I talk to people about couponing ALL the time. I can't believe I haven't done it here already. First off, once upon a time, I was planning my wedding and naturally, obsessed with TLC and all their bride shows. This was about the same time the Extreme Couponing shows all popped up. I was fascinated and amazed and feeling really left out of the cool secret to not paying for things. So I went online and started reading everything I could about couponing. My uncle David even bought me a bunch of books on the topic, I think because he was so amused when I started getting things for free. Feeding the addiction so to speak.
It didn't take long to learn. The books, all the reading, it was just extra. You don't need to devote your life to coupons to become a couponer. And I think that's what people are afraid of the most. SO many people tell me that they'd love to get into it, but... they just don't have the time. Well, I did this as an eighth grade English teacher during my first year of teaching. I can't imagine a more busy year of my life work-wise, so if you're saying "ah, but I have kids," don't let that be an excuse. If saving money is a priority, this is extremely simple when you add it into your routine.
Here is the basic principle...
Manufacturers issue coupons. Stores issue coupons. Stores have sales. When you combine these money-saving methods, you can legally buy items for free and even sometimes make a profit.
First of all, your holy coupon bible should be The Krazy Coupon Lady. This site started with two women who figured out couponing tricks and shared it with people, but now it's an entire network of couponers, discounts, store sales, blog posts with DIY ideas, bank accounts with the highest interest rate, anything you could imagine on how to save money. Go there. Get lost. It's a great site.
Something that really amuses me is when people say, "But where do you get all those coupons!?" like there is a secret coupon supplier out there that we all know and you don't. So, for the sake of those people who have never even attempted couponing before and want to know what to do from the very beginning, here's a little list for ya.
1. Subscribe to Your Sunday Newspaper
If you're in Richmond, it costs me about $12 a month to order the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Obviously you can go buy the paper somewhere else on Sundays if you don't want to subscribe, but I found I would forget sometimes and then be missing a whole week in my coupon arsenal. When you get really pro, you can start ordering two or three Sunday papers if you're constantly needing more coupons. Luckily, my parents don't use their coupons at all (I've tried, trust me) and if I ever need an extra, I can just make a visit :)
2. Find and Save the Coupons
You are looking for little booklets of coupons stuck in between all the Kohl's, Target, and grocery store advertisements. They're either going to be called Red Plum, Smart Source, or P&G brandSaver. You won't always get them all and sometimes there are two Smart Source, so just be thorough when you check through the ad section.
3. Organize the Coupons
Here is where the craziness can sometimes start. Everyone thinks "woo I'm a couponer!" and starts cutting out all the coupons. The Krazy Coupon Lady is a big advocate of the glorious coupon binder and it's one of her first lessons for beginners. I went with it for about a year. I discovered that with a huge binder full of coupons that were all expiring at different times, I was getting really confused. And there were too many categories for me to know where things really belonged. All of my energy was going into this ridiculous binder and cutting coupons for things I was usually not ever going to buy.
So here is what I now do. I don't cut anything until I need it. When my paper arrives, I take out the coupons, usually Sharpie the date onto the front cover because they print it so tiny on the spine, and I put it in an accordian organizer.
And that's it. That's all I do. Because you'll learn, the secret to couponing is patience. You probably shouldn't buy anything the first week you get your coupons saved. It takes some time to accumulate your arsenal.
4. Check Coupon Matchup Sites
Coupon matchup sites are sites that match a store's weekly sale with coupons you can combine to get a great deal. This means you don't have to fumble around with weekly ads and checking to see if there's a coupon for that. People do this every week. You never have to do that.
Here is what I do. Every week, I go to KCL's website and check the weekly coupon matchups for the stores I like to coupon at. For me, those stores are CVS, Walgreens, and Target. Major emphasis on CVS. I go to those stores because they're really close to my house and I find CVS the easiest place to coupon at. Nobody there has ever given me grief about my crazy coupon habits. They usually just applaud me. Sometimes literally.
Coupon matchup sites are key for those of us with lives.
You must get to know them and know them well. If you're trying to do this for groceries, (which honestly, I hardly do anymore because I'm lame and didn't find it extremely worthwhile) then you should find local coupon matchup sites that are about the stores and sales in YOUR area. Since I focus on chains like CVS, I can just go to KCL and read her matchups. Here's what her CVS list looks like this week.
5. Make a List
From the matchup site, I copy and paste into Word the deals that I'd like to get. Things that I know we'll use. Cereal. Shampoo. Deodorant. Advil. Chocolate. Those kind of things. And I always go for any "money making" deals where CVS or Walgreens or whoever will give me reward money that actually makes me profitable for the purchase. It happens all the time and I'm not lying.
Then, going off my list, I find all the coupons necessary to get the deals I want. Here's an example:
Tresemme Shampoo or Conditioner, 32 oz $4.00 Tresemme Styler, 8-11 oz $4.00 Use $5.00/2 Tresemme Products, excludes gift packs and trial/travel size, Limit 2 identical coupons in same shopping trip from RP 11/17 (exp 12/15)
So to buy this shampoo, I need the $5/2 Tresemme Products coupon from the RedPlum 11/17 coupon (and I need to do it before it expires 12/15). I go back through my accordian file, to that date, and find the coupon.
Some of the coupons will be online and with the matchup site, they'll even provide you with a link so you can go print it off. Easy peasy.
6. Stick to Your List
Coupons are EXACT. If you have a General Mills coupon for Honey Nut Cheerios, it's not going to work for regular Cheerios. Also, when you're picking up items, read your coupon carefully. If it says 14oz or larger, you cannot buy the 12oz pack of chips. You have to follow all the rules or it won't work.
7. Use Your Store Card and Have Mercy on Your Cashier
Always have the store loyalty cards. They send you coupons for doing this, some of them electronic which is extra convenient, and it gives you automatic savings whether you have a coupon or not.
And be nice to the cashier. Sometimes I ask the cashier to do things like break my purchase into multiple transactions because that's the best way to save money. And even more rarely, sometimes the cashier can't get the coupon to scan or thinks you're trying to scam the store. Just be patient. You're not scamming anyone. The store gets paid by the manufacturer who issued the coupon and just because the store was running a promotion that day that made it free for you doesn't mean they're getting less money. The people who give you grief don't understand what you're doing and probably are just annoyed you're asking them to do more than scan an item. I had ONE bad experience where I was following the rules completely (at Target) and the manager refused to honor my coupons. She said getting things for free was not allowed. And actually it was. I'm sure if I'd been buying something else she wouldn't have even noticed. But from then on out, I brought the store's coupon policy with me. Naturally, nobody ever hassled me after that.
Those are the basics. And even that was an extremely long post. I hope I didn't lose you. If you have any questions or more specific coupon-related topics you'd like me to write about, please leave it in the comments. Your feedback is highly appreciated! :)