Despite the fact that I rarely talk about it on my main blog, I am a coupon princess. I troll coupon message boards, save and organize weekly sale flyers, buy at least 3 copies of the Sunday paper each week (solely for the coupon inserts), and suffer extreme guilt if I have to run into the store for a few random items sans my coupon binder.
Several people recently have asked me to share my coupon secrets with them. I tell them that this is classified information, but they never believe me. Finally, at the request of the other really awesome Gazelle in my life, I have agreed to put together a sort of tutorial about the basics of couponing. I did this because I like her, and I think her blog is funny. And I can relate to her stories about people having picnics on the locker room bench at the gym (gag!).
Disclaimer: I’m not a completely professional, full-time, stay-at-home-mom type of coupon user. I’m sure that there is someone out there who holds the title of “coupon queen” or “coupon goddess”, but it’s just not me. So please don’t email me and tell me that you’re the best at it and I suck, because I already have self-esteem issues to contend with, and I just don’t need the added baggage. I like couponing, it’s fun, and I don’t want you to ruin it for me. Please. I also don’t claim to have all of the answers, nor did I make any of these tactics up solely by myself. I’ve learned everything from watching others, researching online sources, and good old fashioned trial and error. Lots of trial and even more error.
Lets begin! Are you excited? Me too!
Jogger’s Coupon Tutorial: Part IWhen Does The Crap Go On Sale?
Some really smart people have apparently determined that stores reduce the prices of their products based on a 12-week cycle (approximately). Say an item is normally $2.50, then you see it in the sale flyer for slightly less, like $2.29. Don’t fall for it. This is also what those smart people call the “phantom price”. This means that the next time it goes on sale (in a couple of weeks), the sale price will be somewhere around, say $2.15. But wait! Don’t buy it yet! It’s going to go on sale one more time. The next time it goes on sale, it’ll probably be “2 for $4″, or “buy one get one free”. This is your “rock-bottom” price, and this is the time when you want to use your coupons and stock up on these items.
Personally, when I started shopping at different stores recently (due to moving), I made a list of the items that I always buy (brand and type of product). I basically just keep this in my binder as a rolling list. It really doesn’t take long to keep track of–you just jot down some dates and prices while you’re strolling through the store. It only feels like a lot of work right now because you’re used to doing it the old way. Once you get in the swing of things, you pretty much know what phase in the cycle you’re at based on the price that the item is on sale for, and you don’t necessarily even need to write the prices down anymore. It’s more of a training wheel for you to begin with. I use it still on items that I’m not familiar with (but want to become familiar with), and things that I just like to keep track of (because I’m obsessive, mostly).
Not only am I obsessed with organizing and eating candy in order by color, but I also have an improper love affair with spreadsheets. So, if you’d like to use my spreadsheet to track your prices like I do, just click here and it’ll let you download it to your computer. No viruses, I promise. I use a Mac. We’re immune.
I always do my tracker in pencil because I screw things up a lot, and I also like to not need to print a new one out when regular prices change at various stores. This has been happening a lot lately due to the economy. Stores are just lowering their regular prices, which is a bonus for all of us couponers. Oh, and if you want to be really fancy, you can jot everything down while you’re in the store, then come home and type it into the spreadsheet. If you do this, please immediately email me so that I can send you a special gift for being even more obsessed than I am.
I am very fond of the Smartsource.com website. All you have to do is input your zip code, and it will retrieve every item in every sale flyer at every grocery store in your area. It’s quite a phenom in my book. You can also search by brand name (i.e. “Pepsi”), product name (i.e. “Cake Mix”), and by grocery store name (i.e. “Safeway”). I luhhhhve this website because if I need frozen broccoli, but I don’t feel like searching visually through all of my sale flyers, I just go onto this website, search for “frozen broccoli”, then find the stores near me with that item on sale. After that, I look through my coupon binder to see if I have coupons for any of the frozen broccoli that is on sale at the stores in my area. Also works well if I’m only going to one grocery store, but I don’t feel like going through the flyer manually. I search for all of the items on sale at the store I’m hitting, scan online through the stuff that is on sale, and then match up the coupons I have for the items I need.
Seem like it’s going to take forever? Trust me, it doesn’t. Stop whining. You’re trying to save money, right? It really won’t take you that long though, I promise.
How in the Heck Do I Use These Coupon Thingys?
There are 3 main components to using coupons.
1) Only shop at stores that double (or triple) manufacturers coupons. There is no point in wasting your time at a “regular” non-doubling store when you can go to a different one that always doubles your manufacturer coupons. Generally speaking (but please check with your individual store’s coupon policy), stores that double manufacturers coupons will not double internet coupons. Some of my stores won’t even take internet coupons. How double-coupons work: -Most stores double up-to $0.99 coupons. That means that if you have a $1 coupon, you’re SOL. You get $1 off, and only $1 off. However…if you have a $0.99 coupon (or $0.75, or $0.50, or $0.35…you get the idea), they will double that coupon. Your $0.50 coupon becomes a $1.00 off coupon, and so on. However, you just don’t see many coupons for $0.99 these days because nobody wants to have to reimburse almost $2. When I get a $0.75 coupon, it’s like gold to me.
2) Only buy items that are on sale, AND only if you have a coupon for the item. Once you have built your arsenal of basics that you always need to have on hand, the “raw materials” (as Gazelles on Crack so eloquently put it when she requested that I write this tutorial), you won’t need to pay full price for anything anymore. You’ll have a stockpile of these items, and you’ll just keep waiting for the 12-week sale cycle to rock bottom on you (at which time you buy the item again, before you had a chance to run out). This doesn’t always work, of course, because this is real life. In the case that you don’t have a coupon, at least try to wait until the item is on sale, then you won’t have to suffer the incredibly unbearable guilt and shame of paying FULL price. Wait. Maybe that’s just me.
3) Don’t be fooled by that “10 for $10″ garbage. You don’t have to buy 10 to get the lower price, people. Even if you bought 5, you’d still get each one for $1. It’s one of those hokey marketing genius things, and I’m sure that it’s equated to millions and billions and fajillions of dollars for grocery stores. And they’re thanking the marketing toolbag who thunk it up. However, if you’re buying 10 items which are on sale and you want to use a coupon, you would have to have 10 coupons for that item in order to get the coupon savings on all 10 of the items. For instance. I bought a bunch of soup last week. Which I hate, but it’s cold, and I’m too lazy to make my own soup right now. The soup was on sale 6 for $10 in my store. So, I’d basically NEHHHVER pay $1.67 per can of soup on a regular day. However, I also had 5 coupons that said “Save $1.50 off 2 cans”. So, I did this deal. See…you have to choose your battles kids. Based on the coupons I had in my binder (I promise we’ll get to this “binder” thingy in the next installment), I could get 10 cans of soup (5 coupons, x $1.50 off 2 cans). The soup sale price said “6 for $10″, but this didn’t mean that I would buy 6 at $1.67 and then pay full price for the other 4. All 10 cans were $1.67 each, and after the coupon savings, I was paying $0.92 per can of soup. ($1.67 x 2=$3.34 less $1.50 coupon = $1.84 / 2 cans = $0.92/can). I was willing to pay this because it wasn’t your typical Cambell’s soup. I think it was the Progresso low sodium kind…one of the more expensive brands anyway. In any case, it was cheap enough for me to justify using my coupons, so I bought it. But I didn’t have to buy more than the 10 cans that I wanted. This concludes Part I of our tutorial! I hope that you will check out the other parts of my “Jogger’s Coupon Tutorial”, including two video tutorials!