Couponing

Okay today’s topic is a bit random, I admit.  It’s couponing.  Is that even a word?  Apparently it’s not because my spell check is identifying it as being incorrect.  Well, I’m using it anyway because today I want to talk about coupons and getting good deals.  Because you all know that I love me a good bargain.  If you have any doubt, you can ask my sister who watched as I recently stood in line at BabyGap for 45 minutes just to buy six pair of pajamas because they were half off.  And any time I place an online order, I always do a search for coupons (retailmenot.com is a great resource, btw) to see if I can get an extra discount.  The point is, I am no stranger to finding and using coupons.

It’s a good thing, too, because now that we’re a one-income household, we’re having to hold onto our pennies a bit more than before.  The problem is, as good as I am at couponing at places like Old Navy, Barnes & Noble, and Michaels (all places with regular coupons) for the life of me I can’t seem to transfer that skill to my grocery shopping.

I know it’s possible because I hear stories about how people save tons of money and get free goods and how they hardly spend any money at all.  But every time I look at the weekly paper, I see a few coupons here and there at different stores for products that we use and it doesn’t seem worth it to drive to three different places just to save a few dollars.  Am I looking at it wrong?  Am I just doing it incorrectly?  And what’s this about Double Coupon days?  I’ve heard of them, but have yet to figure them out – are they at all stores or only participating grocers?

As you can see, I have no idea what to do but I’d love to learn.  I’m totally willing to spend whatever time I need to each week to collect my coupons and plan my grocery stopping strategy.  But I feel like I need some guidelines.  Any suggestions?  Are any of you familiar with couponing or the concept?  Do you use coupons when shopping and where do you use them?

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Kristina P. - December 9, 2010 - 9:01 pm

I am definitely like you. Can’t coupon for groceries to save my life, but I can always find great deals for retailers.
.-= Kristina P.´s last blog ..She Bangs- She Bangs =-.

sparkly jules - December 9, 2010 - 9:04 pm

In Los Angeles, it used to be (left in 05), all major grocery outlets doubled coupons ALL THE TIME. I once saved $150- on my Christmas dinner/party bill. I really did.

But now I’m spoiled. A 50-cent coupon not worth a dollar? It’s more effort than it’s worth. And lately, none of the coupons are things I would use, although I do notice a lot of baby products (I used to send them to my sister in San Francisco, a city that also does not double coupons).

If it’s 75cents or more, I’ll use it, otherwise it’s more time than it’s worth. Good luck!

Jules
.-= sparkly jules´s last blog ..Basta! =-.

genevieve - December 9, 2010 - 9:14 pm

I hate couponing. I’ve never been able to figure it out. I always end up with a pocket full of expired coupons.
.-= genevieve´s last blog ..12 Days of Pictures – Day 6 =-.

joy - December 9, 2010 - 9:19 pm

I have been a regular coupon user for several years now. Really, more after my first son was born about 4 years ago. I started slowly. What really helped was joining a local mommies group online. I also started reading up a lot about couponing online. I have a bunch of sites RSS in my Google Reader which basically tell me where the bargains are. These are usually major retailers like Target, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, etc. Here in the Charlotte area, many of the grocery stores double coupons up to 99 cents daily. Occasionally they will have triples (up to 99 cents coupons) or SuperDoubles (up to $1.99 coupons). I also sign up with a bunch of companies online, and they usually send me coupons. Also, if you are on Facebook, many companies will offer coupons for free items if you “Like” their page. But I think the mommies board helped me the most with their Domestic Goddess section where I was able to ask questions about couponing. The thing is you really have to know the store’s rules in regard to their acceptance of coupons. Also, if you try to jump with with both feet, it is easy to get too overwhelmed and not do it. I am by no means a “domestic goddess” but some women have saved tons of money. I’ve put my efforts into a few small places to get a good return. I can email you more if you like about the mommies board. They might have one in your area you can connect for this information. The philosophy my husband and I use is “fifty cents (or whatever amount) is fifty cents. The belief is that it is 50 cents in my pocket because it does add up! Once you start to use coupons more, you can delve into rebates. That is a good moneymaker! Check out programs like CVS where they give you ExtraBucks. You have to invest the money upfront but you get coupons to use on a next purchase. You can roll these for more EBs. Good luck! I am so disorganized that it is a wonder we save any money at all sometimes. :)

Erin Ward - December 9, 2010 - 9:36 pm

My mom is the mother of all coupon clippers. But I have yet to pick up her mad skills.

