Not-So-Extreme Couponing 101
We interrupt this not-regularly schedule blog to bring you another blog that was demanded of me by my peers on Facebook because of my new hobby: couponing. Couponing, I swear, is a sport. A very Southern sport. From what I’ve read, most places outside of the Southern United States don’t have the ability to coupon like we do down here. If you’ve ever seen the show Extreme Couponing, this is sorta what the blog is about, but not that extreme. I haven’t managed to get my skills up that high to be able to get 500 things of mustard for 10 cents, and I don’t really know if I’d want to.
I picked this hobby up from a friend of mine, Brandi, when Erin and I stayed the night with her and Lindsey awhile back. She gave me some pointers, and then I started looking into it and decided to give it a shot. I’ve posted some pictures on my Facebook about my couponing trips, and this most recent one made a little bit of a stir because I saved 53% of what I purchased. Now we have the blog on how to get started couponing!
1) Decide what you want to coupon.
There are some people who coupon EVERYTHING they buy and then there are some people who coupon very little. Erin and I try to buy as little processed foods as possible (we buy our food along the edge of the grocery store rather than the middle aisles), so we coupon everything else. We will occasionally buy milk, tuna, etc with a coupon if the deal is good, but usually we stick to non-food items, which tend to be more expensive anyway. This includes: paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, drier sheets, face wash, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, tampons, etc.
2) Review couponing policy.
Each grocery store in the area has a different couponing policy. Some stores are better than others. Erin and I use Bi-Lo. They take up to five of the same coupon with unlimited numbers of different coupons. They’ll take a manufacturers coupon and double it up to 60 cents every days, and they’ll take competitor coupons as well. Plus, their prices are relatively low already, so it packs on the extra savings. If you have a store you usually shop at, do a quick Google search by saying “Bi-Lo Coupon Policy,” and you’ll get all the information you need. Don’t worry about understanding it all right now, but you want to make sure that the policy for the store includes the following:
- Accepts manufacturer AND competitor coupons
- Doubles coupons, the higher the better
- Has a high or no coupon limit
3) Get your coupons.
Once you figure out what you want to coupon and what store you want to use, the next step is to get your coupons. Erin and I have a newspaper delivered to our house daily. I’m not sure if this is part of the HOA fees or if it just never got cancelled, but we have the paper delivered every day. The SUNDAY paper is the most important. We also get the coupons from my parents, who don’t do much couponing, and on occasion, we get a hook up from a friend who buys the inserts for 35 cents a piece, which seems extreme… but I just saved $120 on my last trip, so you tell me: what’s the better deal?
In the paper, there are different inserts you want to be aware of that have coupons. There will always be more manufacturer coupons than competitor or store coupons, but that’s okay. The inserts you need to look out for are: RedPlum, SmartSource, P&G Brand Saver, Walgreens, Target, Publix, and Bi-Lo. Not every week will include each of these inserts, but these are the ones I’ve found to have coupons on a regular basis.
After those inserts (or instead of), you can also visit places like Target.Com or Coupons.Com for more coupons. These websites will probably want to install coupon printing software on your computer to track your printing. You can usually print two of the same type of coupon per computer. This means if you have more than one computer, you can print more than just the two.
4) Get Organized!
So now you have all these coupons… What do you do with them? There are a couple methods that go from the “least organized and least time consuming” to the “most organized and most time consuming.”
The least organized method would be to label the inserts, file them away, and then only clip what you need when you need it. I decided against this method because I was worried about missing out on deals; however, SoutherSavers.Com goes through all major deals at the different branches and tells you where the coupons are all located. Just be warned: sometimes, sales can vary based on where the store is, and they don’t go through ALL the deals, just the ones they think are the best.
The most organized method is the one I use. I have a binder with baseball card holder inserts, and every week, I clip out the coupons I want, pull out any expired coupons, and organize the new ones in the old one’s places. Depending on the week, this can take me anywhere from an hour to four hours (the four hours is rare).
The picture to the right shows you what I do to keep myself organized. It helps me remember what I have in my binder, where it’s located, and what it’s for. I’ve gotten to a point where I can walk through the store, see a deal, and know exactly if I have a coupon to go along with it.
It’s the most complex way of doing this because you have to go through each week or so and remove any bad or expired coupons. It CAN be somewhat time consuming. My Sundays revolve around church, couponing and baby-sitting our God daughter. Damn. When did I get so Southern?
5) Get yourself a membership card or discount card to that store.
Most stores in the area will have cards that give you extra sales. This is extremely important that you get one of these cards for whatever store you are going to be shopping at. Erin and I BOTH have Bi-Lo bonus cards. These cards get us all of the in-store sale prices, any gas discounts, and we can load coupons directly onto the cards.
6) Understand the cycles.
Everything in the store that goes on sale will go on sale every six to eight weeks. For the most part, you can guess what’s coming up in the rotation by the coupons you find in the paper. For example: coupons for our almond milk have cycled back around, so I am assuming that the sales are coming back around soon as well. But don’t be fooled: just because you have a coupon for something does not mean that it will be on sale that week. It could be two weeks from the time you get the coupon, but you just need to be on the look out. And if something is on sale and you don’t get it, it may not come back up for sale until six to eight weeks later.
Next, understand that stores usually cycle their sales weekly. Some will go from Sunday to Saturday, some (like Bi-Lo) will cycle Wednesday to Tuesday. This means that you should expect to look at shopping at least once a week for deals since the sales will cycle through that way. It also means if you go to the store without your coupon book and you see a deal, if you don’t get back soon enough, that deal will be gone within seven days (and that’s assuming you get there on day one that the sale began.)
