“You won’t believe how much Target paid ME today after all my coupon deals!” your Facebook friend gushes in her status. It’s that person again, the one who always seems to find just the right coupons with just the right sales at just the right time so that companies practically pay her to shop.

I don’t know about you, but even the thought of cutting coupons every week, scouring every sales flyer, belonging to every rewards club, and mailing in rebate coupons makes me want to dive under my comforter and pretend I don’t really need groceries or conditioner or laundry detergent.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind logging onto the Kroger/Fred Meyer webpage every once in awhile and loading their e-coupons on my member card. It’s nice to get a dollar or fifty cents off here and there. But one thing I have learned – mostly from years of grocery shadowing my mom – is the art of buying in bulk “on cycle.” For us, grocery and household expenses tend to be the most costly “variable” expense in our budget and, although we haven’t always shopped smart, I am learning how to maximize the knowledge I’ve gained over the years to minimize these line items.

Sales cycles

Most people don’t realize that the sales offered at places like Target, Walgreens, and Safeway aren’t at random – their cycles are just long enough that most people don’t keep track of them. Every six weeks or so, you can expect that brands will repeat their cycle, so for example, Barilla pasta sauce might be a fantastic deal this week – even though you hadn’t planned to buy pasta sauce this week, you need to look at the long game: if you plan to eat pasta in the next six weeks, this is the best deal you’re going to get, so it would behoove your budget to stock up enough to last you until the next sale.

The same goes for almost every standard consumer good: toilet paper, peanut butter, cereal, and paper towels all follow similar patterns. The hard part (and what I have fallen down on) is tracking these cycles. Fortunately, other people have done the hard work for us and you can check out the best times to buy most things here, from our friends at The Balance.


Please note: I’m not bashing couponers. If you have the patience of Job to sit through clipping circulars and finding all the weekly deals, serious kudos to you. You are that person, the one who stores probably pay to shop with them – and that’s awesome.

If you feel like I do about all the clipping though (and you should know, I do coupon – almost religiously – for date nights), here are a few tips and tricks that have helped me in this area:

  1. E-coupons! I don’t love clipping, but I don’t mind spending 15 minutes loading coupons on the card for our local grocery store. We actually go to an almost-grocery outlet, so those coupons they offer for meat and produce (I know! Coupons for meat and produce, who knew!?) are much more helpful than ones for packaged foods like pasta sauce or cheese slices.
  2. Non-traditional coupons. Like I said, I coupon for date night like our romantic future depends on it. We get to go out and try new places way more than we otherwise would if we were paying full price. Plus, with these deals, sometimes we get fun add-ons, like a free appetizer, drink, or dessert, that we wouldn’t otherwise have ordered.
  3. Internet shopping. There is no reason not to do a quick look around the website or a little Google search to see if the company you’re buying from is offering a deal. I have saved money on everything from photo books to art supplies by checking out the online coupons of the retailers I use most (thank you, Michaels!).

Alternative Shopping

The last, and best, way to make sure you never pay full price is to come to grips with shopping non-traditionally. My mom ingrained these ideas in me growing up so I know it might be more of a stretch for people who are used to department stores and owning everything brand new, but the savings (especially if you’re trying to get out of debt or stay out of debt is worth it). And just in case you’re currently trying to get out of debt but you are balking at this idea, let me remind you of a Dave soundtrack that’s been on repeat in my head lately: “You gave up all your choices when you made the choice to take on debt.” It’s extreme and it might not be for everyone, but when you’re desperate to be free, you’ll do what you have to do.

Here are some things I have learned when thinking about purchasing things like clothing, shoes, and household items:


  • Check out the thrift store or consignment shop: Not just any thrift store, mind you. If you are looking for quality clothing that is going to look nice and last you more than a season, you need to find the most expensive suburb/area within driving distance and make the trek. It’s worth spending a few more dollars on something that will last you several years and still look good rather than buying several cheap items that aren’t going to help you get the professional or fashionable look you’re going for and might only last a season.
  • Go to the outlets: Some of my favorite finds have been on the clearance rack at the outlets. You can’t beat finding a pair of brand name lined wool dress slacks in a style and color you love for $12. That sure beats department store prices!
  • Yard, garage, and estate sales are worth the drive: While these can be more hit-or-miss, if you love the thrill of the hunt and are willing to do a little newspaper or Craigslist research ahead of time, you can map out a Saturday morning of potential deals on things you need! I have found furniture, clothing, household items, and much more at rock bottom prices. The key is to carry cash, not be afraid to haggle, and have a truck lined up if you’re looking for something big like a sofa or a table.

Alternative shopping is one of my absolute favorite topics (even though I’m not much of a shopper), so I’ll be writing a follow up posts with some great stories, fabulous finds, and serious encouragement in the next few weeks. In the meantime, remember, you should (almost) never pay full price!