I've been using coupons for a long time. But I didn't start couponing until September last year. That's right, I used the word coupon as a verb. In the past, I would use a few coupons ans save maybe 5 or 10 bucks off a $100 grocery purchase and I would be pleased. And who wouldn't be? I mean, saving 10 bucks is pretty sweet. But, there was something I didn't know. If I took some time to really apply myself, I could have a kitchen loaded with groceries for 50, 60, 70, 80 or even 90% off! My average savings on my regular grocery trips usually around 65 to 70% these days. There are several ways a shopper can make the most of their coupon shopping. Some people plan their meals based on what might be on sale that week and what they have coupons for and then buy what they will need for that week.
Me, well, I stockpile. This only works if you have some space to keep your stockpiles of stuff. I have several cupboards that weren't being utilized as well as they could have been, so I cleared them out for storage. I also use the top of my refrigerator and part of a closet upstairs for paper goods as well as the top part of my bathroom closet for personal care items, like shampoo, toothpaste and soaps. Now, I'm to the point where pretty much everything I might need is already in my house. I plan one trip to the grocery store each week and never have to run out to get something I've run out of - because I already have one or more in my pantry! I do have to add though, if you are a person who has to have a particular brand of everything, the stockpiling method probably won't work as well for you. For example, if, like this past week, you can get Crest toothpaste for 17 cents a tube, but you only use Aquafresh, then you will have to wait until you find a good deal on the Aquafresh to get a stock of it.
Here's how I do it:
Part ONE - Getting the Coupons
A. Sunday Papers I buy 9 to 12 Sunday papers each week for the coupons. We have 3 major papers in this area: The Sharon Herald, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette and The Erie Times News. I would really love to get 10 just one of these papers but the way the coupon inserts are done, I'd miss out on a lot by doing that. Pittsburgh and Erie only get the Smart Source inserts and every once in a while, the General Mills. The Herald usually gets all of the inserts but they have only about a third of the coupons the other two papers get. So, if I get a combination of all three papers, I get a decent selection of coupons, without spending a load on papers.
B. Internet Printables There are several websites that have coupons just waiting to be printed! The ones I use regularly are: smartsource.com, redplum.com and coupons.com. These have a wide ariety of brands and products. I also go to various manufacturer websites and get coupons there, like boxtops4education.com (General Mills), recessionpayback.com (Conagra) and snackpicks.com (Keebler & Kellogg's). Another way to get printables is to visit the websites for particular products like bagelbites.com or hebrewnational.com.
C. In The Mail Many of the companies I mentioned above will also have online sign ups for coupons booklets you can receive in the mail. I've recently received a Proctor & Gamble and a Conagra booklet with some nice coupons - higher value than the printables and Sunday supplements. Another source of coupons in the mail is through samples. I am always signing up for free samples of anything and everything I can. walmart.com is a good source of samples and most times, they include a coupon with your sample. Many times, these are high value coupons! Signing up for "clubs" is another way to get coupons. I signed up for the Pop Tarts Sprinklings and not only do I get coupons in the mail on occasion, but they also send me full size packs of new flavors of Pop Tarts to try. About a month ago, I got a package that contained 2 of the new Wild Grape Pop Tarts. Yummy!
D. Ebay There are loads of people who sell their coupon clipping services on ebay. Selling coupons themselves is illegal. This can come in handy when you find a really good deal. For example: This coming week at Giant Eagle, V8 V-fusion juice is on sale 2 for $5. There is a coupon out there right now for .75 off 1 and after being doubled, that makes the juice $1 for a bottle. I got 20 coupons from an ebay service for this deal since the juice is usually around $4 a bottle.
Part TWO - Getting Organized
After a few weeks of having my coupons stuffed into envelopes and then digging through hundreds of coupons to find the ones I wanted, I decided it was time to get better organized. I decided to go with the binder system, using collector card sleeves. I printed out some very pretty divider pages from thekrazycouponlady.com for my binder and then started filling up my binder. I also keep current sales flyers, scissors, a pen and envelopes in my binder. When I make up my shopping list, I go through and pull out the coupons I will be using and put them into one of my envelopes. I have included several full sheet protectors in my binder to keep copies of store coupon policies just in case there is any question about my coupons during checkout. This comes in especially handy with newbie cashiers.
