Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Busy Person's Guide to Couponing in Moderation

I've learned a lot in the past few months of couponing, but I'm by no means an expert, nor do I want to be! I have, on occasion, gotten a bit carried away with my couponing & spent more time on it than I intended, but it is perfectly possible to save a good 20-30% on every shopping trip without making couponing an all-out job.
This is not meant to be an all-inclusive guide, it's mainly going to be about what has been working for me, and the most important tip I can give to anyone who wants to save a little extra without going crazy over it is to be open to trying a few things & forgetting a few things until you find whatever works for you!

What I do: I got a Sunday-only subscription to the local paper & on Sunday (or whenever I can get to it) I pull it apart.
I set aside the ads for places we actually shop at, and the actual coupon booklets (Smart Saver, Red Plum & occasionally the P&G Brand Saver are what we usually get) and all the other ads go straight to recycling... or I let my 2yo play with them & tell me what she sees in the pictures to keep her out of the good stuff!
Then I go through the manufacturer (often abbreviated "mfg") coupons from the booklets and clip out the ones that interest me. I make three piles initially: "Keep,""Maybe" and "Give to the neighbors." I take the "maybe" pile & have my hubby give his yea or nay and, as you might have guessed, those go into the other two piles.
I've tried a couple different methods of sorting my coupons. At first, I tried sorting them by expiration date so that I'd use them before they expired, but that didn't work very well. I couldn't find the coupons I was looking for. So, I tried a new method. I sort by what they're for. Right now they are "Food," "Baby stuff," "Health & beauty products/other" and "Cleaning/other." I'm thinking I need to re-vamp it a bit to better match the layout of the store, but whatever works & doesn't ADD to the stress!
I use paperclips on my bundles & I keep my coupons in a mini file folder-type thingy. Kinda like this one. I also use a couple of the pockets for store-specific coupons & restaurant coupons (though I usually keep these on a new decorative board thingy I nailed to the side of the kitchen cabinets by the back door where we go in & out most often.)

I have an email subscription to MoneySavingMom.com and I skim through those & read the things that interest me. There are certain things that catch my interest more than others, but that's one where I recommend just looking into it & seeing if anything catches your fancy. I'll admit, it was a little overwhelming and I didn't pay much attention to it at first. Once I started to, though, I learned a lot. I'm considering taking a few other steps that are talked about in there frequently like maybe shopping with cash in order to better stick to a budget.

I use the Coupon Match-up feature on the CouponDivas.com website. I just stick with the stores we like to shop at: Meijer, Walgreens & Target. Sadly, they don't have Schnuck's (which is the closest store to where we live) nor do they have an ad in the paper. Their loss, I just stop in for milk & such on occasion. I ignore the rest. Wal-Mart can be nice because of their price-match guarantee, but I don't shop there for personal (but not private... I'll tell you all about how they tried to sue me if you're curious!) reasons. I refuse to run all over town trying to get the *best* deals on everything.
The site is pretty self-explanatory. Read everything carefully until you get the hang of it though!
So, I go through their shopping lists & click to get the online coupons printed out that they link to. This is where reading carefully comes in. If it's an online coupon, they give a handy-dandy link right to the page it's on, but not always right to the coupon. You may have to look for it. All of the coupons.com sites make you look through them & there are often about 20 pages with about 6 coupons or deals per page. That's one of the annoying, time-consuming parts, but they often have good enough coupons to make it worth it.
I also signed up for Swagbucks, so I try to go through their coupon page first, so I get my SBs for using them, but I'm not sure if it makes a difference. Swagbucks are a whole other story though, so I'll save them for if you're curious or another post.

Through CouponDivas.com I've learned a few things about the stores I shop at most often. I signed up for Meijer MealBox & mPerks to get the extra coupons through those. If you're interested, you can find out more about those from the Meijer page or from CouponDivas.com.

So, once I have all my coupons printed & clipped (paper cutter comes in handy w/the online ones!) and I've started my list from the CouponDivas site & what we need in general I look through the actual ads to see if anything we need is on sale that may not have been in CouponDivas. As I'm writing my list, I'm sure to note if I need to get 2 or more of an item or a group of items together to get a particular deal or any other reminders I might need (like to enter my mPerks #s at the register). I write down my list for each store separately (if I'm even shopping at multiple stores that day) and paperclip all the coupons I'll need for that trip together.
Side-note: We keep a small pad of paper on the side of our fridge w/a pen & when we realize we need something, jot it down on there. I try to put food items on the left side & non-food items on the right.

As I'm shopping, I keep my list & my bundle of coupons handy. As I pick up my items, I check them off my list & move the coupons to a second bundle or just in the front pocket of my file-folder. I make sure I have any of my "save $$ off your next shopping trip" & similar general coupons with the pile of ready-to-use coupons. That way, if I can't find an item, they're sold out, I change my mind or whatever, the coupons I'm not using are already separated out from the good ones & I just have to hand my bundle to the cashier.

The first few weeks, we spent more than usual because of stockpiling non-perishable goods. If you have the space & wiggle-room in your budget to do this, I recommend it! Get a few extras of things you know you'll use when you find a really good deal & you don't have to worry about buying any more for awhile. Be aware of what you have. (We have to work on that a bit ourselves... our tiny pantry is quite cramped now!) Try to be conscious of what you use & don't buy too much of something that'll spoil before you use it. There are some things you'll have to get full-price most of the time, like milk, eggs, OJ, produce and so on. On those things, if you have a habit that's working for you, just stick with it and don't fret. It's better than spending more & having things go bad!

The main thing is to find & do what works for you without causing undue stress! So, don't fret about getting the absolute best deal possible every time, just save what you can when you can & you'll find even the little changes will make a big difference in the long run.
For me, I've made a game of figuring out what percent I saved at each shopping trip and see if I can get a higher percentage each week. Usually, the receipt tells you your total & the total amount you saved... Add those together then take the amount saved divided by the total-total. Example, I spent $11.52 at Target, saved $5. The total-total is $17.52. 5 divided by 17.52 = 0.285388 and so on. So, I saved about 28.5%.

I hope you've found this interesting and helpful! Let me know how your couponing adventure goes! :D


  1. Schnuck's ad comes out on Mondays, and you can access it online on their website. Usually not very impressive until they run a 10 for $10 sale (where you don't actually have to buy 10 of each item, or even 10 of everything - it's all a dollar) and sometimes they will have chicken breasts for .99.

    I use a file folder thingie like you for my coupons, but mine has 14 or 15 slots so I have it divided up by category (dairy, bathroom stuff, baby stuff, meat, drinks etc) and that helps. I got an organizer from Thirty-one that has two pockets and a place for a small notepad. One of the pockets I keep a small pair of scissors and a pen and the other pocket I put my coupons I'm using at that store. I take my file folder thingie just in case I find an excellent deal.

    Just curious as to why you don't do CVS? I've gotten some excellent deals there - I probably use them more than Walgreens b/c their coupon policy is much easier to work with.

  2. Part of it is just limiting myself because I don't want to be all over (though there is a CVS between Meijer & WAlgreens for us now) and part of it is loyalty from having worked at walgreens. Also, do they still use a discount card? I found that kind of annoying. Probably wouldn't be as bad now that I'm being a more conscious shopper, but I still prefer to just stick with what I know. :)

  3. Yes you have to have the card and that is annoying, but the magic coupon machine makes up for it (in my mind). You scan your card in the store and it gives you random coupons. The nice thing is sometimes these are for store-brand objects that you wouldn't get a mfg Q for. But yes its nicer at Walgreens to not have to mess with a card (but I hate having to count things & find filler items).

    Guess they are about equal!