An Introduction to Couponing

I've spent a little bit of time talking with friends about couponing and how to do it all to make the most of your money.  And  LOTS of good questions have been coming up about trying to get into it.  Unfortunately, because I don't live as close to some of you as I used to, I can't easily chat with you anymore.
However, I wanted to take some of the most essential ideas and share them with you.
First of all I don't want you to think that just because you don't have a Publix to shop at you can't get as good of deals as I can. There are many places that I get things for free and super cheap including Target, Walgreen, CVS and even Walmart. (I very rarely ever go there because I hate Walmart!)
For instance Albertsons and Safeway will put out Doubler coupons in their weekly sales paper sometimes. These are so great and will make for lots of things that you can get for free with them. My suggestion is to get as many copies of those sale papers as you can. ask your family, friends and neighbors if you can have the ones that they will not use. I so wish that some of the stores around here would double coupons even some of the time. There is just so much that can be done with them! But I am thankful for what I do have.

Here are the things I think are KEY to making it work:

My best advice ... is that you take it slow, especially when you are getting into it.
There is no need to get every deal out there on your first time out. It will take some time to get it all down.

Start collecting coupons! Each week in the Sunday paper is the first place to start. The general rule of thumb that I follow is to buy as many papers as there are people in your family. So each week I buy 4 papers.  This way when something is on sale and I have the coupon for it, making it a great deal , I will be able to buy enough to last me till the next time it is on sale and I have another coupon. Keeping me from having to pay full price for it in a week, or 2, when that first one is gone or used up.  You may be thinking that I am crazy for paying for that many but think about this. I pay $1.25 per Sunday paper, so for 4 I am paying $5.00 each week. With those coupons I am able to save anywhere from 85-95% on my entire grocery bill each week. I save far more than I am paying out for the papers.   But again ask family, friends and neighbors for the inserts that they won't use. I get tons of inserts sent to me by my Mom. Where she's at, they mail out the Red plum coupon inserts in everybody's mail (I am jealous!) In her community there is a recycle bin near the mail boxes and those who won't use them put them there. My Mom collects them and sends them to me.  It's like having Christmas every couple of weeks.  Thanks Mom!! 

Now, if there is a coupon in the paper (that I know about that will make for a free item of something that we use often, or will make for great overage), I buy even more papers.

For instance a couple months ago, there was a coupon for $4.00 off one knox product.  That coupon alone made for $2.66 in overage, because a box of Knox gelatin in only 1.34.  Publix allows you take an overage, so it was worth it for me to buy more, so that I could have that overage to use on the rest of my  grocery purchase. That week I bought 6 papers but then went to ebay and got 20 more of just that coupon.(more on ebay later.)
As far as organizing those coupons... my system is to just keep the entire insert, write the date that it came out on the front, and file it an accordion holder. Then when I am making my weekly list I can go to the insert that is listed and get the coupon I need. Now you may wonder why I don't cut them out and store them that way. Well the answer is simple, I would never be able to keep up with it! They would pile up on me so fast that I wouldn't be able to keep up and I would never be able to find what I wanted. Maybe for others clipping them is the way to go, but not for me. Also, another thing to think about if I was clipping them, I would be tempted to think, I will never buy this thing so why keep the coupon.

But here is why you should keep them all. If you were able to get that item for free would you be willing to try it? Or maybe if you were able to get it for free you would be able to donate it. There are things that I have gotten because they are free, or better yet have overage, that I know we will not use. But that does not mean that they are not something that someone else can't use. Right now I have 4 boxes of things that I have gotten for nearly free, free, or with overage that I am going to donate to a local church food pantry. Everything from food, cleaning supplies and personal care items. They are so happy to get donations, and all it takes me is a bit of time to clip the coupon and go to the store to be able to supply them items to bless others with. How great is that!?!

Next ...  go to the web sites of the grocery stores that you shop at, and try to find their coupon policy.  Every store has a different policy about accepting coupons.  Read through each to get an understanding of what they accept. 

Look for things like ... 
  • Do they take internet printable coupons? 
  • Will they allow overage on an item? 
  • Will they allow you to use a Store coupon and a manufactures coupon on the same item? 
  • If they double coupons, up to what amount will double? 
  • Do they take competitor store coupons?
Read through each one, and if there is something that you don't understand (or is unclear), go to the customer service desk and ask. That is what I did and they were more than happy to help me. Remember that they want you to spend your money, and coupons, at their store. They will help you to understand their policy. They will be a very helpful tool to your couponing success.  And while you are there ask if they have any store coupons that you can get!
As a general rule, most stores allow you to stack 2 coupons - 1 manufacturer AND 1 store coupon per item.    (I'll add more thoughts on this later, but for now just keep in mind that you can typically use 2 coupons per item).

  Next go to web blogs and sites that list the weekly sales match up with the coupons that are available. Make your grocery list from that.  Also if you are having a hard time finding a stores coupon policy there are usually links on these types of sites.
If you're from the Pacific N.W. (You know who you are!) - this is one of my favorite places to start -  
 becentsable. Here by clicking on a store that is near you, and find a match up for that store.
For instance this is one that I have found, from the site above, that works well for some of the stores in the N.W. 
And here are a couple of blogs that I check out before heading out the door to Target  or  Walgreens.

There are subscription sites that will do the match ups as well. Some paid and some free. The Grocery Game is one of the ones that you pay a monthly fee to get the match-ups e-mailed to you for your area.  I did a free trial with this site. For me I found that I had was able to find more accurate information from free blogs. And the information that I get comes to me much faster than the information that I got from the grocery game. For instance, I can get the weekly Publix sales add, complete with coupon match-ups, on Monday for the sale that will start on Thursday. Giving me lots of time to look things over and get things ready.

Also from that same blog I get updates daily, sometimes several a day,  of unadvertised deals. This is HUGE! Knowing that something is on an unadvertised sale before I am at the store so that I can have the coupon already when I go instead of having to go back to the store at another time to take advantage of the sale is wonderful!  The grocery game sent out the weekly sales with match ups on Sunday, 4 days after that sale started.  And it never updated or listed unadvertised sales. So I could have missed out on some great deals if I had only used them. For me it just did not work. I canceled the membership before they started charging me. Plus, typically, the people running the blogs are more them happy to answer any questions if you ask them. It was much harder to get help from the pay site.  Of course, this is just my opinion, if you like give it a try for yourself and see what works for you.

Also check out a couple different sites for the stores you shop. Not every one can get it all. Some are better than others! This helps and only take a couple extra minutes to do and can help you see something that someone else may have missed.

When you are comfortable with grocery stores, then add in drug stores - like Walgreens, CVS and Rite aid. There are good deals to be had there, too, but they are a bit more complicated and best left till you have the grocery stores down.

Mostly, take your time, ask lots of questions and start small. There is no need to get all the first time out. In no time you will become more comfortable with it and reaping the rewards of a full pantry!
Please feel free to ask anything and everything that you may not understand. I would love to help and give any advice that I can.


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