Welcome to the dark side ... come in, come in if you dare ... and join the world of couponers!!!!!
Yup -- I'm a coupon queen. It's like my hobby. Some people knit, others play tennis -- I coupon.
And before I get a bazillion comments giving me websites that can do what I do, first -- you've got to pay for them! Second, where's the fun in that? Having someone else find a THE deal is a total thrill killer. I bet the same people who use those sites read the last page of a book first (a la When Harry met Sally).
Okay ... I am such a cheap skate with money. Dan’s nickname for me is "Scammy" because I get some many things free or reduced -- so please don't think any less of me for some of my tactics. I figure the companies are getting a HUGE mark-up on their product anyway, so what does my coupon really hurt them in the end?
I am usually around $250/month for grocery and about $25/month for beauty, cleaning supplies, household paper items, diapers, etc.
So, without further ado, here are my "Top 20" coupon hints and helps:
1) I call companies and give testimonials about their products. However, you can only do this about twice a year.
Almost every company loves to hear from consumers and will reward you will free coupons or major $$ of coupons. For example, I have called Huggies to tell them how much I like their disposable washcloths -- they sent me 3 coupons for free washcloths and another booklet of 5 coupons good for $3.00 off any Huggies product. I have gotten a ton of free stuff this way -- Pampers diapers, OFF! lanterns, Grate-It-Fresh, Resolve carpet cleaner, Motts applesauce, etc.
And, I sometimes call companies that I have never used the product to get a couple of free coupons. I tell them I've heard great things about their product and would like to try it and then I ask them for a coupon. Every company I have asked has sent me one.
2) This may sound really low, but I go to a nursing home in my area every Sunday on the way home from church and collect all off the coupon packets from their papers. Okay, okay -- I know it sounds bad, but they aren't going to be using them!! So, I can get 10+ of the same coupon.
My MIL and my Mom also cut out coupons for me!
3) I only shop at Krogers that does unlimited double coupons -- every coupon is doubled up to $1.00 ... so my $0.50 coupons are a $1.00, $0.75 coupons are $1.00, etc. Also, twice a year, Krogers does super double coupons where coupons are doubled up to $2.00. Some times they don't advertise that they do this, so you may need to ask the manager.
4) I wait until the product I have a coupon for is on sale.
For example, I recently saved a ton at Target because Huggies products were on sale. I had 6 coupons for $1.00 manufacture off disposable washcloths and 6 Target store coupons for $2.00 off when you buy both a Huggies wipes and a Huggies bath product. Well, the Huggies Washcloths were on sale for $1.89 each and wipes were 2 for $4.00. So, I got 6 washcloths and 6 wipes that totaled $23.34 ... then I used my coupons and that brought my total down to only $5.34 (for 6 boxes of wipes and 6 boxes of washcloths)!
Yes, you CAN pair manufacture coupons with store coupons. If you layer that with a sale, it’s almost free.
5) With coupons you have to be careful that you are buying a product you really need. It is only a deal if you will use it!
6) You also have to know the secret code of coupons. The newer coupons don't have this code, but the older style with the two bar codes in a row do. Look at the bar code under the second bar -- you should see four numbers starting with an "8" in parentheses.
If it is (8000), you can use the coupon for ANY product by that company. For example, you can buy Pampers with a Febreeze coupon. These are VERY rare! I look for them on eBay and buy them up when I find them.
If it is (8100), you can use the coupon for any product in that category. For example, the coupons may say "$1.00 off any of the following General Mills cereals" and then give a list of certain cereals, but you can buy ANY General Mills cereal.
If it is (8101), you can only use the coupon for the product listed EXACTLY on the coupon. For example, if the coupons says "Whole Grain Triscuits", then that is the only items that the coupons will ring on. If you try and get Reduced Fat Triscuits, the coupon will not ring through.
7) Sometimes coupons still aren't the best deal! I carry my calculator with me in my purse. I will end up buying a different brand or the store brand of some products because even with a double coupon, it is still cheaper!
You cannot be brand loyal – and you have to be willing to buy the store brand.
8) We've gotten to the point where we really don't buy anything (except for staples like bread, milk, produce or things we need for a specific recipe) that we don't have a coupon for or that isn't on sale. I've keep a list of meals that I can make with each coupon item, so I know how to use it to make a new and interesting meal with the same thing over and over again.
I also never buy milk unless it is on sale. Krogers has milk on sale every other week. So I make sure I stock up on enough to last me the week it is not on sale (shop Saturday for the longest expiration dates).
9) Don't be too proud to get a raincheck. If I have 15 coupons for Balmex and the store has it on sale but only has 5 tubes left, I go to the front counter and get a raincheck for 10 of them. I also make them verify my coupon (if it is expiring soon), so that I can still use it with the raincheck when the item comes back in.
10) Hunt through the "expiring" meat section. Trust me, this is okay as long as you take it home and freeze it right away. I was a health inspector for 10 years and am an epidemiologist by trade, so you won't get sick if you handle it correctly and it is a real bargain! I get a ton of Laura's beef products for next to nothing by digging through that bin!
