Friday, April 2, 2010

By Popular Demand-- Couponing Basics

Ok, this isn’t exactly what you’d call a spiritual blog entry (well, I guess you could file it under “good stewardship” if you want), but people keep asking me about it, so I thought I would put it in one easily accessible place so I could refer people to it.

A few months ago, I started couponing in earnest. It has been saving me a ton of money on groceries, and people have been asking me to show them how to do it. First, let me say, I did not come up with this idea myself. There are lots of people who have been doing this for years that are much better at it than I am, and I have learned from them.

Here’s how I do it:

1. Follow a good local couponing blog. The gals that run these blogs have eyes and ears all over. They find the great deals, and do the leg work for you. Some of the couponing blogs (such as “The Grocery Game”) charge a fee to subscribe to the information on their sites, but there are plenty of great ones that are free and have all the same information.

I use www.mybatonrougemommy.com . There is also an excellent Christian couponing blog run by a lady in Nashville called www.faithfulprovisions.com (her information, is, of course, local to Nahsville). To find a good blog in your area, go to www.thefrugalmap.com, or do a web search with the word “couponing” and the name of your city.

Additionally, a lot of expert couponers have made some very helpful videos which they have posted on YouTube, so go to www.youtube.com and enter “couponing” in the search bar for more helpful hints.

2. Cut coupons. In the Baton Rouge area, the 3 major coupon distributors (Red Plum {RP}, Smart Source {SS}, and Proctor & Gamble {P&G}) put their coupon inserts in two places: the Sunday Advocate, and in the bundle of ad circulars that are delivered to your mailbox weekly (mine usually come on Tuesday or Wednesday).

P&G is always in the Advocate. SS is usually in the Advocate, but occasionally in the circular mailer. RP is usually in the circular mailer, but occasionally in the Advocate.

I have not yet figured out these companies’ distribution patterns. For example, RP does not put an insert in the ad circulars every single week. Likewise, P&G skips a week or three in the Advocate here and there. Every once in a while there is a really sad week in which there are NO coupons in the Sunday paper. That’s a good Sunday to take an afternoon nap.

Another good source for coupons to clip is women’s magazines. I happen to have a subscription to Better Homes and Gardens. They usually have 4 or 5 coupons each month. One women’s magazine is chock full of coupons. It is called “All You”, and is available on the newsstand at WalMart, or via subscription.

3. Print coupons. There are two major coupon printing web sites: www.smartsource.com, and www.coupons.com. A variety of coupons is available on each.

Here’s a tip for printing coupons from these two sites that you won’t find on most couponing sites: Go to www.mypoints.com and sign up. My Points is a site where you earn points for shopping on-line, clicking on e-mails they send you, answering surveys they e-mail you, etc. When you accrue enough points, you can redeem them for gift cards to various stores, including WalMart and Target, gas stations, restaurants, and other retailers.

One of the ways you can earn points is by printing your smartsource and coupons.com coupons through the My Points site. You earn 10 points per coupon you print and redeem. If you print and redeem 10 or more in a month, you get 25 bonus points. (Coupons can be found under the “Deals” tab.)

If you do decide to use My Points, you’ll want to get a separate e-mail account just for that purpose. My Points generates tons of spam you won’t want coming to your primary e-mail address.

Another good site for coupons is Target’s coupon site. Go to www.target.com, click on “see more” on the far right side of the home page, and then click on “coupons”. They usually have a good number of pretty decent coupons. The only catch is that some of them are manufacturers coupons (redeemable anywhere), and some of them are Target store coupons (redeemable only at Target), but the only way to figure out which kind it is is to print it out.

www.redplum.com is another smaller printable coupon site.

If there are certain products you like, go to the companies’ own web sites (you can find the web sites by doing a web search of the name of the product). Many of them have coupons under a tab that says “coupons”, “special offers”, “promotions”, etc. A lot of them also have a section where you can sign up for their newsletter or to receive special promotions by mail/e-mail, which will get you even more coupons.

I keep a list of companies whose products I use and need coupons for in the “favorites” (bookmark) list of my internet browser. When I need to buy that product, I just go to my list, click on a web site, and print out a coupon.

And, of course, the couponing blog you follow will give you a heads up on other printables from time to time.

Things to know about printable coupons:
Not all stores accept them. In my area, Ralph’s, Hi Nabor, and Dollar General do not accept printable coupons at all. WalMart Neighborhood Market will not accept manufacturer’s coupons printed from the Target web site even though these are manufacturer’s coupons just like the ones you clip out of magazines.

