My life, at times, is what I like to call “organized chaos” … and by that I mean, sometimes I almost have it all together and other times I wonder how I’m making it all work.
And no matter what, somehow it all seems to balance itself out. Still, I thrive with organization and it’s something that I’m working on over the course of this year. To take a little bit of the chaos out of my organized chaos and that extends to everything.
I’ll admit, one of the reasons that I’ve shied away from couponing and using coupons regularly is because I’m not organized enough for it.
The very thought of using a coupon binder makes me cringe. I mean, who has time for that?
And, admittedly, when I do get around to clipping coupons; more often than not they stay in wonderfully organized piles on the kitchen counter or dining room table.
Today, I want to share a few couponing tips for the disorganized couponer – like me. And may we conquer this organized chaos together.
What is couponing?
Before there was an Extreme Couponing TV show, there were groups of men and women who would shop and share using coupons strategically. This show has just opened the eyes of the general public that couponing can save you a ton of money if you understand how to make the most of it.
Most people only dabble in coupon usage. They might check out the circulars in their Sunday paper, clip one or two items that look good, and probably forget to use them when they’re at the checkout stand.
Couponing is a well-planned method of shopping and saving, so you’re going to get a guide on how to achieve great financial results from your efforts! It can be very fun once you get the hang of it, each trip to the grocery store becoming somewhat of a challenge you engage in.
In this fragile economy, it’s even more important to cut costs where we can, and with gas prices so high, it affects everything down to the price of milk.
Not everything you see on the Extreme Couponing show is real, so before you think that from now on, all of your groceries will be 100% free, think again. For instance, Frys caught heat from the public when they allowed for special coupon doubling that the public didn’t get – it was for promotional purposes just for the show’s taping.
But still, that doesn’t mean that with some smart planning, you can’t get some incredibly good deals that will save you plenty of money on your grocery spending. It’s worth the effort to take time clipping coupons because the money you’ll save will be money you can spend in other ways for yourself or your family.
What Can Be Saved Through Using Coupons?
There are ton of ways that you can make some small changes and save more than you ever imagined at the grocery store. One of those ways is to make sure that you milk your coupon for all of the potential savings that are possible with it. That means you want to use your coupon when it will pack the most power.
One example was a recent sale at a CVS store. They had buy one get one half off on garbage bags. By using a coupon for the garbage bags as well as the CVS card rewards coupon, the savings for the garbage bags doubled to $5.00.
That’s what a lot of savvy couponers know. You use your coupons in such a way that you save the most money. Some shoppers end up getting money back from couponing because they know the ins and outs of how to get the best deals and even end up getting free stuff!
When you start couponing, make sure that you research which stores have items on sale. That way, you can use your manufacturers’ coupons, add them to an in-store coupon and save even more.
One example is when Bi-Lo put Lipton tea bags on sale for $2.99 and they were buy one get one free. The manufacturer coupon was $1.00 off for 10 bags – and since you can use a coupon for both boxes of tea bags, that brought it down to .99.
Add the $0.50 off from the in-store register receipt coupon and that made the item cost absolutely nothing at all!
That’s why it’s so important once you have all of your coupons clipped that you know which store is the best one to use them at. When you get those coupon inserts from your newspaper, you’ll notice right away that there are many savings on everything from food to toiletries to dog and cat supplies – but don’t automatically spend those coupons (think of them as cash) – wait until a store is having a good sale first.
Looking at the Grocery Store With New Eyes
How you view the layout of the stores where you shop is a major clue to saving money on the stuff that you need. The most expensive and the most bought spur-of-the-moment items are going to be on the outer shelf displays of the aisle as well as in specially arranged displays located in the center of the aisles.
That’s a long standing method stores use to get you to part with your money. You should also let go of the belief that name brand is better. Milk is milk – regardless of which cow it comes from.
Staples like salt, pepper, flour and sugar are the same whether they’re the store’s brand or bear the logo of a household name company. Just like you need to alter your view of the grocery store, you need to alter your view of grocery shopping. Look at it as an operation of both timing and skill.
Create Your Shopping Plan Around Your Coupons
You might not know this, but all of the stores you shop at don’t automatically double the coupon’s face value. In order to get the added benefit of doubled coupons, you need to shop only at stores that will do that for you.