I also hit the Manager’s Specials for produce and dry goods. You do need to check expiration dates, but the dry goods are usually items that are being discontinued or are having a marketing change.
Example: I got a Mrs. Grass Minestrone Soup mix on Manager’s Special for $1.59 … a package of Smithfield’s ground pork for $0.59 (Manager’s Special $1.50 plus $1.00 coupon) … Fresh Express salad mix for $0.89 (Manager’s Special $1.89 plus $1.00 coupon) … bake-at-home loaf of French bread for $1.00 = dinner for the family for only $4.07!
11) Organize, organize, organize! I have a coupon organizer that I bought and I separate my coupons out in to different categories. So when I make my shopping list, I make it by category and then list out all the coupons I will be using on that trip. I pull out those coupons and put them in a special section of the organizer.
And this is really dorky, and I haven't done it since the boys came -- I kept an excel spread sheet of all my coupons that lists the coupon, the category, the amount savings, and how many I have of each coupon. That way if I am going through the store and see an item on sale that is not on my list, I can check and see if I have any coupons for it in my organizer.
My organizer I got from a mail in company. It is great! It has a Velcro tab that fastens onto the shopping cart so I can flip through it as I shop!
12) Give yourself time -- it takes awhile to go through the store, price compare, and figure out if you should use your coupons.
I usually shop Krogers three times a week. Monday and Fridays are GREAT for Manager’s Specials and Meat Clearance! I usually go in only for those items – my shopping trip takes about 15-30 minutes. On Wednesdays, I do my weekly shopping trip – it takes about 1-1.5 hours.
13) I also go through the flyers each Sunday to see if certain products that I have coupons for are on sale at different stores. You have to be careful here! You don't want to waste more time and gas going to several different stores if it is not really worth it.
But I always get my health and beauty items from Walgreens and CVS – they have such great reward programs that I have not paid for a razor, shampoo, lotion, shaving cream, etc for YEARS.
When you pair up your coupons with their Extra Care Bucks (CVS) or Register Rewards (Walgreens), you end up paying $0.00! Plus, Walgreens has a catalog each month that has at least 3-4 FREE items each month by mail-in rebate!
14) Speaking of Walgreens and CVS, I never fill prescriptions at the same store back-to-back. Every store will give you some kind of gift card for transferring a prescription – Target has $10 cards, Walgreens does $25 cards, and CVS and Kmart will also sometimes do it for various amounts.
15) We bulk shop items at Sam's -- you do need to be careful here as some items can be cheaper at Krogers, etc when on sale and you have a coupon. But certain staples in our house are cheaper at Sams … Sun Chips, Tyson Chicken Breast, Salmon Fillets, Pancakes on a Stick, Kitty Litter, etc.
16) Get to know your cashiers. Steer clear from the ones that question EVERY COUPON you use. I like to get into line with the young teenage boy as my cashier -- they usually have no clue and will push through any coupon you throw at them.
17) Watch that register as it ticks through your purchases. Most stores have a price guarantee thingy -- if the price the product is advertised at is not what it rings up at, then you get it FOR FREE plus your coupon value. Ahhhh ... it is a beautiful thing to get a free 6-pack of yogurt plus a $1.00 taken-off your grocery bill!
18) Here are some websites that are good and FREE to use to help with grocery shopping and online shopping. How else do you think I can get 14 pairs of Crocs for only $76.13, and Gymboree boys blazers that are normally $89.00/jacket for only $4.99/jacket plus free shipping?
www.Retailmenot.com ... shopping online coupons
www.coupons.com ... grocery store coupons ... you can match up to your zip code!
www.couponcabin.com ... shopping online coupons
www.couponmom.com ... shopping online coupons, grocery coupons, free sample heads-up
www.smartsource.com ... grocery store match-up deals -- matched to your zip code, too!
www.thecouponclippers.com ... grocery store coupons (you do pay for each coupon, but if you can get a (8000) code coupon, it is worth it!
www.couponmountain.com ... shopping online coupons
19) "Good deals, good cause, Goodwill!" Sing it, sista! I love Goodwill. I haven't paid more than $0.99 for a pair of pants, skirt, blouse, or sweater in over two years! I get the Goodwill calendar and shop on the sale days.
I've also gotten great toys for the boys for only $0.99 that are in perfect condition and retail for well over $75.00. It's where we got our Fisher Price Learning House!
20) Finally, when eating out, we only go to where "Kids Eat Free". I keep a list of all the restaurants in our town that offer free kid's meals ... it is categorized by days of the week.
Yes, all of this may seem like a lot of work, but I do save a lot (and I mean A LOT) of money doing it. And I don't mind it since it is giving my family extra money to buy that season pass to the Children's Museum Center ... or for Dan and I to go out for a "Date Night".
Couponing is not for the faint of heart, but you might want to give it a try. But watch out ... It's is addicting!!
Now go put on your black shirts and sweat pants, brand new black-and-white Nike athletic shoes, and armband patches reading "Heaven's Gate", and let's start couponing!