First up: COUPONING! Let me start by saying I am NOT an expert. I was taught by my sister-in-law Melissa and have picked up new techniques along the way that work for my budget, location, and time investment. I wrote a blog post in 2009 just after I started on the adventure of couponing and much is the same, but this will be an updated version. (For locals who may be interested in getting together for a possible in depth class, leave me a comment or email me indicating interest and maybe we can set it up if there is enough interest.)
Let me give you some background on why I coupon and how it benefits my family. I began couponing while working full time, but currently care for my children at home while home schooling them. We have benefited from couponing in both seasons of life, but it became crucial that we save money when we dropped to one income. I see the time I invest in couponing as a job, a means to aid my husband in the financial responsibility of providing for our family. I truly believe we are to be stewards with the finances of our home.
I also see couponing and being frugal as a tool to save money. The first step to making coupons work for you is to start with a budget. I am surely not an expert in this department either, but we are learning and growing everyday. When we are successful in budgeting it is because we are applying the tools we learned from Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover System. Having a budget, wether using Dave's methods or your own gives you something to compare your savings. If you don't have a budget you may end up with 150 tubes of toothpaste and no food to feed your family.
So, what about you? I know some people have strict diets, are vegans, vegetarians. lactose intolerant, etc. Trust me couponing will STILL work for you! If for no other reason, I would coupon for the toiletries and cleaning products. I promise as cheesy as it sounds couponing has something for everyone.
One thing I didn't mention in my original post is to start by getting a new email address. I prefer HOTMAIL, so that I can access all my accounts from one spot. The need of an additional email account is to keep your couponing separate. As you get more and more acclimated to couponing you may want to follow blog posts, subscribe to company product updates, enter giveaways, etc. Trust me this will save you lots of headache to have one spot to organize it all.
Next start by buying papers every Sunday. My rule of thumb is typically one paper per person in the household. Depending on the age of the child you may buy one paper per two school age, toddler, and/or baby. If that is overwhelming start with one. Now, CUT EVERY SINGLE COUPON. The only exception I use is if it is something I will not use even if it's free and cannot donate. Also, go though the ENTIRE paper. In the last several weeks I have found coupons for FREE Bush's tea (locals know that is liquid gold!) and FREE rentals at Blockbuster. These were sandwiched in ads and columns, so scan each section carefully. Also, make sure you look through the Parade, it is known to have coupons, as well. The paper can carry anywhere from 1-3 inserts. These are Red Plum, Proctor & Gamble, and Smartsource. They are referred to as RP, PG, and SS in most blogs.
Now you need a filing system for storing your coupons. Everyone is different and there is no one way to do it. You can get a small accordion file that fits into your purse/backpack. You can keep them in an envelope. You can put them in a file box with tabs. I personally prefer the Binder Method. You can see in the image below it is a fabric zippered binder (cousin to the Trapper Keeper). I have organized my coupons by categories using dividers and each divider has several plastic baseball card sleeves with coupons in them. (This is were you shuck your pride and get ready for the stares. I'm typically complimented once each shopping trip). I keep my scissors, pens, paper for shopping trip lists, circulars, rebates and any additional coupons (store, restaurant, etc.) in this binder too.
Now that you are ready to shop, were to? Locally I shop at Target, CVS, Walmart, HEB and the occasional Walgreens. Each store has their own Coupon Policy, which I have linked to if you click on the store name. You will see that CVS and Walgreens do not provide their policy online and the sites I selected have inquired to receive the information for their post. The information for CVS is accurate to my knowledge, although I will share some additional tips. I have to be honest, I am not a fan of Walgreens. Typically they are pretty unreliable to work with your coupons and can 'make up' the rules as they (employees/managers) go. However, I keep trying and hoping they will make a liar out of me...please don't make my experience keep you from shopping there.
Along with shopping at these stores and knowing their policies you need to know what sets them apart. Here's some general tips each:
* They have mobile coupons that you can have sent to your phone here.
