Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Couponing (really) is Chic- Part 1: The Wheres, Whys and Hows of Couponing

Up until about 6 months ago, the only discount shopping I did involved the Last Call section on Neiman Marcus' Website, and the free gifts with purchase from the Estee Lauder counter.

It wasn't because I thought I was too good for couponing.  And it wasn't because I was too lazy to do the work (and yes, I won't lie... couponing does take some effort, time, and planning).  But it was mostly because I just couldn't see how saving 50 cents here, and a dollar there, could really make much of a difference in my overall spending.

Boy, was I wrong.  

But it wasn't my fault.  I didn't know the proper steps to take to get the great deals.  Plus, my thinking was all wrong.  Especially when it came to when and why to buy food and other household products, in order to succeed at saving money.  And succeed I have.  I first started couponing as a way to give back, donating bi-weekly to my local food pantry.  And then, once I got past the myths, especially the one that couponing only applies to junk food, I also started using these principles to help save money for my own family.

Healthy food.  Fresh food. Even gluten-free food.  Yes... I even save at Earth Fare and Whole Foods.

And while I'm certainly no financial expert, I feel like my numbers speak for themselves.  Thousands.  Yes, thousands of dollars saved.  And thousands of products given... what could be more chic than that?

What to do when it comes to couponing

1. Create a space all your own, and get organized.  So, this is my little office.  A work in progress, but a place where I have all the room I need to coupon, blog, and hang out with my pup during the day.  You see, I'm posting these photos because I want to show that couponing doesn't have to take over your kitchen table, a storage room, or your life.

All you really need is a computer, a printer, some inexpensive stacking files to separate the weekly Sunday circulars, and a corner of your desk for a bit of organization room.  No fancy couponing books, envelopes... or hours of cutting out coupons.  Most of the coupon matching sites do all the work for you by matching the sales to the coupons, and letting you know exactly where to either print the coupon, or cut it out of that particular week's stack.  

The two main sources that I get coupons from are the Sunday paper, and online (I also get them mailed from grocery stores, with samples that are mailed to me, and even in some of my magazines).  And since more and more coupons are available to print online, I'd recommend purchasing a cheap printer, that uses cheap ink.  Forget color printing.  I use only black and white, at the lowest print quality setting.  And remember, you can typically print 2 coupons/computer, unless it states one per household (hit the back arrow once or twice to reset and print again).
2. Subscribe to a Sunday newspaper delivery service.  I get 3 Sunday papers per week.  This has been my "magic number" for savings for my family... of 2 and a dog :-)  But you might need to adjust based on your needs.  This is not only cheaper than getting the paper inside the gas station or grocery store, but also a safer bet.  Sometimes the in-store papers are missing the coupons.  By having them delivered, you are guaranteed you'll get your Sunday circulars.

And check on newspaper discounts.  I get a yearly discount for the paper, and each additional copy is just $1 each.  Plus, if I know a great sale week is coming up, I can call and add on more for that Sunday... also at just $1 each.  
3. Utilize the perks that your grocery stores offer.  The first thing you MUST do is sign up for their bonus card.  You can usually do this online, and they'll mail you a card... and in the meantime, or any time, you can have them key in your phone number.

Also check for online coupons and weekly specialized deals.  For example, here in the South, Harris Teeter allows you to load their online coupons to your bonus card... and you can stack those savings with paper or printed coupons.  And on Fridays, they send out an e-mail that lets you know what your personalized deals are (these are serious money-savers!)  These, too, can be stacked (used together)... and come off automatically, along with the online coupons you loaded.  Just bring your card, and printed/cut out coupons for the best possible savings. 

*Note- every grocery store is different, such as Kroger, who doesn't allow stacking.  It's one or the other there (online coupons, or printed/cut out coupons).  

4. Find your local grocery store match-up sites by doing a quick Google search, like "Harris Teeter Coupon Match-ups Raleigh." Like I said before, couponing takes some work.  But, there are so many amazing sites out there that do the matching for you!  This is why I don't cut out all my coupons, but simply keep them in my nice stacked filing system to pull from as needed.  Sure, I miss some of the "unadvertised" sales by not bringing a coupon binder with me on my shopping trips.  But, in considering the amount of work, compared to the amount I'd save... I wouldn't change my method.

Just make sure you find local sites that you trust, or you might be going on a wild goose chase... like I did a few months back at Walmart.  Now, first of all, I'm not the biggest fan of Walmart (serious understatement), but it was in the name of charity, so I took the challenge.