Heather (Heather's Dish) - December 9, 2010 - 9:53 pm

i so wish that i used coupons more, but i just never take the time to cut them out!
.-= Heather (Heather’s Dish)´s last blog ..A Long Road =-.

Jessika - December 9, 2010 - 11:54 pm

Ok, so I’ve been couponing much more for the last few months. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1) Go through the newspaper. If there’s a chance I’ll use it, I’ll clip it.

2) Divide said coupons by category and put in labeled baggies. I have “Dry foods”, “frozen foods”, “pets”, “house stuffs” and “medicine”. I think that covers most everything.

3) Go through coupons every 2 weeks, just looking for a) things you need to buy anyway, and b) coupons that expire (and thus may necessitate you using them sooner if you may need them in a few weeks anyway).

4) Use coupons at a store where things are cheap anyway. I use my manufacturer’s coupons usually at Walmart, unless I spot a sale at a local store in their insert. I compare couponed name brands against the store brands– especially if it’s something I don’t care where I don’t buy the name brand. If the couponed name brand is still more expensive than the store brand, then ditch the coupon and buy the store brand. This happened for me recently on magic erasers and chex cereal, of all things.

5) I also go through the newspaper for store ads, noting where is super cheap and what deals they have. If there’s something GREAT, I clip out the ad (even if it’s not a coupon), and write the store name on it. It gives me a much better perspective of how “worth it” it is for me to go to that store. However, be careful on the clipping because many stores, like Walmart, will HONOR THE ADS of other stores– so you need to keep the store name visible on whatever you cut out. So it’s sort of a balancing act of whether to cut.

6) Double coupons. SIGH. My mom used to do that, but they’ve now seemed to disappear the way of other good things. My mom even used to have TRIPLE COUPONS (gasp!). The only store that has double coupons regularly is Albertsons, and they usually only have 3-4 coupons which will each let you double a coupon. And the limit is $1. Poo! But, with 4 of those double coupon coupons, you’re still saving $8!! You may want to call some of your local stores. From what i’ve heard, it’s up to the discretion of the stores. The coupons that are doubled are the manufacturer’s coupons– the ones you see in the random inserts with ads that aren’t related to any particular store.

7) Particularly coveted items or expensive items. For the most part, i can get what I need either on sale or on sale by couponing (or best yet: both). So, I avoid internet coupons because they are time suckers. Plus, pop up ads, etc etc. Bleh. BUT, I do scrounge around when there’s something I want that is too expensive for my blood. Enter: Turkey bacon. LOVE the stuff, but at $3.99-$4.50/pack, it was too much for me. But, I did a few quick google searches and found a $1 coupon. I used that with one of my double coupons, and suddenly, the $3.99-$4.50 price became $1.99-$2.50. Much better. I searched by manufacturer.

8) Finally, when I go to the store, I know exactly what I want. If I have more than 10 coupons, I have them all written down, by category, on a notepad. Shuffling through more than 10 is just a pain. So I keep them in my pocket. If, when I look at the notepad, I decide to get the item, I find the coupon and move it to a different pocket. That way, by the time I’m finished shopping, I have a pocket full of coupons that I’m using. Note: I didn’t have to be shuffling through my coupons to find out what my discount was. This permits me to quickly compare prices. And, by putting the “ones-to-use” in another place, they are all organized and I don’t have to throw a handful of coupons at the grocer for him to figure out when I check out.

WHEW! totally more than I should have written. I guess the final piece of advice is: don’t buy something just because you have a coupon. It’s totally tempting because it’s kinda like money in your hand… but you don’t NEED the item, so then don’t get it.

