The Art of Couponing!
OK, fess up — who watches the new reality show “Extreme Couponing” on TLC? This week we talked about shaving — money off our grocery bill that is! Is it really possible to save 90 percent off of your family’s grocery bill with the aid of coupons?
Coupons! You love ‘em or hate ‘em! I’m going on record right now as saying that up until I got hooked on TLC’s Extreme Couponing show, I couldn’t be bothered sitting down with the Sunday paper clipping coupons for items like maxi pads, Colgate toothpaste and B&M baked beans.
Can we talk?!? At present, our economy isn’t exactly stable. Whether you’ve got eight kids like me (if you do, please contact me ASAP!) or a child or two in college, or are a newlywed or solo mate just starting out in life, who doesn’t like to save a few bucks?
Years ago, make that 24 years ago, when I was first married, clipping coupons for items like baking soda, Tide and 60-watt light bulbs was simply the right thing to do. I mean, if you couldn’t save money on washing your spouse’s boxer shorts then was life really worth living?
This was all well and good when there was just the two of us, but when our two dogs, guinea pig and finally a baby joined the family, guess what happened to the art of couponing? Yep — there was never any time to clip, clip, clip!
Our Gansett Mom’s Council is in rare form this week. With the kids now back in school, we are re-energized and re-focused on how to make our family life a little bit better and a lot a bit richer!
That said, one of the easiest ways to save money in the family budget was on groceries — and the no brainer way to accomplish this was to USE COUPONS!
Here are some of the ways our savvy Gansett moms make their dollars S T R E T C H!
Clip Newspaper and Mailbox Coupons
At least once a week, Value Pak coupons and local store ads will arrive in your mailbox. Often they are masked in a larger advertisement and many people toss them as junk mail… As soon as they come in the door, do a quick run through, clip the ones you want, and toss the rest.
You can also buy the Sunday paper, which typically have a big coupon section, and if you already get the paper, you should most definitely be taking advantage of it and even consider buying several papers for the sheer value of the Sunday coupons!
Ask friends and coworkers to give you any ad inserts they aren't planning to use. Multiple copies mean multiple savings.
Become Familiar with the Lingo
The next step is to get familiar with coupon lingo and policies. Are your coupons stackable? (Meaning you can use a manufacturer's coupon in tandem with a store coupon.) Do stores in your area offer double coupon deals? (Meaning at certain times you can use a coupon and it'll be worth twice its face value.)
Next, brush up on the acronyms. OYNO? MIR? BOGO? You need to learn terms like these in order to maximize savings. We'll give you these three for free: On Your Next Order, Mail-in Rebate, and Buy One Get One. But there are many more you may run across as you navigate the world of couponing.
Know Your Store’s Coupon Policies
Shoppers who use coupons religiously are going to come up against brick walls on an annoyingly regular basis. Maybe it's a cashier who insists you can't use a manufacturer coupon with one you got from the store, or a manager who is adamant that the coupons you printed online are unacceptable.
The trick to dealing with this sort of situation is to have the store's coupon policy on-hand and ready to go.
Some stores' coupon policies are listed online, while others you have to ask for. Once you obtain hard copies, it's a good idea to keep them in your binder. Then if there is disagreement over the details of a transaction, you can show whoever is checking you out the relevant portion of that particular policy.
And again, always remain respectful and polite. You might find cashiers and even managers who are simply unfamiliar with their store's coupon policy, and by being friendly and helpful about it, you're much more likely to achieve positive results.
One method of organizing coupons is to sort them by category, such as type of food, health and beauty aids, medications, etc. This can be helpful if you want to pull out coupons for a certain type of shopping trip.
For example, if you're running to the grocery store to stock up on breakfast foods, you'll be able to quickly grab the cereal or yogurt coupons while skipping over others.
You may find that sorting your coupons by expiration date will help you. This will ensure that you don't have many expired coupons on your hands, (oh, how that hurts!) maximizing the use of your coupons. This is a great system if you don't shop as often or aren't accustomed to using coupons on a regular basis.
Finally, you may try organizing your coupons alphabetically by brand name or by product type. This can be easy to flip through if you're shopping for a specific product. No method of organizing coupons is right or wrong. Evaluate how you use coupons and how often you use them, and develop a system that will be easy to maintain.
Printable Grocery Coupons
There are loads of web sites out there that allow you to print grocery coupons for free. Some go to sites are coupons.com, redplum.com and smartsource.com. Simply select the coupons you want, print and save.
Sometimes you can print the same coupon more than once, which of course saves you twice as much and really allows you to take advantage of stocking up on the sale items in your store when you can pair the sale with a coupon.
http://hip2save.com/ is not Your Grandma’s Coupon Saving Site! It is a nationally-recognized coupon and savings blog. Collin Morgan, wife of a U.S. Marine and a mother of three, began the blog in the summer of 2008 as a way to help herself, family and friends save money. Check it out!
