Penny Pinching
Amy Yates-Garmatz offers tips to save money while shopping.

Couponing for Dummies

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Couponing: v. Used to define the obsessive habit of purchasing items only when utilizing coupons combined with sale prices. Known to be addicting. Can cause extreme levels of hyperactivity & feelings of satisfaction. Not recommended for those with an aversion to saving money.

    I remember the days when I was new to couponing…very well, since that was only last year!

    I know the world of couponing can be overwhelming when you first hear about it or consider using coupons yourself. Especially if you expect to see big savings (as you should!)

    Here’s a comprehensive list of Must Do’s before you decide to call it quits. I promise you, it’s worth it! It’s rewarding to see you monthly grocery bill cut in half (or more) and suddenly find that you don’t have to pay for some of those basic necessities that you’ve been paying for all these years.

    Where Do I Get The Coupons?
    You must collect coupons from your weekly Sunday paper. This is non-negotiable. Maybe you buy the paper yourself or you have friend/neighbors give you their unused coupons. Whichever way you chose to do it, make sure you get at least 2 Sunday papers with coupon inserts. I typically get at least 4-5, but you can determine if that’s necessary as you get more experience under your belt.

    Sunday coupons aren’t it…there are a large number of Internet Printable (IP) coupons available! Check out my blog at  to get up-to-date IP’s and more! You can also check out a number of other blogs that will aid you in locating just the right coupon & sale in your area.

    Organize Your Coupons
    Find a way to organize your coupons. I have a binder with tabs labeling the areas I focus on (Breakfast Foods, Lunch/Dinner Foods, Beauty Products, Cleaning Products, Medicine, etc). I purchased my inserts from the Wal-Mart photo aisle. They’re made to hold photos but they work perfectly for my coupons.

    Determine which coupons you want to cut. Many people chose to cut every coupon, other chose to cut only those they know they will use. Either way, don’t throw away any of them! I have learned time & time again that you will desperately need that one coupon you threw away – the one you were so sure you would never use. Why would you use it? Combined with a weekly sale price, it may end up being FREE! Although you may not use it (free or not), there is always someone who will or a charity that would gladly accept your unused gift! My absolute favorite part of couponing is the part where I get to give away loads of stuff to friends & family. They are amazed at what I get for free and they financially benefit from me providing them with high-dollar items they buy on a regular basis. It’s an amazing feeling to help others save money!

    Organize your unused coupons by marking the front page of each insert with the date of the Sunday paper. Why? Because most coupon blogs will tell you the sales price along with the coupon to use. They will identify that coupon by the name of the insert it came in & the date of the paper it came from. You won’t know where to look if you don’t have your inserts dated!

    Ready to Begin
    You’ve got your coupons & your organized. Now its time to start saving!

    What to Expect: You will have to collect at least 4 week’s worth of Sunday inserts to truly start benefitting from weekly sales. Each week, you will receive new coupons. Some you may use immediately, others may not be used for a month or longer. Don’t use a coupon just because you have it! Wait to pair your coupon with a sales price. Using your 50¢ coupon a full-price item may only give you minimal savings. Your goal is to pay ROCK BOTTOM price on everything you purchase. Everything. You will only learn what your local rock bottom price is after 2-3 months of experience. For this reason alone, don’t expect to see 70% savings in your first couple of months. But do expect to see significant savings…more likely 40-50%.

    Locating The Best Deals: Here’s what you really wanted to know…how to find these amazing deals. The truth is, there are many places to locate your super saving deals and 90% of these places are online. I prefer to check online blogs…they have updated sales information, the latest & greatest Internet Printable (IP) coupons and tons of links to free samples, free items, and ideas on how to save even more money.

    Some of my favorites include:

    Penny Pinching (Of course!)
    I Heart CVS
    I Heart Wags
    Couponing 101
    From Wags to Riches
    Surviving The Stores
    Deal Seeking Mom
    Bargain Briana
    The Centsible Sawyer
    Southern Savers

    Check out my side bar (to the right) for links!


