Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Queen's Guide To Coupons

I am a bargain shopper. This does not mean that I am good at budgeting my money, it means that I love me a good deal.

In the past year, I've spent a lot of time and energy attempting to use coupons to save money. I thought that I'd share some of the things I've learned with you. Perhaps you will find one or two of these ideas helpful.

I feel the easiest way to get coupons is from your Sunday paper. I have it delivered directly to my door, rather than running to the store to buy them. I have friends who order multiple copies of the newspaper so that they can get multiple copies of the coupons. I know people who get TEN copies of the paper every week. I get three, and that's only because my Mom and Grandpa don't use the coupons that come with their paper, so I ask them to save them for me. Occasionally, I wish I had more than 3 of a certain coupon, but for the most part, 3 is sufficient.

Pay attention to your subscription fees. Usually you will get a very good deal when you sign up, but the price increases over time (usually in about 6 months). Many times if you call the renewal office, they will get you a better deal than what is said on your subscription notice. I've gotten a 6 month subscription for as low as $15. Some people say they make up the expense in what they save in coupons, but I say, why spend it if you don't have to? It's a newspaper, for cryin' out loud.

There are several websites that allow you to print manufacturer coupons for free. Before I list these sites, there are two things you must understand.

The first is that despite the fact that you printed these coupons from home, it is NOT OK to copy them. You may not make as many duplicates as you want, it is FRAUDULENT, so please, don't even try it. The companies that provide these coupons have set it up so that you cannot print coupons more than a specified number of times (usually one, I have seen as many as 10), and usually, when these coupons print they have different bar code numbers (or other numbers) on them that can be tracked back to you. So if you use the same coupon twice (meaning you photocopied it), chances are good that you will be caught.

The second thing to remember is that just because you can print a coupon doesn't mean a store is required to take them. Because of some people abusing the system (see above), some stores will no longer take printable coupons. Respect their policy.

So, here are some of the sites that I use to print free coupons. If you find a really hot coupon, keep in mind that you might be able to find it on another one of these sites. Quite often these sites have duplicate coupons which will really come in handy, because you can print the same coupon from each of the sites, without worrying about "breaking the rules." Also, try to keep track of what you are printing, because you're not going to be saving money if you have wasted all of your toner printing 10 copies of a coupon you will NEVER use.





Trust me on this one, before you start clipping your coupons, decide how you are going to organize them. It will save you a lot of time and hassle later on.

Some people prefer to keep their coupons intact until they go shopping, and then clip the ones they will use. This method does not work for me, because I end up with half-clipped newspapers EVERYWHERE, and once I've started clipping things out of them, they completely fall apart and I have a huge mess on my hands.

So, I created a file system of sorts. I use envelopes (the small ones) with the flaps cut off to act as my "folders". Each one is labeled with a number (I currently have 156 different categories - scary, I know!). They are all held in a plastic 'shoe box size box'. On the lid of the box, I have my "list" which tells me which number belongs to each category. All I need to do is file the coupons in the appropriate folder, and I'm ready to go. I know it sounds complicated, but this system works really well for me, and it gets easier as the weeks go on. I love being able to find any coupon I might need in a moments notice. This box goes with me every time I go to the store. If you would like the "list" - send me an e-mail with your e-mail address (unless you already know that I have your email address) and I will send you a copy of it. If you don't have my e-mail address, you can find it in my "Disclosure Policy" (located under the PayPerPost button) on the left side of the page.

I am trying to clip my coupons on Mondays (giving me time to collect the extra newspapers from my relatives). I make sure that I cut all three copies of coupons at the same time -- this saves me a LOT of time in the long run because I only have to cut once AND file once, because the three copies stay together.

I once asked a friend if they clipped all of the coupons in the inserts? Her reply was, "If I would be happy if someone gave me the item in the coupon for free, I clip it!" I think that this is a really good answer, because you would be surprised at how much stuff you can get for free. There are some items that I know I will never ever use, so I don't bother to clip those coupons. There are other items that I know I won't use a lot of, so if my supply is pretty well stocked, I don't clip those either. On the other hand, if I were to clip all of them, chances are good that I would be able to work out some trades with other coupon users. Right now, I'm pretty happy with the number of coupons I am getting, so I choose NOT to clip them all and save some valuable time.

This one is a no-brainer to me, but sign up for whatever free "savings program" your grocery store offers. This is usually in the form of a plastic card that you swipe every time that you go to the store. Usually it entitles the holder to whatever "sales" are taking place to automatically be credited to your shopping order. If you aren't using one, get one. This is where some of the biggest savings are found when it comes to "regular" grocery store prices. If you have one, but forget to take it to the store, ask the cashier if they can look it up for you, or if they have one they can scan for you. Usually they can look it up by phone number, or they'll just swipe an extra card that they have laying around.

