores generate coupons at checkout for future use. I’ve taken advantage of those at Winn-Dixie, Walgreens and CVS. The ones from Walgreens and CVS are like cash that can be spent on the next purchase. Combined with specials and store coupon items, let’s make a deal! Winn-Dixie’s printouts are specific and conditional. I was very happy one day to receive two $2 coupons good at WD for any Oscar Mayer product. O-M lunch meat happened to be on sale at two for $5 the next week. It was then possible to buy one and a half to two pounds of pre-cooked meat for a mere buck. Not a storage item, but good for our immediate needs.
Some manufacturers offer rebates on items. For instance, Sorrento made an offer of a $5 rebate on two packages of cheese sticks. I found a couple of coupons for the same product, bought the handy and tasty cheese, and sent in for the rebate. I got my check for $5, which equaled what I had paid for the cheese after using the coupons. I did the same thing for a package of Perdue chicken and a bunch of Activa yogurt.
Sniffing out the deals: I start with the store flyers that come out weekly, and study them for bargains on items I normally use or storable items I expect to use in the future. Every Sunday, except holiday weekends, is like Christmas with all the shiny sheets full of coupons. I clip the ones I think I’m likely to use and save the other sheets in case I’ve overlooked something or an unusual deal comes up. The clipped coupons go into file folders according to the classification. For instance, one of the folders is labeled “meat,” another “dairy,” another “household goods” and so on. The folders go into a holster-style file folder so I can take the whole thing with me to the store. That way, if I spot a deal I didn’t anticipate, I can pull out the right coupon to capitalize on the spot.

It might pay to buy an extra newspaper if the coupons are really good that week. Having two $1.00 coupons for a BOGO is great fun. The Internet is also a good source. has links to printable coupons. Other online sites are available, too. Sometimes by going to a manufacturer’s web site you can score a coupon or two. I’ve already mentioned the blinky machines in the stores, and in-store specials sometimes aren’t advertised in the flyers. It takes me several hours a week to match coupons and store specials, make my plan, then do my shopping, maintaining predatory alertness. When I get the checkout ticket and see I’ve saved half the bill, I just got paid for my time.

After all, time is money. You can make your own soap, but soap isn’t expensive. Between coupons, sales and rebate systems, I’ve found laundry detergent to be so cheap it wouldn’t pay to make it from scratch. It’s good to know how to make soap, but having a sizeable stash of it is easier in the short run.
Other people are also alert for good deals, so stores will often run out of sale items. Depending on store policy, you can either substitute a similar item, or get a “rain check” ticket that will honor the sale price after the deal has expired. If the item is advertised as “while supplies last” or like wording, you’d better not wait to long to score the deal or you’ll be out of luck.

Drawbacks: If you live in a rural area without much chain store competition, you may have trouble finding the best deals. If your local weekly rag doesn’t provide coupons, a Sunday subscription to a metropolitan paper will bring those shiny sheets to your doorstep. I’m blessed with a Wal-Mart, two Publix stores, a BJ’s, a Big Lots, a Dollar General, a Family Dollar, a Winn-Dixie, a CVS and a Walgreens within a two-mile radius, so I can take my cooler for refrigerated items and make a sweep. Drive time and gasoline aren’t the issue for me they would be for folks who live in a less congested area. On the other hand, the stores in my region don’t seem to offer double value for coupons, though I understand some run such specials in other parts of the U. S.

Common sense applies here, remember. If your family hates lima beans, don’t swoon for the great BOGO with a coupon on huge cans of lima beans unless you intend to donate them to the food bank. Or give them to your mooch of a brother-in-law for his birthday. If you think air fresheners stink, skip the super deal unless it makes you money equal to or greater than the purchase price, then give the goods to somebody who wants them.
A word about expiration dates: Most stores won’t accept an out-of-date coupon, so be sure to watch those dates. Use them or lose them, but don’t fret if you can’t get a good enough deal in time. Another will likely pop up by and by. As for the food itself, most packages and cans have a “sell-by” date stamped on them. If stored properly, they should still be good beyond that date, but make it a point to rotate your storage food. That’s another good reason to stock up on foods you and your family would enjoy, crisis or not.

I decided to keep about a three month supply of bagged dog food as well in a cool, dry environment. So if the SHTF, my first tier intruder alarm system will be okay for a while.
My husband is bemused and a skeptical, though he was happy to buy me the 20 gauge shotgun I requested and we enjoyed a fun date at the shooting range. I keep telling him one of these days he’ll be glad we have full cabinets and boxes of cans under our beds. Really and truly, I pray we will be able to consume our stash at our leisure, not as a matter of life and death.