I should have said this long ago (and not written all of this), but email me if you want to talk. :)

Heather - December 10, 2010 - 2:53 am

Ooh, good topic. I am just getting into couponing myself. So far I use the weekly coupons Jewel (Albertson’s) sends out in the mail (usually $7 off your purchase of $70 or more). I’ve also found that many stores such as Jewel, Meijer, etc print out coupons for you with your receipt, and the coupons are usually based on things you bought. So if I buy lean cuisines or campbells soup for lunch, the coupons usually are a “buy 3 get 1 free” or “buy 3, get $1 off,” but they add up.

I go through my coupons before I go to the store and if I plan to buy the item on the coupon, I put it in the front pocket of my coupon organizer and I add the item to my grocery list. I usually set a rule for myself that I can only get 1-2 things that are not on the list, so this encourages me to make a detailed list and set realistic financial expectations for the shopping trip. This practice saves me at least as much $ on couponing.

One other thing I used to use a lot was our local delivery grocery service, Peapod. While the groceries were a tad more expensive (especially on heavy things like bottled water), they had great coupons, and you could often get delivery free or $10 off your purchase with the coupons, which they email you regularly. My favorite thing though was that as you shop it keeps a running total of how much you’ll owe on your screen- it really makes you think twice when you add those two steaks to your cart. And, if I want to sort through my cart at the end and take things out, I can do that without being that crazy lady stuffing half her cart purchases onto the shelves of the checkout aisle while she waits in line. Oh, and, if I add something to my cart this week and it’s on sale this week, but I don’t check out my cart until next week (when the item is no longer on sale), I still get the sale price since it was on sale when I put it into my cart.
Happy shopping!

Joanna - December 10, 2010 - 6:13 am

I’m one of those people you don’t want to be behind at the grocery store :)

Try Southern Savers for a great guide to couponing. They also have links to several stores where they match up available coupons and weekly specials. The site is free.

I’ve also used The Grocery Game as a resource, but it charges a fee and I found I could get the information I needed off Southern Savers.

It’s a bit time consuming, but I get a thrill out of it :)

I’ll stop now or I’ll post entirely too much.

April - December 10, 2010 - 7:14 am

I have to admit, I rarely coupon anymore. The exception is for things like medicine and other ‘bathroom cabinet’ items. Occasionally the checkout coupon thingie at one of the grocery stores will spit out something I can use, but my big problem with coupons is that most of them are for convenience and/or snack foods that we rarely purchase. It’s very rare to see a fresh fruit/vegetable coupon (although they do exist) or even anything that can be used on dairy or nonprocessed meats. On that last note, the one thing I do do is scan the meat section for ‘buy today get X dollars off’ coupons placed on individual cuts of meat by the store itself. Usually that means they’re close to or at their sell date, so you want to eat or freeze pretty much right away, but there’s usually a decent savings.

Molly - December 10, 2010 - 7:30 am

I’m trying to get better about this as well. I just started adding coupons to my safeway club card via the safeway site. It’s free. You just make an account and go online once and awhile to add coupons to your card. One great one last week was $3 off produce! Pretty easy and hassle free.

Nicole - December 10, 2010 - 7:32 am

I don’t use coupons a lot, but our grocery stores are very competitive out here. Last week a gallon of milk was $1.67!!! I save a lot by looking through the ads and shopping around. Walmart does ad match, but I still prefer going to a few stores. Good luck!
.-= Nicole´s last blog ..CHRISTMAS – DAY 8 =-.

Suzanne at Window on The Prairie - December 10, 2010 - 7:33 am

I don’t use coupons very often because most of the time they are on products I don’t buy anyway. But I keep my eyes open just in case. Thanks for making me think more about couponing. I’ll look into the sites mentioned.
Suzanne
.-= Suzanne at Window on The Prairie´s last blog ..White Tailed Deer =-.

Julie - December 10, 2010 - 8:30 am

oh could I go on and on about this. I am a couponer and a sale seeker. I was out of work for 3 months and before that we weren’t exactly doing well either. I graduated college into a bad economy so have had to stretch a dollar by necessity. I would give you all my hints here just because it will take forever so if you want to know more, shoot me an e-mail.

