But, it doesn't have to take over your life. It's taken me a few months, but I've finally found a system that makes sense to me and requires little effort.
I plan my trips 5 times a month. Every Monday morning I scan my favorite frugal blogs to get updated on the week's sales. I print off a copy and highlight items of interest to me. At the beginning of each month an huge list of CVS monthly sales is published. These are helpful to add to the weekly shopping lists and earn more Extra Care Bucks (ECB).
Later I spend about 10 minutes locating coupons to be clipped or printing them off the links provided on my favorite frugal blogs. I normally only need to go to CVS twice a week. Thankfully there are two within a mile of our home so it's easy to pop in quickly here and there.
Right now my goal is to spend as close to $15 as possible. Why? Because there is a $3/15 coupon that is good until the end of June that I will be using. I put this coupon in my wallet and pretend it's money.
Next, I collect my ECB. These come in different amounts, so I'm going to be looking for some combination of $12-15 of ECB to put in my wallet and pretend it's money. Now I have $15-18 in my wallet to spend.
Now, I'm going to look at my list of possible items to purchase and figure out which ones add up to roughly $15. Normally the prices are listed, if they are not I just give it my best guess.
Once I've decided on my items I take any coupons that I have for these and put them in my wallet and pretend those are money, too. Now I might have something like $21 in my wallet.
When I go to CVS I don't have to think. I have my list. I have my $21 and I shop. This is how I am able to pick up diapers, wipes, diet coke, or products that will earn more ECB for very little out of pocket. I try to earn back at least half of my ECB with each trip I make.
Aren't I buying things I won't need? Well, yes and no. It depends on how you look at it. I don't buy things simply to store them. Each item will be used, sold at the garage sale or given away.
The only tricky part comes when one of the items on my list is not in stock. This happens all the time. But, since I've already planned out my other shopping scenarios there is likely an item on my other list that is about the same price and I could substitute. I just need to exchange out coupons and recount what is in my wallet. Or there is a monthly free item that I can pick up in its place.
Confused? Here's what I did this week.
My list of things I needed:
Deals that looked profitable:
2 dish soaps (buy one get one free)
2 laundry soaps (buy one get one free)
Diapers $10.99 sale
2 Beauty Products (buy one get one 50% off)
In my wallet about $22
$3 off $15
$.40 dish soap coupon
$1.00 All coupon
$.50 All coupon
Spent $3.63 Out of Pocket Earned $5 Extra Care Bucks from Beauty Products
Trip # 2
Wipes $4.00 Clearance
Hair Coloring $7.99
In my wallet:
$2 Razor coupon
$2 hair coloring coupon
Spent $.80 out of pocket Earned $10.99 in ECB
(I know the men' hair coloring kit may seem strange, but there is a $8.00 mail in rebate and I know that some old man will pick it up for $2 at a garage sale next fall. Couldn't pass it up.)
I did both of my trips in about 20 minutes at two different CVS stores on my way to exercise Monday night.
Does this sound like more than you're able to do right now? Every month CVS has items that are free after Extra Care Bucks with a limit of five. In May toothpaste, toothbrushes, Tums, allergy medication, and antiperspirant are on the list for FREE! Pick up what you need now and pay the upfront cost. There are several coupons out available which would save you. Return later in the month with your ECBs before they expires to restock or buy something else you might need. Then you'll have ECB for June to pick up different Free items.
If you were able to save $25 a month just by using Monthly ECB deals, you would be putting $300 a year back into your budget. Think about all the gas you could by with that amount. Okay, don't answer that.
That's how it works. Clear as mud, right? Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions or tips you may have.