Reader Question: Couponing on a Busy Schedule

Reader Felicia has a question about staying on a staying on budget with a lot of extra expenses and less free time..


With both my kids headed to school this year I decided it was time to get back to my career (I separated from the Air Force a year ago to go to school and be a full-time mom). I just took a job offer in Philly so I am going to have a bit of a commute, part-time daycare expenses, and less time to coupon. How do working moms/families manage to stay on a tight budget with all of these extra expenses and a lot less free time? I’m terrified I’ll fall back to my old spending habits and not save like I know I can.

Any tips for Felicia?  How do you keep to your budget and couponing when time is tight and expenses are rising?

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  • Donna

    I work full time, go to grad school and have 2 children under 3 and I just do it on my free time. I read the circulars on my commute and bring my coupons ever where with me. I may not be an extreme couponer but this is the best I can do.

  • Liz

    I work full-time, go to school full-time and have 3 kids with very busy schedules. I schedule time for couponing – that includes printing, clipping & filing for 1 weekend morning & 1 evening a week. When the ads come out on Wednesday, I spend my lunch break on Wed, Thurs & Fri studying the ad & matching up my coupons.
    I only do a “mega stock-up” once a month now & the rest of the time is just getting what we need for the week. Up until this week I have left my coupons at home but now I carry them in my car at all times – just in case I stop by a store that has an awesome deal on something.

    With this schedule I am still able to save anywhere from 20% to 50% on my grocery bill.

    • felicia

      That mega stock-up sounds like something that will work well for me!!! Thanks!!

  • Jessie

    Many people say they can’t be bothered to coupon, or don’t have the time, so I’ll give you the same response I give them: I view couponing as a part-time job, one which pays far better than any actual “work” I’ve ever had. I spend about 2 hours a week couponing, and save about $150 per week. Reminding myself that I’m “getting paid” $75 per hour makes the effort seem a lot more worthwhile!

    I also don’t go out of my way to hit all the stores and all the deals available – I stick to the same stores I would normally shop at unless there’s a really good reason to make a special trip elsewhere. If you start trying to get every deal there is, you’ll drive yourself crazy, as well as wasting a lot of time and gas running around to all those stores.

  • I commute daily about 3 hours roundtrip. I either take a train or a vanpool. I have my coupons organized in folders in a binder that has organizer compartments for a scissor, a pen and a net pocket for loose coupons. I also throw a large ziploc bag in there for garbage from my clipping and empty it when arrive at the station or at work. I print all my best deal lists out over the weekend, or on Thursday night and then I take the entire binder on the train or the vanpool and get to work. By the time I work on my couponing during one roundtrip, I’m all set to stop at the supermarket on the way home or after dinner. What I can’t get to do is still waiting for Saturday and ready to go.

  • Katie

    I am a single mom with an 18 month old and I usually do my clipping when she’s asleep and I’m “relaxing” on the couch watching tv…always multi tasking 🙂 I go over circulars while she’s in her highchair eating or when she’s napping or whenever time allows me to sit down and spend a few minutes on scouring the circulars. I think if you’re truly committed to your savings you will find the time to continue couponing-good luck!

  • I literally ONLY do the deals that are posted over here, and on for the mommas, and savingwellspendingless . I don’t make myself crazy pouring over circulars, and I don’t clip every coupon, I just dump them in a file by date.

    I DO miss an occasional deal, but I’m spending less than half of what I was on groceries, and it only takes me a couple hours when I do a big trip once a month or so.

    • felicia

      I’m still trying to figure out the best way to organize my coupons. I started in January with and labeled envelopes, then went to the binder, which just took too much time, then to filing, but I don’t really do well with it. Hopefully with the comute the binder will be easier to keep up with, because it was so nice to just flip through and chatch those “chance” deals.

    • Alicia

      I do the same thing at this point. and honestly, once i gave up trying to do every deal, it has worked fine. also, once you have your stockpile built up a bit, you don’t need to do every deal every time it comes up.

  • Melissa

    Info about me: Mom with 4 kids, karate, preschool and school, church and band leader. I am way too busy.

    1. Take a look at your schedule see if you can adjust things, get rid of something.
    2. Only grocery shop 2 times a month and make extra stops for only bread and milk.
    3. Freezer. Get a good one with a fast freeze. Make meals a head of time and flash freeze them. It will taste just as good but pasta dishes taste even better.
    4. For kids, freeze there sandwiches the night before school and their yogarts. Just do anything you can in advance and buy lots of small sandwich bags.
    5 Make extra for dinner for lunches for the next week. You can flash freeze or refrigerate them so you can have a good lunch too.
    6 Snacks, buy large and cut in portions, small sandwich bags again.