But I never buy a weekend newspaper. I use coupons.com, smartsource.com and redplum.com. Some of these I get to through other websites where I earn points for gift cards. For online, I use retailmenot.com like you do but I also go through ebates.com to get cash back on the purchase.

I use http://moneysavingmom.com for most my deal seeking things. There are a few other websites I use but this is the main one.

I sit down on Thursday or Friday night and go through the online Shaw’s (fancier grocery store but has good deals) to see what they have for deals that I have coupons for. Then on Saturday mornings, I do the same thing for the more local and cheaper grocery store, Hannaford. I drive by Shaw’s in the town where I work but since I work 45 minutes away from home, only go there after work.

My grocery list is on a small notebook. Each page a do a section for Hannaford, Shaw’s and Wal-mart. The first page of the notebook has a comparison on prices on products I always use from Hannaford and Wal-mart. Next to an item, I put a (c) if I have a coupon. Then I paperclip all my coupons for the week into the notebook. Much easier for me than multiple lists and digging for coupons.

This week, Shaw’s has a B1G1 deal on Campbell’s Chunky soup. since it is winter in Maine, it is time to have canned goods on hand just in case of a power outage. I have a coupon for $1 off 2 cans of the chunky soup. So one can will be free and the other will be cheap. I’ll end up paying like $0.60 for 2 cans of soup.
.-= Julie´s last blog ..A Japanese Transister Radio =-.

Sara - December 10, 2010 - 8:53 am

Whew! I fall into the group who can’t ever seem to find coupons for stuff I would normally buy (at least when it comes to groceries). And we actually do the bulk of our grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, which doesn’t do coupons (but costs far less than the bigger stores).
.-= Sara´s last blog ..Perfect pie crust =-.

Meg - December 10, 2010 - 9:17 am

I’m totally with you on the coupon thing. I just don’t feel like it’s worth it. I’ve tried, but whenever I look through the coupons in the Sunday newspaper I rarely find them for things I would ordinarily purchase. But, like some of the other commenters have suggested, I’ve heard that it’s possible to really make it work for you. I read a blog posting once — I forget where — by someone who uses a website and buys multiple Sunday papers every week and it really works for her and she saves tons of money. If you decide to do it, good luck and happy savings! :)

Hilary - December 10, 2010 - 11:20 pm

I’m with you, I can’t seem to save at the grocery store either! Couponing is confusing but we can figure this out…I hope!

Isabelle - December 11, 2010 - 1:23 am

Ohhh, I see that couponing is still the big thing in the US; my picture of it from 1982 is my friends mom in front of a huuuuuuuuuuuge box on Saturday mornings scuffing (?) through tons of coupons all in different sections of the box. That got me really impressed; my hostmom always tried coupons, but she always ran late on hers and they expired.
We have coupons for only a very few stores here and for a while I cut them out but never used them. Therefore, I need to hit my fingers next time not to put them into my wallet. ;-) ))
Here, the best deal in grocery shopping is to go in the last hour before closing (esp. on Saturdays) and get 50% off of all items that are about to expire. I am saving a lot of money on bread, dairy and fish this way.

cher - December 11, 2010 - 7:47 am

i had a phase where i couponed like crazy. i found it very helpful. i only did it for a phase, because i acquired so much stuff, we had no more room to store it. i stocked up on things a couple years ago that we are still using now…it was WELL worth it. when we get close to running out of things again…i’ll do it again!

