Friday, June 5, 2009

How to do couponing

People ask me how to do couponing, and it doesn't even occur to me at this point that people don't know where to start, so I've written a little "how to" guide on how I do it (actually, this is my modified reply to a friend who asked). Enjoy!

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In case you didn't already know, I'm doing a bit of couponing, which I always thought was kind of dumb, because how much can you really save with 35 cent or $1 coupons? (Turns out a lot). We budget $300 a month for groceries, and since I've started this we haven't spent more than $180 for the whole month.

This is a good article about beginning your couponing, but I'll also go over how I do it too:

The trick is to use coupons strategically with sales to make stuff way cheaper than it is or free (I didn't think it was possible, but I actually get a LOT of free stuff.) For example, if BBQ sauce is usually $2.50 and it goes on sale for $.99 and I have a $1 off coupon, I can get it for free (actually, I make a penny profit on that scenario).

Where to get Coupons

You get coupons from your Sunday paper, and there are three kinds of coupon inserts: Smart Source (abbreviated SS on most websites and blogs), Red Plum (RP) and Proctor & Gable (PG).

Buy the Sunday paper (or multiple sunday papers if you want to stack coupons) and you'll have what you need to start with. There are also printable coupons, and you can find those on websites like the ones below and at places like Coupons.com.

Using blogs to help you find deals and save you time

There are a bunch of different websites that pretty much do the hard work for you. My three favorites (for my area) are Southern Savers (this one is the most organized, but the prices are from a different region than mine, so the prices are sometimes innacurate for our area), Couponing101.com (good for both weekly deals and basics about couponing), and Craving the Savings (this one is based in North Texas so it has the most accurate prices, but she doesn't do as much detail as Southern Savers does). You can also pay The Grocery Game to do it for you, but I've found that with all the other free websites available, I don't even have to do that.

Every week, these websites (and others like them) do most of the work for you by looking through the sales for each store and matching the sales with the coupons available. If the prices are the same as your area, then the hard part is already done and all you have to do is make a list of what you're going to get and pull your coupons before heading to the store.

Organization

My organization system consists of a 3-ring binder with categories (food, which is organized alphabetically by brand; health and beauty, which is organized by subcategories like hair, makeup, etc.; and household, again, organized by subcategories like cleaning, laundry, etc.) I use clear baseball card holders (you can get them at Target or Walmart for about $5) to put all my coupons in so I can flip through them easily.

I also have a smaller, accordion-style coupon organizer (similar to this, but not nearly as cute as this one) that I keep the coupons that I've pulled for specific trips (tabs for Kroger, CVS, Tom Thumb, Walgreen's, etc.). This way, I don't have to be a total dork with my giant binder at the register (though it's usually in my cart in case I see something on sale that I had missed online that I have a coupon for).

To clip, or not to clip?

Some people simply write the date on the inserts after they pull them out of the paper, file them, then clip when needed. This is a good method if you don't have a lot of time, but you'll probably miss some of the deals if you haven't clipped everything and organized it. I clip everything first because 1) I remember what I have better if I've already clipped it, and 2) it's easier for me to find them that way.

**Update 1/4/10 -  Since writing this, I've begun simply filing my inserts. I use coupontom.com to find out if there's a coupon for something and then find it. Ideally, I would always clip and organize in my binder, but this works in a pinch.

Now, printing is a little different. Unless there's a hot hot hot coupon that will go away quickly (there's a print limit on printable coupons and when they're gone, they're gone), I don't print the printables until I need them. No use using my ink and paper for coupons that I may end up throwing away after they expire.

The List

Before my shopping trip, I make a list of everything I'm going to buy (with specific sizes so I know what the coupon will be good for), write what the sale price is next to it, how many I can buy at that price (i.e., how many coupons I have for that product), what exactly the coupon is (i.e., $1/1, or $1 off 1 of that item... sometimes it's $1/2, which means you have to buy 2 to get $1 off), and what my final price is going to be. This way, I know exactly what I need to buy when I get to the store and I don't have to flip through my coupons to see how many I can get or what the coupon is for.

