I get asked about transactions involving Buy One Get One Free sales and coupons all the time. I wanted to take a minute to talk a little about how these sales work.
You can click below to get the full scoop!
I get asked about transactions involving Buy One Get One Free sales and coupons all the time. I wanted to take a minute to talk a little about how these sales work.
You can click below to get the full scoop!
So what now? Well let’s go shopping of course! If you are ready to get started here are a few very basic things to keep in mind:
1. The maximum you need to buy is a 10 week supply of any item. If you have a huge family that amount might be more than I need for my small family. There is no reason at all to feel like you need to go gangbusters and wipe out the entire supply of pickles for half the United States just because they are free or inexpensive. I just bet you anything pickles will be a great deal again before you know it. So a handful of anything is most likely more than enough to get you through until the next sale. Remember none of that stuff is really “free.” It costs you time and energy to plan your trips, do the transaction, store the products and then try to find 102 different recipes using pickles.
2. You will want to start testing the waters at your local stores. I can tell you from experience that there will be many occasions that you have a wonderful shopping trip and you get high fives from the cashiers and other customers on the way out the door. I just bet you will also have more than a few occasions where you are treated very rudely, where your coupons are denied (even though they are legitimate), where you mess up and where you might be ready to take your entire pile of coupons and toss them in the trash. That’s ok. We all have those days! I like to recommend that people start shopping around for stores- figure out which ones seem coupon friendly, which ones seem to carry enough inventory and on the flip side which ones you prefer not to shop at. I am lucky enough to have a lot of stores in my area- Walmart, CVS, Target, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Safeway- a lot of variety. I have found certain stores are a much more pleasant overall experience for me than others. So I tend to focus on the deals at those stores. If you are lucky enough to have the superstar stores like Kroger or Publix- well you may not need to shop at several stores at all. You can most likely stick with your superstar grocery store, one drugstore, maybe a supercenter on occasion to do the bulk of your shopping.
Now- I like to recommend getting your feet wet rather than diving off the deep end of the pool. When I started using coupons, I started at one drugstore. I found a few deals each week that were appealing and I put the coupons together. I did very small transactions and that worked really well for me. Once I got more comfortable and got a system together, I started branching out to more stores and doing larger transactions.
You can find the weekly coupon matchups for each of the three drugstores by clicking the drugstores tab at the top right of the blog. Once you decide which store you want to start shopping at, I would strongly recommend reading about the programs they have available. Just look for the “Drugstore 101” tab at the top of the blog.
Personally, I find CVS to be the easiest store overall but I would check the deals for whichever you have available in your area and decide what works best for you.
You will also find a list of Grocery Stores and the weekly coupon matchups by clicking on stores in the upper right of the blog. I am always looking to add more so if your favorite is not listed just leave me a comment below and let me know which one you would like to see.
If you have not noticed the printable list feature on MFA it is very easy! Once you decide which store you want to shop at just look to the left side and you will see little boxes you can click. Once you click the boxes for all the deals you want that week, just click the print this box at the bottom of the post. Now you have a shopping list and you are ready to roll!
If you happen to need a product that is not listed on the coupon matchups, you can find coupons very easily by clicking on the coupon database tab on the right of the blog. You can type in the name of the product you need (i.e. Vlasic Pickles) and click search and you should see a list of current coupons that are available for that product!
So for those of you that have just started to use coupons, I’d love to hear how things are coming along, what is still confusing to you, any little tips you might have to pass on to others etc….
Overall, you will find my philosophy on MFA is that I am in this for the long haul. The tendency is for new couponers to try and chase every single deal, run to the store multiple times each week, purchase quantities much larger than they need and it is very easy to make yourself nuts doing that. I really like to suggest that people start slow just like an exercise routine so that using coupons becomes a seamless part of your routine and not something that takes over your life.
The next part of the extreme couponing series that I wanted to discuss is understanding coupon matchups. We talked about how to start accumulating coupons yesterday and I think this is step #2.
I do matchups for several national chains every week like CVS, Target, Walmart and Walgreens. I also do regional grocery store matchups for stores like Safeway and for stores that are not in my area (like Kroger, Publix, Giant Eagle, Meijer etc..) I will post some highlights and point you toward a person that does a good job with coupon matchups.