Amy - December 12, 2010 - 7:41 am

Jessica at Balancing Everything has excellent posts about this topic:
http://balancingeverything.com/category/hobbies/coupon-nerdery/?submit=view

Good luck!
.-= Amy´s last blog ..Never be good enough =-.

shaunel - December 12, 2010 - 7:18 pm

Hey, I’m not much of a couponer, but I scour the ads every week. In our area Shoppers usually will double coupons up to .99, and they’ll push it to triple every now and then. Safeway’s also got a ton of great deals on cereal and dairy quite often and their online coupon thing sounds awesome. Giant seems to always have a doubler coupon. WITH that said, I’m totally with you, and usually get overwhelmed. Maybe we should start a local couponing mom’s group–just for organization and support ;)

erin - December 13, 2010 - 10:30 am

I am not bothering to read all the comments right now, so sorry if I am just repeating what other people have already said. :)

The easiest ways to make sure you use your coupons when grocery shopping are to keep them organized and to make a list (or multiple lists, if you are going to multiple stores). I made myself an organizer by taping together a bunch of small envelopes with packing tape to make an accordion-type “file” (except not a “real” one, because the coupons would slide underneath the dividers) and label each envelope with the type of coupon inside. Like, “household” for paper products and cleaning stuff, dairy/refrigerated, pet products, baby, canned goods, frozen, etc. I also have an extra one right in the front for coupons that I am going to use on that shopping trip, and another extra one in the back for other non-grocery coupons, like Borders and Jo-Ann and such. Within each envelope I also sort my coupons by expiration date, soonest expiring first. That way if I have two $1 off coupons for the same thing, I can easily see which one to use first (because it expires the soonest), and you don’t forget to use one and then discover it expired later.

I sort through my coupons each week, when I clip the new ones from the paper. The new ones get sorted in to the folder and any expired ones get pulled out and tossed. Sorting by expiration date makes it very easy to get rid of the old ones as well.

I plan our meals weekly and shop weekly also, which works nicely with my couponing. On Wednesdays when the new grocery ads come, I sit down and plan out our meals for the week based on what we still have in the fridge and freezer that needs to be used up, what is coming up in the garden, and what is on sale at the grocery store. When we got our CSA box (which I stopped because our garden was booming), I would pick it up on Wednesdays also, so that also fit nicely with my schedule since I needed to plan meals around what we were getting in the box too. I try to plan meals using the same ingredient multiple times as well. For example, if I am going to make something that uses fresh herbs, I will make something else later in the week that uses the same herbs so I didn’t waste $1.99 on fresh sage only to use 4 leaves in one dish and then it goes bad.

I make my grocery list pretty detailed. If there is a specific item on sale that I want to purchase, I write down exactly what it is – V8 Splash juice 64 oz. $2.99 – so I can know at a glance which one I am looking for, and don’t accidentally buy the wrong size for more money or something. If I have a coupon for it as well I note that (c) so that I remember to check the coupon, because sometimes you have to buy 2 to get the $2 off or you get an additional item free and I don’t want to miss that. If there are multiple brands of the same thing that I have coupons for – say, paper towels – I will write down what the coupons are so I can easily compare prices. Ex: Bounty $1 off 6+ pack, Brawny 50c off 2+ pack. Then I can compare prices when I get to the store and see which is the better deal.

My mom always carried a calculator with her, but I just use the calculator app on my phone. Then I can see which is the better deal. Most stores these days tell you anyway, but sometimes their prices are confusing, and of course they don’t account for any coupons you might have. For example, when I buy soda, the store tag lists the price per ounce of soda. I don’t really care about that – I want to know the price per can, because I don’t ever want to pay more than 25c per can. Also, sometimes with your coupons it ends up that it is cheaper to get the smaller package of one than a larger package of another. My paper towel example – 50c is not as big a savings as $1, but (assuming the same price per roll) 50c off 2 = 25c off per roll, and $1 off 6 = 17c off per roll, which is not as good.

My mom used to drive to 3-4 different grocery stores to get what was on sale, but I do not do that. I don’t feel like it is worth my time and effort (and hauling around a toddler who gets fussy after an entire day of errands) to save $3 or whatever. When I check out the ads and make my list, I end up going to the store (or two stores, max) that has the most items on my list on sale, or the biggest savings (if I need a couple “big ticket” things like the coffees that Brian is addicted to or his favorite juice). None of the stores around here do double or triple coupons anymore, which is a bummer because I would totally shop on those days. (The store matches the coupon savings for you, often on specific days – say, Tuesday – so you get $1 savings on a 50c coupon. Nice!)

