Monday, December 7, 2009

Couponing 101

I wanted to give everyone a few tips on how to make coupons work for you. They may seem like common sense, but it's taken me a while to actually do these things every week.

  • Save every coupon you think you MIGHT use. Save coupons for products you wouldn't normally buy because they aren't your normal brand, are normally too expensive, or things you don't love but would use if it were free or super cheap. My rule of thumb is if I would ever use it, keep the coupon. Yes, some of these expire without ever making it to the store but Murphy's Law is when you start throwing coupons away, those things end up on sale and you kick yourself because if you had the coupons, it would have been almost free. On the other hand, if I will NEVER use it, even if it is free, I don't save the coupon. I will never use dog food or Depends so I don't save those. 
  • Look at all the ads, even if you don't want to go to four different stores. Sometimes the extra 30 minutes of trip time can save you an extra $50. I typically allow 2 hours on grocery day but with average weekly savings of $100, I'm ok with that. If you think of it like a part-time job, that's $50 an hour which is definitely worth it.
  • Memorize and know the average generic price and name brand price of things. I never made price lists but I am always aware of the cost of everything I pick up. Eventually, those numbers will become second nature and you will be able to remember if you can get it cheaper somewhere else without straining yourself. This is great to know because typically, drug stores are more expensive but sometimes they have sales, bucks back, or coupons that make those products worth the trip. For instance, I know I can always find name brand tuna for about $1.20 somewhere and I know there are rarely coupons for canned tuna available (coupons for the pouches are easy to find, though.) So, I know that when I see that Walgreens has name brand tuna for 69¢ and it's limit 4, I should buy 4 cans. This also saves time at the store because you can shop with confidence knowing you are getting the best deal instead of standing in front of the coffee trying to do math in your head.
  • Know the benefits of price matching and using competitor coupons. I have no problem using competitor coupons at Publix but sometimes, it's better to just go to the competitor. This is usually true for CVS and Walgreens. If you shop using CVS Extra Care Bucks and Walgreens Register Rewards, I would not recommend using their coupons at Publix. If you have store dollars to spend, use them! But if only want one or two things at the competitor, just get it at your normal store and price match or use the coupon.
  • Learn how your store interprets the coupon policy before you shop. Publix has a very lenient store policy but each particular location make accept different coupons. The location I go to does not consider drugstores a competitor but if I drive 4 miles west, that location will take coupons from ANY stores located in our city. Call the store manager before you go to save yourself any frustration. They are usually very polite and love that you will be shopping there. The more you know you are doing things right, the happier your trip will be. 
    • Buy when it's on sale, not when you need it. Obviously, I'm not talking about milk, bread, and eggs. Those rarely go on sale and you can't stock up even if they do. Everything else, you can stock up on when it's on sale, even fruits and veggies if you have freezer space. 
    • Know the difference between stocking up and going overboard. It's fine to have four extra toothbrushes but is it really ok to "stock up" on toothpaste when you know you have ten extra tubes at home? It's only a good deal if you'll use it within a year. Look at expiration dates of what you have at home already and keep in mind how much your family really uses. Right now, I will only bring more lotion, toothpaste, and razors into this home if it's absolutely free and I can find the coupons needed very quickly. The only exception to this is if you plan on donating the things you have at home that are close to expiring. 
    • Find an organization system that works for you. I have a 13 pocket coupon folder and right now, it's not working for me because my "bath/body" and "cleaning supplies" sections are overflowing. In reality, I need 20 pockets to make organizing my coupons very quick and easy. If you spend more time finding the coupons than cutting them, you might want to revamp. Also, think about how you want to make your shopping trip as quick as possible. For me, it works to pull out coupons I will use at home and take an envelope full to the store instead of digging through my folder in the frozen foods section. If you follow any coupon matching blogs, they make this easy and worth your while because most of the time, you can print out extra coupons to stack with what you have from the newspaper. When I am at the store, I only go down aisles where I need something. 
    • Sales are on a 6-8 week rotation. Anything that will go on sale, will do so at least once every 6-8 weeks. If you are addicted to Goldfish crackers, make sure you stock up a 6-8 week supply when they are on sale to last you until the next sale. This is also why it is a good idea to keep all coupons you might use because when it does go on sale, you will be able to buy as many items as you have coupons for to create your stockpile.
      • Ask questions. Once you commit to making this a lifestyle, people who know the "rules" will help you. I have actually asked strangers at the store what they are buying or if they thought the store would take a certain coupon. Make friends with people who are saving hundreds a week. Ask managers and be ok if they say no. But also know when to call corporate or ask for the store manager. No one ever has the right be rude or mean because you want to use a coupon. I have been treated badly one too many times at Walmart and I do not agree with their coupon policy (or lack thereof) so I will not waste my time there. On the other hand, start calling corporate or asking for a store manager to report GOOD customer service, as well.
      Happy shopping!


      Anonymous said...

      Vanessa, thank you so much for these tips. I also had the 12 pocket holder for my coupons but I found that I hated using it, I saw a lady in Publix with a zippered three ring binder she had all of her coupons in pockets (like for business cards) so I went and bought a really nice zippered binder for $8, I used my sons's extra baseball card protectors (free) I actually love this system and I have convinced my mom to switch to this method. I figured with all the money that I have saved at Publix I got my notebook for free. I actually shopped at CVS yesterday and I was amazed at how much I saved there. Keep up the good work, and I look forward to your next class.

      Ann Marie

      MomLovesDeals said...

      Mine was about $30 because I had nothing lying around but I agree, my time is worth money and when I save time (and frustration), it's worth it!