I LOVE PINCHING YOUR PENNIES! This website is awesome. Membership is free, everyone is really friendly, and I have learned SO much there. There are a lot of forums there, so it can be a little confusing at first, but I encourage you to stick with it. I always find out about the best deals there. Once you are a member (remember, it's FREE!), click on the "Screaming Deals By State" button and then go to your appropriate location. I'll be honest, the Utah forum is GREAT, but if you live somewhere else, I haven't tried your state, so I can't make any guarantees. The Utah forum lists all the deals (with appropriate coupons listed) in an easy to print and use format, for each major grocery store. If there are "printable coupons" available, they will also provide a link to that coupon. It makes it really easy for me to find the deals. The people who use these forums are all really willing to share tips and advice, plus they will share any other deals they find such as Catalinas (the coupons that print at the register), tearpads (coupons that you find around the store on, ironically, tear pads!), and Blinkies (coupons that are dispensed at the store from those little electronic boxes that sometimes have flashing lights). There are tons of good deals out there, and I would be missing a lot of them if it wasn't for this website. I strongly encourage you to check it out!

There are coupons out there for pretty much anything you could possibly want. However, the coupons that I use most frequently are for items like cereal, granola bars, hamburger helper, pasta, cake mixes, cookie mixes, brownie mixes, and other items like that. I have found coupons for eggs, butter, vegetables (fresh, frozen and canned), fruit (fresh, frozen and canned), milk, cheese, bread, candy, and pretty much all of your hygiene needs too (I have friends who have large Rubbermaid tubs filled with free toothbrushes).

My brain is starting to shut-down, so I'm hoping that there are a few tips here that have helped you out. I am sure that I have more to share, so if you have a question, feel free to send it my way! I'll do my best to come up with an accurate, and perhaps even HELPFUL answer.

So, coupons are a great way to build up some food storage - particularly when it comes to cereal. I started trying to save money on cereal when Leanne Ely shared that she never spends more than .10 an ounce on cereal. Trust me, this is more challenging than it sounds. I quickly discovered the 10 for $10 cereal sales, which I thought was a great deal, and it helped me meet the .10 an ounce goal. However, now I wait for the 10 for $10 sales (or something close to it), and use coupons on top of that. Today I purchased 8 boxes of cereal for $5.50. That's .69 a box, friends. Cereal at $1 a box isn't very appealing to me anymore.

Coupons can help you save money, but the REAL key to saving money is in MEAL PLANNING. Making a menu, detailing what you need to buy at the store, and sticking to the list will save you the most money in the long run. If you can match your menus to what is currently on sale, you'll save even more money. Use the coupons on top of that to sweeten the deal.

Here are some of the hardest lessons I have had to learn (and some days, I'm still learning):

Just because there is a coupon out there, doesn't mean that you have to buy it.
Just because there is a coupon out there, doesn't mean that it's a good deal.
Just because it's a good deal, doesn't mean that you have to buy it (I really need to work on this one because I currently have TWENTY-SEVEN unopened boxes of cereal in my basement, and that's not counting the oatmeal section!).

Be patient. Using coupons has a definite learning curve to it. It will get easier, it will take less time, and it will, eventually, start saving you A LOT of money.

Good luck!

Oh, and stay tuned for the details of my latest shopping trip!


Blogger dubby said...

I used to use coupons, but the time just got to be too much and I realized I enjoyed cooking and most coupons did the cooking for you. Making things from scratch in general costs less than what you would get the food for with coupons and the food is healthier, particularly on my low salt diet. I still use them occasionally, but they seem like a hassle to me. I also used the envelopes to organize them. With just the two of us now, it isn't as critical also, but we don't have the "gotta eat NOW" rugrats around.

Sounds like you have your breakfasts!

6:10 AM  
Blogger Lara said...

Very good points. I used to do coupons much more diligently than I have in the recent past, so I'm just getting back into it.

I like Pinching your Pennies and have been a member there for quite a while, but the Utah deals are the best. They have a team that searches them out in Utah, but the other states just rely on members to post them, so not always great...when I lived in AZ it was frustrating.

I decided to join the Grocery Game last week....it's not free, but it matches the coupons and sales for you and also tells you when something is at its lowest price. If it's not a great deal, they don't post it. Their philosophy is stockpiling...when things are at their dirt cheapest, buy as many as you can. Which it sounds like you are doing with cereal. :)

I also got 8 boxes of cereal...for 5.47. Sounds like you went to Smith's and had similar coupons.

As for the online coupons, I used to do them solely, and it got really frustrating because the stores are tightening on that policy. That's why I finally decided just to join Grocery Game and get a newspaper or two.

And I agree about the menu planning. I try to do it around the ads, but it is hard. I'm getting better.

10:29 AM  

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