Also, be judicious what you clip your coupons for. If I think we might need or want it, I clip the coupon because I figure it is better to have it and not need it than want it and not have the coupon. But, you may have noticed – a lot of the coupons in the mailers are for (imho, no offense) unnecessary crap. I mean, how much air freshener and frozen dinners do you really need? A lot of the coupons are for processed stuff and junk, in my humble opinion. 95% of what I have purchased in my freezer (specific frozen food) is frozen veggies, meatballs (my go-to), and the occasional tub of ice cream. Everything else is things like individually packaged (by me) chicken breasts, steaks, fish filets, etc. We rarely have things like Lean Cuisines in our freezer, so even though a $2 off coupon on Lean Cuisine is great, I don’t clip it because we don’t need to waste our money on them in the first place.

I know I have just written a novel for a comment here, and I know it probably sounds like a lot of work – and it DOES take time – but once you get the hang of it, it is pretty easy. You get to know what coupons you have in your organizer and what is on sale where and what you want to make for dinner and which store generally has the lowest prices, and it doesn’t take that much time in the long run. And then you go to the store and you see all those minuses on your receipt, taking off all that money, and they usually add up all your savings at the bottom, and then you see that you just saved like 45% off what you would have paid and it is all stuff you would have bought anyways and it feels SO GOOD.

Oh! And don’t forget your reusable grocery bags! If you don’t already – most stores give you a small credit for them, like 3-5c off. It’s not a lot, but 30c each week more than pays for the bag in less than a year. I also usually bring a couple extra that I am pretty sure I am not going to use – if I do, then great, and if I don’t use them, the store generally gives you credit off anyway. :)
.-= erin´s last blog ..busy like a bee =-.

erin - December 13, 2010 - 10:34 am

Oh and also, using your calculator helps you know if it is going to be worth it to buy something in bulk (usually, but not always). Ex: at Safeway, a 5 lb. bag of generic flour is $3.29, but it is $2.99 at Target, which is 60c/lb. At Henry’s, bulk flour is 49c/lb. (cheaper) – but at Winco it is 29c/lb. Booyah! So when I need flour I get it at Winco for sure.

Also, I read somewhere too to remember to think about using your coupons on the smallest item possible, because you get the best savings. Unless it is something you know you are going to use (sometimes buying generic paper towels with no coupon is cheaper than buying brand-name with a coupon), you usually get the best savings by spending the least possible amount with the biggest coupon. :)
.-= erin´s last blog ..busy like a bee =-.

erin - December 13, 2010 - 10:43 am

Okay, also one last idea: about the meal planning? I write my meals out on a “dry-erase board” that I DIYed out of an old (large) picture frame, like 16×20 or something. I put a piece of pretty fabric under the glass and stuck letter stickers on the fabric going down the side – S M T W T F S – to designate the days. Then just stuck it all under the glass and hung it on the wall. Dry erase markers work fine on glass, so our weekly meal list is also kind of like a piece of artwork. :)
.-= erin´s last blog ..busy like a bee =-.

Lonnita - December 28, 2010 - 12:19 pm

I’ve been couponing for a couple of years now and recently have found the best way to organize my coupons…the acordian style coupon holders have caused me to stop couponing due to fustration (you know you have a coupon, but can’t find it when you get to the store). I can’t claim the idea as my own, I read about it on couponmom.com, but it has become my coupon lifesaver.
Okay for my coupon organizer…get a 3-ring binder (mine is the soft bendable type) and a package of baseball card holders (the clear plastic ones much like a business card holder). You place the holders in the 3-ring binder and you can divide them into sections (meat, condiments, laundry, breakfast, etc.). You now have a coupon “book” with an individual holder for each of your coupons that can be viewed with the flip of your hand and quickly pulled out. I’ve been in the store and had women and men approach me to ask about my “book” and how it was made. I’ve even had a lady get the items to make her own book and find me in the store to make sure that she had everything that she need to duplicate it.
I’m still learning all of the intricacies of couponing, but I have been able to save $30 on a grocery bill before. I haven’t gotten to the point where my $120 bill is reduced to $20…those that can do that are my heros.

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