Part THREE - Getting The Deals
I could sit down with my ads and binder each week and check each of the items I am interested in to see if there's a coupon to match the sale. I do that sometimes, but most of the time, I rely on others to do that for me. There are several websites devoted to this, some free, some are pay sites. I use a few different sites. The one I use the most is afullcup.com. It's free and it has forums and shopping lists for loads of different stores. I frequent the Giant Eagle and Walmart forums there.
Another site I use a lot is thekrazycouponlady.com. This is another free site. The grocery stores they list there aren't anywhere near me, but they do have match ups for Walmart, Target and Walgreens which are near me. The thing I like best about this site is that they post tons of links to hot coupons along with ways to use them to get the best possible deals. A lot of times, I can't do the deals as they are posted but I can at least print the coupons and wait for deals at my local stores.
I also use thegrocerygame.com which is a pay site. It publishes a weekly list of the sales and coupon match ups for your local grocery stores. I like to use this as a place to print my shopping lists. I think I would use it a lot more if they did a few things differently. For my area, they only have 4 stores to choose from: Giant Eagle, Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens. I really don't use the last three stores very often. The problem with the Giant Eagle list is that they publish it on Sunday but the sales start on Thursdays, so by the time I can use the list, there are only a couple days left in the sale and often, the really good deals are sold out and I have to get rain checks. This isn't too bad, but I've had really good coupons expire while I waited for the store to restock. I'm thinking I will be canceling my grocery game subscription at the end of this cycle. I have no doubt, though, that this site would be excellent for people who have a couple more stores to choose from and have stores whose sales run Sunday through Saturday. It's only $10 for 8 weeks and then you can add stores for $5 each (for 8 weeks).
There are several blog I follow that post deals as well. Some of them can be found in "Blogs I Like" on the right side. I need to add a few more that I've recently come across.
Part FOUR - Shopping!
There are a couple of things I've learned about the actual shopping part that can help too. First, I try to hit the stores when they have the lowest number of customers. This sometimes means 8 or 9 PM but, it's easier to get the things you want when you don't have to weave around a bunch of other shoppers. You also don't have to worry about people making rude comments about all the time you are taking in the check out - yes, this has happened to me.
I also keep my eyes open for unadvertised deals and clearance items. I always take my coupon binder into the store with me in case I find a great deal that wasn't in the flyer. I don't always get it out, but most of the time, I turn the seat part of my cart into a little desk. I take the seat belt and hook it through the cart to provide support for my binder and then I lay my open binder out across the seat (usually with my coat or purse underneath). That way, I can put my list there and mark items off as I get them and then I take my coupons out of the envelope and set them in a pile as I get each item. It also gives me easy access to the rest of the coupons in my binder should I find a great deal. I know some people feel a little awkward about taking a huge coupon binder into a store with them, but hey, if it can save me a few bucks, I don't worry about what others think.
Before checking out, I profile the cashiers. I look for somebody who looks like they are friendly and in a good mood. These are the ones who are least likely to give you a tough time over your coupons. Another typical cashier type that is usually easiest to deal with is the high school boy. They usually seem to like to keep things moving and will push through a coupon that makes the register beep rather than wait to check on it. At a couple of the stores I frequent, I have my "favorite cashier." At the Hermitage Giant Eagle, that's Linda. She's just so friendly and seems genuinely happy for me when I am saving so much. The teen girls at the Franklin Giant Eagle are my faves too. A bunch of them will gather around to look at my receipt so they can see my savings percentage and then they all get all gushy and "squealy" the way only teen girls can do. It makes my night when I go there.
That's it! It may seem like a lot to think about but after getting organized and into a groove, it isn't difficult at all. It just comes naturally. Like any good thing worth going after, it takes a little preparation and work. I've been doing this coupon thing for about 6 months now and I still get all excited when I walk out of a store with $200 worth of groceries that I only paid about $45 for. It's quite the rush!
I'll probably add a few things to this as I'm sure there are things that have slipped my mind at the moment, but this is pretty much it. Happy Shopping!