So what does coupon matchup mean exactly? Well it means that I look at the weekly circular each store puts out and I match up the best prices with coupons that are available. That is how you are going to find the very best deals on products- not by using those coupons the minute they come out but by holding onto them until you find a great sale to go along with it.
I do not matchup every single item in a weekly circular- most of the time the products featured in a sales flyer are at a good price but not always. If my personal buy price for lunchmeat is $2.00 or less and Safeway features lunchmeat for $4.99 that week with no coupons- well it is wasting everyone’s time to point that deal out.
So if you are looking at matchups that I post you can feel comfortable that I think most of those items are a good price.
This is what a normal coupon matchup might l0ok like:
Jello Temptations $1.99
Use $0.60/1 Jell-O Refrigerated Snack, exp. 5-3-11 (SS 04/03/11)
or Use $1/1 Jell-O Temptations printable
Final price: as low as .99
So the example above first lists the item- in this case Jello- and the price the store has it on sale for. The next thing listed is the coupons available for that item. The first coupon is listed as the value of the coupon ($.60), the expiration date of the coupon and finally where you can find it. In the example, the coupon location is listed as (SS 04/03/11)- so that means you need to go find your pile of coupons and look for the SmartSource insert from the Sunday paper dated 4/3 to get the coupon. It also tells you the expiration- so we have awhile before this particular coupon expires but imagine the date was 4/10 instead. Well that tells you that you need to go and purchase this item on the 10th or before. The majority of stores will not accept expired coupons so you may need to plan an early trip to the store.
The second coupon is listed as $1/1 Jello Temptations printable. You should see the word printable as well as a link. You can click that link and it should take you directly to the coupon to print it out. So you have two sources for coupons to get a deal on this product- in this case the better coupon is the one that can be printed out so do that and the price you will pay for Jello is $.99.
So the next question is- well what is a SmartSource insert? Each week your paper will have coupon inserts from different companies. Usually you will find a RedPlum and a SmartSource insert and occasionally Proctor and Gamble will offer inserts as well as General Mills. We abbreviate these companies like this:
So the picture above is an example of what coupon inserts might look like. You can see right at the top they have listed either SmartSource or RedPlum as the company that distributed the coupons. You can also check the spine of the insert which will have the date and the name of the insert.
So what happens if you don’t have those inserts? Maybe they were before you started couponing or maybe you didn’t get the paper that week. You are kind of out of luck unless you decide to try and buy coupons.
You can either go to Clipping Services or Ebay and purchase coupons. Typically you will pay about .10 per coupon and they have different costs for shipping as well as minimum purchase costs. I would encourage you to be very careful when purchasing coupons. For Ebay sellers it is very important to read the seller’s ratings so you aren’t buying fraudulent coupons. For the clipping services make sure you understand the timeline they have to send you the coupons- you want to make sure you actually get them in time for the sale.
Two clipping services I can recommend are:
Now, the drugstores work a little differently than grocery stores because you have loyalty programs in place. Here is an example of what a CVS coupon matchup might look like:
Zantac 24 or 30 ct $8.99
Get $3.00 ECB (limit 1)
Use $5/1 Zantac coupon
Final Price: .99
So what does that all mean? Well we know the first line is what the store has advertised the product at. We can also see the link to a printable coupon for $5 off this product. Then you see a note about a $3 ECB and the final price is listed at .99. So does that mean you grab the $5 coupon and you will go to CVS and pay $.99? No it does not. What that means is that you will pay $8.99 for the item- give them your $5 coupon. Now your total is $3.99- you pay that plus any tax in your area. The cashier will give you back $3.00 in ECBs.
All three of the drugstores have loyalty programs- +Up Rewards at Rite Aid, ECBs at CVS and Register Rewards at Walgreens. You can think of this basically as monopoly money. This monopoly money can be used to purchase almost anything you want in the store. The idea is that you start off drugstore shopping by paying a small amount in cash for an item you might need- in the case about $4 for Zantac. You now have $3 in CVS money (ECBs) that you can tuck away and use for more items that week or for something on sale the following week. The idea is to keep using the monopoly money that you get on another item that generates money and then another item that generates money and so on. That way you are getting things week after week after week for very little money.