* They have online coupons you can print from their home page here.
* They reward shoppers $.05 off per reusable bag you use for each purchase. Example: 5 bags = $.25 off your total.
* ALWAYS shop the end cap for clearance deals, you never know what coupon will make an item FREE!
* If you miss a coupon, bring it to the Customer Service desk with your receipt and they will adjust your total and refund the amount of the coupon. The policy states same day only, but I have been able to do it within a week of purchase.
* Target has updated their system to insure the value of an item that is free is adjusted down to prevent overage. With any new update be careful that this is correct and takes off the full value. Example: $5 off purchase of two items may only take off one item's value instead of both or the $5. Be the expert and watch the screen every time you shop.
* If an item goes on sale after you purchased it, they typically will refund the difference if you follow the guidelines in this policy, which also covers their Price Matching policy.
* They have a rewards card, called the Extra Care Card that allows you to earn 'Extra Care Bucks' for weekly and monthly ECB deals. An Extra Care Buck/ECB is treated like a gift certificate towards a future purchase. For example if a deal lists that you 'buy a candy bar at $.99, get $.99 back in ECBs', you will receive a $.99 ECB that prints at the bottom of your receipt after payment. This is eligible to be used on your next purchase. Their online Extra Care Card does not indicate how many cards you can have per household. I personally have four cards, one per member of my household. I would suggest starting out with one. (If you would like more information on how I manage all four, shoot me an email.)
* Their price scanner also dispenses coupons daily per card. KEEP all the coupons that print from their coupon machine. Because these don't expire you want to hold on to them until just the right deal comes along. Remember per CVS policy, they accept one CVS coupon and one MFG coupon per item. I saved several coupons from 2008 that got me 58 rolls of FREE paper towels a few weeks ago!
* This is not mentioned in their policy, but their ECB's or CVS coupons DO NOT expire. Some couponers have reported that their store managers wont push them through, but locally all three of our stores do. (I've also shopped in Dallas/Ft. Worth and they do, as well.) The cashier will have to manually override their system, so just make sure you ask if they don't do it automatically. The worse they can say is no.
* You can purchase what they call a Green Tag for $1, to use when you use reusable bags each time you shop. It tracks your number of uses and on the fourth use you will receive a $1.00 ECB. So it will pay for itself after that fourth visit. You will need to remember to hand it to the cashier with your Extra Care card in order to receive credit and you are only able to use it once per day. You can find these near the registers or ask a cashier for help.
* ALWAYS scan your card at the Coupon Printer/Price Checker before you shop for coupons and ALWAYS check your store for clearance items. Our local stores either have a rolling cart at the back of the store near the restrooms or at the front of the store near the cashiers. Again, you never know what coupon could make an item FREE!
* CVS does accept competitor coupons for Pharmacy prescription purchases. I use this option for my CVS spending money. Typically a CVS Pharmacy coupon is valued at $25, this can go a long way with coupons.
* No special card or tricks, I typically shop the list of items some of the blogs I follow provide.
* If you haven't already signed up for a HEB Points Card, do it before the next time you shop. This card tracks your spending in the store and gas purchases. In turn you receive a quarterly bonus with HEB bucks that are treated like cash. Typically this will also include coupons.
* I have to say writing this post I actually learned the correct coupon policy. They will not combine HEB Manufacturer coupons with a company (HEB) sponsored manufactured (mfg) coupon, BUT they will accept a manufacturer coupon with their 'yellow' store coupons. I have several family members that work there and have been told they will not combine any MFG coupons with store coupons, so get ready to educate your cashiers and bring the company policy with you. (I plan to look into this with local management and at the corporate level and will add what I find out at a later date.)
* Typically I have found that if I purchase something and it's out of date, doesn't taste 'right', etc. they will accept a returned item for full refund, with no questions asked. You will need your receipt if you expect a cash refund.