I spent several hours printing coupons (and wasting ink and paper in the process) only to find out that the prices were very different at my Walmart, compared to a couponing site I'd referenced that was in the South, but not specific to North Carolina.  And most of the sale items that this site matched up, sure didn't match with my Walmart's prices.  And let's just say... it was a very bad morning.  I literally walked out of there with nothing.  Lesson learned:  Look for match-up sites that are in your town first.  

Some of my favorites matching sites are:

- - my very favorite site, out of Raleigh... also where I contribute my weekly recipes!
- - a fun site out of Charlotte, NC.  I really like her weekend matching updates once we all get the Sunday paper.  
- - also in Raleigh.  Centsible Saver is part of the Raleigh News & Observer Newspaper.  I especially like that she has an updated spreadsheet where you can reference all of the current coupons from the Sunday circulars, and see when they expire.
- - just like the name says... all about Target.  A nice resource, and yes, I've got some great deals in the past at Target, too.
- - a really fun site.  I especially love their drug store match ups.  They also are great at giving notice on high value coupons to print now and save for future sales.

5. Stock up on what your family uses regularly.  Let's face it, unless you're a kid just off to college, you pretty much have a good idea of the staples that your family needs.  Aluminum foil, olive oil, canned beans, laundry detergent, lemons, cilantro... deodorant.  These are some of the things that BC (before couponing) I'd run out of, and typically end up paying full price for... with no coupon.

But now, I've really taken a look at what my family needs and uses regularly, and I buy theses items only when they are on sale.  And as shown in the photo above (especially when there is a super double event and there are even more freebies- like this morning) I make stacks.  The "me" stack, where I'm getting somewhat of a deal, but I still really want the product (and at least have a coupon).  The "50 cents or less" stack, which has great deals, especially if they match up with your staples need.... or could really help at the food pantry.  And the "free" stack.  These are the no-brainers, but just remember you still need to pay sales tax... even if it says free on the matching sites.

And again, get to know your store rules.  For instance, you can only use 20 coupons/day at Harris Teeter.  So opt for those items that you think will sell out first.  And then the rest of the week, go for the "50 cents", and the "me" list. 

What not to do when it comes to couponing

1. Excessive stock piling.  So how much do you need to stock up on?  The grocery store sales cycle runs about every 6 weeks.  Which means, that the yoplait yogurt, that you love, will likely be on sale again soon.  So you don't need to buy a 3 months supply of them.  Just enough to get you through 6 weeks.

But what about up front spending?  Yes, you might spend a tiny bit more up front (seriously, we're talking in dollars or less for each product), but in a few months (or weeks) it will all even out.  And soon, you'll be saving more than you ever thought possible by simply planning ahead, and taking advantage of the sales and coupons when they are at their best.

No stock pile hoarding... please!

2. Not giving back.  Everyone has their own way that they choose to give back.   But for me, as a couponer, I feel it's my obligation, and my joy to give back to the people in my community!  I'm shopping anyways, so what's the difference if I add in a few more free or very inexpensive products to my cart, to help someone else out?

To find out how to help, simply Google local food pantries to see where you can easily drop off food/household supplies a few times per month, or even just once.  Every little bit helps.

2. Not playing by the couponing rules.  Just like everything else, you've got to play by the rules, to play the game.  Check your coupons for expiration dates, the exact product that it will work with... and don't even think about copying coupons.  Also, if the coupon says "one per household" before you print it, just print one. Yes, one.  I don't care if you can typically print 2 per computer.  Printing 2 or more is just another form of stealing, in this case.  Harsh?  Maybe.  True?  Yes.

3. Not playing nicely with others.  I'm surprised how many times I hit the grocery store at 7am for a couponing event, and can't even get so much as eye contact with fellow couponers as we pass each other down the aisles.  Yes, I know you're a couponer... I see your coupon stack, not to mention, we're both hovering around the "good" stuff!

We're in this all together, and I'll still keep smiling, even if you don't smile back.  Why?  Because I love this... it's fun, and it helps people!  Not to mention, helping my family... and your family... and all our families, too.

What are some ways that couponing has helped save your family money, and made your life better?


  1. Kudos for you for taking your finances in your hands, and giving advice to others. I honestly have never done couponing, though I try to shop sales when they are convenient. We have worked hard to be at a place where we don't need to worry about costs so much. BUT, we were in a place where we had to budget and skrimp early on. Our motto was - don't spend it if we don't have it. I really think many people out there don't appreciate how much they can do if they put an effort into using coupons!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Aleksandra! And I agree that it's best not to spend money unless you have it. Hope this gave you some good ideas as well :-)

Thank you for taking the time to comment! It always brings a smile...