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19
Sep
2011

Extreme Couponing: How to Stack Coupons

09/19/2011. This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Disclosure Policy.

The next step in the Extreme Couponing course is to learn:

How to Stack Coupons

To “stack” a coupon means using one manufacturer coupon and one store coupon on the exact same item. That is not to be confused with “doubling” coupons which is something totally different.

Often times, stores will issue their own coupon- perhaps in a printable form on their website, via the weekly sales flyer, or in coupon booklets sent to your home or found in store.

Those types of coupons can often be stacked with a second manufacturer coupon for the same item to basically get double the savings.

And example of a store coupon is this one from Safeway:

So there are a few key points that you can note.

  • The first is the top where it tells you “Safeway coupon.”
  • The second is the bottom of the coupon- you can see the standard remittance information is not listed.  On a manufacturer coupon you will always see instructions to the store as to how they can send the coupon in for payment.
  • Last, you can check the barcodes.  In this case I am not posting barcodes because that leads to other issues but one look at the barcode instantly told me that this doesn’t look like all the other manufacturer coupons I have and so something is different here.
Now the coupon is above specifies a price ($2.99) but it could also just be $1.00 off Tombstone pizza etc..


Now this is also a Digiorno coupon but it is a manfacturer coupon.  If this was the same product (Tombstone), I would be able to stack this with the store coupon above and get each pizza for $1.99.

To determine if a store does allow you to stack coupons, you can go online to the store website (such as Target.com) and look for a coupon policy.  You can also check out the compilation of Coupon Policies I have listed or you can simply go to customer service and ask for a copy.

Here are the things that seem to cause the most confusion for people:

Q. The fine print on the coupon says “can not be combined with other offers” so that means I can’t stack the coupon.
That actually means you can not use more than one manufacturer coupon per item you purchase. It does not mean you can’t stack a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon.

Q. The coupon says “limit one coupon per offer or transaction” so I can’t stack it.
That means you may only use one like coupon per item you purchase. If you buy 1 box of Cheerios you can use a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon. You can’t use (2) store coupons on the same box or (2) manufacturer coupons on the same box of cereal.

Q. I think this is a store coupon but it says manufacturer at the top?
There are a few stores that throw us curveballs and I hate it as much as you do. Walgreens and Rite Aid or the worst offenders and this can create a lot of confusion with consumers as well as with store staff.

This is an example of the type of store coupon that can create confusion.  Now the best advice I have in this situation is to arm yourself with as much patience and information as you can.  The coupon above is a Rite Aid coupon from their weekly sales flyer.  Now the coupon says “manufacturer’s coupon” at the top but don’t be fooled.  This is actually a store coupon- you can see there are no redemption instructions for a retailer, it says “good only at Rite Aid” and the bar code is clearly for Rite Aid stores.

So I can tell you already many cashiers will refuse to allow you to stack coupons because they will tell you that is a manufacturer coupon.  What you can do is to go back to the Rite Aid coupon policy and look for this clause:

No more than one “48” Rite Aid Valuable coupon, one “49” Rite Aid Manufacturer coupon, and one “5” Manufacturer coupon can be used on a single item. Rite Aid may accept up to 4 identical coupons for the same number of qualifying items as long as there is sufficient stock to satisfy other customers within the store manager’s sole discretion

So you can see that they expressly allow for the stacking of a manufacturer coupon (that is the 5 coupon they mention- see the pizza coupon above the barcode starts with a 5, the Rite Aid coupon I have pictured says “RC49″ at the beginning. So as you can see the policy does allow you to stack these coupons.

Finally, just a quick note about when the stars align and you can really get the most bang for your buck.  Certain stores will frequently offer a total purchase coupon.  CVS is the store we see these from most often and what that means is when you get a coupon for say $3 off a $10 purchase or $10 off a $50 purchase.

More often than not, you can also stack that coupon along with others you might have!  The only trick you need to keep in mind is that the total purchase coupon should always be given first.  This is one of those times that the order you hand your coupons to the cashier is extremely important.  Take this example:

Huggies Diapers $10.00
Use $2 manufacturer coupon
Use $1 CVS coupon for Huggies diapers
Use $3 off a $10 purchase CVS coupon

If I hand over the manufacturer coupon first, well now my total bill is $8.00.   If I try to give the cashier the $3 off a $10 purchase coupon it will likely be refused because my purchase is actually $8 not $10.  So it is important to give that total purchase coupon first and then the other 2 coupons and now you pay just $4 for your diapers.