Now with the drugstores you do want to be aware of limits. In the example above I listed the limit as 1. That means you may purchase a total of 1 and any other Zantac you purchase will not generate the ECB reward. The limits are usually listed in the weekly sales ad, in my coupon matchups or on the sale tag in the store.
So that is the basics of understanding what these matchups mean.
A few notes:
You will want to pay attention to the dates the sales are available. The vast majority of stores will run a one week sale- so for the national chains it is typically Sunday- Saturday. Grocery stores are all over the place, in my city most stores have new ads that run from Wednesday-Tuesday- but every area will be different. If I can’t make it to that store during the 7 days the ad is running you will most likely miss out on that deal.
One other note is that it is very important to look at the circular in your area before you shop. Even in ads that run nationally, like Target ads, there can be a few small differences. Another example is Rite Aid, the ad for residents of California can have a few differences from the ad for Iowa. So you can go online to look at the circular for your city or you will likely get them in your newspaper just to double check.
You can read about the loyalty programs at all three of the drugstores here.
I know there are lots of people excited about using coupons thanks in part to the new reality TV show called Extreme Couponing. I know this little world can seem very overwhelming at first and I am getting lots of questions about where on Earth you can begin if you are new to using coupons.
I will have a series for you to learn the ins and outs of coupons from the very beginning. I am hoping this is easy to digest information that will have you saving big before you know it.
I should tell you that the show features people that are… well Extreme. I do not typically shop like the people showcased on the show nor do my children sleep in the bathtub so I can make more room to store my deodorant collection. I personally have a very reasonable pantry and we have very little space actually dedicated to the products that I buy or get for free.
So there is absolutely a comfortable middle ground for those that still want to be able to park the cars in the garage and don’t have 30 hours a week to cut coupons. I hope this series I am putting together will be beneficial to those of you that are interested in simply finding easy and fast ways to save a little money. There should be ideas and tips for those of you that really want to go big as well- I encourage you to find the place that makes you comfortable and works for your family.
Soooo.. are you ready?! Let’s get started!
I personally look at using coupons as just one very easy way to put extra money in the bank. I have three newspaper subscriptions that come to my home and I spend roughly 90 minutes a week total on coupons- organizing, printing, planning my shopping trips and our menu for the week etc.. I spend another 2 hours or so actually shopping each week.
I typically save at least 50% on my grocery bills- so I look at it is an extra 90 minutes per week and I probably save at least $300 or more per month. If I had more spare time, I am sure I could save even more.
One important thing I want to mention, is that coupons are not just for people on tight budgets or with limited incomes. The average coupon shopper has a household income of $70,000+. Using coupons doesn’t mean you can not afford to pay for groceries, it is just a smart way to save a little on something you need so you can put the money back in the bank or splurge on something you want!
So if you are interested in getting started learning how to effectively use coupons, the very first thing we need to do is get our hands on some coupons!
I like to suggest starting very small and working your way up. I do not recommend running out and buying 20 copies of the newspaper- because let me tell you this can be incredibly time consuming. I like to suggest people start small and get comfortable and then figure out what is going to be manageable to you.
So there are two primary ways to get coupons- the first is the Sunday paper.
The common perception of Sunday paper coupons is to flip through them and if something appeals to you, rip the coupon out and throw the rest away. The next time you head to the store grab that coupon you tore out and use it and you just saved yourself .50!
What you want to do now is collecting those Sunday paper coupons. I happen to get 3 subscriptions at my house (so 3 inserts each week) and I will leave it to you to decide how many you would like. Once you get those babies you can flip through and see what looks appealing- I usually cut about 10% of them out. Then I tuck them away in my little pouch and I wait for the right time to use it to get the biggest bang for my buck. The rest of the coupons, I toss in a basket in my closet. (And we can talk more about fabulous ways to organize all your coupons later. For now I’d like to start with the simplest things you can do to get rolling.)
Now you want to hold onto those coupons because you never know when they will come in handy. Some of them will expire in 30 days and some might not expire for an entire year. So just hold onto them.
