Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Not Extreme Couponing

I have only caught a brief glimpse at an episode of that extreme coupon show. From what I saw, it was ridiculous. I don't care if you plan on donating 90% of what you purchase, buying 150 things of deodorant is stupid.

If you are interested in saving money on a reasonable load of groceries then this is the post for you.

I have been using coupons for many years. Every time I share that fact with someone I know, they ask me to teach them how. This is usually after they state that, "they don't have time to clip coupons" to which I reply, "But I cut my grocery bill from $300 to $145." Yeah, that gets them every time! I also love the argument that there are never coupons for what they buy. Are you saying you don't use toilet paper, cleaning products, toiletries, etc? When I inquire about the brand of toothpaste they use and the usual price they pay for it, I usually find out it's something like Crest and they pay (if they can remember) about $3.99. Wow! I haven't paid more than 50 cents for a tube of brand name toothpaste in years!

Let me walk you through how to get started.

1. Finding Coupons
You need coupons. Duh, right? But where do you get them? There's always the Sunday paper of course. Click here is the coupon insert schedule for 2102. It is important to look at this before deciding to buy multiple papers. Another option for gathering coupons is a clipping service like The Coupon Master. You pay just pennies for each coupon so a $1.00 coupon will now net you a $.97 savings. Hey, it's something! I bet you'd stop on the sidewalk to pick up $.97, wouldn't you? The third option for obtaining a nice load of coupons is to print them off the Internet. There are dozens of sites that have coupons ready to print, many for free. But here are a few things to consider before giving your printer a workout. 1)Many of the coupons are for a smaller amount than the ones from the newspaper inserts. (2) Some stores are very skeptical about accepting these types of coupons. Thanks to the coupon extremists, coupon policies are more strict than ever!
So to recap you options are:
-Sunday newspaper inserts
-Clipping service
-Online coupons

Ready to move on?

2. Organize Your Coupons
Here is where most people abandon ship but the money you save will be worth it. Take a look at your grocery store's layout. This will be a good start at how to organize your coupons. As your supply of coupons increases, you may want more sub-categories. Also, when you are starting out, a small file like this will work.
They are cheap and you won't feel bad when you have to toss it out to move to something bigger. Personally, I like the coupon binder method. The binder method is the easiest way to store a ton of coupons. 
Here is what you will need, I've provided the links to Amazon in case you can't find these items in your area.

A binder- I like one that zips all the way around. I know I am not the only one who drops stuff for no reason. This one also has nice pockets and a calculator in the front. Any binder will work though.

Plastic Sleeves- I would start with about 20. You can always order more as you break your categories into subcategories. I know that many people use the pages that hold baseball cards, but they only hold little coupons and there are many over-sized coupons these days.

Tab Dividers- I would get 2 packages so that you have 10 total. The tabs will be major categories like: Refrigerated, Frozen, Cereal, Canned Good, Toiletries, Cleaning, etc.
The plastic insert pages will break those down further. For example under Cleaning I have: dishes, house, laundry, air freshener, etc.

For those who want it done for you, you can buy coupon binders/boxes on Ebay. But I'm a do-it-yourself kind of girl, so I made my own.

3. Use Your Coupons
If you're like me, you like to look at your coupons and oooh and aaaah about them. I imagine them to be money and I am rich. Just kidding, I don't do that. Often.
Seriously though, if you've gone through the task of collecting and organizing, now you are ready to shop!
There are ways to use coupons and then there are ways to save some serious money using coupons. If you walk into a store with a binder, you are in the business of saving serious money.

Here are some steps to achieving coupon greatness:
- First, check your store's coupon policy. Print it out and put it in your binder. The goal is to be at least as educated if not more than the store clerk. Believe me, it isn't a challenge to be more educated when it comes to coupon policies. That segment of the store's training video must be right after lunch on day 5 because only a select few ever learn it.

-Next, shop with a list. Look online at your store's sales. Match your coupons to what is on sale. Make your menu from those items.

-Check out The Grocery Game. I have used this site for years and I will never use anything else. I've tried the free sites, but I always go back to GG because it does it better. It is $10 for 8 weeks and $5 for each additional store. You can get a free 4 week trial to start. If you sign up, please use me as a reference. HLPHARRIS@gmail.com
-In addition to your coupons, sign up for any customer card your store offers. Many grocery and drug stores now have customer cards that get you savings not offered to those without the card.

-Check with your store's coupon policy about stacking coupons. This means using 1 store coupon and 1 manufacturers coupon on a single item. Many stores are cracking down on this, again because of those nut cases who buy 150 of one thing.

 4. Other Things You Should Know 
- Never, ever leave your coupon binder at home or in the car. The first time you do and you run across something on clearance that you have 10 coupons for, you will kick yourself. Trust me. It's ok though, I really didn't want to get Cascade for 10 cents a bottle.

- Seriously consider joining a Coupon Train. You might think this is for those nut cases on that wacky coupon show, but it isn't. Those people plow through trash. The rest of us die-hard coupon users join coupon trains. On The Grocery Game, there is a forum for discussing coupons called Teri's Message Board. You do not have to be a user of GG to join the chat. At the bottom of that page, you will find a chat room for coupon trains. Basically a coupon train is a group of women who agree to mail coupons they don't use to the next person on the train. Each rider (member of the train) agrees to buy a set number of papers each week, clip every coupon, take the ones you want, and forward the ones you don't. Rider A sends to Rider B, B to C, C to D and so on. You send the coupons you clipped that you don't want AND the coupons you received that week from the rider before you. Coupon trains are often done by region or state(s). This is a great way to get a ton of coupons.

-Use coupon etiquette. Don't do what we call shelf clearing. Just because you have 10 coupons and there are 10 things, only buy a few. You can always come back later or go to another store. Also, if you have 10 coupons for item X and the coupon expires tomorrow and you only want to buy 3 of X, leave the rest of your coupons on the shelf. I call it being the coupon fairy. Some might call it karma. Whatever it is, it's just being nice.

-Don't buy what you don't need. Using coupons can be addictive and you might find yourself buying something you don't want or need just because it's a penny. Unless you are going to donate it, leave it on the shelf, maybe even with the coupon.

-Remember that sales and coupons go in cycles. Grocery Coupon Guide has a great link on the bottom of the homepage to each month's sales. Most sales go in 9-12 week cycles.

-Buy what you will need to get you and your family can use for 9-12 weeks. Unless you have a super large and very stinky family, I don't think you need 150 deodorants!

Thanks for sticking around for this super long post. I hope you found it to be helpful and encouraging. Now, go get started on that binder.

Check back tomorrow when I fill you in on why you should never buy toiletries at the grocery store!

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