    Hopefully this helps.

    • felicia

      I love the idea of frozen meals. When I was a single mom of two in the military I used my crockpot a lot, which is helping now, but freezing will be awesome, and the nights I have school my husband can just heat it up and serve so I don’t have to worry about him ordering pizza!

    • DianeG

      Melissa, Can you tell me more about freezers with flash freeze – Is this a commercial product or are they sold for home use? Why is useful to you? Have you seen an actual difference in how long items last in the freezer using flash freeze? Thanks

  • Lori

    I’m sure others have better advice, but I’m crunched for time also, so I only clip the “good” coupons that I know I will use. I don’t clip anything else until a good deal comes out. Sometime I may miss out b/c of this, but thats OK. I try to stay organized, but it is a I do the best I can. I also commute and use that time to do some organizing. I do most of the deals at Shoprite though and will only do the drugstore game for a “great” deal. I think building up your stockpile also helps.

    • Cristina

      Hi Lori, I seem to only clip the coupons I also only use but sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on some great deals. For example, the AirWick deal that’s $4.99 and everyone is buying, they get money back for that but I really don’t use these items. Do you ever just buy stuff because the outcome is greater than the fact that you don’t use them?

  • Elaine

    I do most of my coupon cutting after the kids are asleep. I also browse the supermarket circulars during lunchtime at work. I have 2 small kids and I work full time. sometimes i’ll enlist my older son to help me cut.

  • MARY

    Single mom to 3 kids, work FT and commute 2hrs per day, plus my kids are in sports/clubs 5 nights per week and at least 1 weekend day. I started this couponing adventure in January and have honed my process down to use least amount of my time.

    2 hrs planning/cutting/printing + 2 hrs shopping and putting the deals away. I save more in these 4 hrs than I can make in a part time job.

    1) Admit and accept that I can only make it to 1 store per week, 1 x per week to focus my efforts.
    2) I buy 8 newspapers each week, write the date on the front of the entire circular and file them by date. Super simple and no more ‘to be cut and organized’ pile!
    3) I plan my trip early in the week using the deals listed on this website and some gleaned from reader comments. I NEVER attempt to create my own deals – who has time to read the circular! lol At this time I cut and/or printout out the necessary coupons. This can take me avg 2hrs depending on the # of deals. I then put my printed LRWC shopping list and coupon organizer (small one just for this week’s clipped coupons) in my car so that I am ready to shop whenever the opportunity arises for me in my schedule.
    4) I work on a computer all day and have the LRWC toolbar installed to keep me informed of all the deals posted. If there is a *hot* coupon that is likely to disappear quickly, I will print them at work. Otherwise, I print them at home once per week as mentioned in step 3.

    • felicia

      I like the idea of one store a week. All my stores, Pathmark, ACME, and Shoprite are within a mile of each other and all with in a mile or two of the house, so I’m hoping I can still do all 3 to get the awesome sales at each. I think I’ll just have to be more efficient with my time once I’m in the store, you know grab whats on the list and go. Now I see a possible deal and dig through my coupons and I know that waste a lot of time. It seems like a lot of people clip coupons and plan on their lunch hour. I’m getting better at making a weekly menu based off the sale items, so hopefully I can get quicker at it. I’m also hoping I have walgreens, cvs and rite aid near where I work so I ccan snag some of the deals during lunch.

  • Jeanne

    I work full time and have 4 children. I dedicate a few lunch hours per week to couponing. If you can get on a computer during your lunch hour a couple of times per week you can find the deals and put your orders together so you can stop maybe one night per week after work to pick up what you need. It pays off!

  • Sara

    I also work two full time jobs (2nd job is on and off depends on holidays); 4 children, a hubby and a old house (1912) repairs love them. Anyway use all time wisely when you have your lunch break or your 15 minute breaks watch those adds. Start a note book with items to purchase, where there at, keep a mental rolidex of coupons that way when your making your list you can write beside the item coupon. Kids are a huge help. My teens pull all coupons for the shopping trip. They know the value of our family dollars. NEVER GO TO A STORE WITHOUT YOUR COUPONS.

    • felicia

      I used to keep my coupon binder in my car, then I went to the filing system which isn’t working. The more I read these comments abd the more I think about it, the more I think I’m going to go back to the binder, only this time I’ll just clip what I know we use and then file the rest.

  • Tanya S.

