Before I started using coupons I tried to shop the ads. Being a good steward was important to me and I tried to buy only what we needed and avoided overindulging. I would buy sale items with a week or two in mind. While we hadn't started a strict grocery budget, I didn't want to buy too much and have a large grocery bill so I would buy a small number of sale items. I was saving money but running out of necessities and later paying retail. Until I figured out how to stockpile, I was at the mercy of the sales cycles.
Most items in the grocery store are on a sales cycle that causes prices to fluctuate from regular retail to rock bottom (a.k.a. "Buy Now" prices). This cycle may last 6 to 8 weeks. Using my old method of trying to buy a few weeks of sales items, I was hitting good prices some weeks and high prices the next. In order to ensure that a shopper only pays the rock bottom prices, they need to maintain a 6 to 8 week stockpile of shelf stable or freezer friendly necessities. Once I began shopping with the cycles in mind, I began buying enough of certain items to last 8 weeks when they hit my Buy Now prices.
Here is a coffee example. Starbucks was on sale for $4.99 (a fantastic pre-coupon price) AND I had $1.50 coupons to combine with the sale. I could buy a single bag of Starbucks for $3.49! But, if I didn't buy enough to last until the next great deal, I might have to buy the next bag at $6 to $11 (the normal price fluctuation). Instead, I bought four for $14. I spent more on coffee than I usually do, but I won't have to buy coffee for several months (giving me plenty of time to wait for a good deal).
One of the biggest hiccups to new couponers is that you may actually spend MORE in the first month or two of couponing. The reason for the bigger bill is that it will take you some time to acquire coupons and you will be buying more items to build your stockpile. But within two months, you will have a stockpile and your grocery bill will drop significantly.
Before I go on, I can picture some of you cringing at the thought of a stockpile. A stockpile is not hoarding, it is not selfishly clearing the shelves, and it certainly isn't wasting food by overbuying. It is simply providing your family with the products they need at the best price possible. Believe it or not, I can only remember tossing one expired product from my food stockpile in the last year. Because I am aware, I am not as likely to let food go bad. When I get fantastic prices that I can't pass up, I give excess to friends and charities. As a side note, my stockpile was an amazing blessing when I was pregnant with Ellie. Since even the sight of coupons made me sick, I did very little grocery planning in my first trimester. We had enough stockpiled to last during that queasy period with only occasional trips to the store for fresh foods.
Add in coupons! As I explain here, you don't have to use a single coupon to save on groceries. But coupons added to rock bottom prices make for huge savings, even to the point of being paid to take those items home with you! Using the stockpile method, your family may be able to buy 6 cereals for $9 ($1.50 a box at rock bottom prices). Simply add in 6 $.75 coupons and you'll get the same 6 boxes for $4.50. That's around 85% savings! While you aren't going to save 85% on every item you buy, keep it up and you will see hundreds of dollars of savings each month.