Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Semi-Extreme Couponing: Brought To You By A Beginner

Have you ever seen that show on TLC called Extreme Couponing? It's awesome in that "you-are-secretly-a-hoarder-but-found-a-way-to-justify-your-crazy-for-a-while" kind of way. And I love it. I've always loved saving money and seek out a great sale, but couponing has taken my love of an awesome deal to a new level.

When I started couponing, I had no idea what I was doing. I subscribed to the newspaper and dug out the coupons every Sunday, clipped them, alphabetized them, then went to the store with my coupons and whatever was on sale that I had a coupon for, I would buy. The first time I went I think I saved about $75, which was awesome! But I spent about $200, which was not awesome. I got laundry detergent, and cereal, and bread, and butter, and dish soap, and shampoo, and whatever else I could find. But I wasn't actually getting "good deals", I was just buying nonsense and cluttering my home with it. There are loads of couponing websites out there with great advice, but I didn't (and still haven't, really) spent any time on them to find out the tricks of the trade. However, I feel like I'm finally starting to get the hang of it and figure out the tricks of the trade.

In a recent coupon trip, I spent $40 for $88 worth of groceries. I saved $48! I also should mention that I picked up things to make dinner for a few nights as well, so about $20-25 of what I spent was on non-coupon, generic items that were on my regular list that were in no way on sale. In this trip I got a few things for free and didn't spend more than $1 for each of my coupon items. Repeat, I got a few things for free!!! It was definitely my best couponing trip ever and reinforced some of the principles I've been trying to adopt in my couponing adventure.

Thinking about starting to coupon? Here are some tips so you can avoid making the same rookie mistakes I did or at least get started on the right foot:
1.) Tight on money? Don't subscribe to every day of the newspaper. I am still subscribed to all 7 days and never read any of them and rarely get coupons on Wednesday, which is supposed to be a big day for them. Just subscribe to Sundays. Some serious couponers get several Sunday newspapers, but for a beginner, that's just not necessary. If you're super tight on money, you can ask gas stations, grocery stores, wherever they get the news paper, to save the Sunday papers/coupons for you. Free coupons! You can also dumpster dive, but that can get messy. However, if you live in an apartment complex that has recycling bins, that can be a good place to look as most people don't coupon.
2.) Find out what your favorite store's coupon policy says. In Charlotte, North Carolina, we primarily have Harris Teeter. They double coupons every day and have "super double" coupon days (where they double coupons up to $1.98, rather than the $.99 they'll normally double), however, they will only double up to 20 coupons. They'll still take as many as you have, but it's worth going on double days or saving some for your next trip to get the doubled value.
3.) Only use your coupons on items that are on sale or that you'll use anyway. The secret to couponing is the combination of coupons plus sales. Combining the two is what gets you the great deals. Granted, there are some things that we use on a regular basis anyway, so using a coupon just saves money on something we'll likely buy without one. If you have a great coupon, but that item isn't on sale, it's better to save the coupon for a while and see if it will go on sale. Chances are, it will. Which leads me to...
4.) Check the ad pages to see what's on sale and plan ahead. A lot of stores now even post their weekly specials online so you can scope out the deals before you get there, or without having to wait for the ad in the paper. Having a list of everything you're going to buy and getting your coupons ready will save TONS of time! I have, literally, spent 2 hours in the grocery store trying to get my coupons together on the fly. It's a terrible idea and will not only take you a long time, but you won't get all of the good deals you should because it's so easy to forget about one coupon. I should note, however, that some things you'll go looking for will be out of stock (thanks to other crazy couponers), so put a few back-up items on your list (if you're limited to 20 like I am). That way you can take advantage of the full limit and get all of your deals in one trip.
5.) This seems obvious, but alphabetize your coupons. I started out with an envelope with my coupons alphabetized and paper clipped. Super easy, super cheap. Thanks to my fab aunt, I've since upgraded to a "Coupon Cubby" that looks like a really cute red croc clutch, but is in fact a perfectly organized coupon holder. A lot of couponers swear by using binders and other things, but I like to keep it simple.
6.) Only cut coupons of things you think you might actually buy or use. Clipping 20 diaper coupons isn't going to do me any good, nor is clipping 100 vitamin coupons. I don't use diapers or have a baby and most of the vitamin coupons are things I wouldn't buy anyway. Of course, there will be some things you get that might not be your favorite, but if it's something you might use, go ahead and clip it!
7.) Don't be brand specific! This is one problem we have in our house, my fiance is super brand specific. He's slowly getting better about this, but will only use certain shampoo and specific soap and the perfect shave gel. I'll use whatever is cheap! You definitely have to be brand flexible to make couponing work. Sometimes your favorite brands will be on sale, and sometimes they won't. However, it can be a great way to find new favorites, too! I discovered my new favorite deodorant by couponing because it usually only costs me $.50 per stick! Turns out, it's awesome, too!
8.) Avoid coupons that require you to buy two, three, four, six of anything. Hamburger Helper always has coupons that are "Save $.45 on SIX!", obviously, that's not a good deal. Cereal companies are notorious for "Save $.75 on THREE!". Even on double day, saving $1.50 on $12 worth of cereal is not a great deal, unless of course, it's cereal that you're going to eat anyway, then it's awesome to save money on cereal! (See #3!) But usually, you'll end up buying things you don't really want anyway and pay a premium to get the requisite amount.
9.) Take your coupons everywhere! You never know when you'll spot a great deal! ...unless you carry a giant binders with your coupons. That could just get weird.

I hope my couponing tips can help you get started, or more efficient, in your couponing! It really is a fun way to save money and gets me all jacked up when I have a good trip! I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a lot of booty shaking in my house when I save a ton of money and have an awesome trip!

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