Here are guidelines for a few of the stores you might already shop at.

 {Walgreens}
You can stack a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon. They frequently show this as an example in the weekly circulars. My suggestion is to save one of those circulars if you find one with a good example because many stores can be very difficult about stacking coupons. Find the Walgreens coupon policy here. One other small note is that the coupon policy says “applicable Walgreens coupon(s)” which indicates to me that if there happens to be more than one Walgreens coupon for the same item, you should be able to use all of them on that product.  An example would be an in ad coupon and a coupon booklet coupon for the same item- you would just want to double check that the bar codes are different.

{Rite Aid}
Rite Aid allows up to three coupons on a single item- a manufacturer coupon, a store coupon starting in “48″ and a store coupon starting in “49″. The total combined coupon value can not exceed the purchase price of the item. Find the Rite Aid coupon policy here.

{CVS}
CVS does allow you to use a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon on one item. If you also have a total purchase coupon, you can use that as well. See the CVS coupon policy here.

{Target}
Target allows you to use one store coupon and one manufacturer coupon per item. The store coupons do say limit of 1 and it is up to the individual stores as to whether they allow you to use multiple like coupons. For example, if I have a Target store coupon for Oatmeal and a manufacturer coupon that is no problem. If I have (2) of the same sets of coupons and I want to buy 2 oatmeal, you would need to check with your store and see if they enforce the limit of 1 per transaction. The majority of stores will not enforce the limit.  See the Target coupon policy here.

You can find more Couponing 101 articles below:

  1. Extreme Couponing: Where to Begin
  2. Extreme Couponing: Understanding coupon matchups
  3. Extreme Couponing: Ready for Action
  4. Extreme Couponing: Determining a Realistic Savings Plan
  5. Extreme Couponing: Understanding Buy One Get One Free Coupons
  6. Extreme Couponing: Organizing Your Coupons
  7. Extreme Couponing: Free Item Coupons
  8. Extreme Couponing: Using the coupon database.

{ 3 comments }

23
Jun
2011

Extreme Couponing: Using the Coupon Database

06/23/2011. This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Disclosure Policy.

We had a little conversation about this a few weeks ago on the My Frugal Adventures Facebook page.  There are lots of you that might not be aware of a fantastic resource that is available on My Frugal Adventures.

You can utilize the free coupon database at any time and find any coupons you might need in just a few seconds.

So let me start by telling you how to find it.  You can bookmark the coupon database or just look for the box pictured above on the right sidebar —–> and click.

To use the database is very simple.  You simply enter what it is you need and all the available coupons will pop up.  So if you are interested in Grey Poupon Mustard, you might type in “Grey Poupon” or “Grey Poupon Mustard.”  I tend to play with how specific I am.  If I am looking for a Colgate Total coupon I might try Colgate, Colgate Total, or Colgate Toothpaste and see what I get.

When I searched for Grey Poupon (by typing that in and clicking on Search), I can see only one result.  It shows me the description of the coupon (Grey Poupon mustard), the value of the coupon, the date it expires, and the source.  Sometimes you find printable coupons, you will see a link that you can click to go directly to where the coupon is located to print it out.  In this case the Grey Poupon coupon says source “SS 6/12/11″ and that simply means the coupon is inside the 6/12 SmartSource insert.

Now if I wanted to do more of a general search, I could type in “Mustard” instead.  Now that is going to give me lots more options:

If you find that you have a popular product with a lot of results, you do want to note how many pages are listed:

This is at the top of the results and again at the bottom.  If there are multiple pages of coupons you might want to be sure to check each page.

You do want to make sure to note if a store is listed- all the monthly coupons for Walgreens and Rite Aid as well as the Target coupons are often listed in the database.  Don’t waste your time looking at coupons that are specific to Walgreens if you are planning your Kroger shopping trip.

