Get More Bang for Your Buck by Using Coupons and Sales Wisely

This is a guest post from Amanda, a Colorado tech writer and an activist for children with congenital heart disease.

Saturday MorningMy conversion to frugality began about a year ago, but it's only been recently that I've become good at it. We've been saving money by being aggressive with a cash-only purchase plan. If we can't afford it, we don't buy it. This only works if you know ahead of time what you need and how much you're willing to spend on it.

One of my recent accomplishments was purchasing fall clothing for my children. I knew that they needed new clothes, and that the cost would exceed our discretionary spending. In our budget, we set aside savings for clothing. I had a budget of $125 for each of my two kids. Though they didn't need new clothes in August, I knew that was when I'd be able to find good sales and the best selection, so I planned ahead.

I researched online and found some things I liked. Then, I pulled everything out of my kids' closets. I figured out what fit and what didn't. I kept only items that worked with what they already had. Turns out my daughter needed lots of clothes but my son did not. Using some good coupons, I ordered everything I needed from Old Navy and The Children's Place online. Although this meant that I spent $10 of my budget on shipping, I know that:

  • It prevented impulse shopping at the stores.
  • I stuck with my plan because I could get everything that I needed without trying to find substitutes if they didn't have a color or item I needed in the stores.
  • By Googling Children's Place, I found a 25% off coupon I could only use online, which was better than the 15% coupon they sent me.

I had plenty of my budget left over, so I got pajamas at the Carter's Outlet with a coupon they sent me, and got each kid four pair of warm PJs — all of which were necessary for the upcoming fall and winter. I got my daughter two pairs of shoes and three skirts at Target. I was planning on one skirt, but they cost less than one-third of what I had budgeted and I bought her lots of tights, so I knew we would use them (and we already have in the warm weather). At Target, the same Carters PJs were way more expensive than I had paid for them. My husband was impressed!

Of my $250 budget, I spent $230 including tax and shipping. My kids will be well-dressed until it gets hot again. I won't spend the other $20 — it just never came out of savings. The keys to my success were:

  • Forming a plan and sticking to it
  • Using time wisely
  • Avoiding impulse spending
  • Using good timing

It took me about six hours to look online, go through their closets, and order the clothes. It took another hour to go shopping. Those seven hours were well spent. I could have easily put $500 on my credit card in less than two hours if I hadn't thought things through. Essentially, I saved myself $35/hour by being diligent. By using the coupons I had (and finding better ones), I saved between 20%-25% on all of my purchases (except at Target).

My Target purchases were planned around back-to-school sales and end-of-season clearance. Ella Jumping TooMy daughter's skirts are actually summer clothes, but they're very simple and go well with the heavy tights I bought her and recycled from last year. Even though the two extra skirts I bought were semi-impulse, the shoes I bought on the same trip were $2 less than planned and the skirt was $6 less. That allowed me to spend exactly what I planned, and to get two items she could use. Now, if she couldn't have used them, then that would be wasteful.

This could have all backfired if I had gone shopping with my coupons not knowing what I was going to buy. I would have bought more and more just to save — same concept with clearance and back-to-school sales. The trick was to start with what I liked, and filter that through what we needed.

Also, I had to recognize that my daughter “needed” clothes; she's grown more than my son has, and boys' clothes are baggier and have longer wear-life for size if they don't get worn out. Had I spent only $125 on each, my son would have had lots of clothes he didn't need and my daughter would not have had enough. They're 3 and 4, so they don't know that I spent more on one than the other, and in the end it doesn't matter, because we were meeting needs.

Sales and coupons can either be a dangerous weapon of savings sabotage or a useful tool to maximize your money — the solution is to have a plan.

Amanda's previous articles at Get Rich Slowly include Use It or Lose It: Getting Value from the Things You Own and Baby Boom: The Shockwaves of a Lifestyle Change. Look for more from her in the future.