    I tend to check my favorite blogs daily, sometimes multiple times a day. But since I’m a blogger, I don’t really expect others to do the same. Check your local blogs at least twice a week. You will be surprised to find that the information is updated frequently & deals come & go daily.


    Days to Remember: In my area (DFW), Sundays & Wednesdays are big days. Walgreens/CVS start their sales on Sundays. Grocery stores start their sales on Wednesdays. It’s important to remember this as you plan your budget & shopping trips.

    De-Coding Coupon Terminology & Acronyms
    Don’t freak out when you can’t understand their couponing lingo. It’s simple & within a few weeks, you’ll have it down!
    Here’s a list of common acronyms used in online blogs:


    $/x: The dollar amount off of a certain quantity of items. For example, $1/1 is one dollar off one item and $1/2 is one dollar off two items.

    x/$: The number of items you receive for a specific dollar amount. For example, 3/$1 means you get 3 items for $1.


    SS: Smart Source coupon insert from your Sunday paper (Did you know they even had names?)


    RP: Red Plum coupon insert from your Sunday paper.


    GM: General Mills coupon insert from your Sunday paper (usually comes once every couple of months)


    P&G: Proctor & Gamble coupon insert in the Sunday paper


    IP: Internet Printable Coupon


    Example:
    Maybelline listick/$4.99 = Code for: Original Price is $4.99 for Maybelline lipstick
    $2/1 (1/8 SS) = Code for: Use the $2 off 1 coupon from the January 8th Smart Source coupon insert found in your Sunday paper
    Final Price: $2.99 = This is your final price once you combine the sales price of $2.99 and your coupon for $2 off 1.


    Setting Your Budget
    I made the decision to allocate a specific dollar amount to my shopping budget on a weekly basis. Others chose not to lock themselves into a budget or they may create a monthly budget.
    My current budget is $40/week. Since it’s just my hubby and me -  sticking to my $40 budget isn’t too hard. I admit, I sometimes blow that budget! But most week, I stick to it. What’s included in that $40/week? If you’re new to couponing, you won’t believe me…it includes groceries, beauty products, cleaning products, paper products, and any miscellaneous home product that I would normally buy from a drug store/grocery store. It’s pretty much everything but clothes/shoes/plants/eating out. I didn’t start out using a budget, but I found that setting one for myself helped me chose which deals to take advantage of & which ones I would wait for the next time they came around.


    Stockpiling
    Stockpiling is a must if you want to truly manage your grocery dollars to the max. This doesn’t mean I’m encouraging you to be greedy or buy things you don’t need or want. It means buying more than a one-week supply of cereal at a time.


    For example, Cheerios goes on sale for $1.99/box. You have a $1 off coupon. This makes your Cheerios 99¢/box. I’m using this example because it’s real – you will get Cheerios for 99¢/box. This doesn’t happen every week. You don’t have a $1 off coupon for Cheerios all the time. When this sale comes around & you do have this coupon, I suggest you buy a year’s worth. Yes! A full year! That means you may end up buying 10 boxes of cereal at one time (depending on how often you eat cereal). You will spend $10 for a full year’s worth of cereal instead of paying $3-$4/box when you run out. It’s well worth it! Now remember – you can only buy 10 boxes if you have 10 coupons. This is why I suggest you buy more than 1 Sunday newspaper each week.


    There are some things you can’t stockpile…eggs, milk, and fresh produce. I’m not suggesting that you do. These are staples that you will have to buy on a regular basis. I always look for the best sale on these items and I pick them up when I’m there.
    For the first few months, you will find that you are buying items you will need in future at awesome prices, but buying other more immediate-need items at higher prices. This is normal. You will not have a well-rounded stockpile for several months. Sales prices have cycles and that cream of chicken soup may not be on sale for another 2 months. Buy what you need now, but don’t stockpile until you get the absolute best deal.