Understand that the coupon will not be doubled beyond that of a $1.00. That means that a $0.25 coupon will be one that’s doubled in value to $0.50. Be aware that if you have a coupon for $0.75 at a store that has the double coupon policy, you don’t get that extra $0.50 in savings.
How many times have you heard people in line say that they forgot their coupons? Not bringing them to the store with you when you shop isn’t going to help you save on groceries. Keep your stash with you always. Like a Boy Scout, always be prepared – but in this case, for sales.
You also want to stop dashing out to the store unprepared for the sales they might be having. Look through your resources to see if any of them have some specials going on. That way, if the items you’re running out to get come up as part of a store sale, then you’re prepared for savings then, too.
Look for coupons online that are listed by state and then look for deals and print them out. Because of some of the wacky behavior brought to awareness by extreme couponers, some stores aren’t as coupon friendly as they once were.
So it will backfire on you if you’re prepared to shop and save, you have the weekly sales memorized, your coupons are on hand and then you find out the store police won’t let you redeem all of your coupons.
Some stores don’t want people using both a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon – especially on a buy one get one free item (or BOGO as they’re called). So know what your store will or won’t allow before you attempt it so that you don’t waste your time.
Your plan means that you select from your coupon stash the ones that will save you the most money. Search to see what store has the item for sale – if it is on sale and it’s at a store that’s coupon friendly including offering a double coupon policy, then you’ve hit the savings jackpot!
Never ever leave a store without seeing if they have an in-store coupon for what you’re buying. For example, at CVS, you can check to see if there are any deals on the item by electronically scanning your Extra Care Card.
Though CVS is a drugstore, they do have food items and also a lot of grocery stores use their own type of Extra Care Card, but they just gave it another title.
Finally, look through your paperwork and any register receipts to see if there’s any kind of rebate that you can get back if you buy the product. A company that makes ink pens did that previously.
They offered pens on sale and then rebates with a copied sales receipt. You can use a pyramid method when couponing – you build coupon upon coupon in order to save. Lay the pyramid foundation with manufacturer coupons, then add in store coupons, then add membership discounts and top it off with rebates!
This is a huge way you can save money on so many different kinds of merchandise.
You may have seen some people who have the huge savings (and probably felt the envy too) when they shop and you’re wondering how in the world they get a hold of all of those coupons!
Using a coupon savings calculator will also help.
Where can I find counpons?
In order to be a proficient couponer, you have to know where to find the little pieces of paper that serve to put dollars back in your bank account. Where are they? Let’s cover some of the most popular places to find coupons.
Newspapers are the first stop when you want to look for coupons. Even beginner couponers know that the Sunday paper offers a nice insert filled with various coupons. But did you know that you can also find coupons in your local gazette type of newspapers?
You can find discounts for the grocery store, local restaurants, hair salons and more in the gazette papers. You can usually find those right inside the door of the local grocery store in little metal stands – and they’re usually free.
Smart Source is both a print and an online treasure trove of coupons and deals. You can enter your zip code to see what coupons are available for you. The Source will also let you know what free deals you can find, too.
RedPlum is also another source for finding coupons that you can search. They have an insert for newspapers but can also be found online as well. Some of the recent coupons they had were ones for $1.00 off a Honeysuckle turkey, $0.55 off Eagle Brand condensed milk, $1.00 off Cottonelle toilet paper, and a huge $7.00 coupon off of NicoDerm.
If you used those products, right there, you would save almost $10.00 from looking through just one coupon savings offer. Pay attention to which companies are prone to put in coupons at what time during the month so that you’ll always know when to grab them.
It’s true, as many veteran couponers say, that having a newspaper subscription pays for itself simply with the coupon inserts found in the weekend papers. But you can get the coupons from the newspapers without having to buy them.
Do you know how many people buy a newspaper and then toss it aside? Just leave it for anyone to claim? To make sure you’re not stepping on toes, ask the sales associate or manager of whatever place you find the paper if it’s okay for you to take it home. Leftover Sunday papers are a goldmine of additional savings!
You can even take a look at a little cheat sheet that offers a peek at the coupons that are going to be heading your way. It’s sort of like getting a preview of upcoming movies – you’ll see what the main attraction is going to be.