    I only follow a few key coupon blogs. I scan during my lunch break for about 10 minutes and print what looks to be a hot coupon, otherwise I wait until I get home in the evening/weekend.

    Newspaper circulars I file by date in a binder and keep it in the car. Internet coupons I file alphabetically and keep them with me in a letter envelope in my purse.

    I try to shop during my lunch hour or very early in the AM if the store opens early enough. Love having the grocery store to myself at 6am. No line behind me while the cashier scans my coupons

    • felicia

      I have never thought about going in that early, I don’t even know what time my stores open!! My stores are all close by, and I should be able to get in and out quickly. I’m going to have to check out the times they open. Thanks for the tip!!!

      • Jennifer

        The same would apply to going later at night, after the evening rush like 9pm-10pm. Also just know what you’re going for, get it, and leave, don’t spend time rummaging. If you go with your list and coupons attached to the list (or in a bag in your wallet or whatever) you’ll spend less time rummaging through your coupon stash.

        • Anonymous

          I am super busy too, and I found that shoppin when customer service is not open can be frustrating. Often I have to return to the store to get an adjustment or they mess up my coupons and I don’t have them anymore so I just have to return the item. Also beware that if the sale ends at 12 am that day that the receipt may change to the next week and you will lose out on the sale. A fallback I discovered shopping at 24 hr stores.

  • Coleen

    Searching for coupons, printing and cutting takes up a lot of time. I involve my family and friends in coupon swapping weekly. This a good way for me to get coupons I may have missed while I was busy. I purchased an Xacto knife and I cut my coupons very quickly on top of a cutting board (you can use one of those thin plastic ones). And of course, the matchups here really cut down on manually matching everything. While I am online and matching them up, I pull out what I plan to shop for and put them in a separate envelope. I never forget my coupon accordians though for those unadvertised in store deals!

  • Lori S.

    – I use an RSS reader to subscribe to a few money saving blogs (like this one.) Then during my lunch hour I scan the new headlines from all the blogs. I only click through to those deals I might actually do.
    – I also use my lunch hour to clip the coupons for my shopping trips. I save the whole insert and only clip when I am ready to use a coupon.
    – I stockpile so that I don’t have to shop every week, and if I miss a great deal one week I don’t beat myself up over it — I know it will come around again.
    – I follow just 1 or 2 stores, and if I see a GREAT deal somewhere else then I seriously evaluate whether it is worth my time to make the extra stop.
    – I quickly scan the sale circulars, but mostly use the postings from sites like this to make my shopping list. I’m teaching my kids what our “stock-up” price is for key items so they are starting to be able to read the circulars for me.
    – I really enjoy couponing and think of it as a hobby, so I view it as a way to unwind, not a burden on my time.

    Good luck! You can do it!

    • felicia

      Thanks! I’m starting to feel less anxious about it. I am going to give myself an hour on Thursday and an hour on Friday to come up with a menu for the week based of the sale adds for my 3 stores (they are all right next to each other), and get my coupons organized and see how good I can do. I started thinking about it, I waste 30 minutes sometimes searching for internet coupons just to see if there is a chance something is out there that wasn’t already listed, and normally its a dead end.

  • Elise

    I’m a mom with a full time job and I shop for 3 households (extended family with some tough circumstances).
    First — Jessie is SO right — look at this as a part time job — one where you get to pick your hours, pick IF you’re working this week and where you get paid VERY well.
    I do the prep work on Sunday night — I print out the coupons, and print my shopping lists. I keep whole inserts in a file, so if I have time, I start my clipping. Each store’s coupons get clipped to the shopping list with a binder clip. I only have about an hour on Sunday, so I get as far as I can get.
    Then each night I make a quick stop on the way home from work — my super busy nights are for the quicker, easier stores — drugstores, mostly. One night is for my BIG shopping at ONE supermarket (usually its ShopRite, but if another store has a great deal, I’ll head over there) I usually only do 3 nights (two drugstores and one supermarket). I get what is free or super cheap and stock the pantry — then meal plan from the pantry as much as possible.
    Its a lot of work, but it can be done.

  • James

    The Mrs. and I create all of our lists going to/at/coming home from our day jobs. twice a week the Mrs. stays at her parents house for a shorter commute and to save on travel costs ($50/week). We live in Central NJ and they are in the Bronx, while she works in Manhattan. We do our coupon printing (for items we have on our list or know will be on our list soon) at work, then she does it at her parents and I do it when I get home. Sunday morning we take the papers and the netbook and head over to Panera for breakfast. It is a little treat, plus and we make our lists for Shoprite/CVS/Walgreens/Target. Usually there for 1-2 hours. Since I commute by car and can pass 4 Shoprites and 3 CVS stores on my way home, I usually break it up throughout the week. I couldn’t coupon clip for two hours then go running around. There isn’t enough time in the day, but if you break it up throughout the week and get into that routine it does work.