You absolutely, positively, must NEVER, NEVER, NEVER photocopy them. This is fraud, and it’s what is causing more and more stores to decide not to accept them.

Most web sites will only let you print a certain number of printable coupons (usually a max of 2). By hitting the “back” button on your browser after the first one prints, you will usually be able to get that 2nd one to print.

4. Decide which coupons to clip or print. A lot of the “super couponer” ladies clip or print every single coupon that comes along, whether it is for a product they need or not. If they find a good coupon deal on something they don’t need, they go ahead and buy the item and donate it to a food bank, crisis pregnancy center, etc. It is a great way to help out worthy causes.

I do this occasionally, but to be honest, I don’t normally have the extra time or money to chase down deals on things my family can’t use. Additionally, if you print out every single printable coupon that comes along, you will find that your savings are offset by the number of ink cartridges you have to purchase to print them. For clippable coupons you can’t use, try to think of a friend to pass them along to.

When you see a coupon, ask yourself:
Is there any way I can use this product? If there’s no way you could/would ever use it, either pass it up or pass it along to a friend.

Even if I wouldn’t normally use this product/brand, would I be willing to try it if it were really cheap/free, or if it were cheaper than my regular brand of this product?

Answering these questions before you clip or print will save you some time and effort.

5. Know your prices. You won’t be able to know whether or not something is a good deal if you don’t know what things normally cost. Educate yourself. Comparison shop. Take a notebook to the store and write down prices if necessary. I usually use WalMart’s prices as my “measuring stick” because they generally have the lowest prices on most of the things I buy.

6. Change the way you shop. The normal way to grocery shop is to make a list of the things you need and go to the store and buy them. I call this “reactive” shopping, and that’s how I used to shop.

Now, my shopping is “proactive”. Unless there is absolutely nothing I need from the store (and that’s never happened yet), I shop every week. On Sundays, I cut and organize coupons and then go through the circulars (in the Advocate) for Target, CVS, Walgreen’s and Rite Aid to see who has what on sale. I do the same thing on Tuesdays or Wednesdays with the grocery store circulars from the mail. (That sounds like it takes a long time, but once you get a system that works for you, it’s pretty quick.)

After that, I make my grocery lists. First, I figure out how much I have to spend. Next, I make my “necessities” grocery list. These are things I absolutely have to have that week (things I can’t put off buying until they go on sale). I look through my coupons and match as many of them as possible to the necessities list.

After I buy the things on the necessities list, I use the rest of my grocery budget to stockpile. I pull out those circulars with the great deals, and stock up on as many of them as my budget will allow.

As you build your stockpile, you will find that your necessities list gets shorter and shorter. Shampoo that costs $2 won’t be on the necessities list because you stocked up on it last week when it was on sale for 77 cents a bottle. In addition, you won’t find yourself constantly running out of things. Instead of running out to the store for more of that thing you just used up, all you have to do is walk over to the pantry, closet, or cabinet.

One thing to beware of when stockpiling is expiration dates. This holds especially true for medications and perishable, non-freezable foods (such as eggs or lettuce). I once saw a video of a stockpile in which the woman had bought baskets full of several OTC medications. For my family, one large bottle of Tylenol will last well over a year, so I don’t stockpile very much medicine. Watch the expiration dates, and don’t waste money buying more of the product than you can use before it expires.

For stockpiling perishables, a deep freeze is a great investment. It will more than pay for itself when you stock up on meat, milk, orange juice, cheese, and lots of other items that can be bought in bulk and frozen for later use.

7. Coupon Matching For the greatest savings, match your coupons with items that are on sale or clearance rather than with items at their regular prices. In other words, hang on to your coupons until the item on the coupon goes on sale.

For example, last week, a bag of frozen vegetables was $2. I had two 35 cents off coupons, but I hung onto them, waiting for the vegetables to go on sale. This week, they were on sale for $1. I bought two bags with the coupons for a total of $1.30. Last week, even with the coupons, two bags would have cost $2.70. I saved $1.40 by matching my coupons to the sale price.

8. Coupon Stacking Stacking is a wonderful thing. There are two types of coupons: manufacturer’s coupons and store coupons. Manufacturer’s coupons are issued by the same company that manufactures the product the coupon is for, and are good at any store that carries that product and accepts coupons. Store coupons are issued by a particular store for certain products and may only be redeemed at the store that issues them.