So that is your first order of business, you really want to start researching the newspapers in your area. I would recommend checking out the papers in your city on both Saturday and Sunday- some areas have inserts available a day early and maybe you can get that paper a little cheaper. I recommend flipping through the papers because one paper in the same city might have double the amount of coupons as another paper. So it is important to really look and see what is available. Once you get that sorted out, you will want to track down the best price you can get. If you are paying $1.50-5.00 per paper each week, well that cuts into your savings. I pay $20 per year for my subscription- so .38 per Sunday newspaper. You might check Dollar Stores, call the subscription desk, ask friends- whatever you can do to track down the best price available on the newspaper in your area. (You can also check Discounted Newspaper Subscriptions and see what they offer.) You can absolutely get multiple copies of the newspaper sent to your home. Before you get crazy though ordering tons of subscriptions, I really suggest using coupons for awhile so you can see what you will really need. I know some sites will recommend getting 10 or more papers a week and I can tell you there is 0 chance I personally could manage that many coupons and I have been doing this for years.
Job # 2 will be to start collecting internet coupons. I post them all the time– the first time you print from most coupon sources like coupons.com, smart source or red plum, they will require that you download a coupon printer. Each coupon will have a unique barcode so that is why you need the download. If you install the software once you should not have to do it again. I think as you start getting more experience you will recognize the coupons you want to print ASAP. I will usually tell you if I think it is a hot coupon as well. So this is homework #2. Internet coupons are a great resource, so if you have a printer you will want to be ready to start printing away as coupons come up! The really good ones can be gone very quickly- most coupons will have a certain limit on how many total can be printed and you don’t want to miss out.
Two important notes on printables:
1. You can usually get 2 copies of the coupon by using your back bar to go back and the coupon should spool a second time. Don’t cheat yourself out of your second copy by forgetting to do that.
2. Sadly, you can usually only get those 2 coupons per computer that you have. If you want extras, you either need access to more computers or you need to sweet talk a friend into printing coupons for you. It is absolutely never, ever OK to photocopy coupons. That is actually a crime and please don’t ever put yourself in a situation to get in trouble.
So those are the primary ways to score coupons, you might also start keeping an eye out at the grocery store because you will start to see coupons can be found everywhere! Sometimes you see little machines that spit out coupons- if it is a product you can use grab one or two of the coupons and just tuck it away. You might also be on the lookout for little booklets in your stores that have coupons. Safeway, Publix and Kroger often have great coupon booklets available. (And there is such a thing as coupon karma so again 2 or maybe 3 booklets is plenty- no reason to take the entire stack.)
The very last step, is you will want to start understanding the coupon policies for your stores. Each person will have a slightly different experience and it is important you are aware of policies that might prevent you from getting great deals. You can go to the web site of your store (such as www.Safeway.com) and look for the coupon policy or you can just ask at customer service in your store. Remember those policies can change at any time so be sure you check back every few months for updates.
So that is part 1. You are already on the way to starting to score great deals! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below. There is really a lot to learn so again I am hoping to just take this one step at a time and hopefully it turns into a fun and easy way to start saving big at the grocery store!
… You can continue along with this series by clicking the articles below:
Finally, you can subscribe to my free newsletter to get daily updates on all sorts of freebies, online deals, coupon deals and more!
I have been getting lots of requests for tips on how to organize coupons. Here are a few methods you can check out and see what works for you. If you are brand new to using coupons, I always recommend you do it for a few weeks before you invest a lot of time or money. It is nice to really see how much time you have to dedicate to this first because this can become very time consuming!
OPTION #1: CHEAP AND EASY.
This is the method I use almost exactly.
I have a small makeup bag that I use- it has color coded envelopes inside that are labeled meat, produce, dairy, baby etc… I only cut coupons on Sundays that I am pretty sure I will use- say diaper coupons or coupons for eggs or high value toothpaste coupons etc… I file those away when I can in each envelope and the makeup bag is usually in my purse. You can probably get a small expanding envelope like this and accomplish the same thing.
When the time comes to do my shopping, I make my list and then I actually go back and cut the coupons I need for the week. In my opinion, this is the least time consuming method but you will miss out on deals from time to time by not cutting tons of coupons. For me, I would rather miss a coupon here or there than spend hours each week managing a complicated system.
PROS: Very simple, easy to manage, inexpensive, less cumbersome, small time investment.
CONS: You will not have every coupon available to you at all times so you may miss out on random deals you find in store.