* Register Rewards (RR)- These are similar to CVS' ECB's, however they DO expire and you can only use it on a different 'deal'. Example if they offer a $5 RR for purchasing two packages of toilet paper and the 'deal' has a two per person limit, you can't turn around and use those RR to purchase two more packages. In this case I would suggest using it to either do a different deal or something of that value you already intend to buy.
* Walgreens also has a clearance section, typically located at the rear of their store and I have been somewhat successful scouting those out.
Now let's talk rebates. Rebates may be offered on an item, a in store rebate promotion, online, etc. I find most of mine listed on line with blogs/sites I subscribe to. My only suggestion with rebates is to NEVER buy something specifically for the rebate. I only purchase something if I need it, can afford it, and it's a good deal. Most of my rebates are on items I get free if not well under the rebate value. For example, last month I sent off more than $50 in rebate offers that I paid less than half for. One tip is to keep rebate offer paperwork with your coupons. That way if you happen upon the product unexpectedly, then you will know whether to purchase it or not for a rebate offer.
So what about all these blogs and sites, I'm talking about? Let me first say like anything too much of something is not a good thing. Couponing IS time consuming. You have to have a balance with your time and you have to weigh the value of what you save against the time that it takes away from the other things in your life. You CAN be successful taking my tips and applying it to the ads and call it a day. The blogs/sites I use are a tool, but I DON"T read every post or do every deal. I take what works for me and leave the rest. If you don't have a balance you will get SWALLOWED in this aspect of couponing. That being said I will give you a list of blogs/sites I subscribe to and you can see which ones are of value to you and which are not. Most have been suggestions from other blogs, but there are many, many, many more. You can always search for ones in your area as each blogger blogs deals that match the stores in his/her area (yes there are men out there couponing!). This is where your separate email account comes in handy. A lot of these blogs are supported by sites such as blogger and you may not want to set up an account to follow or remember everyday to go check on them. Most have an option to follow by becoming an email subscriber. I personally do not like the readers out there that support those blogs and if I cannot subscribe to their blog by email I will save it as a favorite under my internet bookmarks. As you get rolling following these sites you will find deals online as well, I will talk more on this in a follow up post that I hope you will check out.
Along with these sites there are couponing sites that you can print coupons directly from. Each site typically has a coupon printer you will be required to download to print from their site. Most of the printers will allow you to print a coupon twice. However, I recommend never using the refresh button as you may cancel the print job and/or jeopardize your second print. Copying or adjusting coupons is ILLEGAL. (Incase you are tempted, each internet coupon has a unique bar code for each coupon and can be tracked if duplicated.) If a store policy allows internet coupons these are LEGAL and acceptable to use. I also will warn that using these printers can possibly slow down your computer and I caution against dowloading them to any computer you do not personally own. We are fortunate to have more than one home computer and use both to print coupons. This allows us to print double the coupons and in turn do double the deals.
Along with the paper and these blogs I also get coupons from a magazine called Allyou. This magazine is chalk full of coupons and also has helpful money saving articles. I happen to get my copy from a monthly subscription (this was of course due to a really good online deal). You can also purchase Allyou Magazine at any Walmart. I also get coupons from anyone who will give them to me, mailers, fliers, some I see on the ground, and in store promotions (peelies) as long as the coupon does not say use on this item. Lastly, check out sites for items that are must have or preferences for you or your family. You can typically follow a newsletter that will promote new products and coupon offers.
www.allyou.coupons.com (this includes coupons.com coupons and Allyou exclusive coupons)
I hope the vast amount of information hasn't overwhelmed you too much and that you truly seek the Lord to see if this is for you and your family. I find great joy in being able to stretch our dollar and in turn share the fruits of my labor with family, friends, and charities, as well as the little bit of knowledge I have learned along the way!
As always, please feel free to email me, my email address for this blog is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm always eager to help someone with coupon shopping!
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Disclosure: I have no affliation, nor am I receiving any compensation to any company or blogs mentioned in the above blog post. Opionions expressed are based soley on my personal experienes.