Once you are more comfortable using the database, you can also click on the Advanced Search link and start narrowing down precisely what you want.  If you are a new couponer, you might want to narrow down under “Type” and just look for printable coupons.  Maybe you just want a coupon for a specific value- you can click on “value” to see tons of options.  Maybe you want to find just store coupons.  Click on “Store” and you can search by Walgreens, Target, Publix etc.. etc…

So this really is a great tool to use when you are planning your shopping trips.  I use the coupon database numerous times a day.

A few notes that I do want to make about the database in general:

  • If there was a Grey Poupon coupon released in a specific insert and Arizona got $.50/1, Chicago got $1/1 and Georgia got $1/3- well sometimes the database will have all three listed and sometimes just one of those coupons.  Because it is listed in the database as $1/1 doesn’t necessarily mean that is the exact coupon that your newspaper will have.  You will still have to double check your inserts and see.
  • Some regional coupons are not listed in the database.  The one specifically that makes me nuts is Golden Grain pasta.  That is a very regional product and the coupons are never listed in the database- so keep in mind just because a coupon isn’t listed doesn’t mean it isn’t available.
  • And finally, just remember this database was built and is maintained by human beings.  So there are sometimes errors in the database- like when a recent coupon was listed as “Fruity Pebbles” which you would assume was the cereal and the coupon was actually for Fruity Pebbles Treats which is very different.  Obviously that was a mistake that was made when entering the coupon.  There is usually a bit of a delay in how quickly the coupons are updated.  For example, when I did the grocery store ads on Tuesday, the coupons from the prior Sunday insert still had not been entered in.  And also printable coupons can change at any time.  So if you see a link to a coupon there is always the chance it has been removed, is out of prints etc…

Overall I think this is a great resource and I have found it very simple to use.

If anyone has questions about the database feel free to ask in the comments below!

Here are more articles available to help you learn to use coupons:

  1. Extreme Couponing: Where to Begin
  2. Extreme Couponing: Understanding coupon matchups
  3. Extreme Couponing: Ready for Action
  4. Extreme Couponing: Determining a Realistic Savings Plan
  5. Extreme Couponing: Understanding Buy One Get One Free Coupons
  6. Extreme Couponing: Organizing Your Coupons
  7. Extreme Couponing: Free Item Coupons

And you can also check the Where to Begin section of the blog!

{ 5 comments }

15
Jun
2011

Extreme Couponing: Free Item Coupons!

06/15/2011. This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Disclosure Policy.

Well here is another step in the road to learning how to effectively use coupons.  I wanted to discuss a bit about free item coupons and how to obtain and best use them.

WHAT:

So a free item coupon is exactly what it sounds like.  A coupon that is valid to try a product for free.  There are a few ways to get your hands on these types of coupons.

  1. Via social media promotions. Most often these are on Facebook.  There are all sorts of these types of promotions, from Purina to organic yogurt to Coffeemate Creamer. It used to be that these promotions would last for a few hours but now there are a lot more people out there seeking these freebies and coupons, so often times they might be gone in a matter of minutes or even seconds.
  2. Via word of mouth marketing programs. There are a ton of programs you can sign up for and they really do send coupons or products (full size) totally free.  Some examples are Vocalpoint or Kraft First Taste.  Another type of program would be rewards programs like Huggies and Pampers or Recyclebank where you get free product coupons once you enter enough codes to qualify.
  3. Via coupon inserts. We used to see free item coupons frequently in the paper.  Especially when new products were launching.  These days they are pretty few and far between but they are occasionally in your Sunday paper.  Now the coupons can be regional (meaning only some cities will get them.  An example of this was about 2 months ago.  A very small demographic received coupons for a free Marzetti salad dressing (about $3-4 value).  That same week some people in another demographic received coupons for a free hot sauce (about $3-4 in value).  So depending on where you live your newspaper may have had a great coupon inside.
  4. Via the manufacturers directly. One popular thing to do is to attempt to get free item coupons by contacting the manufacturers of various products and either ask directly for coupons or compliment them/offer feedback on specific products in the hopes that they will send you coupons.