Stores that double and triple are your friends

Also, grocery stores usually double coupons that are 50 cents or less or triple coupons 39 cents or less, which essentially makes them worth $1 and $1.05, respectively. So if you can shop at a place that doubles or triples (like Kroger) instead of a place that doesn't (CVS), then your coupon is worth more. It's just a matter of strategizing based on the current sales.

Playing by the rules:

1) You can only use one manufacturer's coupon per item. It usually says this on the coupon. If you have 2 manufacturer's coupons for an item, you must buy 2 of those items. You can, however, use manufacturer's coupons with store coupons. For example, if Tom Thumb sends out coupons for stuff at their store, you can match these coupons with manufacturer's coupons for the same item.

2) You have to buy the product listed, but not necessarily the product pictured. Make sure and read what the coupon is actually for, because often times they'll put the most expensive thing in the picture, but really you can get something cheaper.

3) You can't make copies of coupons. Duh.

4) You can't use coupons after their expiration dates (unless it's the store's policy to accept them and cover the cost themselves)

Stockpiling


Because stuff only goes on sale every so often, one good strategy to always pay low prices is stockpiling. You do this by buying multiple newspapers and stacking the coupons, then buying more of an on-sale item than just what you need right now. For example, I only need one package of toilet paper, but it's on sale this week and I have enough coupons to buy 5 packages of toilet paper at a discounted price, so I should buy it all now so that it will last until the next sale cycle. Generally, that's about 6 weeks, so try to buy enough of whatever you need to last you that long. Obviously these things need to be non-perishable or freezable items.

You may think it's difficult to find places to store all this extra stuff, but you can get creative. I use the shelves in my laundry room for most of my stuff, but I also have extra high shelves in the garage that I could store toilet paper, canned goods, etc. on. We also now utilize the space at the back of our pantry, where we didn't usually put stuff before because we couldn't see it very well, to store stockpiled items.

Don't forget to check the expiration dates when you're shopping, though! Be sure that the item won't expire before you're able to use it.


Other helpful links for getting started:

-How to work CVS (they have something called an "Extra Care Bucks" program. Basically free money back for shopping there. Makes a lot of stuff free.)

-How to work Walgreens (similar to CVS, but theirs is called Register Rewards and their rules are a little different)

-Couponing terms

-Coupontom.com - a searchable database of all the coupons out there - great if you're matching deals on your own without the help of blogs

I think that kind of covers the basics. I know that's a lot of information I just threw at you but feel free to ask specific questions in the comments of this post and I'll be happy to answer them!

Good luck!!

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Update: Also see my newer post on How to find the best deals on stuff

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mandy,
Just wanted to add that hotcouponworld.com is a great free website that has a weekly break down of individual store sales and tells you about coupons and where to find them for sale items. Also, lets you know how the deals have worked for other "couponers". Thanks for the great post! :)
Mandy ~ sunflwr508@yahoo.com

Stephanie said...

Thanks for linking to me Mandy! Isn't couponing fun? It quickly became my favorite hobby!

HomeSpun Threads said...

This is something I want to try doing but have had a hard time starting so thank you for the advice on organizing! Did you mention how much time you spend a week and do you end up shopping several different places to save money or do you manage to hit just one store?

Mandy and Jack said...

You're welcome! Well, since I wrote this I started filing instead of clipping because I was low on time, but clipping and organized only took me about an hour and a half every week - I would clip on Thursdays during Grey's and The Office. :)

I primarily shop at Kroger, but I also hit CVS every week. Other than that, I don't really go to too many other stores unless I hear about a REALLY good deal somewhere.

Hope this helped! It's really not very hard. Just takes some organization! :)

Sarah said...

Came over from TipJunkie -- thank you for this and especially for all of the links to great places! I live (kind of) in North Texas, but we're kind of a small market and no place does double or triple coupons. Stinks, but I am doing what I can! Thanks for this!

Kelley said...

I came to find your blog from Tip Junkie. Thanks for the great couponing tutorial! I hope to get organized enough to start doing this!

Thanks!

Mrs.Crab said...

Ahhhhhh so much info, I think my head might explode. Are you for hire?? okay seriously, I bought three different newspapers last Sunday and clipped a total of 7 coupons the only food related item was coffee creamer but that brand doesn't sell fat free so in the garbage they went. How do you manage food on a budget when the only coupons are for food that isn't healthy for you?