When I was growing up I learned math (in part) by grocery shopping with my mother. That was before the days of the unit price being listed on the shelf. My mother taught me how to compare prices with quantity in the package to find out which really was the better deal - and then figuring in a coupon and how much money we had to spend that day and what else was on the list that we still had to budget for. That was before the debit card - so if she had a twenty in her wallet feed the whole family for the whole week - that was it. (And, no, that's NOT an exaggeration - my mother taught me FRUGALITY!) Now days it's SO much easier since the store tells you which product costs less proportionately.
But - back to coupons. It's important to decide what method works best for YOU - for your shopping style - for your budget - and for how your brain is programmed. Here's what I've found works best for me. (I forgot to include in the photo my actual "grocery list" and store flyer - I'm planning to go for groceries this evening.) I'll break down each pile for you to explain.
The Coupon Book
Each Sunday (and around here Tuesday as well) when I get a paper, I go through the coupons, and cut out the ones for items I regularly buy. I take this book to the grocery store with me. But before I go (when I'm looking through the flyer, I pull out coupons for the items I'm planning to buy - along with items for competing brands. [Perhaps Charmin is listed on sale (and I have a coupon for it) - but when I do a price comparison, it might be a better deal for me to buy Cottonelle. If my coupon for Cottonelle isn't handy I might spend more than I needed to. Remember - sale flyers are also a form of marketing - make them work for YOU, not for Mr. Manufacturer.]
I also put coupons in here that I receive in the mail (like the Huggies flyer you see on the bottom). It's a good practice to sign up online for "info" from all the major brands you use. They frequently mail you coupons to try to keep you loyal. [Note - I NEVER use my personal email address for this sort of thing! I have a second email account (the same as my personal one - with my maiden name included) that I use for all "junk mail" type of things I sign up for.]
Personally, I find it a waste of my time to put all the coupons into the individual sections - but I still use the book (bought at Michaels a couple months ago for $1) because it's a convenient size to fit in my purse, holds all the coupons together, and is bright enough that it generally doesn't get misplaced. And I always put on top of the pile of coupons the ones for money off my whole order - so I don't forget about them.
More Sunday Coupons
I buy more than one Sunday newspaper. One is delivered to us (for convenience - or in case the kids are sick and we don't get to the store to pick up another one). And the Sunday before a holiday there aren't coupons. But other than that, I buy two papers - in another month or so, after I get more used to the local grocery sales I'll probably increase it to at least 3 papers. All I have to do is use two coupons (for $1 each) to brake even, and I do MUCH better than that!
Saving my unclipped coupons, and labeling them is a recent addition to my couponing. I've mentioned before that I've been following Kristen at Couponing to Disney. Well, when she lists all the deals at Target / CVS / Walmart / etc., she also includes where you can find the coupon for each particular item. So, on the front cover of each section, I write which paper it came from. This way I don't need to go through the entire stack to find the one listed. These get bundled together with a huge clip (mine just broke and I need to get another one from Staples). Obviously once all the coupons are expired that section will be recycled.
I first bought an Entertainment Book just before we bought our house on Melbourne. The two smaller bedrooms didn't have light fixtures (just capped wires). The builder bought the rest of the lights from Yale Electric, and we wanted them to match. There was a coupon in the Ent. Book that saved us more than the book itself cost.
Recently I bought the 2010 one at Bed, Bath and Beyond - used a 20% off coupon, and there was a $10 mail in rebate. I've already saved more from the coupons I've used from it than I spent on the book - and it's still January.
We eat out more than we should. Aaron, are you proud of me for admitting it? (smile) Aaron hates cooking, and when I'm having a "bad" day and refuse to cook, we go out to eat (or order in). So, restaurant coupons are very important to us! But once again - you can't use them if you can't find them! So, I keep them all together. These coupons come from the newspaper coupon section (like the Red Lobster and Olive Garden), from ValuPac (like the Buca di Deppo), from the newspaper inserts (like the McStroke ones), from signing up to get "info" on the restaurant website (like the Panara), and from reward programs (like the Starbucks). There's actually probably coupons in that stack for 50 restaurants (double that if you include the ones in the Entertainment Book). These are also clipped together.
Another great place to find restaurant coupons (besides Restaurant.com) is on their website. For example - Wednesdays have become hectic for our family because Alex's swim lesson ends at the same time Aaron gets done work, and I try to already have dinner on the table. So, dominos.com has online coupons - I order ahead of time, swing by on the way home (pick up is ALWAYS cheaper than delivery for pizza - pizzas generally cost less and there's no tip!), and we generally get two mediums for $5.55 each. Same price as Digornio on sale (or with a coupon) - and we can sit down to eat 5 minutes after walking in the door.
This category is also kept clipped together. Since we just moved, some companies sent us "welcome to the neighborhood" coupons (like Pottery barn and Benjamin Moore). The Sunglass Hut coupon came from ValPac, Toys R Us came because I signed up for the Birthday Club for both my boys (they periodically send me $5 off $25 coupons, and the month of the birthdays a $3 off $3 or more). Other coupons in this category are because I signed up for "more info" or "sale info" at various stores. The Tanger Outlets booklet was from a friend, who found a good deal there, and thought I'd be interested too. Most Outlets offer coupon bookets - just go to guest services and show them your AAA card.