For the inserts, I have two storage bins that I put them in. I put the most recent on the top and I toss them quarterly. One box is for SS inserts and the other for RP and P&G. There are times that the coupons have not yet expired and I miss out because I tossed them. But again for me it is all about the least amount of maintenance possible. So I’d rather miss a $1 coupon here and there than have to manage piles and piles of coupon inserts.
Some people will organize the inserts by date in a file box. That is even better than my method but it does take a few extra minutes to label the files and put the inserts away. Also you will have the investment of buying the file box and folders etc..
You can watch a video to see exactly how this works here.
OPTION #2: MORE COUPONS.
The binder method is really popular for couponers. You can take a ton of coupons with you everywhere and this might be a good option for those of you that do massive trips, like to buy large quantities of products, get a lot of newspaper subscriptions etc…
You can purchase a zippered binder just about anywhere and most people use baseball trading card inserts inside. Some people like to organize their coupons in categories- such as meats, produce, health and beauty supplies, cleaning supplies etc.. and some like to organize alphabetically.
I believe the majority of people that use coupon binders tend to cut a lot of coupons each week and file them in the binder. If you decide this is the right method for you, keep in mind that you do need to stay on top of expired coupons. So this method is going to be much more time consuming.
PROS: Lots more coupons readily available when you shop, coupons are easily accessible.
CONS: Considerably more time consuming and bulky to carry around.
You can see a video on exactly how to organize a coupon binder here.
What method do you use to organize your coupons?
This is part 2 of the series to get ready for Christmas! I know I personally slacked a bit this year. Usually I have finished almost all of my shopping by now so I am playing a little catch up for sure.
Typically I have a calendar that I create at the beginning of the year and I update it with all the major events we have. All family birthdays, anniversaries, any baby showers, weddings- all those events you purchase gifts for. I have a separate list that I keep for Christmas shopping.
As the year progresses, I am constantly on the lookout for great deals. I have found it is much easier on the budget to spend a little here and there than it is to spend a whole lot at once. Not to mention once the holidays are in full swing, I find myself getting swept up with the shopping spirit and tend to spend more than I should.
So I am attaching two worksheets for you, if you want to get organized for the holidays.
The first worksheet is the one I use to keep track of what I need to buy throughout the year. I typically keep track of things by month and check off each event as I purchase the gifts. I also make notes about what it is I bought so I can easily find what I need. (And because I tend to forget what I have bought for people.) I actually have all my gifts tucked into boxes at the top of the closet. This gift list is tacked to the wall in the closet and I can easily update it as I pop items into the boxes.
For those of you with a lot of children’s parties throughout the year, you might especially consider getting started using the buy ahead idea. I know you can’t always predict every party, but we will see wonderful deals on toys and things during the next few weeks and after the holidays. It is a great time to buy a few extra items to put into your gift closet so you are prepared for those last minute party invitations next year.
The second sheet is just for organizing your holiday shopping list. There is space to jot down names, what it is you purchased, your actual spent vs budgeted amount and a checkbox for when you have completed your shopping for that person.
Hopefully this is a little motivation to start really planning your wish list and to establish a budget ahead of time… 46 days and counting!
It is that time- like it or not the holidays are in full swing! 47 days until Christmas!
I wanted to start giving some tips on getting ready for the holidays and ideas to stretch the budget this year! So stay tuned this week for lots of ideas.
First of all, I would love if you would leave comments with any holidays items you are looking for this year. I see so many deals each day and it is really helpful for me to get ideas of the popular items so I can prioritize my posting.
Second, the holidays seem to have started with a bang from my perspective. I will be posting all sorts of deals on popular items and just random stuff I find. Many items will go really quickly- some won’t even last a day. You can always follow me on Twitter or Facebook– I usually post the best deals there as well as on the blog- or you might consider checking into the blog a bit more frequently. I typically post 15-20 times a day and there will be lots of days that is doubled during the holiday season. I try not to overwhelm people but I can’t pass up a hot deal so some days my fingers are on fire!
I have had a few questions recently about Swagbucks. I know many of you have been saving them for holiday shopping this year so I thought I’d share a few tips with you.
Cash them in. If you have been saving your bucks, I would strongly suggest cashing them in. Swagbucks limits you to cashing in 2 like gift cards per day. So if you want to cash in for several $5 Amazon cards, you are limited to requesting 2 per day. You are also limited to (5) like cards per month. So that means you can only request 5 total of those $5 gift cards each month. They often take 2-3 weeks to credit to your account, so if you intend to use them for holiday shopping you want to get them cashed in now so they are available.