One important thing to understand about free item coupons is if they are printable coupons or not.  There has been a wave of fraudulent printable coupons over the past year or so and as a result most stores will no longer accept these types of printable coupons. Occasionally manufacturers still release these coupons, in fact Lipton actually just offered a coupon for a free iced tea that was available to print at home.  These coupons can still be redeemed but it is important to understand that you may need to try a few stores before you find one that will actually accept the coupon.

A free item coupon that is not printed at home on your computer (such as one mailed to you or in the Sunday paper) is another matter entirely and the vast majority of stores will accept those with no problems.

HOW:

So now that you know where these coupons typically originate let’s move on to how the heck you can get your hands on them!  I try to pass along as many of the free item coupons as I hear about on the blog.  You really have to be in the right place at the right time though because these promotions can go incredibly fast.  Usually following me on Facebook is the best way to find out about them because we can all work together on the Facebook wall to learn when coupons are live etc..

You can register for the word of mouth programs like Vocalpoint, Kraft First Taste, House Party etc… and hopefully get coupons that way.

You can purchase free item coupons online.  An example would be the Sunday insert coupons I mentioned above.  If your area did not receive a coupon for a product or if you want extra coupons, you can purchase coupons from clipping services or from Ebay.  One thing to note is that you want to be VERY careful buying coupons from Ebay.  There are occasional sellers that never send the coupons, send out photocopies or otherwise altered coupons (that are fraudulent and should not be redeemed) and so on.  If a coupon seems too good to be true- say a $5 off Tide coupon, most likely it is too good to be true and it is best to not take any chances.  I have personally used Ebay a handful of times and I have not had problems but I have heard from lots and lots of people that were burned so again just use caution.

And the last way I wanted to mention was via manufacturers directly.  I used to do this a lot when I started couponing and then I had baby #2 and now there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.  You can select random manufacturers for products that you like and call them, email or even write a letter and compliment or offer constructive critisism on their products.

Sample Letters:

What I used to do was pay attention to the products I already had on hand and make a mental note to contact those companies.  For example, during bathtime am I using Burt’s Bees baby wash?  Well why not drop them a line.  In the morning as I am brewing my coffee- is it Coffeemate creamer I always have in the fridge?  Well why not contact them!  You can often just turn a package around and find contact information or a simple Google search will more often than not turn up contact information.

When contacting companies it is important to be honest with your feedback but still polite.  Telling Luvs that you hated the diapers and they gave your baby a rash is probably not going to get you very far.  Here are some examples of things that I have said to companies in the past:

I contacted Huggies when I had a pack of diapers that were defective.

“I have used Huggies diapers on my girls for the past 3 years and have always had great luck with your product.  I also appreciate the convenience of finding Huggies diapers in almost every store I shop.  I did want to let you know that I recently purchased a package of Huggies Overnights diapers in a Jumbo pack at Target (UPC #:) and the side tabs were missing from 3 diapers in the pack.  I have never had any quality issues before and I certainly intend to continue purchasing your product.  I just wanted to make you aware of the problem. “

Now that really did happen to me and I really did send them a note about it.  Huggies responded by sending me a coupon for a free pack of diapers and two $5 off coupons for any product.  So if you do run into any legitimate problems don’t be shy about letting these companies know!

Another example might be something your family enjoys like Newman’s Own Pasta Sauce.  You might send something like this:

“I just tried the new Newman’s Own Stockarooni pasta sauce tonight and wanted to let you know how much our family enjoyed your product!  Your pasta sauce is a staple in our house and my kids love it on homemade pizza or spaghetti and I love the convenience of just pouring something right from a jar and dinner is served!  I also love that your products are organic as that is such an important thing for our family.  We will continue to purchase your pasta sauce regularly and if you happen to have any coupons available for consumers, I would sincerely appreciate them!  My address is:  …..”

And even if you are not a huge fan of a product or you simply want to try something different, you might send a note.  Like I happen to be a Coffeemate girl.  So I might send something like this to International Delight:

“I tend to purchase Coffeemate creamers most frequently and I do use creamer in my coffee every morning.  I recently saw an ad for the new Breve creamer from International Delight and I am really interested in trying this product.  I love the packaging on the creamer and the flavors sound wonderful- especially the Caramel Macchiato.  If you have any coupons available for consumers, I would really appreciate them as I would love to try your product and see if I like it as much as what I currently use.   My address is…”

So emailing companies can sometimes get you incredible coupons and sometimes get you absolutely nothing.  I have received several free item coupons from manufacturers, I have received nothing at all in response to my emails and coupons that were very low in value (say $.35 coupons on a $5-6 product.)

