A year ago February, while Luke was out playing Army for a month (OK he calls it "training") I stumbled one day upon the Web site of a friend's sister ... and the wonderful world of couponing. At the time I had very little interest in coupons or money savings at all.
Sure, I liked getting things on sale (who doesn't?) I enjoyed having extra cash in my pocket (again, who doesn't?) but ... going to the trouble of plotting my shopping like it was some sort of war against prices?
But all of that has changed. Simply put -- I love coupons. I love them for all of the money they save me and the wonderful, stick-it-to-the-man feeling that I get when I get products I need (or, let's be honest, want) for next to free or much less than the store is trying to trick me into paying.
I am far from a coupon expert, but in the last year I have developed a system that works for me and figured out how to get the most for my buck and time.
To make this as straight forward as possible, I'm going to take a question and answer approach.
Q: Where do you get your coupons?
A: Three places. First, the Sunday paper. I find my subscription is more than paid for by the amount I save with the coupons that are in it. Second, online. Using a list of blogs I subscribe to on my google reader (which I'll list below) I keep track of any new coupons that are available via sites like coupons.com, facebook or manufacturer's sites and consumer clubs. Third, in the mail. Using those same sites I sign up for product freebies and samples which often come with high value coupons or direct mail coupon booklets, which also have high valued coupons I would never find in the paper. As a bonus getting these only costs the time it takes me to type in my address on an internet form.
Another great facet of the blogs is that they do a lot of my work for me. These blogs post hot food deals based on coupons that have come out in the last several weeks matched to sales. For example, each week a list of really cheap items is posted at Safeway. If you still have the coupon on hand and a Safeway near by, you can scoot on over there and score four boxes of cake mix for $.50 like I did several months ago.
Q: What are those blogs?
A: My favorites are listed on the right side of this page. Here they are again with some details on why:
-- Abundant Food Savings. This is an awesome blog of primarily food related coupons, sales tips, and coupon to sales match ups.
-- Money Saving Mom and Mommies with Cents. These are similar blogs with slightly different coupon match ups and freebie alerts. I like them both.
-- Freebies 4 Mom. This is a fantastic run down of all the mail freebies out there. I rely on this blog to point me to places to sign up for all those fabulous free samples I receive.
-- Frugal Living Northwest. This is the blog that started it all for me but not necessarily the best for everyone to follow. Many of their deals are region specific (they are based in Oregon) and these ladies are VERY ambitious. Talk about inspiration. They know how to land the free goods at Walgreens through couponing that can only be described as vicious. The problem with this is that it takes very careful planning, incredible organization, regularly standing up to sales clerks who don't understand how coupons or their store's coupon system works and want to make your life as difficult as possible and being willing to say "no," and walk away from all that stuff you just spent tons of time collecting because some manager isn't going to give you the deal the ladies of that blog said would work. .... Not always my cup of tea. But it's fun every now and then.
Q. So I'm getting the paper like you said ... now what? Should I cut them all out? Should I cut out only the ones I'm going to use?
A. Pick your poison. After several months of cutting out every single coupon just in case I came upon a sale making makeup I have no intention of ever wearing free, I got tired of the giant pile of coupons and cut back (... pun intended). Now I only clip the coupons I either know I will use (example: coupon for the yougurt I eat for breakfast), will likely use (example: laundry detergent. I'm not picky ... I buy the one that is the cheapest. Keeping all laundry detergent coupons means I can make that happen) or would make it work if on sale (example: hillshire farms sausage. I dont regularly make meals with sausage, but if it's on sale for $2.00 a package and a I have a $1.00 coupon, I will FIND sausage recipes and we will eat sausage Every. Single. Day. for as long as it takes to get rid of it. Plus, sausage is delicious).
Q. Ok. Now I have a giant pile of coupons. Do you organize them at all?
A. Ummm.... confession. No. I mean, I have intentions of organizing them and I have a system of organizing them, but it never happens. They remain in a giant pile which I sift through once a week looking for the ones I need or could use at the store. Confession photo evidence:
Notice underneath that pile is a filing system of envelopes labeled by type. It is kept in this nice little plastic box with my giant pile on top of it. Also in this box: David's ultrasound photos. I don't know why.
But you SHOULD organize them. It would make my life easier if they were separated into categorizes. How about you come over and organize them for me?
Q. Do you base your shopping list off your coupons?
A. Yes. Very, very yes. Doing this takes being willing to change what brand you use based on what coupons you have. There are some things I am brand loyal to. (Example: wheat thins). There are some things that I prefer to be brand loyal to but will get the cheaper thing any (Example: salsa). And there are some things I just don't care about. (Example: flour. Seriously. Who cares?). I'm not going to buy some sub-par cracker just because I have a coupon. I will, however, buy El Paso salsa instead of Picante. It's not as delicious, but I'll do it
I also take into account the weekly sales using those Web sites I linked earlier. My meals for the week depend on what major (or minor ingredients ... if black beans are on sale, count me in!) ingredients are on sale that week.
Q. You mentioned something in your last post about working the checker. What's up with that?
A. Some checkers are mean. Some checkers are mean AND old. Some checkers are just not very smart and don't know their company's coupon policy. Some don't understand that by using a coupon you are not committing a crime. And that you are allowed to use as many coupons as you want.
My advice in the checker realm is as follows:
-- Know your own coupons. Make sure you have the rights ones out and that you hand them to the checker before they start scanning your stuff. This way if they are extra mean, old or stupid (or all three!) they can look through them and question you before hand.
-- Defend your coupons. You are allowed to use coupons -- both those from the paper and those printed from the computer. And as long as they haven't expired and you are buying the correct product, there is no reason you shouldn't. If the checker insists that you can't use a coupon, ask to speak to the manager. Seriously. Stick up for coupon users everywhere!
-- Defend your price. If you are using a coupon on something and it is on sale, chances are you have already figured out how much it should cost. Pay attention and if it doesn't ring up right, say something. And if the checker wants to fight about it, ask for the manager. Seriously.
-- Pick a nice checker to start with. After a few times using a big stack of coupons at a particular store, you are going to become familiar with the people who work there. Pick one that is not mean, mean and old or not very smart. Pick a nice one. You'll be happier.
And those are my tips. Did I miss anything?