I have been a “coupon-er” for about a year now. And it’s been a fun year. The thing is, looking at the phenomenon of “coupon-ing” is pretty daunting as a whole, so I hope I can help you all out by breaking it down a bit and offering hints!
So, the chances are that most of you who are reading this blog have probably seen the TLC reality show “Extreme Couponing”. Like me you’re probably a bit in awe of the insane savings and the crazy dedication to savings, and perhaps a little overwhelmed by the idea. . Unfortunately, unlike the show, most of our stores (Central NY) have coupon limits and rarely have the amazing deals that you see on the show–mostly because I think most of the extreme couponers live in the South–you’re seeing a lot of shopping at Fry’s, Kroegers, Publix, etc….while here in NY we’re working with Tops, Target, Walmart–although most of what I do are at the first two stores.
Many people have asked me to share what I have learned, to share my handy website couponing lists, so that is why I am blogging here. I will be honest, the savings we are able to total up are usually around 60%, but that is definitely nothing to scoff at!
First off, here are a few questions I get about couponing:
Q: Doesn’t clipping & organizing coupons, and shopping take FOREVER each week?
A: Yes and No. When you first start, expect to spend quality hours getting organized (I will give tips below). My partner, Eric, and I generally clip and organize when watching Monday Night Raw, or sometimes during a bad SyFy movie during the weekend. So, we use the time we would usually do nothing to do something. Shopping usually takes 2-3 hours a week if we go to Tops and Target (and sometimes BJ’s–yes, they have store coupons and let you use manufacturer coupons!). Considering we usually save 50-70% on our groceries I consider it time well spent.
Q: Aren’t all couponers horders?
A: No. And this stereotype always ticks me off. I live in a ONE BEDROOM Apartment. Do I have a stockpile? Yup. Does it take up and entire room or rooms as it does in the TV show? Nope. We have a decent sized walk-in closet where we fit two shelves, and utilize two shelves above our clothing. Do I stock up on things when they’re cheap, like Laundry Detergent, shampoo, condition, deordant, tampons, and such? Yup. If I can get things for free or close to free I will find a place for it, as long as it doesn’t mean I can’t sleep on my own bed. Items are generally seasonal, so it’s good to stock up on stuff that doesn’t expire or has a long 0ff expiration date.
Okay, how to start?
First off, be organized!!! The best way I have found is to have a binder (or two, I one for food coupons and non-food coupons. This is good because there are two of us), inserts–like baseball card holders, and dividers. I worked in a grocery store of many years so I know the general lay out. If you’re not, think about general categories like (for food): Meat, Dairy, Frozen, Condiments, Snacks, Drinks, Canned Goods, Sandwich Stuff, Italian, Mexican, etc…(and for non-food) Makeup, Lotion, Hair Dye, Hair Products, Cleaners, Kitchen, Laundry, Storage Containers, Paper Products, Feminine Hygiene, etc.
*Know your store’s coupon policy (easy to google): Many stores have limits on how many coup0ns you can use at one time on a certain item. What I have found is that number is 4 here in CNY. And for us, that limit works fine. Any multiple above 4 that you might see in my ‘stockpile’ was done on separate trips.
*Be realistic: On the show people save like 90%, and it is easy to get discouraged when you don’t. I love watching the total go down, but realistically my first hope is that I save 50%, and if it is over then then YAY!
*Know your store: I would say never go into a store blind (having never been in there before) unless you have a friend who is familiar with it. This way you will know where to look for marked-down items or unadvertised specials.
*Get your store reward cards!! When your store doesn’t have “store coupons”, and a lot of grocery stores today don’t, the “bonus card” or whichever are what gives you their deals!
*Know your coupons: With each item (unless otherwise stated) you can use a manufacturer coupon AND a store coupon! This is key! For most grocery stores or pharmacy stores (kinney’s, rite-aid, etc) you will have a member/rewards card. Take the 2 minutes and sign up for it! Otherwise, for stores like Target they have online coupons on their website. Most places will only let you print 2 for a certain time period but if you find the deals early enough in the week it will give you time to print multiples! You can also print from multiple computers! Also, like to wait until everything is rung up to have the cashier swipe my savings card! Call it a rush, but to see the original total and then to watch it go down, down, down, is freaking cool!
Special Note: **You can use coupons on marked down items!
**Look for store specials around the holidays! Yesterday at Tops they had a “Buy 8 of these items and get $4 off Instantly!” Well they were items I was going to get anyways AND had coupons for!
**You can pair Buy One/Get One (BOGO) deals with coupons! If you have a BOGO mfr coupon for deordant and then the store has 75 cents off 1 (store coupon) then you can use 2 store coupons! <–This varies per store coupon policy, and some have changed since I originally posted this blog.
**Not all stores double their coupons. The stores that do usually won’t double over 99 cents, but you can get some big savings with doubling (some stores even triple if you’re lucky, but only on special occasions). Some stores (Like Tops did a few weeks ago) will offer dollar doublers which doubled the value of any $1 coupon up to 4, for a $4 savings per order! This was found in the circular!
**Watch your expiration dates. Coupons have a limited shelf life. Luckily if you’ve gone over some dates you can find addresses online to send them to families of our Military personnel and they can use coupons at a commissary up to 6 months after the date.
**I recently learned that coupons cycle every 3-4 months, so if you missed a deal it will come back around again!
*Watch the cashier/Ask to see the register screen: As a former cashier I know a lot of coupons/ big cartfulls can be stressful, so be respectful but watch the screen and make sure you are getting the right deals.