If you want to give this a whirl, I would suggest getting started by just looking at the products you use regularly and contacting those companies when you can.  You can also see a long list of companies to get in touch with (and hopefully) you will get free coupons in return.

Remember to try to be specific and to be honest with what you say.  “I love Huggies please send me coupons” is probably not as effective as the samples listed above.

WHERE:

Now that you know how to get these coupons, I wanted to mention where to use them.  Most people get a coupon for whatever product and they hit the closest store, get the product and leave.  That is great but I try to be a little more strategic with these coupons.

I actually tend to hoard my free item coupons.  Many of them will have long expiration dates and I like to wait for the best possible time to use them to really maximize savings.  So what would be an example of that?  Well I had a free coupon for a pack of Kraft cheese recently.  I waited until I found a Buy One Get One Free sale on Kraft cheese and plunked that coupon down to get 2 packages for free.  Another example would be to hold your coupon until you can possibly make a profit via drugstore rewards or rebates.  An example of that might be a coupon for a free pack of Huggies diapers.  Maybe you hold onto that coupon until CVS is offering a $3 ECB when you buy Huggies.  Use that free package coupon and you get a free product and still get the $3 ECB.  So not only did you get free diapers but you made a profit!

I also love to use these coupons as fillers for store coupons.  For example, my local grocery store offers store coupons for free products when you spend a certain amount (CVS and Rite Aid also offer these types of coupons with $5 off $20 purchase coupons or $3 off $15 purchase coupons.)  So for example I might need to spend $20 at that store and if I do, I get a free package of cereal.  Now I just have to hit $20 before coupons so if I had a coupon for a free pack of Huggies diapers- well that is likely going to get me almost halfway to the $20 mark.  So if I am smart and hold onto those free item coupons until I have a little stash of them, I can use them at the right time to get the best possible deal.

Hopefully this is clear and I would love to hear from you guys that actually do regularly contact companies.  What has your experience been and do you have any other suggestions?

You can read more articles about learning to coupon:

Extreme Couponing: Where to Begin

Extreme Couponing: Understanding coupon matchups

Extreme Couponing: Ready for Action

Extreme Couponing: Determining a Realistic Savings Plan

Extreme Couponing: Understanding Buy One Get One Free Coupons

Extreme Couponing: Organizing Your Coupons

and you can get even more information from the Where to Begin section of my blog!

 

{ 35 comments }

31
May
2011

Extreme Couponing: Creating a Pricebook

05/31/2011. This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Disclosure Policy.

So here is the next step in learning to coupon for those that are following along.

You will want to create some sort of price book.  The point of this is to determine what YOUR best price is for products so you have a handle on when to buy a little extra product to get you through to the next sale.

Price books are very individual things because so much will depend on where you live, if you have double or triple coupons and the stores available to you. Here are a few examples to show why price books are such a personal thing- note these are just examples not deals that are currently available.

Recently Safeway stores ran a sale on ketchup.  If you live in Northern CA, the deal looks like this:

Heinz Ketchup $1.69
Use $.25 coupon (coupons do not double in my area)
Final Price: $1.44

Not a good deal really. But if you happen to live in MD:

Heinz Ketchup $1.69
Use $.50/1 coupon (exact same coupon insert but the value was higher on the East Coast and this coupon doubles)
Final Price: $.69

So again this is the same chain of stores and the exact same sales circular and the exact same coupon inserts but you can see by living in my city, I would have paid double the price for this product as someone on the East Coast.

Here is another example using Safeway stores once again:

Haribo Gummy Bears are $1.00/bag
There was a $.30/1 coupon available

If you lived in my city, the price would be $.70 after coupon
If you live in an area with doubles, the price is $.40 after coupon
If you live in TX, where they have triples, the price is $.10 after coupon

So hopefully this helps clarify why you really want to figure out the best prices in your area for grocery items in particular.    A stock up price for me might be $.70 on candy but for someone in Dallas it might be .10 and you can see why from the example above.