More about...Clothing, Frugality

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Kileab
Kileab
12 years ago

Target Clearance rocks. This is one of the ways I really save money on larger purchases(mostly electronics and home stuff). The Saving Freak just did an awesome post yesterday at savingfreak.com on Target clearance.

Coupons are great but only if you already had a need for that item.

Curtis
Curtis
12 years ago

Great advice, we are just making plans to start buying our winter wardrobes. The wife and son just went through theirs to see what first needed to be done away with just this past weekend. We’ve now made a budget item for clothing each month, so we have a defined amount to stick to.

Tara
Tara
12 years ago

You can get coupons from various retailers at http://www.retailmenot.com/

SJ
SJ
12 years ago

For my son (2.5) I routinely buy his clothes a little bit big – with the exception of the waistband of his pants (he’s a peanut), that works really well (for pants I only buy those with an adjustable waist). I found that most of his summer wardrobe lasted two seasons this way, and also his pants have lasted longer than expected. I also usually buy at Old Navy and Target, using sales and coupons but in person. You left out my favorite money saving tip – handmedowns from friends and family – all his PJs this winter were passed… Read more »

Ed
Ed
12 years ago

If you purchase online through http://www.ebates.com you will also get a % kickback which would help defray the shipping costs.
The hardest thing to do is remembering to go to ebates first and click on the link for the store. You can even get 3% back from Itunes.

Kyle
Kyle
12 years ago

Good advice. You can also search for free shipping coupons. I know Old Navy and Childrens Place run free shipping coupons from time to time.

Alison
Alison
12 years ago

You could have saved an even bigger bundle if you went to the Goodwill or Salvation Army. There are plenty of nearly new children’s items there for 3 and 4 year olds. But I do salute your careful shopping.

SR
SR
12 years ago

I agree with Alison — why didn’t you do any second-hand shopping? Or was part of the point, for you, that you didn’t want to actually enter a store and be tempted by items not on your list? You could also use craigslist to post/find what you need. CL is often a source of amazing bargains, and I’ve repeatedly been surprised what people give away for free.

I just did a quick search on my local CL, and found 4-5 listings for free kids clothes, including one with good quality winter coats…

Angie
Angie
12 years ago

Nice going, Amanda–sounds like you got a lot of good deals, and I admire you for making a plan and sticking with it. Figuring out what you need and then sticking (pretty closely!) to your list is a big part of staying within financial bounds. I do a lot of secondhand shopping for my kids. Like Alison and SR say, it’s generally even less expensive than good online deals or clearance stuff. Clearance deals and secondhand shopping both have the same degree of “happenstance”–you have to choose among what’s in front of you rather than being able to decide ahead… Read more »

Paula
Paula
12 years ago

Love this plan!

So much better to think it through in advance instead of “recreational” and impulse shopping.

Goodwill or not, a plan is the way to go.

Peter Timusk
Peter Timusk
12 years ago

I am in the problem of buying things because they are on sale. I mean I walk around the specials tables at electronics stores seeing if the cheap stuff is something I need/want rather than having a solid plan. I do have some shopping planned but need to do that more. Sales can be dangerous not healthy for me.

suzanne
suzanne
12 years ago

Well…..that all sounds good. But if you REALLY want to save you have to think out of the box–out of the STORE box. I have always bought my kids clothes used, at yard sales. I used to go to individual sales, but it became tedious (I was a SAHM then.) I now go to a few church yard sales/consignment sales/mothers of multiples fundraisers a year. In about an hour, and with about $40 a kid, I purchase all they need for the whole season. Most items are between $3-$5, and most are brand name (some still have tags.) I buy… Read more »

Paulette Fowler
Paulette Fowler
11 years ago

I think your website is so, so GOOD. I have an idea that I been tossing around in my head for awhile now and it would fit into your website that could take it up a notch and save people a lot of money, drive prices down, and stop fooddownsizing. I know there is money to be made in my idea. I sure would like to get together on this. I believe we can help people save money and make it easier for them to feed their familys by using my idea. Food and other products costs keep going up… Read more »

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