People ask me all the time, “how do you do it?” Even cashiers. They look stunned when my bill for $58 rings up to $3. Or, like today when the store owed me $6.78, and I had to “buy” something else to even it out. I walked out with $35 worth of free groceries. And, I got this deal after spending 15 minutes of preparation drugged up on pain medication from my surgery. If I can be pushed in a wheelchair half-lucid and roll out with free groceries, surely anyone can on a good day. The truth is, I do not spend my life clipping coupons or hoarding cases of Hamburger Helper. I do not order flats of Top Ramen ahead of time like on Extreme Couponing, or dumpster dive. I get one paper, and have one printer. I clip when I can, and some weeks only get a couple of deals. Because I am stocked up from getting freebies or almost-freebies, I can sit and wait for the best prices. And sometimes, life happens and I miss out on great deals because of other commitments, but that’s ok. I’m not obsessed, I’m dedicated.
Let’s Get Started
To start couponing, the first thing you need to do is subscribe to the Sunday paper. My local paper is half price if you subscribe to the Sunday paper as opposed to buying it in the store. Do not buy the Sunday paper from the machines, because people pay their money and steal coupons out all the other papers. I actually caught someone in the act. Pretty despicable. On a week where there might be four coupon inserts, I might buy a paper in the store in addition to my delivered paper. However, I always check the paper to make sure no one lifted out the coupons.
Besides newspaper coupons, it’s also important to follow the release of printed coupons. Sometimes most of my deals come from computer generated coupons. Know your store’s policy on Internet coupons, because often there is a limit on how many they will accept for the same item. In other words, you can use as many Internet coupons as you want, but can only use a certain number of like computer generated coupons. I have to promote the source for my couponing success – – Southern Savers. This site not only announces the release of printed coupons, but also posts ad prices a day or more in advance. Not only that, but they add printable coupon links which coordinate the deal. There is no way I would have time to go through all the coupons and match them up with ads. You can visit the site and see the coupon policies of the stores she covers. Southern Savers is the reason I’m successful for couponing. The writer does a great job, and has a large following, because she saves people like me hundreds of dollars every year. And, it’s free. Check out the site’s section called “Learn to Coupon.”
When you coupon you should also know there are sales cycles, and to stock up on certain items at various times of the year. For instance, condiments such as barbeque sauce go on sale in the summer. I got seven bottles of free barbeque sauce last summer. Some might think it’s ridiculous to have seven bottles of barbeque sauce, but when you make things like ribs or barbeque in the slow cooker, you might go through 1 1/2 bottles for that one recipe. The goal is to stock up on as much as you can to carry you to the next sale cycle. Take tea as another example. My family goes through about a quart of iced tea every night at dinner. Last summer, I got several big boxes of tea bags for 4 cents per box. I am still using it and have four more boxes to go. Sugar goes on sale big time during the holidays. I buy several bags knowing I will use it making jam in the summer. Don’t pass up free items or good deals because you don’t want to store them – – stocking up and thinking ahead are key in saving your grocery budget.
A Flexible Attitude is Key
A successful couponer isn’t picky about brands. If you only use Country Crock, but have coupons to get 5 free tubs of Smart Balance, be flexible and get the Smart Balance butter. About six months ago I got probably 8 tubs of both Country Crock and Smart Balance butter. I normally only buy real butter, and even make my own. But, it’s free, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Budget-minded people cannot be too picky. You won’t see me feeding my family Fruit Loops or Coco Puffs, or even Pop Tarts even if they are free. But that’s more of a food choice issue than one of branding.
Couponing also allows me to try expensive products I would never in a million years pay for, like Jello Silk pudding. (I think that’s what it’s called.) I would never pay $3.99 for a four pack of glorified pudding, ever. But, it was free, so my children were able to enjoy this treat in their lunches. South Beach Protein bars – – yeah, my little five-year old had those in her lunch a few weeks ago because they were free. I would never pay the original price of almost $5 a box. We have also been enjoying acai berry juice that is $3 for a 6 ounce bottle. Another freebie. We use those in our smoothies. So many people ask me, “But do you buy things you normally buy?” (I’m thinking the inference is I’m buying things I won’t use.) The answer is most often, “heck no,” because I would never spend that kind of money on grocery items. However, they are things we will use, and I do not buy junk. Most who don’t coupon say they don’t use products which are promoted with coupons. To this I say, “do you not use milk, shavers, peanut butter, fruit, cold medicine, shampoo, meat, or cheese?” I think Extreme couponing gave couponers everywhere a bad reputation for buying nothing but large amounts of processed food. Recently I got Smart Balance milk and 20 pounds of grapefruit free. I scored a jar of natural peanut butter for $1, and three big bottles of Listerine and two spools of dental floss free. Oh, and I never, ever pay for soy sauce or hot sauce.
