Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Couponing 101

Many of you have been inspired to start couponing and have asked for some additional information. I will now step on my soapbox and give you my rundown on couponing.

Change in mindset:

If you are like most people, you purchase your grocery items as they need replenishment. This is the way I shopped for a long time. I had a list on the refrigerator and added items as I saw that they were getting low. I would then make my weekly trip to the grocery store and sometimes I would have a coupon for the items and sometimes I wouldn’t. Usually I ended up paying full price for my groceries since I needed them regardless of a sale price or corresponding coupon.

To save money on groceries, you MUST stock up on items when they are at their lowest price. My general rule of thumb is to purchase approximately six months worth of an item if I find it at rock bottom (lots of times free) prices. I would remind you to check out expiration dates on your purchases before you stock up though. You don’t want to buy six months worth of something only to realize that it all expires in a month’s time.

Sales on certain products are cyclical. For example, peanut butter is generally at its rock bottom price in late summer/early fall to correspond with back to school time. Summertime is when you will find commodities like bbq sauce and crackers at their rock bottom prices. After a while, you will get to know these cycles and be better able to judge how much you need to buy to tide you over to the next sale. As an example, I like to keep a lot of crackers on hand in my house. We eat them for snacks, we use them with cold cuts and cheese for a quick main course, etc. Before I began couponing and shopping sales, I would pay anywhere from $2.00 to $3.50 for a box of crackers. This summer when crackers were on sale and I had coupons for them as well, I was able to get all of our favorite crackers for free. We have been eating them for about five months, and we still have a pretty big stash of them in the pantry to last us several more months. That one example, probably saved my family roughly $30. Another example that comes to mind is toothpaste. Toothpaste is something that everybody needs. Before my mindset change, I thought nothing of paying $3 for a tube of toothpaste when we ran low. Now, with my new found knowledge, I wince at paying more than $.25 for toothpaste and would only do that in an extreme emergency since I regularly now get toothpaste for free.

Compiling a coupon stash:

Often times the best deals to be had come about by purchasing multiple quantities of a certain item. Also, if you find a great deal on something that your family regularly uses you’ll want to get more than just one.

Building up a coupon stash is easy and can be done using multiple resources. The first major coupon resource is the Sunday newspaper. Generally there are two to three inserts: Red Plum (RP) and Smart Source (SS). To get multiple copies of these inserts you either need to buy multiple Sunday papers or obtain the inserts from family/friends. I have three subscriptions to the Sunday paper. Each newspaper costs $2.00, so if I use more than that in coupons the paper pays for itself. The second major coupon resource is the internet (IP). There are many good coupon resources on the internet. One drawback of internet printable coupons is that they may not be accepted at all stores. Also each computer is usually only allowed to print two of each kind of coupon.

Coupon Storage/Organization:

There are many different schools of thought on the best way to store and organize all of these coupons you collect. The three most widely used are: 1. A coupon binder or 2. dating and filing whole inserts 3. a coupon organizer. There are pros and cons to both methods and you’ll need to experiment with what works for you.

A coupon binder is basically a plastic binder with clear baseball card holder or picture holder inserts. The supplies are not very expensive and can be found at most office supply stores. The biggest advantage to this method is that you can have all of your coupons with you when you shop. If you find an unadvertised deal, you can act on it. The biggest disadvantage to this method is the time it takes to clip and file all coupons. I personally use this method. The coupons in your binder should be organized in some fashion for quick access. Some people organize by category such as personal care, frozen goods, canned goods, cereal, etc. I organize mine in alphabetical order by manufacturer.

If you do not wish to spend the time clipping coupons and don’t want to lug a binder to the store with you, you may benefit from the insert filing method. Each Sunday you write the date on the front of the coupon inserts and file them in chronological order. You then clip the coupons as you use them. Most websites that match up grocery sales and coupons will tell you which insert contains the particular coupon that you need. There is also a helpful website that allows you to type in a product and then returns the location of any corresponding coupons. The drawback of this method is that you do not have extra coupons with you when you shop, so it is more difficult to take advantage of an unadvertised sale or clearance item.

A coupon organizer can also be used for coupon storage. I used this method when I first started couponing, but my stash eventually outgrew my organizer. These organizers are basically small accordion style folders. I’ve seen them at the dollar store, Wal-mart, online, etc. You still have to spend the time clipping coupons and they are not always easily found inside the organizer. The advantage is that they fit neatly in most purses so that you’ll always have your coupons with you.

Getting Started:

The best way to use coupons is to combine them with a sale price. I’ll give you an example of a deal that my grocery store had recently: Smithfield bacon is normally $4.99 per package. My local grocery store marked the price down to $3.00 per package. The Smithfield website had $3.00 off of one package of bacon coupons available. So with the sale price and coupon, I was able to get the bacon free. Other examples can get more complicated using sale prices, rebates, and double coupons. There are many websites that do your weekly coupon matchups for you. They take the time to review your store’s weekly sale flyer and find corresponding coupons and rebates. I like to use be centsable’s grocery gathering . They list coupon matchups for your local grocery stores as well as national chains such as Target, Wal-mart, Walgreens, etc.

There are many of you Minnesotans that reading this blog. I found several MN specific sites: and . Be sure to check out other reader’s comments too. Often times other shoppers share the great deals that they got so that you can get in on it too.

Where to shop:

I rarely ever do all of my shopping in one spot. I generally go to Walgreens and Wal-mart for my personal care items; and I frequent Albertson’s, Safeway, and Target for my grocery items.

I’m running out of steam so please let me know if you want more specific information on any certain area. My suggestion to getting started is to pick one deal and do it. Once you do this a few times, you’ll get the hang of things and feel confident enough to try more complicated deals.

Happy shopping!!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave a comment; I'd love to hear what you have to say.