Now how to go about creating your price book...  I would encourage you to spend as little or as much time as you want on this project.  Really the main goal is to just become more conscience of prices at your stores on the stuff you buy most often.

You can just get a tiny notebook and start jotting down the prices on the products you buy most often.  After about 6 weeks you should finally start to see the lowest those products will hit.  Once you get a handle on that, just start to narrow down the items you buy from week to week.  Rather than buying product x once a week and paying whatever they charge, you wait for product x to hit the lowest it will go and buy extra to last you for 1 or maybe 2 months.

I have a “price book” that is located right upstairs in my head.  I just sort of remember what I like to pay for things and it is that simple.  For example, before I started using coupons, if I needed chicken, I would buy chicken.  I don’t think I ever paid attention to the price.  I needed chicken and that was that.  Now I know that the lowest price on a good quality fresh boneless, skinless chicken breast is about $1.88/lb or less.  So when chicken hits that price I buy a little extra to get me through a few weeks until it goes on sale again.  I just know all this stuff after shopping deals and using coupons for awhile- it really becomes second nature.

If you are new to this process or like to have things more buttoned down, I am attaching an excel spreadsheet with my current “buy” prices as a stepping stone.  I do not have double coupons or any of the incredible grocery stores like Kroger and Publix in my city so hopefully your prices are significantly lower.

I would encourage you to customize the list to what suits your household.  For example, you can get Bar-S hot dogs for probably .20 and that might be a stock up price for you on hot dogs.  Bar-S is not a product that our family uses, so my stock up price on hot dogs is probably $2.75 for something like Hebrew National.

I also said I would pay up to .50 for toothpaste.  Many people refuse to pay anything at all for certain products like toothpaste, but in my situation I tend to be willing to pay a little extra for convenience.  If I have to make an extra trip to Walgreens to get toothpaste for free and then spend $2 cash and roll rewards and such, well I would rather go to Target and just pay .50 for the same product and save myself some trouble.    So again, it is all about value to you!

You can see my Price Book here- note there is one tab for grocery and one for drugstore items.  You should be able to very easily update this with your own products and prices!

You can check out more articles on the Learning to Use Coupons series here.

You might also check out my vlog with more tips on understanding grocery store sales cycles.

{ 31 comments }

06
May
2011

Learning to Coupon: Realistic Savings Plan

05/06/2011. This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Disclosure Policy.

I wanted to continue with the series on learning how to effectively use coupons.  Many of you may have seen the new television series called Extreme Couponing and I just wanted to share a little about my perspective on what a not so extreme person might expect to save at the store each week and what kind of time investment is required to get those savings.

First I do want to let you know the shoppers on those shows are doing Extreme trips.  I personally don’t feel it is a realistic portrayal of what you can expect to save week after week.  For one thing, many of the stores on the show broke their own coupon policies for the sake of sensationalism.  A normal coupon shopper would most likely not be able to duplicate those transactions because most stores will not allow overage, many have limits on the number of items and coupons you can purchase and so on.

Many of us do not have double coupons in our areas so that also limits the amount of savings.  Finally, the reason some of those shoppers were able to get the transactions so low was by using free item coupons obtained from various sources, catalina coupons from prior trips, and in one case they even used a gift card to partially pay.  You also didn’t see the cost of the coupons added back into the final total and many of the shoppers did spend money to purchase coupons.

One last thing to consider is taxes vary by state as well.  I saw a show where one shopper had something like 70 liters of soda.  In California, the tax on the soda alone would have been $7.00 which can really cut into your savings.  Another episode showed a shopper purchasing $236 in headache medicine.  In my area, even if those items were free with coupons I would still be stuck paying $18.94 in sales tax on those products.  My weekly grocery budget is $50 so that would be a big chunk of my budget to purchase headache medication alone.

So while the savings are impressive, I just want to be sure people aren’t feeling defeated because they can’t save 93-98% week after week at the stores.

So I am going to walk you through what I personally feel is realistic.  You will of course want to adjust this to suit the needs of your family.

::Time Investment.

I don’t have a ton of time to dedicate to coupons.  I would rather trade off a deal here and there and spend more time with my family and friends.  Some of the couponers on that show spend 30-70 hours per week on couponing.  I can’t even imagine that sort of time investment myself.

