Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Update 1: Couponing

I'm sure by now nearly everyone's heard that couponing has taken over the public by storm.  I'm not ashamed to say yes...our house, too.  I started some light couponing before the end of May, but now I think it's safe to say that I coupon a few hours every week.  If you've not seen the Extreme Couponing show or visited any couponing sites,  you might not really know the process that well.  Here's how I did it:

I began by following the krazycouponlady site.   This site is run by two stay-at-home moms who basically make couponing their living (they save so much each week that it's like they have their own incomes that pay for groceries!).  They have a really great area for beginners and they link all of the ad prices for the week with coupons that you can either find online or in your paper.  I also found links to nearly every store's coupon and ad policy from here.  I explored and learned tons about coupons and how to use them and decided to try it myself.

I find lots of coupons in the Sunday ads and on coupon sites online.  I started by doing things online only--Kyle didn't want me to get invested in this "fad" unless I could convince him that it could truly save us money.  I went to a few different websites and printed a small pile of coupons as well as looked at store ads online, but I soon got pretty frustrated because I had access to a very small amount of coupons.  

Online coupons for smoothie mix and kitty treats

I decided it was time to get serious.  My grandparents get the Muncie Star Sunday edition, so I talked to them about getting their coupons they weren't going to use and any current ads.  They also gave me a promo code (essentially a coupon!) from their paper so that we could start getting our own for a dollar a week!  We got our first newspaper this past Sunday, and I've been able to add a lot of coupons to my collection.  I can't wait until I get the next paper!

I also began my own little (actually, quite large) coupon binder.  I used to keep them in a small file-y thing, but it soon became too disorganized and it was a pain to have to pull out ALL of my coupons in the store and flip through every single one of them to find the one I wanted.  The binder took a little time to get organized the way I wanted, but I love it! 

Old file-y thing that used to hold all of my coupons (but now holds restaurant coupons only)

Awesome new coupon binder with my number on it (in case I leave it in the cart somewhere!)
Wanna look inside?

So I decided to set it up like this:

First I have a sheet protector that I use to keep my mPerks list (for Meijer shoppers) as well as any coupons that I really want to use that week.  Usually, the coupons I want to use are the coupons that make their items more than 50% off.  For example, RepHresh tampons at CVS are $6.79.  This week CVS is giving $6.79 in Extracare Bucks for those who have a Rewards Card (we do).  With the $1 off coupon, I'm making a dollar by buying the tampons!  Or take the Twizzlers.  Dollar General has Twizzlers as part of their 10 items for $10 deal. That would make the Twizzlers $1 apiece.  But if 3 of the 10 items are Twizzlers and you use the coupon at the register, you get all 3 for $2 (or 67 cents apiece)!  NOW do you see why I coupon?!

I also keep a calculator in my sheet protector so that I can do some math when I need to.  Often I use this in the store to see how much my coupon makes the items cost. 

Next I have divided my coupons up into sections that I took from the krazycouponlady site.  I modified it to fit our own needs and have only 16 sections instead of 36.  My tabs are labeled Produce, Refrigerated, Meats, Snacks, Breakfast, Baking, Cans, Pasta, Boxed/Sides, Frozen, Misc. Foods, Cleaning, Paper/Plastic (for baggies and paper towels, etc.), Health/Beauty, Medicine, and Other. 

There are two different ways to organize your binder--date and category.  I chose category, so I also had to get these spiffy-looking baseball card holders to stick the individual coupons in.  This is my cleaning supplies section :)  Usually, I find what I want in the store, make sure the coupons (and any ads) match the item, and then remove the coupon and stick it in my pocket or something. 

Then, at the end I decided to include more sheet protectors full of the coupon and ad policies of the stores that I shop at most!  I recommend writing down the local number of each of the stores on the policy somewhere as well in case you're out with your binder and have a question about the policy.  And although I've never had this problem (yet), having the policy with you while shopping is good in case you have to educate the cashier!

I also keep all of my ads stuck in the inside cover of my binder so that I don't have to worry about dragging them along to the store separately.  I usually take time to clip coupons, research deals, and then go back through the ads to circle everything I want for the week.  That way, when I go to the store, I don't have to spend hours at my cart trying to find something specific (like item size) in the ad--it's already circled!  Making a cheat sheet with the items you want and which store they're at is helpful, too.  For example, when I go to Wal-Mart and want to match competitor ads, I have to only look at my cheat sheet to know which store had what on sale for how much.  That way, I don't have to bother looking through the ad at the register!  Or, you can use your list to really organize the stops in your shopping trip :)

Now, I'm sure you're wondering how much I've saved.

To be sure, it's atypical to get $1,000 worth of groceries for a quarter like they do on the show.  But, with ad matching and the coupons I do use, we save about $20 each shopping trip.  To save more, it's also important to be aware of what stores double or triple coupons.  The Muncie Meijer doubles manufacturer coupons on general merchandise up to 50 cents and Marsh doubles coupons up to 50 cents on a regular basis.  My biggest savings came when Marsh did their triple coupon weekend over Memorial Day where they tripled any coupons up to $1!  That week, I saved over $100!

All of this?  FREE during Marsh's triple coupon weekend!

Whew!  More updates to come!