Monday, July 6, 2009

Extreme Couponing, part one-The Rules

I have dabbled in coupons before. You know how it works. You buy one of those little organizers and dutifully clip coupons each week. You file them and when you get to the store, you painstakingly flip through endless stacks looking for the one you know you have but can't find. You also find its expired when you do eventually locate it. The time involved and the lack of real savings is discouraging, so you give up. I know many people that have given up multiple times after making the same mistakes at each attempt. Some years back in my attempt to live a frugal lifestyle and live on one income, I decided to take it seriously. Here are some of the rules I have made for myself over the years. These rules may seem really silly to some, too restricting to others, but they have resulted in thousands of dollars in savings , not let me correct myself, over ten thousand dollars in savings in a years time. That's like having a job, and guess what? Until you get the hang of it, it WILL feel like a job! But after you get used to a routine and have your supplies built up, you will begin to see the fruits of your labors and it can be VERY rewarding...

Here are my Rules or Strategies for Success.

Strategy #1- Don’t buy it unless its on sale AND you have a coupon
First find your sales; each week, in the Sunday and Wednesday paper, your local stores advertise their sales. If you don't get a paper, you can see the flyers online on your computer. Some stores even have a handy shopping list that you can print out when you are done. Scroll through the ads and click on (or write down) the items you think you may have coupons for. I realize that some items rarely have coupons, like produce and milk, but TRY to stick to this rule for optimum savings.

Keep a Price book!
A price book is a notebook where you can keep track of sale items and the prices of items you buy. Set up a spiral bound notebook keeping columns for the date, store name, sale price and unit price. Keep pages categorized so you can find an item quickly for reference. You would be amazed at the fluctuation in sale prices for the same item at different stores. Some stores will even have a HUGE ad telling you their chicken is .99 a pound and two weeks later have the SAME chicken for .77 a pound in a smaller size. If you stocked up on the .99 chickens, your freezer isn't going to hold many .77 chickens, so by keeping a price book, you know that .99 isn't that great of a deal and you maybe only purchase one or two and then hold out for a better one to really stock up.

Sales go in cycles(cereals before school starts, oatmeal in fall, kelloggs rebate in Sept, Canned milk, chocolate chips before thanksgiving, Hams before Christmas, etc. If you have a price book and keep the dates of the great prices, you will soon see the patterns for yourself. When oatmeal gets near free, try to buy enough to last until you will need it again. That might mean getting extra coupons. Clipping services like The Coupon Clippers do all the work for you. You select the coupons you want multiples of and they mail them to you all ready to file. Then when that great sale comes along, you are ready to purchase a large supply at the best possible price. Clipping services charge a small fee for clipping a dmailing them, but if you don't have the time to clip or if your paper doesn't have the coupon you want or need, sometimes getting them online is the best way to go

Packaging can be confusing, so keep a ledger of the best unit prices you have found for foods and household items you purchase regularly: You’ll know immediately whether a 128-oz. box of cereal is a better value than a 64-oz. one. Take a small calculator with you so you can factor in coupon discounts, divide the price by the number of units and compare it to the figures in your price book. Be aware that a store’s published unit price changes regularly and is often outdated. Also be aware that during BOGO sales sometimes stores will raise the unit price to offset the loss of the sale.

Once you have a list of sales, match the sales to your coupons. Put your efforts into finding the best values in coupons. Despite the mark up, BOGO (buy one, get one free) ranks at the top, followed by coupons that offer a discount on a single item and coupons that require the purchase of several items to qualify for redemption. Be wary of coupons that offer, say, a 10 percent discount if you buy 10 units of the same product. If it is something you don't normally use, there isn't much point in having 10 of them.

Intense competition among stores has forced many to double and triple their redemption of a coupon’s stated value. Some do it every day, others during special promotions. Save your coupons for these bonus events (keeping in mind expiration dates). The multiple paybacks often total more than the cost of the products, meaning the store sometimes pays you!
Examples of this type of event would be:
o Harris Teeter; double up to .99, Triple coupons up to .99
o Ingles, double up to .50 with limits triple up to .50
o Bi-Lo doubles up to .60, credits for reusable bags, senior days

Five Questions to Ask Before You Redeem

• If the product is more expensive than your usual brand, will the coupon still save you money?

• Is a generic or store brand cheaper than the product you’re considering — even with the discount?
Use the cost per oz., unit on price stickers…make sure you compare apples to apples

• Will you have to drive out of your way, spending more on gas than you’ll save with the coupon?(plan your trips)

• Ounce per ounce, is the sale item, in fact, cheaper than a larger box or multipack?
Certain brands are consistently less expensive: Angel Soft Toilet Paper, Arm & Hammer Detergent

• Do you really want the product, or are you buying it simply to get your total up for the free turkey after 5 weeks?

