As you may have guessed from the title, I am not an extreme couponer. But the show did inspire me to try. So I did a little research. And from everything I read, it’s more advantageous to take the realistic approach if you want to spend less than 40 hours a week at it. So in the past two months, I’ve spent a couple of hours a week at it and managed to save an average of 40-50%. And maintain my sanity.
First, you need coupons. Who would’ve thought? I started with a small amount, just using what I got in the mail. Which isn’t a lot. I’m lucky if my mailman comes every other day. But they build up. Another way I’ve gotten them is exchanging the ones I’ve already gone through with the ones my mom’s already gone through. She does the same with some of her friends, so not only does this lead to duplicates I can use on the things I already need, but it also gives me access to coupons and ads I wouldn’t otherwise receive. I’ve tried internet coupons, but haven’t had much luck. I’m pretty good at using google, but so far my searches end with more frustration than its worth. So if you run or know of a good blog that has printable coupons, please let me and everyone else know!
I try to only clip for things I need (or may need in the next two months, depending on when the expiration date is.) Sometimes a $4.00 coupon will find its way into my stash…I figure…what’s the harm in seeing if I can get something for free? Or for $.50? But I don’t go crazy. If I end up spending $3.50 on a product that was originally $8.00 that I’m not going to end up using or wouldn’t have “needed” originally, I haven’t saved $4.50; I’ve actually been lured into spending and losing $3.50. That can add up.
After I’ve got my stash in order (I’m still at an envelope sorted by expiration date, although you can go crazy and make a binder sorted by aisle or whatever works for you,) I look at my stores weekly ads. I do the ones that I can search through online first. Like Giant Eagle. Not only is their weekly ad on their website, but I can type in each coupon item and see if a sale lines up with my stash. I wish every store did this. But once I’ve searched and recorded all the savings for that store, I can move on to the paper ads and online non-searchable weekly sale ads with a bit of confidence that I’ll be able to identify an item I have a coupon for. Just because you find one sale that lines up, don’t stop! Stores will often put the same item on sale at the same time (competition!) so look for the best deal.
Now I have to find more coupons. Some stores’ websites (like Giant Eagle’s…I know I’m pimping them a lot, but I’m new at this and they’re the only ones that have made this easy on me,) have these things called e-coupons. You can use them in conjunction with the paper coupons you already have. You load them onto your store card via the website, and then compare them with the sales the same way you did with the paper ones.
So then I make a list. Of what I’ll be saving on this week and of the things I absolutely can’t make it until next shopping trip without. I have my coupons ready: organized by which store I’ll be using them in and in which order I’ll look for them in. I do not stray from my list. Unless my boyfriend comes with me. He likes to enjoy life a little more than I do. (Thank God.)
Maybe we should cover some cardinal rules before we go to the store:
1. In general, you can use one store coupon and one manufacturer coupon per item.
2. Always check your store’s coupon policy before you go shopping. Most stores will double (twice the savings!) of coupons up to $.99, but this is not always true. I was very disappointed when I learned this the hard way on a recent trip to Target.
3. Being organized will save you a lot of time and potential embarrassment when you’re in the store. It only takes me about 20 minutes tops to get things all in order after I’m done with all the clipping and sale sleuthing. Well worth it.
So I’m in the store. I’m shopping. And I have this awesome coupon for fancy brand name cereal that brings the cost down to $2.50 for a box. Word. But then I see a bag of even more cereal that tastes exactly the same except it’s made by a parrot instead of a toucan. And it’s $2.00. I’m going with the parrot. A coupon is no good if it’s not saving you money. It’s up to you which things you HAVE to have brand name (because sometimes, it really does matter,) but don’t be afraid to at least try generics.
So I have everything I need. I go to check out. I give them my store card. I make sure all the sales come up. They ring up all my groceries. Then I give them my coupons. I make sure all of those ring up (and ring up properly.) And then I’m out.
This may be super dorky and over the top of me, but when I get home I look at all my receipts to review how I did. Remember that $4.00 coupon? It got me once. And I need to take the time to let that beat me up inside so I won’t do it again. Sometimes I get the toucan instead of the parrot. And I do it way too many times on one trip. The innocent $.50 splurge made ten times has cost me $5. Anti-productive. But then I look at all the stuff I did well. Like getting free pasta because I bought that parmesan cheese I was going to get anyways. Or getting my favorite shampoo for $.50 when it’s normally $3.50. And it makes me happy again. This way, I learn from my mistakes but still stay motivated for next time.
Kudos to all you extreme couponers out there. I’d love to learn from you. But right now, I’m 100% happy saving 50% for only a couple of hours of my time.