I spend roughly 90 minutes a week.  Now that includes doing my menu plan and shopping list which takes the majority of the time.  I do not personally use a coupon binder because I don’t have the time to commit to maintaining it and I don’t want to carry it around with me.  I just have a small pouch that I keep some coupons in and then I cut the rest that I need when I am planning my shopping trips.  Yes, I do miss out on some deals by not having lots of coupons with me but I look at it as a trade off on missing the occasional deal versus saving myself a considerable amount of time.

So I suppose you might want to consider determining how much time you want to commit each week to using coupons.  If you have a razor thin budget or a very large family to shop for or you are interested in really going gangbusters with donations, you will probably need to invest a little more time.

::Storage Space.

Another thing to consider about stocking up on products is how much storage space you are willing to dedicate. I don’t like to have a lot of things myself so I just have a few small baskets under the sink in the bathroom that hold the toiletries. A small pantry in the kitchen that holds all our food and cupboards in the laundry room that hold cleaning products. I have found those small spaces allow me to keep enough products on hand for our family. But again if you live in an extreme climate or have a large family you might need to purchase storage shelving and dedicate space to your products. Remember it is still a time investment to manage all that stuff, to keep rotating products out, to find creative recipes to use the items etc…

The one thing I do have is a small freezer in the garage.  Mine was $100 at Home Depot and I feel it was a good investment because it allows me to purchase extra proteins in particular when they are on sale.

::Give Me the Bottom Line.

And now for the bottom line about what you can realistically save from week to week.  I try to save 50%-70% each week.  Obviously it is possible to save significantly more- take one of the Shop for Free lists to your store and you can save 100% on your bill!

What I have found is that many new couponers get very caught up in how much they save.  Many people want to come out of the gates saving 96% or more.  While that is possible, I think you might also consider the quality of what you are purchasing.  We do see coupons for produce, dairy items, meats etc… but not enough coupons to get those products for free week after week.  So if you want to purchase a lot of fresh items for your family each week, the savings are significantly lower.   To save 90%+ on quality meats and seafood, produce and dairy items is simply not realistic.

To be honest I really don’t even notice the percentage of savings on my bill each week.  I tend to focus more on what I purchased and how far I stretched our budget.  One of my favorite deals recently was Horizon Organic milk for $3.49 (regularly $6).  That is only a 42% savings but let me tell you I was more excited about that deal than coming home with 10 bags of free pouches of cookie mix.  (Although a cookie might have made that milk taste even better….)

So in general, I have found that a small time investment each week allows me to save a significant amount of money for our family.  I have found that you can absolutely save money regardless of your diet or your location.  While you might not walk out of the store week after week with a cart of groceries for pennies on the dollar, I do believe it is very realistic to save at least 50% on high quality items.

One argument I do hear frequently is that coupons are just for junk food.  I have to tell you that is a very valid argument.  I see a lot more coupons for cookies, processed foods, candy and other stuff that might not always be the best choice.  I can tell you that coupons for organic, gluten free, non toxic, and natural items are becoming more and more prevalent and the only way we will continue to see these types of coupons is by redeeming them!

***

Now I’d love to hear what you guys think.  What is your average savings each week?   How much time do you invest to get those savings?

{ 80 comments }

07
Apr
2011

Extreme Couponing: Understanding Coupon Matchups

04/07/2011. This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Disclosure Policy.

 

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:

  • SmartSource= SS
  • RedPlum = RP
  • General Mills= GM
  • Proctor and Gamble= P&G

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.

{ 30 comments }

06
Apr
2011

Extreme Couponing: Where to Begin

04/06/2011. This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Disclosure Policy.

 

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!

WRONG!

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:

and you can get even more information from the Where to Begin section or if you prefer to watch videos, scroll down here to see topics like price matching and organizing coupon binders.

Finally, you can subscribe to my free newsletter to get daily updates on all sorts of freebies, online deals, coupon deals and more!

 

 

 

{ 163 comments }

21
Jan
2011

Article: Coupon Organization

01/21/2011. This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Disclosure Policy.

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?

{ 61 comments }

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