Redeeming Your Cards. You can redeem as many cards as you have. So if you have $30 in Amazon gift cards and you want to purchase an item for $28- you can absolutely use all (6) of your $5 cards to pay 0 for your item. If you have money left over as in the case above, the balance will remain available in your Amazon account until you order again.
Amazon had some amazing deals last year and many of them went really fast! Amazon offers free shipping with a $25 purchase or they also have free shipping with Prime. You might consider registering for Amazon Mom now so you can get Prime for the holidays. It is totally free and you will get free shipping on any order you place (some exceptions apply with 3rd party shippers.) I ordered tons of stuff last year- like $1 books and the awesome $5 Leapfrog toys- all sorts of stuff. I had Prime last year so my shipping was always free and it almost always arrives in 2 days.
Stay tuned as I will be posting several more tips for the holiday shopping season throughout the week!
This is a question that I get asked quite frequently and I have a few tips that might help you to figure out what a good weekly budget is for your family. I thought I would also share how our weekly budget works.
The short answer to this question is it depends. I don’t like blanket budgets because every family is going to be different. For example I do not have double coupons in my area so my prices are higher than others might pay. I also have 2 in diapers- so that is an added expense for us each week. Personally my philosophy is that you just want to live within or below your means. I could certainly spend less but I try to have a varied menu each week. Also I don’t have any of the great grocery stores like Kroger, Publix and Food Lion that seem to have exceptional sales from week to week.
When we moved to California and I started learning to coupon we had an extremely tight budget. I made $30 per week work for us including every single thing from diapers to groceries to cleaning supplies. Let me tell you that was a struggle! But we both moved here without jobs so we needed to save every penny to avoid dipping into our savings. Once we were both employed, I increased the budget to $50. That includes pretty much everything from dog food to toiletries. The two items I do not include are diapers and formula. This seems to be a very workable budget for us but I would encourage you to find the range that seems to work for your family.
Here are a few tips to get started:
1. Evaluate how much you currently spend each week. Aim to reduce that by 10% every week without sacrificing too much quality in your menus. If you are new to couponing this is the easiest way to immediately see a difference in your weekly budget.
2. Pay attention to waste. Before I started my frugal adventure we would go through the fridge every week and toss a ton of food. Produce that was past its prime, items that expired etc… Now I aim to stop the waste entirely. So I always think every week about what we will really eat. It doesn’t mean I am stingy but I don’t buy 4 pounds of bananas if we can only eat 2 pounds. I also try to freeze as much as I can. So this week we had a bag of potatoes that needed to be used. I went ahead and mashed them up and made a casserole that went into the freezer for a future meal. If you are regularly throwing away items than you are essentially throwing out your money. You might try scaling back a little on what you buy or try to come up with creative ideas to use those items up before they expire!
3. Start menu planning! This alone should help to save quite a bit each week as you are planning ahead for what you might need rather than just buying whatever looks appealing when wandering the grocery aisles.
4. Get creative with recipes! I almost never follow a recipe exactly. More often than not they require a long list of ingredients. I try to omit or substitute as many items as I can. For example, if a recipe calls for Provolone cheese and you have Mozzarella on hand- can you substitute that ingredient? On my menu this week I wanted to try a homemade pizza recipe with Butternut Squash and Pine Nuts. Those two ingredients would have killed my budget so instead I found great deals on fresh mozzarella and Roma tomatoes. Our family had a nice roasted tomato and mozzarella pizza instead. Just as good for a fraction of the price.
5. Be honest with yourself. I would really encourage you to be honest about how much time you have and are willing to spend from week to week. If you can spare one hour per week to prepare and organize coupons I would think you can really get your budget down. You will likely need to spend a little extra time at the store as well if you are using coupons, but in the end you will save yourself from making extra runs to the store to grab those last minute ingredients anyway. If you simply can’t spare that time, or you don’t want to invest the time, you can still reduce what you spend by buying low and stocking up. See my vlog about this HERE. You will likely wind up spending more than what a couponer might spend- but every little bit counts so even just a small difference in your budget can really add up over time.
And now for you! What tips do you have for finding a workable budget?