Friday, April 08, 2011

Frugal Friday - Couponing is a competitive sport

If you are a garage sale girl, you know all about competitive yard saling, right?

I recently decided that in order to keep more of my money in my pockets (helllooooo inflation, cost of gas, new baby, medical bills out the ying yang, job uncertainty, etc.) that I should take up the equally competitive sport of couponing. We are very thrifty with most areas of our household - buying household goods and clothing secondhand whenever possible and furnishing the house from the thrift store and the flea market. But by far our largest expenses are food and other disposable household supplies.

I mean what else is there to do when I am sitting in this chair nursing the baby 12 hours a day?

I am lucky to have a BFF who is quite the coupon queen. She has really helped me get my feet under myself in this arena.

Since the airing of extreme couponing on TLC this week, the world seems to be on fire with talk of couponing. Here are just a few tips I have learned in the last month (and I am nowhere NEAR a crazy coupon lady like those women.) My current goals are to save 50% on household goods (which has been pretty easy) and 30% on our food expenses (which is proving to be much harder).
Problem one for me was what to put them in. I don't carry a purse (ever), I don't carry a diaper bag (I do keep one in the van), and I don't use a stroller. I had one of those smaller accordion things that they sell in all the stores for coupons, but it always was more of a coupon graveyard than anything else.

Serious coupon queens carry a big three ring binder, but really? Not going to happen. I spotted this small three ring binder on clearance with different types of inserts at Target and snatched it up. It has turned out to be a perfect solution for me, I can carry it and wear Sammi in the sling and set off to do our shopping.
I bought divider pages for it and I have labeled mine with everything I am trying to use coupons for. From craft stores to baby to drug stores to groceries even to the mall and restaurants. Everything has it's own section.

Then I bought a metric ton of insert pages. These have 3 credit card sized slots on each page. I just divided them up and labeled according to what kinds of coupons I seemed to have for each section. I ONLY did that after I had already accumulated a pile of coupons.

I also have three undivided pages at the beginning for holding receipts (for rebates!), holding my costco price list (so I can comparison shop without having to try and remember what things cost at Costco), and an empty one that holds the coupons I am planning on using that shopping trip.

Here's how I got started:
I bought the paper every Sunday for a month and cut out the coupons I thought I could use.
I added two couponing blogs* to my google reader.
I read along and clipped my coupons for a few weeks before trying to use any of them. It takes awhile to learn their coupon "lingo" and to figure out the coupon policies of the different stores.
One morning Sammi and I set out with a fistful of coupons and went to Wal-mart. I didn't try and do anything complicated like doubling or stacking, I just used coupons. I saved $20 something bucks on toiletries.
Once I discovered I could do it (it sounds strange, but it was intimidating for me), I went ahead and tried harder couponing. We went to Target and stacked coupons and bought a few things. Then I started to gain steam and figure out how to stack coupons on clearance items. Whooohooo! I was starting to walk out of Target with stuff for FREE.
I subscribed to the paper at this point because I was 1) sure I could do it 2) sure the paper wouldn't be a waste of money and 3) determined to keep making it work.

And here we are.

*You needn't spend a million hours a week in pursuit of the coupon deal. It takes me *maybe* two hours a week total right now. Even 30 minutes a week can save quite a bit of money.

*Keep the coupons you didn't clip. Staple those inserts together and put them in a folder somewhere. Sometimes I have discovered a really good deal after I had already tossed the coupons thinking I didn't want them.

*Once word of a freebie hits the internets you are most likely going to encounter difficulty finding that item. People are piggy hoarders (as illustrated by the TLC show). It pays to ALWAYS CARRY THE BINDER. You don't want to discover a deal and not have the darn coupons with you.

*Find blogs that work for stores near you. Just google Walgreens coupon blog or Target coupon blog or whatever your grocery store is.

And tip number one:
*Think of that coupon, that piece of paper, as currency and not a piece of paper. That little change in thinking changed everything for me. I wouldn't give away dollars at a yard sale (I know how to bargain!) so why do I do it at the grocery/big box store?

How about you? Are you a coupon queen? Have any tips on getting that grocery bill down (with stores that do not double coupons, do not have rewards cards and a cart that MUST have fresh fruit/veg/meat in it?)


  1. I am not a coupon queen. I did take a "class" from someone who is and got some tips, but I still haven't taken the plunge. I guess I'm a little intimidated by the whole thing. Your post has given me the courage to try!

