If you're a regular reader, you know how often I reference the online tools that make a coupon shopper's job of matching coupons to sales a snap.
With sites to print coupons, load electronic coupons to a store's loyalty card or match coupons to sales, a digitally connected coupon shopper has an amazing array of money-saving tools literally at his or her fingertips.
"Clipless" couponing, where shoppers only cut out exactly the coupons they need, has exploded in popularity. Thousands of coupon bloggers around the country write about this method and make it easy for anyone to pick up a pair of scissors and follow along. (I'm one of those bloggers. Since 2008, my grocery savings blog at jillcataldo.com has provided step-by-step, weekly write-ups of the best coupon deals.)
But what about shoppers with no Internet access? Can you still become a Super-Couponer and cut your grocery bill significantly? Yes. But, you will have to invest more time and effort than those who use online tools.
Let's take a step back and consider the way people used to save with coupons, pre-Internet: no web sites, no sales trackers and no easy way to figure out the best sales prices in a store's pricing cycle. If you're couponing without the Internet, you'll be doing things the "old-fashioned" way.
With no online guidance from coupon look-up sites to help you quickly locate the coupons you need in the recent newspaper inserts you've dated and filed away, there's no advantage to keeping those inserts intact. So, shoppers must cut, sort and file all of their coupons as they arrive in the newspaper each week. The "binder method" has long been a staple of old-school coupon shopping. Couponers would fill a 3-ring binder with the same plastic sheets used to collect baseball cards, sorting all of the loose coupons by type into the sheet pockets.
How did they track sale prices? Without any benchmark to determine the best price for a product, shoppers would keep "price books." They would go to the supermarket with a notebook, write the date on the first page and then walk around the store writing down the sale prices for every item they were interested in buying. For example, "Week 1: Spaghetti sauce: $1.49. Corn Flakes: $2.99," and so on. The next week, they'd turn the page and write the entire list again: "Week 2: Spaghetti sauce: $1.29. Corn Flakes: $2.79" and so on. At the end of one 12-week cycle, the price book was complete. Referring to it, a shopper could look up the lowest price any product reached during that pricing cycle and recognize a "good" sale when it came around.
Armed with the price book, shoppers could examine their store's weekly flyer, note the sale prices and compare them to the book to determine if it was the best time to buy. Then, they'd flip through their binder and locate the coupons that lined up to that sale, to reduce prices further.
This is an extremely time-consuming way to coupon. Maintaining a coupon binder requires commitment. Shoppers must clip, file and weed out expired coupons every week. Certainly, you can still enjoy a great savings, but you will spend many hours each week to accomplish the same goal others reach in a fraction of the time.
I liken the Internet to a "power tool" for coupon shoppers. Imagine if you were a homebuilder and had to build a house without modern tools. While you can certainly frame each wall using a hammer and a box of nails, the work goes a lot faster and more efficiently if you use an air nailer or a drill. Yes, you can get the job done with an old-fashioned hammer, but expect to spend a lot of time doing so.
Next week, we'll carry the home-building analogy further, addressing readers who don't want to stockpile.
Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her web site, www.jillcataldo.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.