Making ‘Cents’ of It: An Intro to Couponing

I am not an extreme couponer…far from it.  As I’ve mentioned before, to be an extreme couponer you have to eat mostly processed food, live in an urban area, and have an exorbitant amount of free time.  In addition, I think there are other expenses you can cut without having to cheat stores and manufacturers out of money.  They have to make money too! 

However, I have done a lot of research on couponing…and I typically use at least a few coupons every time I go grocery shopping.  I may save only a few dollars, but a few dollars adds up.

If you want to coupon, even a little bit, the first thing you need to do is get some coupons.  The most well-known way to get coupons is through the Sunday papers.  If newspapers aren’t in your budget, however, and you’re not an extreme couponer, then the cost of the newspapers may not be worth the coupons you receive.  Typically, I buy a Sunday paper about once a month.  In our paper, the first Sunday of the month is usually the best because it contains the P&G brand coupons, so all of the coupons I use for makeup and toiletries are typically in there.  However, you never know what coupons they will have in there and if they’re worth anything for you.  I subscribe to a free service that gives me a preview of what coupons will be in the Sunday paper.  Before buying a paper, I review the coupons, see what one’s I would use, and then determine if it’s worth it to get a paper or two.

I also get coupons through coupons.com, fliers in the mail, and through the websites of some of my favorite brands (for instance, I subscribe to the Stonyfield organic yogurt email newsletter because I get great coupons for their yogurts).  Just keep an eye out when you’re online or looking through magazines…you’ll never know what you might find!

The next thing you want to do is clip your coupons.  Extreme couponers clip every single coupon they can find, even if they never use the specific product.  That’s because sometimes they can find great deals where they can get these items for free or even get paid to buy them.  However, I rarely find these deals in my area, so I only clip the coupons I will actually use.  This means I don’t clip coupons for certain processed foods that I would never buy.  I refuse to buy, or be tempted to buy, an item that I don’t want to use.

Once you’ve clipped your coupons, you will want to find an organization system that works best for you.  I’ve tried envelopes and spreadsheets, but recently I bought a small expanding file folder for a few dollars and it’s really helped a lot with my coupon organization.  I label each pocket, and organize them according to the different areas of the store.  For instance, one pocket is for “Eggs, Milk, & Dairy” and another is for “Toiletries”.  Additionally, I organize these pockets in the order that I go through the store.  This works great for me, because I can go through the store in an organized fashion and easily find the coupons I’m looking for.  Just experiment and find what works best for you!

Now that you’ve clipped and organized your coupons, it’s time to go through the weekly store sales, which are called circulars.  I get our circulars through the local paper we subscribe to (that, unfortunately, doesn’t have coupons).  If you don’t get the paper, you can easily find the circulars online.  Additionally, most stores have them when you come in, but since I plan ahead I don’t pick them up there.

Before going through the circulars, I go through all of my coupons to review what I have.  Then I go through the circulars, looking for items that I have coupons for.  If I find something that matches one of my coupons, I then analyze it to see if it’s worth buying.  You’ll want to be familiar with your store’s coupon policy before you do this.  For instance, the Harps in our town doubles coupons up to 50 cents.  So, if something’s on sale and you have a small coupon, you usually can get a good deal on it.  I once bought barbeque sauce for 10 cents doing this!  However, unless it’s a really great deal like that, I usually write down the price it will be at that particular store, and then, price shop at Walmart first to see which has the better deal.  Sometimes Walmart is better, even though they don’t double. 

Also, look for both manufacturer coupons (put out by whoever makes the product) and in-store coupons (put out by the store).  Typically you can use both for the same product, making your savings really great.

Once you’ve made your list of the best deals in the stores, go through your coupons again and see what you might want to buy or price shop for.  I put these coupons in the very front of each pocket section.  That way I can look at the price in-store, and determine if I want to buy that item or not.

Then I add all the other things I will need for the week that I don’t have a coupon for.  Typically, I menu plan for the week based on what I already have, what’s on sale, and what I’m buying with coupons.  Therefore, the rest of the stuff is just supplementary.    

Finally, it’s time to hit the stores.  Make your game plan and stick to it!  My favorite time to shop is in the morning during the week when it’s not crowded and I have plenty of time to look and price shop.  Really, though, with my coupons organized and my list ready (I star the items I have coupons for), grocery shopping is pretty quick.

Also, don’t forget to look for coupons other than for groceries and toiletries.  Coupons for restaurants, fast food, and home improvement stores really add up! 

Finally, I’ll leave you with my grocery shop for today and what coupons saved me.  I went to Walmart, where I usually grocery shop. 

My list looked as follows:

-Canned biscuits

-Eggs

-Milk

-Cream

-Sargento * (Harps if Walmart more than 1.75 each) <I made a note of this to see which store was cheaper

-Pillsbury Red, White, & Blue Frosting * < These were on sale since July 4th was over, AND I had a coupon!

-Mrs. Dash

-Canned Mushrooms

-Frozen Meatballs

-Green onion

-Red Bell Peppers (99 c each @ Wilsons) <This was for price matching purposes…more on that later.

-Green Bell Peppers (59 c each @ Wilsons) <Ditto

-Peaches (79 c/lb @ Wilsons) <Ditto…but they were out of peaches.

-Blackberries? ($13/gallon @ Wilsons) <Ditto, but didn’t buy any.

-Lettuce

 

Harps:

-Smart Ckn thighs or drumsticks <Still haven’t made it to the store for these, but they’re on sale the rest of the week.

 

So, there’s my grocery list.  I ended up also buying hot dogs and Fiber one bars (I had coupons for both), as well as a few other things I decided to get once there.  With coupons I saved $3.05…not much, but combine it with what was on sale and I did quite well. 

Next up for “Making ‘Cents’ of It”, I show you how price matching can make your day.  Stay tuned!

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