    To give you an example of what I have stockpiled & some of those rock-bottom prices I’ve referred to, take a look at some of what I have in my current stockpile:

     

    • Toilet Paper (19¢/4-pack)
    • Cream of Mushroom/Chicken (50¢/can)
    • Crackers (<$1/box)
    • Pasta Sauce (50¢/jar)
    • Chex Mix (Free)
    • Paper Towels (28¢/roll)
    • Scented Plug Ins/Candles/Air Fresheners (Free)
    • Toothpaste (Free)
    • Lotion (Free)
    • Make-Up (Free or <$1)
    • Dog Treats (Free)
    • Mustard (Free)
    • Salad Dressing (49¢)
    • Frozen Chicken Breasts ($1.99/lb)
    • Frozen Vegetables (Free)
    • Pizza Rolls (Free)
    • Shampoo & Conditioner (Free)
    • Soap (Free)
    • Sugar (99¢/4-lb bag)
    • Flour (50¢/5-lb bag)
    • Razors (Free)
    • Coke (50¢ - $1.89/12 pack)


    Please don’t hold out for these prices in your first month of couponing…they may not come around for several months and no one expects you to do without soap until then! But, it’s a great to have an idea of the kind of savings you can look forward to in coming months.


    Evaluate Your Savings
    I would love to be able to go back in time & keep a diary of my spending before I started couponing. I can only estimate and it was somewhere around $400-600/month. I absolutely love Costco and one trip a week was an easy $150. They have too much good stuff that tempts me. I still go to Costco, but now I go once every 1-2 months. And I keep to my $40/week budget! I recently found that Costco butter is less expensive than the lowest sales price I’ve seen! It’s priced at les than $1.50/lb when my local grocery stores have it on sale for  $2.00/lb.  I now buy my butter at Costco & only buy it elsewhere if I can find it for less than $1.50/lb..which is very rare.
    Keep a diary of your spending. Make your own list of “rock bottom prices” so that you can keep track of when a deal is really a deal. These prices will vary, depending on what area of the country you live in.

    Don’t Buy Things You Don’t Need/Want
    Bottom Line Goal – Spend Less/Get More. Don’t buy something simply because you have a coupon. A lot of people chose not to coupon because they feel it will only encourage them to spend money they wouldn’t otherwise spend. I can see how that’s possible. I’ve been victim of it myself. But you don’t have to me…and with practice, you won’t be.

    This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try new things. I try new things all the time now! I try soups I would never have bought before, I try make-up I never would have spent money on before, etc. That does not mean I spend money I would not have spent before. Example: One weekend, my best friend and I spent hours couponing for fun. We found some super make-up deals at CVS that, combined with our coupons, we mostly free. I bought over $200 worth of make-up for less than $2. I’ve never paid for make-up again. I don’t need to...I have stash at home if I decide I want to try something new or I run out of mascara.

    Cardinal Couponing Rule: Don’t be Wasteful & Don’t Be Greedy
    I talked earlier about donating your extras…you can do this without buying things you don’t need/want. As a dedicated couponer, you will regularly get things for free. I get something free every week – sometimes I need/want it and other times I don’t have a clue what I will do with it. I don’t keep things I don’t need. I donate them or give them to friends/family who will use them. Make me a promise that you will never get something for free (or near free) to only go home & throw it away! I cringe at the thought of how many people may have benefitted from that one item. Example: CVS had a deal for a month wherein you could buy boxes of soy bars for free. I don’t particularly like soy bars, but my boss does! I bought the bars & gave them to her. She was excited to try something new & I was excited to give them to her.

    Keep At It
    Give couponing 6 weeks. If you’re not addicted, call me. You missed something.
    Of course, I’m only kidding about the calling me part. Not about the addiction part. It’s a blast to save a significant amount of money every month & at the same time, know you are buying your must-have’s at the absolute bottom price possible. Find a friend to partner with you – I have found that having a best friend as a coupon buddy is incredible. She finds deals I missed & reminds me while I’m at the store about things I completely forgot. We share coupons and experiences…and we make saving money as fun as it is gratifying.