Sign Up for Your Grocer's Rewards
If your grocer offers a rewards program, make sure you sign up for it! While many cashiers will scan a rewards card for you so that you get the weekly sales promotions, you will benefit by having your own card attached to your purchases.
The coupon generator at the checkout generates the coupons based on what you buy, so if you buy a package of diapers, you'll likely get a coupon for your next diaper purchase. It may be for a different brand, but this is where it really pays to be flexible on your brands. It also pays to give the store your mailing address when you sign up for the rewards program.
Double Coupons, Double the Saving
In case you still haven’t been convinced of the awesomeness of coupons, guess what? It gets better! Did you know that most of your local grocers will typically give you double the value of any coupons that are less than $1?
Check the fine print, but unless a coupon says something along the lines of "Not Subject to Doubling," it's not uncommon for a 75-cent coupon to actually be worth more than the $1 coupon because of your store’s doubling policy. Be sure to read your grocer's local flyer as well, because every once in a while you'll find double coupons offers for your $1 coupons too. If you can use it on a $2 item, you've got free groceries!
There are some pitfalls to avoid when coupon clipping. If you don't normally buy an item, don't buy it just because you have a coupon. If you occasionally buy an item but don't need it right away, it can pay to hold onto that coupon until the item goes on sale to really maximize your savings.
Clipping coupons is great, but if they're not organized, you'll drive yourself nuts. Get a small coupon file with different sections so you can organize your coupons by category, such as dairy, frozen foods, household, health and beauty, etc. And don't forget that coupons expire! Every few weeks go through your file and toss the ones you haven't used to minimize in store frustration.
Joyce Huntley was literally quivering when asked about couponing!
“OK, so I learned to pinch pennies years ago as a single mom. I use to think coupons were tacky, but now I love them. I clip, print and save every single one I think I may use!
I clip the ones that come via snail mail, and then seek out on different websites ones I can print. Here’s a hint. Don’t just use the coupons sites, FOLLOW YOUR MONEY! That’s right, go on the website of your favorite things and search for coupons. Most times you can be directed to a printable one, but sometimes they will mail you some. Procter & Gamble is great for doing both!
But don’t stop there! Also go to your grocer’s website, look for upcoming sales, and see if they have a way to Power Boost your savings. I have done this for example when an item like barbecue sauce is on sale 10 for $10. If you have a coupon for 50 cents, it can be doubled to $1, so it’s free! And now with the gas savings at Stop & Shop I get a little more change left in my pocket!
I love the extreme couponing shows, and they are my reality stars! I have converted a hall closet closest to the kitchen into a pantry, and yes you can open it up and see multiple bottles of bar-b-q, corn muffin mix, crackers, tuna fish and whatever else was on sale, AND I had a coupon for!”
Lauren Dyer was also eager to share her views on couponing.
“I use coupons for just about everything! And when I don't have a coupon (or an item isn't on sale) I simply don't buy it - I don't pay full price for anything! Sooner or later, whatever it is will be on sale or there'll be a coupon in next week's paper, so I hold off; self-restraint is the key!
I also keep an envelope in my purse of retail store coupons (like Kohl’s, Macys, Fashion Bug, Bob’s) and go through it often to toss the expired ones to keep it current, and I keep my CVS Extrabucks in there too! I definitely use grocery store coupons and try to maximize them by also using them when the item is on sale.
I use coupons for fast food or other restaurants (pizza parlors or Iggy's doughboys, or for places where you buy one entree and get one free) and the high school football discount cards are great for many local businesses!”
Busy mom of two Nicole Zelenak is also into clipping coupons!
“This makes me laugh because I dream about being that woman on TV. But come on, that is way too much time. Does she clean her house! Just kidding!
I do cut coupons every week for the things that we use. And I never forget to bring them to the store with me, yeah right! I do not go online for coupons, I have tried it in the past but did not find a site, that I thought, was easy to use. I do get excited when I see how much I saved, and one time I save $31.”
As for me, mother of eight, no one can believe that I have never seriously used coupons — until this year. With one child entering college and seven to follow, my husband challenged me to find some wee way to save money so that we could actually eat something in the meat group over the next 15 years!
Always up for a good challenge, I have now turned over a new leaf and am on a rampage to use as many money-saving coupons and rebate deals as my nimble fingers will allow me to cut — and I’ll be keeping you posted on how much I actually save over the next few months! (I feel an exotic vacation in my future!)
Your turn! Do you believe in taking the time to use coupons and if so, what are your strategies for really getting a bang for your buck? Please share with us in the comment section or e-mail me at CB091987@aol.com or send a shout-out to our editor, Stephen Greenwell at Stephen.Greenwell@Patch.com. Happy clipping!