*Get coupons whenever and wherever you can: Sunday papers do not come to your retailer in one piece, more like 4, so make sure you are getting all of the right inserts (I will give you a site for a Sunday preview to make sure). Also, ask people that if they read the Sunday paper but don’t use coupons if they can save them for you. And then the dreaded: dumpster dive. Okay, okay, I don’t dumpster dive, but here in Ithaca we have a MULTITUDE of various recycling, one which is only paper or cardboard and I have looked through those if they aren’t nasty. You can also buy coupons online (Technically you pay for “clipping services” since it’s illegal to sell coupons), from Ebay, and such places for like 10cents each, which if you’re looking to really score huge then that is a good investment. Many websites will actually break down the general store flyers below and provide links to online coupons! They do all the work! :) I will give you sites below
*Don’t throw anything away (until the coupon expires): I wanna smack myself sometimes for thinking “I’m not gonna use that” only to see a killer deal. Maybe I won’t use it, but someone else will, and then you can pass on the couponing love. Share!
*Don’t buy anything you won’t use or donate! Did you see that Extreme Couponing episode where the woman had like a million packs of diapers but didn’t have any kids?! What a waste! I think she got them for free, but it would be a much better investment if those diapers were given to needy families via Church organizations or what not. I recently donated several packages of pantyliners that I got for free to a “Soap for Hope” box at work that goes to people in need via a Church. It felt great to give back!
*Get multiples: Without hoarding Like I said, we have a small shelf and it is holding a lot of stuff. Okay, so between us we have 18 deordants, but we probably paid $9 for them all. I have 5 bottles each of shampoo and conditioner (Pantene and John Frida) which cost me around $10 for all (about $1 a bottle), and 3 Nivea Body Wash that cost me $.12, and 4 Nivea Body Lotion that cost me $5. One of my favorite deals was getting a 20ct Tampax for $1.99–I bought 4 boxes, cause Im going to use them and it is better then $5 a box! So the lesson here is that if you find a good deal, don’t go overboard, but if it will save you money now and later then do it! I may get mocked for my deordant stash, but no one can call me smelly. I also didn’t buy the entire store out and deprive others from the deal. I tend to look for the higher quality health and beauty items (Im a high maintenance girl, LOL!), but if it is the best deal then who cares?
*Sign up for Freebies: Who doesn’t like freebies?! A lot sites for couponing will have a freebies section which will direct you to a reputable site to receive a free product. Sometime it is a sample, other time a full size item, and it will take 4-6 weeks to get to you, but who cares, its FREE! I’ve ordered samples for face cream, razors, tampons, steak rub, etc. If they want to send it to me then I will try it, and lots of times their samples will come with more coupons! Especially for new products on the markets, the company wants you to try their stuff!
*Write to the company: I did this once and got awesome coupons in the mail! Coupon blogs will offer tips on this.
*Email Notifications: Now, many of you may not want to do this in case SPAM might litter your in-box. Simple resolution, make a couponing email. Mine is email@example.com. The places you sign up though will send you regular reminders or coupons right to your inbox. To find the right sites (we don’t want viruses) I go off the recommendation of the sites I will list for you below. Also know that some of these sites might require you to download a printer application. These have been fine for me so far, and I run AVAST for virus protection and it is pretty mighty (and it’s FREE!).
*Use Social Media: A lot of your favorite products have facebook pages, and if you “like” them they will occasionally offer coupons you can print right from Facebook! Yeah, you might feel like a weird-o “liking” Frank’s Hot Sauce and Huggies Diapers, but it will only bein your news feed for a short time. Also, you can “like” the websites below and then all of the coupon savings they post on their blogs will show up in your news feed, and if you’re facebook addicted like I am, that is a good thing. That Mark Zukerberg is a crafty sucker.
*Do you have a special Dietary consideration? I do too! Im Gluten Sensitive, and sites will also post for that and organic options. Sometimes you have to dig a little but it helps A LOT! A fav of mine is: http://glutenfreecouponing.com/
*Coupons are more for then just groceries! The websites below often show current coupons for clothing stores or even for restaurants!
*Websites/Blogs that I follow:
I generally follow these THREE, but there are ton of others out there:
http://www.iamthatlady.com I like her because she’s based out of Oswego, so somewhat local!
http://www.livingrichwithcoupons.com Great breakdowns. Also great for freebies!
http://www.totallytarget.com They break down the crazy world of Target shopping!
And here’s a taste of my favorite deal from Target this weekend!
And the breakdown for this:
Orig 9.49 $2 Str $4 MFR Paid: $3.49 Saved $6
Orig $4.04 $2 STR Paid: $2.04 Saved $2
Orig $1.87 each $2 MFR Paid: FREE (.26 Money maker) Saved $4
Orig $1.42 STR $1.42 Paid: FREE Saved $1.42
Shampoo/Conditioner (3) $3.79 each. Total of $11.37
Hair Spray $6.29
Target Deal: Buy THREE Shampoo/Conditioner Items, get Styler for FREE.
So Hairspray = FREE.
Target Store Coupon (given in store) $3 off 3 Pantene Products
MFR coupon $1 off 2. MFR Catalina Coupon $1.25 off 1
Paid $6.12 for FOUR ITEMS!
Retail Value: $36.35
Saved: $24.96 or 69%
And a post from Tops this weekend, no breakdown though, too tired! But feel free to ask and I will provide!
I hope this helps! I sometimes post my breakdowns on http://www.stateofthelinds.wordpress.com or on my FB page (if you’re my friend). Sometimes I post without a breakdown, but can answer questions if you like. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or for help! Happy Shopping!