Online resources can be used as a wellspring of coupons to save on your groceries.
2. Look Right Where You Shop
There are times when coupons seem to appear out of thin air. Well, not quite like that, but you can move an item and then see where a coupon has been left behind by a sweet couponer who didn’t need that product – so they’re kind of paying it forward.
Then you’ll also find coupons actually affixed to items that you can lift off. Another way you can get unexpected savings is by reading your receipts. Not just looking for mistaken charges (though you should be doing that, too) but looking to see if the store printed any savings in-store that are good for your next visit.
If you shop at one place more than others, then you might have a frequent shopper card. Those can be used for good deals, too because the stores will send out coupons for you to get stuff for discounted prices and sometimes free.
That’s just a way that stores reward your faithfulness in buying from them instead of their competitor. If you don’t know if your store offers this, don’t hesitate to ask.
You can also ask at the customer service desk if there are any coupons. Some stores will give out coupons at the customer service desk. A CVS pharmacy store kept discounts offered by companies in a binder and when customers asked, they would give those discount coupons. Sometimes all it takes is asking in order to find great savings.
3. Getting Coupons From Your Computer
As a couponer who is just starting out, you might think that using newspaper inserts should be the main foundation for getting coupons. While they do give you plenty of savings, you have to search other places, too.
You can’t build a database of coupons by sticking with only one source. There are some places online that veteran couponers already know about. One of those places is at www.couponnetwork.com – and this site will give you a list of what your potential savings could be and even what future savings could be.
Veteran couponers also know about www.cellfire.com, which shows site visitors how to locate coupons that are focused on their region.
If you have a favorite store that you shop at, make sure that you type it into a search engine and then use the word “coupon” with it. For example, if you type in the phrase “Target coupon site” then you get http://coupons.target.com/ and since Target always offers good deals and savings, this is a really good site to browse.
Not all coupons will jump out at you, so look for sites that might be more obscure. Use different phrases to pull up coupon sites. Even the phrase “retail coupons” pulls up a multitude of sites with savings. You can check out http://www.retailmenot.com/grocery/ and see the savings you’ll find there.
4. Coupon Inserts in Magazines
By now you know that newspaper inserts and electronic coupons can really add up to some great savings once you add them to your growing collection of coupons. But there’s another often ignored way to get coupons. Look in magazines.
Typically, the more family oriented the magazine is, the more they’ll offer coupons you can cut out. Family Circle is always a good one to find coupons in (and yummy recipes to go with them!). Also check out Women’s Day and All You.
While some avid couponers do advocate buying magazine subscriptions to get coupons, you don’t have to have costly subscriptions to do that. Just remember that all it takes is asking.
Just like with the newspapers, wherever you see a magazine lying around, odds are it was tossed aside – and you can ask if you can take the magazine, or at the very least, ask if you can take the coupon. Just inquire to whomever is in charge of the establishment where you find the magazines.
Not only could you find magazine coupons while you’re waiting to get your kids’ pediatric checkup, but you can find them at the library, too. The library is one of the cheapest places to get magazines for the coupons if you do have to pay for them – because you can get them for as little as a dime or a quarter.
That’s an incredible savings off having to pay for a subscription – and the good news is that these are not old, outdated magazines! Most libraries keep current copies.
5. Taking Advantage of eCoupons
The newest kid on the block when it comes to getting coupons is eCoupons. They’re not the same as the coupons you clip. You never actually even touch them. These sites link whatever coupons you pick out to the store’s shopping card that you use.
For example, if you look at www.savingstar.com, then you’ll see that you can pick out savings on the site. You’ll also see there are no coupons to clip. It’s very eco-friendly, too.
How it works is that when you finish shopping (and this can be used for drugstores, too), you check out with the items you picked the coupons for. You won’t see any minus symbols on your register receipt – and for those who are used to using print coupons, this can be a bit of an adjustment at first.
But what happens is that while you don’t get the money discounted right then, it does come back to you – but as money sent straight to your bank or Paypal account. It’s pretty neat way to watch your money come back to you!
6. Go Straight to the Top – Look up the Manufacturer
Remember that in the beginning especially, you want to get those coupons built up, so you’re going to have to get them from a variety of sources. You want to keep your eyes open.