    Now we have been couponing for 15 months now and the “stcokpile” we have has really helped us cut down on making those extra trips for things we already have a ton of at home. Our shopping trips have been reduced greatly and where it used to be spending $25 on $100 worth has dwindled a bit to putting out $10 for $40 worth. Once your stockpile is stacked, you can afford to pick and choose the deals better.

    • felicia

      I LOVE that you coupon together!! My boyfriend watches the kids when I go out now, because 2-4 kids in the store drives me nuts, and my kids are well behaved, but after 45 minutes they are done! I don’t start working for another 2-3 weeks, so I’m going to get as much stockpiling in as I can. Thanks!

      • Dee2

        I agree that stockpiling is key to couponing sanity. I am old enough to have a bit more leisure than you do. But, this past winter, I broke my leg very badly and wasn’t allowed to drive for 5 months. I had an excellent stockpile on hand (including a freezer packed to the gills). What a lifesaver! Hubby had to do the shopping and he is not very good at couponing. 😉 I am back full throttle, but I still don’t need very much each week because I only shop to replenish my stockpile or for an excellent deal.

        I am letting my stockpile diminish a bit (but not completely) because we are hoping to move and downsize since the 5 kids are all gone.

        The other thing that has helped a lot this summer is the CSA share I bought at the local farm. Once a week, we get a half-share that cost us $20/week (paid up front in November). It is so many veges, we have a hard time eating it all. And it is all locally grown. You might ask around now as the growing season is winding down about who like the CSA they got this summer as research for next year.

  • felicia

    Thanks for the tips! I am starting to get mentally prepared for this, and its starting to seem a lot easier than I thought it would be.

  • I just started back to work (I am a teacher so the summer makes couponing easy!) I’ve scaled my trips back to one large grocery trip every other week, usually Fri or Sat night when the kids are ready for bed and hubby is home with them, and 1 drugstore run Sunday morning. Occasionally if there is a fantastic deal at my CVS, I’ll run in there since I pass it on my way to and from work.
    I give myself 30 minutes about 2-3 nights a week to clip and organize my coupons, while watching TV with my husband. When I first started couponing, I was going crazy trying to find every good deal. Now we have a great personal product stockpile, so I can be more selective about what I buy and when I shop. I’ll make an extra grocery run only if there is an extremely good deal!

  • Ginny

    I only use Internet printables I get from here or couponing101. If there is a Mega sale I order coupons in bulk from eBay or a coupon clipping service once the preview ad comes out. I use a small accordion file by category and limiting the number of coupons I hoard really helps. I only clip/buy items I really use. I also limit myself to CVS, Stop n shop and shoprite depending on the sale. My shoprite is 24 hrs so I can shop after the kids are asleep. I buy products in bulk and freeze (ie bread) so I hardly need to buy staples. Skim plus milk, lactaid, and horizon with DHA last really long. It gets easier as you do it and get into a pattern. Once you really know what a good deal is then you jump at it. In the beginning everything looks great! Good luck!

  • Vercilla

    I get the bulk of my coupons from the Sunday Newspaper and sometimes I print from here as well. What I have been finding is that What I print sometimes I already have it from the paper, same value. If it a higher value or something I know I don’t have, I will print it. I order some coupons in bulk like detergent, snacks, and food items as well. I have a 3-in ring binder that houses my coupons right now: need another one! I am on FB every day for about 20 minutes or more catching up on freebies or coupons that may be out there. It’s hard: I am a single mom with 2 kids but I have put the energy in and I have gotten results…

  • I get asked this question all the time! I am a full time employee, part time graduate student, blogger, and wife. I also clip and organize coupons while watching TV with my husband ( I see a trend here multitasking ladies!) in the evening and only do it about 1-2 nights a week. If I don’t get a chance to clip and organize in my binder, then I keep the whole circular in a folder and clip from it later when I need to get a coupon for a deal or when I have more time to organize. I find that hitting CVS on my lunch break and reading blogs on my lunch break as well as on my phone while taking the metro home keeps me up to date on deals. I also review my circular and when I see a good deal I flip through my binder to see if I have matching coupons. Its not all that time consuming and its a fun hobby that I can choose to do as much of or as little as I want. I also mystery shop on my lunch break at stores near my office so I make some money without having to burn up gas getting there.