Ooh - that reminds me - you can save SO MANY places just by showing them your AAA card! I haven't needed to call a tow truck in 5 years (praise God), but my membership IS still worth something!!! Check out the list of discounts HERE.
It Pays to Go Green
Did you know that more and more stores are giving you cash off for using a reusable bag? My grandmother ALWAYS had me take bags to Giant when I went grocery shopping for her - and now it's actually "cool" to do just that! For example, Target gives 5 cents for each one used!
At CVS, if you buy a GreenBagTag (they're usually $1 each, but occasionally go on sale for 50 cents), and attach it to any reusable bag, they'll keep track of how many times you've used it. Every 4th time (limit one per day), a coupon will print out for $1 off your next purchase. So, if you shop there 1 time each week, at the end of the year, you'll have earned $13 dollars. Or, if you stop in every day and buy something, you'll have earned $91. I guess now's a good time to continue with CVS. (By the way - my girlfriend Jess is the one who taught me how to shop smart at CVS - and for that, my bank account will be FOREVER indebted!)
Here's how I've chosen to get the most from CVS. I mentioned in a previous post (you can see that example of some serious savings HERE), that Couponing to Disney does all the hard work for you when it comes to coupons and deals. She tells you which store - which item -current price - how many times you're allowed to buy the sale priced item - which coupon - etc. So, each week I go through her list and on an envelope I write down the items that I would actually USE - and inside the envelope I include all corresponding coupons. So, as I'm out and about (I pass a CVS almost every time I go into town), I stop by and make a quick stop to pick up one or two of the items. Remember - every 4th trip you earn $1 coupon. [Obviously this wouldn't be cost-effective if CVS was out of your way - but I literally drive right past one several times a week.] As I buy the item (or if they're out of stock, I cross it off).
This week only had 3 items of interest for me - last week had 9. I threw out my receipts, but if my memory serves me correctly, last week I bought 12 items at CVS, spent $4, and got $12 back in Extra Care Bucks. So, I bought the items that gave ECB in the first transaction, then immediately used them to pay for the remaining items in my cart. [I'll plan to save my next couple receipts so you can better see what I mean.]
Target's coupon policy states that you can use one Target Coupon and one Manufacturers coupon for the SAME item! If you look at the ones in the photo, three of them say "Target Coupon" in the black box. The other says "Manufacturer's Coupon" but still has the Target logo. That coupon can be used in ANY store - not just Target. Tricky, eh? So - in the example above - if I buy (the correct sizes) one box of diapers, and one box of wipes .... I can use the $7 coupon AND a manufacturer's coupon for diapers, and one for wipes. Do this when the items are on sale and WHAMMO! Cheap diapers. (Incidentally - the cheapest place I've ever found for diapers is BJs - but this was just an example.) I keep all my "Target Coupons" in an envelope entitled Target. Then I can easily find them.
This seems like a lot of work, but it isn't really. The most work is just setting up your system, then once it's in place, you just run with it. When you sort through the mail and see a sale or coupon flyer from Hunter Douglas blinds (which once upon a time you would have considered junk mail), you remember that you need to replace the muave blinds that came with the house, and put the flyer in the clip with all the other coupons for non-grocery, non-restaurant shopping. Your budget (and how good the sale is) will determine if this is the time to use it or not - but if you don't remember they're having a sale, you might get angry one night at the blinds, rip them off the wall, and then drive to Bed, Bath and Beyond (forgetting to take your 20% off coupon with you) and pay full price for something that's of lesser quality.
So, here's how I organize all of my coupons. Step one - KEEP THE COUPON till it's expired. I probably throw out 95% without using them, but the ones I do use - I save TONS!
This stack generally stays in the car. It's hard enough to remember the diaper bag and my wallet when I head out to do errands with the boys. I don't need to remember MORE. I'll never use a reusable bag (and save money) if it's not already in the car. I'll not use the BOGO coupon for Happy Meals (when I've pushed the kids too long to get "just one more" errand done, and we're all starving and about to throw temper tantrums) if the coupon isn't in the car. I'll not use the coupon for the car wash if the Entertainment Book's not in the car. I won't remember what I wanted at CVS (or have the coupons) if that envelope's not in the car. And just in case I decide to run into ToysRUs for something, I won't have the $8 in coupons if they're not in the car. Does this make sense? IF IT'S NOT HANDY - I WON'T USE IT. Most stores will accept a coupon on an item, if you bring it back within 24 hours (because you forgot to use it), but I'm usually too lazy to do that, so HAVE YOUR COUPONS WITH YOU!
This stack stays in my basket of paperwork that's in my kitchen. I only pull these items out when I'm planning a shopping trip. I'll discuss in a different post how I plan shopping trips.
Whew. That was a long post about coupons. Are you still with me? I can think of at least 5 more posts I'd like to do on the topic of SAVING - sales - reward programs - my Grandma's teachings - freebies / samples - and a week in the life of Julia's shopping trips. But I also have a real life to live (though it'd be awfully nice to just blog all day). So, please bear with me. I'll try to get to them as quickly as suits my family's schedule and needs.