Besides newspaper, magazine and online coupons, make sure that you go straight to the source – the big businesses that make the products that you like to use. Why do manufacturers like giving coupons to customers?
A customer who saves money is happy and a happy customer morphs into a loyal customer. Usually all you have to do to tap into this source is find the company online. Sign up for their mailing list or newsletters. Some manufacturers have social media pages, too.
That’s a way that you can get coupons for cents off, and you can often get the item at no charge. To keep a customer loyal, some companies love to send out samples of their products free – so don’t overlook this.
Email, call, or write a letter to do whatever you have to do to get offers for coupons. It will be worth the effort. For example, a simple Tweet to a popular vegetarian manufacturer resulted in five coupons where the shopper got to buy anything in the line of food for absolutely ZERO cost to them.
7. Give Something, Get Something Back – Cashing in on Rewards
You’ll see programs that go by the title ‘Rewards’ or ‘Reward Programs’ online offering people coupons (usually for much, much more off a product than you usually find) if they’ll do a survey or quiz.
These are great ways to get samples and sometimes big savings on some pretty expensive products. Sometimes all you’re asked to do is ‘like’ something on Facebook to get a free sample or coupon.
8. The Mail No One Usually Reads
It’s true that most junk mail really is junk mail – but sometimes you can find a diamond in the midst of that junk. Why do companies put high-value coupons in junk mailers?
Because it’s an inexpensive way to get it in front of millions of people in hopes they’ll become loyal buyers. Don’t toss out the mailer envelopes with nothing but ads until you see if there’s something relevant for you in them.
9. The Non-Couponers or Share Couponers Among Your Friends and Family
Hard to believe but not everyone is interested in being a couponer. So ask the people you know if they do and if they don’t, ask for their Sunday inserts and leftover magazines. Ask newspaper deliverers what he or she does with leftover inserts. Look at it as networking for savings.
10. Get It Together – Have a Club and Become Coupon Buddies
Trade the coupons you don’t use with a buddy for coupons that you do use. Get a lot of buddies together and save even more. See if your area already has a coupon swap club and how you can get in on the savings.
If You Don’t Organize, Your Coupons Will Take Over
It happens to all of us – you can’t find the coupon you need and then you do find it, and it’s expired. Frustrating and not helpful! You have to know where your coupons are if you want to save and you have to know if they’re valid.
It doesn’t matter if you pick up one of those contraptions that looks like an accordion wallet for them or if you have a filing system that’s state of the art – just use something and use it without fail!
Some couponers put off cutting the coupons out and leave them to do the day of use. But that way is too easy to fall into a last minute rush trying to find the stash of inserts – and not only that, but it looks messier, too.
You don’t have to be the Martha Stewart of coupon organization, but you do have to have a system. Create one that suits your method of shopping. Get your canned goods first? Then make a system where you file them by canned goods first.
File them according to how you write your grocery list. The trick is to do what works for you and not try to do what doesn’t because you won’t stick with it. Loose coupons tend to get overwhelming, so have something to put them in.
It doesn’t matter what it is, but one of the more successful ways to organize them is to purchase a binder (you can find one at WalMart for less than $1) and those plastic inserts used to hold baseball cards.
You can file the coupons in the plastic inserts according to category and see at a glance what you have. You have to put some effort into keeping up with the organization of your coupons.
Clip them when you get them or as soon as you can. Toss expired ones on a regular basis unless you give them to an organization that sends expired coupons to servicemen and women overseas, where they’re still viable.
One of the most irritating things to non-couponers is to see a couponer who is so unorganized it’s like she’s set up camp at the register. Don’t do that. Come with your coupons separated and ready to pass over to the cashier.
Now if you’re one of those people who just isn’t very organized, then you might not see the benefit of organization with coupons. You won’t get stressed at the register (or embarrassed as you fumble for a lengthy coupon search).
You won’t stress others behind you. You won’t miss out on good deals by forgetting your coupons and you’ll save money to spend on other stuff you want or on other people.
Couponing is an art that can save you money and be used as a tool to show others how to save – newlyweds and people living on a fixed income could benefit from having someone show them how to make the most of their grocery budget.
And trust me, even this disorganized couponer benefits from using coupons.