Some stores which issue coupons will allow you to “stack” one of their store coupons with a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item. For example, let’s say a can of Del Monte corn is on sale for 60 cents at Target. Target’s web site has a store coupon for 25 cents off a can of Del Monte vegetables, so I print that out. Last month, I clipped a manufacturer’s coupon out of a coupon insert for 25 cents off a can of Del Monte corn. I can use both of those coupons for the same can of corn, and I have just bought a 60 cent can of corn for 10 cents. There have been plenty of times when I have gotten items for free doing this.

The stores in my immediate area which allow stacking are Target, CVS, Walgreen’s, and sometimes Albertson’s (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t)

9. Take advantage of store-specific promotions.
Re-usable grocery bags: Target and Albertson’s both give a 5 cent discount off your bill for every re-usable grocery tote bag you use. This may not seem like much, but If I buy six bags of groceries at Albertson’s every week for a year, I will have saved $15.60 on bags alone. I have also found that the re-usable bags hold more, are easier to carry, and are more durable than plastic grocery bags. You also avoid having hundreds of plastic grocery bags floating around your house.

CVS has a re-usable “bag tag” you can buy for $1. They scan the bar code on it every time you use your bag, and every 4th visit, they will give you an ECB (see below).

Store Money and Rebates:
Store Money: CVS and Walgreen’s offer what I call “store money” on certain items. CVS’s are called ECB’s (Extra Care Bucks, or Extra Bucks). Walgreen’s are called RR’s (Register Rewards). When you buy certain items in the store (the sale circular will indicate which items) a certain number of ECB’s or RR’s will print out either on or with your receipt. These “bucks” are supposed to spend pretty much like cash in those stores (there are some items you can’t spend them on, like prescriptions and photo processing, for example).

CVS’s system works very well, and I have never had a problem using my ECB’s. Unfortunately, I have had a lot of problems with Walgreens’ RR’s. Besides the items you are restricted from buying with them, there are all kinds of hidden rules about them (such as: you have to buy a certain number of items or spend a certain amount of money or the computer won’t accept them) that you don’t find out about until you are at the register trying to use them.

Since store money spends like cash, combining them with sale items and coupons is a great way to get things at these stores for extremely cheap or even free.

Rebates: Rite Aid has a system called “Single Check Rebates” (SCR’s). Rite Aid lists items in their circular each week for which you can earn a certain dollar amount of SCR’s. You buy the item, take the receipt home and enter the receipt number, store number and date on the Rite Aid SCR web site. At the end of the month, you request that they send you a check for your rebate, and they send you a check in the mail.

If you combine SCR’s with coupons, you can actually get paid to take items out of the store! For example, let’s say they have a tube of toothpaste on sale for $2, with a $1 SCR. If I have a coupon for $1.25 off, I spend 75 cents out of pocket when I buy the toothpaste, but when my SCR comes in, I have actually earned 25 cents and have a free tube of toothpaste.

10. Watch for coupons while you shop. While you’re shopping, keep an eye out for “peelies”—coupons stuck to the outer packaging of the product, which peel off—and “blinkies”—blinking coupon dispensers, usually attached to the shelf near the product they’re for. Some of these come in the form of a tear-off pad instead.

Well, those are the basics. Happy shopping!

4 comments:

Judy D said...

Wow, you certainly didn't get your couponing skills from ME! Mine usually are out of date before I think to take them to the store! I end up throwing out bunches because I didn't use them.

Kaye Dacus said...

I'm exhausted just reading this.

I get the Kroger and Publix circulars e-mailed to me each week so I can check them against each other. I make my grocery list as I figure out my meal plan for the week---which involves standing at the fridge going through what I already have (meats, veggies, etc.) that will make complete meals, then filling in the rest of the plan with what's on sale at either Kroger or Publix---though if the Publix price isn't considerably lower than the Kroger price, I'll buy it at Kroger anyway---Kroger's a mile and a half from my house, the closest Publix is almost six miles away in a high-traffic area.

Jeff, Abbey, and Reed Land said...

Hey! I a McCousin (Virginia) and also a big time couponer. I do CVS and Walgreens and we have Harris Teeter that triples up to $.99 every 4 weeks or so. When they triple all Krogers in the area also triple! We get to save major bucks!

Do y'all have Pilot Travel Centers in your area. If so, join their fan page on FB and you can print coupons for free 32 oz drinks. There's no limit on how many you print. The coupon is good through May 31!~

Jeff Land

Michelle said...

Jeff- Unfortunately, there aren't any stores in my area that double or triple coupons. I am always jealous reading about the deals people in other areas of the country can get at stores that do!

We don't have a Pilot in Baton Rouge, but there are several in Louisiana. I will alert my friends at www.mybatonrougemommy.com to this great deal!

Nice to "meet" you! :0)