7) ONLY buy what is ON SALE
This is the most important part of the whole process: you only use your coupons on items that are CURRENTLY on sale unless you are desperate for some toilet paper. When you buy something that is on sale, it is important to STOCK UP because you won’t see that deal again for another six to eight weeks. This does NOT include perishable items unless you will use them all before they go bad or if you can freeze them (like meats). This is why it’s important to get multiple coupons for each item. The larger your family (or the more people using the time you are buying), the more coupons you will need. I usually say 1/person OR n+1, where n is the number of people in your family. For Erin and I, this means I usually try to get two to three of every type of coupon that I clip.
8) Important Vocabulary
Here’s where I tell you what the policies all mean:
- Doubling: Some stores will double manufacturer coupons up to a certain amount. Bi-Lo, for example, will double up to 60 cents. This means that if I find a 55 cent coupon for hand soap, it’s actually $1.10 off. Some stores double more, some don’t double at all. This is why it’s important to read your store’s policy. Please note that competitor coupons generally do not double. I haven’t found a store yet that will.
- Stacking: This is the process using a manufacturer coupon AND a competitor coupon on the SAME ITEM. For example: I had two coupons for my allergy medicine. The manufacturer was $7.00 off and the Target was $5.00 off. Bi-Lo ran a sale on the medication that week. It was usually $21.xx, and it was on sale for 17.xx. I scanned my bonus card, stacked the two coupons for a total discount of $12 off, and BAM: my allergy medicine went from $21.00 to $5.00.
- Fine Lines: Some coupons have some nasty fine lines, and it’s important to READ what you clip before you go the store. Some coupons won’t let you double them, and some limit the number you can use. It’s very important to look at see if the coupon is for one item or two, because if you don’t buy what the coupon says, then you’ll end up not being able to use it at the register. Usually, I won’t clip coupons for items of three or more, and I won’t clip items that won’t double for two items.
- BOGO/X for Y: Buy One, Get One Free deals (BOGO) and “X for Y” (read: 10 for $10) deals are hidden gems. Not all grocery stores do this, but Bi-Lo doesn’t make you buy everything to get the deal. If you have a BOGO on shampoo (say you pay five bucks and you get the second one free), but you don’t want two. The first one isn’t actually five dollars, it’s $2.50. BOGO might as well read “50%” off. The same goes for “X for Y” deals. Bi-Lo does tons of 10 for $10, which means each one is really a dollar. Hand soap is 10 for 10 and you have a 50 cent manufacturer’s coupon? Surprise: your hand soap is FREE (remember, that manufacturer’s coupon will double!)
- Coupon Limits: A lot of stores now are limiting the number of “like coupons” or “competitor coupons” that the will accept during a transaction. This is to keep people from going through and cleaning out the shelves, but it can also be annoying in that I actually had SIX coupons for cat litter (don’t ask me how that happened), but I could only use FIVE on my last trip. Sad, sad day.
9) Review that Policy!
After you’ve read through all of this, go back over your store of choice’s coupon policy. Do they limit coupons? Do they allow the stacking of e-coupons? (Coupons on your store discount cards that you loaded online; most places won’t let you use e-coupons and paper coupons in the same trip, so I usually avoid them). Make sure you are familiar with the policy. If some of the wording confuses you, leave me a message. I had to ask a lot of questions when I first started this whole process too.
10) And Finally: MAKE ROOM!
If you are stocking up like you should be, you’ll need space to put your items so that you know what you have and how much you have left. We are thinking about using our spare bathroom for our “over flow” once we start getting to that point. You want to make sure you keep track of what you have so that you don’t keep buying stuff you really don’t need or you miss out on a deal thinking you had enough and didn’t. Organization is key with couponing.
Let’s take a look at my last trip just give y’all some pointers and explanations further, if you’re interested (AKA, the part where we do math):
First of all, everything you see in this picture was already marked down from it’s original price with a sale, except for the milk (we were desperate), and I’m not going to go through everything, because that’s a little dull, but here are a couple highlights to get you started:
The kitty litter (in the blue capped jugs) usually sells for $8, but it was marked down to $5, and we had a dollar off coupon for each, so it became $4 (or 50% off).
The Colgate toothpaste is usually almost $4. It was on sale for $1.99. We had three 50 cent manufacturer coupons. Bi-Lo doubled these, so they became a dollar off. Each of those toothpastes were 99 cents. That’s a savings of 75%!
The VS Shampoo and Conditioners (the red and white bottles, six) are usually around $5.00 each. They were on sale for 3 for $10, which makes each about $3.33. We had three coupons for $3 off two. This mean that rather than those six costing $30 (without the sale) or $20 (on the sale alone), it only cost us $11.
So! There you have it! That’s the basics of Not-So-Extreme Couponing 101. This should help you get started, but you can always ask me if you have questions OR check out Southern Savers online for some online tutorials as well.
Really, all you need to coupon is the desire and the time. I absolutely love couponing. It’s been like a game of trying to find the best deals on things that we need for the house. At this point, I can probably go the rest of the year without needing to buy shampoo or conditioner or dryer sheets. This means that I bought enough of these items at a discounted price that I won’t have to buy them if they aren’t discounted.
But I won’t lie: it does take dedication and time. If you skip a week, you miss out on a lot of coupons and/or deals in the stores. Once you have your items stocked up, you can do what I do and only buy things that are a dollar or less if/when I find them (like the toothpaste).
And maybe you’re like us and don’t really need to coupon, but really? Who wants to pay $228 when you can pay only $107? No one, that’s who.