  2. Great post, Sara! I have been using coupons for about 8 months now (sometimes I'm better at it than other times.) I do need to be more organized about it, so the binder idea is great. I combine coupons with sales and it's not a good shopping trip unless I've saved at least 50% :D

    Any suggestions for blogs? I find them hit and miss, because I'm from Seattle and a lot of the blogs use stores that we don't have here.

  3. I use coupons, but mostly at the wholesale club using the ones they provide. Unfortunately, the coupons in our local Sunday paper are PATHETIC. And I'm being nice when I say that. There is ONE measly little insert and most of the pages are advertisements. The pages that have coupons are for items that I never buy ... Pringles, Oil of Olay body wash(I use my handmade soups), etc. Oh, and our local stores don't accept computer-printed coupons because of fraud. Nice.

  4. I did a lot of couponing when I was out of work last summer, but I never felt like I was getting the results some others were! I think my highest amount was $30 in coupons for a $100 grocery bill. Now that I'm working again, I'm happy if I have $10 in coupons! Sometimes I can do pretty well at Super Target when I print their coupons and use them with manufacturer's coupons.

  5. Can you explain "stacking"? I try to use as many coupons as I can but our paper usually doesn't have much for "real food" coupons, lots of low nutrient snack crap but I have been successful at Walgreens getting deals on shampoo, soap and the ever needed razors. ;)
    By the way the baby is way too cute, I think you need to send her to me. ;)

  6. I've flirted with using coupons, but like a few others said, I can only find them for things we don't really use.
    I try to save money by eating out of our garden and putting up (canning & freezing) as much produce from it as possible. I've learned how to get deals from some local farms during the season when there is a glut of produce (and then spend my weekends putting that up!). I also barter & swap from time to time. And of of course, only buy things on sale.

    Currently, I'm working on bartering some summer camps for miss thing. So far, I've gotten one free week lined up and am working on a few more. I've also gotten some free mulch as well as seeds and plants for this year's garden.

  7. This journalist thanks for so very much for subscribing to the newspaper.

  8. I have used coupons for years. It is part of my shopping trip each week. I would not consider myself hardcore like the TLC show, but I do realize the value of the coupon. A few years ago I get track for an entire year of what my coupon savings was - it was over $800 for a family of four. My using coupons and shopping with a thrifty mind set has also rubbed off on my kids who were always tagging along on the trips. They "get" what smart shopping is - a valuable lesson to teach them as they head out into the real world.

  9. Like others, I have used coupons before, but have never gotten that into it because they are always for things I don't use. Do you find you are buying things or eating in way you normaly wouldn't without coupons? And if so, is the change good?

  10. Thanks for posting this....I really need to get busy and spend some time organizing. any hints are appreciated! Send me some discipline!!! so I will make time to do it!

  11. Thanks for the awesome post! i too like most other people have gotten bit by the *Extreme Couponing Bug*! I only started a few months ago. I live in a very remote, rural area with only a Walgreens, and regular Walmart (super one is being built!)

    I was talking with a friend who used to be a big couponer and she said she used to get coupons on EBAY! I was thinking - isn't that a little backwards? I mean why pay money for coupons to save money? However - I looked into it and it actually makes sense! People are selling lots of coupons for just about everything - I was looking mainly for diapers, cleaning supplies, toiletries etc. They all say the coupons are FREE, you are paying for their time to find,clip and mail them to you. They are pretty reasonable. I was able to snag a lot of 20 (not that I will be able to use all 20) buy 2 Crystal lite get 1 free! I only paid $3.00 for all 20 coupons. So after using only 1 it has paid for itself! I am addicted to the crystal lite that you put in your water bottles! So it is something that I can store and doesn't take a lot of shelf space! You do have to make sure to check the exp. dates listed though in the EBAY listings! I will definately be checking there again!

    I would also like to know what *stacking* means?

    Thank you so much!

  12. I want to coupon too... Intimidating to me also! I cut some out here and there and save the ones from the store and keep them in my car. Half the time I forget to take them in... If I only had a few more hours ... i know it is worth it though~

  13. Great post! That's a great way to start. I've been couponing for 10 years but have yet to move to the binder. I have 5(!) accordian thingies I use. One for food, 3 for everything else and one for store coupons. I really want to do the binder, but it's buying all the baseball card inserts that is holding me back!


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