•When you figure the price per oz, are you considering membership fees?

Strategy #2- Shop multiple stores; work them into your daily routine

First off, plan your trips. Don’t make a special trip out, try to do your errands on the same day, plan a route, take a cooler, pack your lunch and go.

If you are near a store known for the deals, stop and take a look. You may find an unadvertised special that makes something free. The other day I was in Ingles and they were clearing out a favorite salad dressing. I had $1 coupons and dressings were only $1 so I got them for free. The special wasn't in the ad and the only reason I found it was because I was in the area and I decided to stop and look. Its not always practical to do it this way, but when it is, take a look. Just don't get trapped into buying things that are not on your list and you are paying more than half of its value. Those are NOT deals.

When you are shopping, watch for sellouts on products you have coupons for but didn’t intend to buy immediately. Then get a rain check. You create an expiration-free sale for yourself. Other options would be that the item is on sale but you didn't have a coupon. Get a raincheck and wait for a coupon.

When you do find a deal, watch the packaging. For instance, when dishwasher detergent goes on sale, some types are better deals than others. The lemony fresh scent witha power ball might only have 20 loads, while the plain orginal might do 36 loads. Both are the same price, but one is worth a lot more. The same goes for pizzas. Look at the weight. A cheese pizza is typically has more weight. You can add your own toppings and get more pizza that way.

Whenever you can, aim for the trifecta: multiple purchases of an item on sale on a day the grocery is tripling coupons. This is the ultimate in saving money. I have had weeks where I got over $500 worth of groceries for less than $20. The key is to shop carefully and stick to the rules.

Strategy 3: Get as many coupons as possible
Here are some tips for building your coupon stash.
• Watch for your local grocers’ printed flyers, and sign up online to receive their e-mailed coupons.
•Coupons typically appear in newspapers on Wednesdays and Sundays. Buy multiple copies of the paper if they have good coupons (check taylortown, couponclippers)
• Check magazines
• If you love a particular product, call a manufacturer’s toll-free number or e-mail the company and request a coupon. (A third of manufacturers offer coupons only upon request.) Many will also send a free sample.
• Download free coupons from sites such as,,, and
• Keep an eye out for coupons printed on sales receipts and product packages, and at in-store “blinkies”
• Ask neighbors, co-workers and family to save them for you
• Join a coupon train
• Recycle bins, freecycle
• Ask a store manager to save them
• Ask someone with a paper route
• Coffee shops, hotels, restaurants…
• Shop online for coupons(thecouponclippers, ebay)
• Transfer of prescriptions/new prescription rebatesCVS receipt

Strategy 4: File rebates!
Watch for rebates. I found one the other day that required me to buy $20 worth of meat. That's not a problem most months. Save all your receipts from all your purchases and when you find a rebate, look through them and use the receipts that qualify.

Don’t pass up the rebate. Many customers buy a product because of a promised rebate of a dollar or two but never take the time to send it in. Don’t join the crowd! Those dollars can add up. Some companies will stall on sending as well. Follow UP by always keeping copies of the rebates you send.If you don't see a check when you are expecting it, call. Almost every time I have called, they have sent the check out within a week.

Strategy 5: Stay Organized

If you build up a cache of coupons for a variety of products, you can hold off on redeeming them until the items go on sale to max out your savings. Plan your weekly menus based on this strategy and, whenever you can, aim for the trifecta: multiple purchases of an item on sale on a day the grocery is tripling coupons.Keep your coupons in a book that you stash in your purse or car so you’re ready for unplanned shopping trips.

Lay them out by category or how you find them in the store. Bet a three ring binder and fill it with trading card sleeves. Put in dividers and then fill the sleeves with your coupons. Then, all your coupons are visible at once. You can find them quickly and easily see what is expired and needs to be pulled out.

Clip the coupons you know you will use, save the ones you don't think you will. I keep all the coupons I don't clip in a file folder, filed by month. If a sale comes along where I will make money on the item, you can be sure I will purchase it and give it to Goodwill or someone that needs it and use the profits to get what I need. While I don't think we should be greedy and take all the free things for ourselves, I will get one and share the item with a friend if I don't need it.

While there are lots more I could tell you, this one article is enough to digest for one day, so if you have questions, let me know and I will be happy to help. I will write more on couponing in the future.

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