A long time ago, I used to clip coupons from my Sunday paper for shopping. I didn’t plan my shopping to take full advantage of coupon deals, or sales. I just used a coupon I had if it happened to match something on my list that day, and I didn’t plan my shopping to stock up on items when they were on sale. If I happened to notice a sale while in the store, I might stock up, but I didn’t actively seek them out. I stopped clipping coupons and reading sale ads completely a couple years ago when I canceled my newspaper subscription.
With the change in our family situation lately, our budget is understandably very tight now. While channel surfing not too long ago I caught an episode of Extreme Couponing on TLC (one of my favorite TV channels). It reminded me of the value of couponing – although it didn’t inspire me to go want to go to the extremes seen on the show – and I learned some couponing tips from the show’s website and the shoppers on the show.
I decided to start couponing again and start paying attention to sales to plan my shopping (not just when I was already in the store).
One of the major things that changed my mind was discovering some websites that aggregate the sale ads and match them with recently available coupons. I like that I don’t have to try to remember what coupons I might have in my stash as I read the ads, and figure out how to combine them to make the best deals. The websites do that for me and make it really easy. My favorite website for doing this has become the free site Coupon Mom. I’m signed up to lists for my favorite grocery stores that send me previews of the Sunday ad information days before they come out. I can look at a list for each store, or search for a product to find where it is on sale. The store lists are sortable and show each item on sale that week, any current coupons that can be matched with the sale, and what the final price and percent savings are after using the coupon. I can click checkboxes next to items that I want to shop for and then it will print out a shopping list for me with all of the info on it, so I can take it right to the store and know what coupons to look for in my binder and if items are scanning correctly at the register. If there is an online coupon available for an item, it will even link you to the site distributing the coupon so you can print it!
I’ve started now to buy two Sunday papers most weeks. I’ve also been using printable coupons that are available online through free sites, mostly coupons.com. They are contributing a lot to my savings. The only annoying thing about coupons.com is that they don’t support my default browser (Chrome for Mac) so I have to switch to an alternate like Firefox to be able to print coupons. But the amount of money that I’ve saved makes it well worth the minor annoyance.
When I couponed previously, I just stored my coupons in envelopes sorted by product type (toiletries, frozen foods, etc). But I had a really hard time keeping track of what coupons I had and finding them when I wanted to use them. Getting rid of expired ones was also difficult. It’s just another organizational problem that my ADHD self couldn’t manage. I discovered the answer to this problem while watching Extreme Couponing. The extreme couponers use huge binders with pocket pages in them to hold and organize their coupons.
The extreme coupon shoppers on TV have binders that are two or three inches thick (sometimes even more than one) that are stuffed with coupons that they tote in their grocery carts. I realized that although I don’t clip and keep that many coupons, I could still scale down the same concept and use it by selecting a smaller binder.
So, I am using a 1″ binder – which fits perfectly in several tote sized purses that I have, so it is easy to take out shopping with me. The binder was a hand-me-down from my daughter, since her collection of Daddy letters got too big for a 1″ binder. She got a new, bigger binder for her letters, and I claimed her old one for a coupon binder. So now everyone is happy!
I have filled the binder mostly with page protectors designed to hold baseball cards, along with a few 3.5″ x 5″ photo pocket pages that I had left from my old acrylic stamp storage system that I retired. They are useful for gift cards and larger coupons. I bought some really inexpensive plastic page dividers by Avery (I’d never seen those before the day I bought them in Staples – they are really cool!) to separate the page protectors into categories. The plastic ones were way less expensive than the paper ones I have always used in binders before, and they are more durable. Also, you can see through them, which is a bonus. (It seems counter-intuitive to spend money to organize my money-saving coupons, but if it helps me make better use of them and thus save more money – which it already has – then it is a good investment that I’m getting a return on.)
One thing I’ve discovered over a bit of time of using coupons and doing sale shopping is that the extreme couponers with their huge stashes do have the whole concept of stocking up on items correct (even if they take it to a ridiculous extreme). There are patterns to the way that many items have coupons put out and go on sale. If you stock up during one sale/coupon cycle with enough of a non-perishable item to last until the next coupon/sale cycle, then you never have to pay full price for that product! It requires a bit of planning and some storage space, but if you can keep your pantry organized so you know what you have and don’t waste stuff through expiration, it can save you a lot of money. I’ve expanded my kitchen pantry space in two areas. I already had a Closetmaid Pantry (bought at Target) that I was using in my laundry room before I started couponing, along with some Closetmaid wire shelving. The consolidation of my scrap space into a more usable and accessible format (more on that coming soon) left me with an unused 72″ book case in the spare room. That has become pantry storage, with toiletries in baskets and food stacked on the shelves, which will be shielded from view with curtains hung down its front on a spring rod as soon as I find the right ones to use.
The one pitfall a lot of couponers fall into is that they buy items they otherwise wouldn’t just because there is a coupon on them, and they end up not saving money but spending more instead. To avoid this trap, I only clip coupons that are for products that I regularly buy – with a few exceptions. If I typically buy one brand of a product (like for instance, Cheer laundry detergent) but absolutely know without a doubt that I would be happy using another brand (in my case, Tide) if a coupon made it a better deal – then I will clip that coupon and file it “just in case”.
The other exception I’ll clip of a product I’m not already using is for a brand new product being introduced that I want to try. I’ve found some good products this way that have become regulars in my household. The most recent one was the new Kraft Fresh Takes. These are cheese and breadcrumb blends for coating chicken, pork and other meats. The coupon was a great deal and I knew instantly when I saw the product in the coupon flyer that I wanted to try it anyway, coupon or not. I know any decent cook can do this kind of coating themselves from all well-stocked kitchen very easily but I’m not a decent cook. (Hey, at least I own it!) And coated chicken like that is exactly the sort of meal that meal that my husband would make me, and that I haven’t had since he left home 14 months ago. I clipped that coupon, hauled it off immediately to the grocery store…and was thrilled with the results. It actually felt like the first home cooked meal I’d had since 201o. Because I have NO cooking skills so I’ve been living on frozen food and Subway sandwiches (our daughter eats a special diet). And I might never have found the product if not for a coupon!
I’ve found that I average saving around 10% on my grocery trips lately using my coupons and shopping the sales. Today, I saved almost 20% off my total bill (not everything i bought was a coupon item) doing a toiletry stock-up at Walmart. I regularly see extreme couponers on TLC rack up savings of more than 90% on their bills when they buy only coupon items. That is impossible to do where I live because it requires using a store that doubles coupons and there is only one store location in the entire state that does that.
And, on a side note…I find doing my coupon work oddly therapeutic. Organizing is soothing to me for some reason. I like to do it when I am stressed. It’s like restoring order to chaos makes me feel better. Sitting with my coupon binder, clipping and filing my coupons, looking for anything that is expired to pull out, and then having a perfectly organized system ready to go to the store when I am done, is so good for the soul as well as the pocketbook!
So, that is the story of how I became the crazy coupon lady toting my little pink binder around the grocery store. I may look crazy to everyone else, but the money I’m saving is crazy too!
[Note: I just joined an ad network for my websites that includes coupons.com and Red Plum coupon promotions. I'm so excited to offer my readers these promotions for products that I use myself at least a couple of times every week. It's a win-win - you save money by clicking on the links and printing coupons to use when you shop, and it supports my site as well. So enjoy saving, and thank you for supporting the site.]