Monday, October 28, 2013

Moderate Couponing

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I coupon to save money on purchases. And if you can believe it, couponing is quite controversial. A lot of people poo-poo it because they believe couponing makes you buy things you don't need. To them I say: nobody makes me buy anything. Another group of people don't want to take the time; and they can pay for the convenience of not cutting coupons if they choose. Yet another group says it's not worth it to spend the time to get $0.25 off a $5.00 item. To them I say: you're doing it wrong. If you're willing to spend a little time (by a little, I mean half an hour or so a week once you have the hang of it), then you can save some serious moolah. This is not Extreme Couponing. It's more like... Moderate Couponing.

Before I get into nitty gritty analytical (nerdy) part of this post, I want to first address your emotions. Yes, food is emotional. It's a huge part of why you're still alive right now, and we Americans associate food with family time and celebrations. Food is important on many different levels. Don't diminish its importance...but don't give too much importance to silly things. Yes, organic is good. Yes, some brands are better than others. However, sometimes these loyalties need to be set aside for a bigger purpose. If you have the choice between eating $5.00/lb butter and all organic, grass fed beef or moving out of your crappy basement apartment into your own house, which would you choose? Which is more important to your family? Keep your priorities in line. I feed my family well; we eat healthy and often organic. But not always. Because when it comes down to it, I'd rather save the money for the betterment of my family.

Another thought: be content with what you need to survive and be intentional when you shop. Be content to not need Febreeze, but instead open a window or sprinkle your carpets with baking soda. Or make your own. Be intentional when you go to the supermarket to avoid falling into marketing traps. Walmart now has flat screen tvs with ads playing around the clock. I'm sure it was a huge investment for them to put so many TVs in so many stores, and I bet they didn’t do it just to entertain you for free. No, they’re making buckets of money off you. Do you know where they put them? In the place they thought they’d get the most return on investment: the cleaning aisle. Women are suckers for cleaners. These things are sold to us like we need them, but really we don't. In the near future I'll show you how to replace heavily marketed, toxic manufactured products with homemade alternatives. It's waaaaay easier than you think and cheaper than dirt.

To begin the couponing process, start with one item at a time. A good one to start with is breakfast cereal. General Mills and Kellogg almost always have coupons available. I never pay full price for Cheerios anymore. We go through a lot of them, but at less than $2 a box, it’s a lot easier on my budget. If you don't eat cereal very much, pick another common item like laundry detergent or toilet paper to focus on. Once you get the system down for one item, it'll be a lot easier to start applying it to multiple items all at once.

The secret to worthwhile couponing is to match up coupons with in store markdowns. Keeping that in mind, you'll be looking at two or three different pieces of information for each store.

1) Manufacturer coupons. These can be found at, in the newspaper, on company websites, on packaging or sometimes at the store. They will be labeled clearly as a manufacturer coupon. It is important to know the difference between manufacturer coupons and in store coupons because you can often stack one of each on the same item. Nearly every store accepts manufacturer coupons.

2) In store coupons are coupons that can be redeemed only at certain stores. They are often the ones printed out with your receipt as you leave the store. Sometimes they come in the form of a survey, but they always have the store's logo or name on the coupon somewhere. Not all stores have these (Walmart doesn't).

3) Weekly ads. Check your store's weekly ads for markdowns on items on your list. When something is on sale in the store and has a coupon, that's when you're really saving.

So now that you have the gist of it, here's what my couponing looks like:

FIRST, I make my grocery list. This is important. If you look at coupons first, you'll add things to your list you don't really need. I have two lists, one of things I need today and one of things I don't need today, but am waiting for a good deal so I can buy them at discount. Now I’m ready to look up manufacturer coupons on the items on my list. I check and the newspaper if I have one. I'll sometimes go into Starbucks at the end of the day on Sunday and ask if I can have their Sunday papers for free.

Once all my manufacturer coupons are in order, I cross check them with the weekly ads for my stores. I have a bookmark folder with all the weekly ads for the stores I patron (Target, CVS and Walmart). As you're looking for the items you have manufacturer coupons for, also be looking for all the other things on your list to see if one store has a better markdown than the other. Since all three stores I shop at sell Dawn dish soap, I look to see which has the best markdown and I buy at that store, even if I don't have a coupon. This is where you'll want to do some tracking. If CVS has a coupon for Dawn, but Target is having a sale with no coupon, which is a better deal? How low of a price have you paid in the past? Track prices by the ounce, since sometimes buying two 10 oz containers is cheaper than buying one 20 oz. Silly, but true.

Finally, I look up store coupons. I do this last because once I’ve checked the weekly ads, I know where I’m buying certain items. This is where you’ll need a little deeper understanding of store coupon policies. Target lets you stack 4 different discounts on one item, not including the store markdown. You can use a manufacturer coupon, a store coupon, any discounts in their Cartwheel app, and the 5% discount for using their Red Card (I have the debit card). CVS has an Extra Care Bucks program where you get store dollars when you buy certain items on sale. Using this system, I can often get things for free. Whatever I can't get on sale and with a coupon at Target or CVS, I buy at Walmart because they have the lowest prices. Eventually I want to get away from shopping at Walmart and keep my dollars local instead, but for now I have to make that sacrifice for my budget. I figure if shopping at Walmart for a little while allows me to save enough to buy a house, I'm actually helping the local economy more in the end.

Now, I go shopping! Which isn't nearly as fun as it sounds... but it is challenging and I like that. Take your lists and coupons with you. By now you'll have notes in the margins about which item has a coupon, which store has the best deal, etc. If you want, you can transcribe your chicken scratch mess onto a fresh sheet and categorize by store. And aisle. And stack your coupons in the same order as the aisles in the store. Or you could not be a crazy OCD nerd and just pay attention to your list so you don't forget anything. When you're at the store, be sure to cast a glance at the store brand, sometimes even with a markdown and a coupon, the name brand price is still higher. One store brand I don't buy a lot of is the Walmart store brand. I have tried it and nearly every time found the quality lacking. Don't let my bad review turn you off, though. Try it because the prices are usually way lower than even heavily discounted name brand stuff. If the quality doesn't bother you, by all means buy it and claim the savings.

Remember, your couponing is ultimately driven by what you actually need. Don't print coupons for things not on your lists or you're not saving money; you're wasting it.

There are tons of other ways to save money with coupons. Keep track of when things go on sale throughout the year, keep a price list, and understand stores' sales codes. Check out my Pinterest board or do an internet search for more in depth information and I promise you will find more info than your brain will know what to do with.

Happy couponing!

*Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, none of the links are ads, they're just put there for your convenience. All reviews of stores or products are merely my opinion*


  1. I really need to get myself together and start doing this...

    1. It's not hard, but doing it the first time does take initiative. I know you can do it! :) Tell yourself you're going to find one coupon for one item this time, and next time try two. Once you see all those little negatives at the bottom of your receipt you'll start looking forward to your pre-grocery ritual.