Getting Free Items
Now we covered attitudes in regards to couponing, let’s address how to get free or almost-free items. You usually must create the perfect storm to get free items, combining a sale item with a coupon. For instance, if yogurt is originally $4, and it’s BOGO, that makes each yogurt $2. If you have a coupon for $1 during Super Doubles, it will double to $2, making it free. (BOGO means Buy One Get One, which in most stores means each item is half price, and you only have to purchase one, not two.) Stores like Harris Teeter and Lowes Foods are now doubling coupons $2 and under during Super Doubles. At Harris Teeter, during Triples they will triple any coupon 99 cents and under. I cannot go over every grocery store obviously, but check your local grocery store for their coupon policies and specials. Some stores let you “stack” their store coupons (either paper or E coupons) and paper coupons. This means they let you use both. Food Lion releases in-store coupons on things like meat and produce. The other day I had a rain check for pork butt at $1.29 a pound. I used their in-store coupon machine and got a $1.50 off pork roast coupon, and also had a store coupon for $1.50 off a purchase of meat $7 or over. So, I got the pork for $1.29 a pound, plus $3 off my total. Always be strategizing about how to “work” a deal.
Take all of your coupons when going to the store. Check the clearance bin. Recently I got Robitussin for 14 cents using a coupon, because I got a clearance price. With medicine, always check the expiration date. Speaking of medicines, drug store couponing is a great way to get inexpensive or free medical or beauty products. I’ve walked out of CVS with bags of items for 50 cents total. CVS and Rite Aid have credit that can be used as cash if you buy certain items. CVS has “Extrabucks” and Rite Aid has “UP Rewards.” Rite Aid also has “Video Values” where you watch a video and earn coupons that can be stacked with newspaper coupons. Also, check to see if your grocery store will accept these drug store cash credits as competitor’s coupons. Harris Teeter does. For instance, if I buy make-up at CVS and get Extrabucks as a reward, I can take those Extrabucks to Harris Teeter and spend them like cash. You need to do some leg-work locally and see what your stores are offering, and what they are willing to take as far as competitor’s coupons. Southern Savers does a good job of outlining things, but if you live in another part of the country, you should look for a similar coupon site, or research it yourself. Better yet, get some friends together and share the work. Start a coupon club, split up the work, and share information. I’m a big fan of pulling together!
Get There Early
A very important tip is – – get to the sale early. During Super Doubles, if you don’t get their early, all your clipping and planning might be for nothing, because the shelves get cleaned out quickly of hot items. If you wait too long, all the other girls are going to get your stuff, I promise.
Know when the registers “roll over.” In other words, Harris Teeter is open 24 hours a day, but their sales don’t start till 7 a.m. on a new promotion day. You will find moms like me with bed head, sweatpants, and no make-up on near the register at 6:57 a.m., waiting 3 more minutes until 7. When you show up at home with all this free or almost free stuff, your husband is going to think you are the most beautiful and clever thing he has ever seen. I get to my store at 6:15 which gives me 45 minutes to shop. When you get there early, not everything is labeled yet, so it takes longer to shop because you have to double-check the ad. Also, watch the register to make sure everything doubles. During a recent Super Doubles trip one of the cashiers had to hand-ring stuff, and didn’t know about the $2 doubling, he thought it was $1.99 still. I caught it and they owed me $13. You have to make sure the cashiers know what they are doing.
The bottom line for me is this — the economy is getting worse and worse. The government is addicted to spending, and if the dollar crashes, the food shelves will be wiped clean. Stock up to save money, and to prepare in the event of an emergency, which could be a job loss, or a national economic crisis. In the meantime, have fun saving your family money, and creating a healthy food stockpile. Start slow, and don’t pressure yourself. You don’t want one more duty you have to dread. Celebrate your small couponing victories, and build from there. Soon, you will be looking around your kitchen and realizing your pantry is stocked with all free and seriously discounted inventory. That feeling girlfriend, is priceless.