If you’ve even seen Extreme Couponing, then you know the drill. An individual who is addicted (and I use that term lightly) to clipping coupons in an attempt to spend hundreds of dollars at the grocery store and walk away only paying about $15 (and in some cases, even that’s too much!) We watch them lift newspapers off their neighbor’s front porches, have their children go door-to-door and even dumpster dive for discarded coupon inserts. I even saw one woman who worked at a car dealership wait until after hours to print off multiple coupons from her co-workers work stations (because they allow 2 coupons to be printed per ISP). With 8 work stations that 16 coupons she can get for the same item.
But it’s when they finally get to the store that my eyes start to roll. Oh, lookie here – an entire basket of headache tablets – regularly $5.99 on sale for $2.99. That’s a bargain. Even more astounding, the crazy couponer just so happens to have about 50 $3.00 off coupons, making not only the 50 boxes she ceremoniously dumps into her carriage completely free, but she gets .50 back. She then proceeds to show off her coupon prowess by filling an entire cart with Vitamin Water (10 for $10 with 100 $1.00 coupons so why not get 100 of them because they’ll be, you know, free?), paper towels, ramen noodles, packaged rice and pasta mixes, candy bars, toothpaste (one guy got a pallet of it which he keeps in his basement), barbecue sauce, mustard and shampoo.
I, like every other reasonable person who watches this show, murmurs, “Where’s the stuff to make an actual meal with? Where’s meat? Maybe some hotdogs? Cereal? Peanut butter?” And then I remember, “Oh, wait, yeah – ramen noodles and packaged mac ‘n cheese – that’s it.” Ugh, really?
I preface by saying all that not so much to discount the quality of the purchases, but the quantity. I’m a couponing ‘novice’ – and by no means extreme – passing my one month mark. In the past four weeks, and the 3 supermarkets I frequent, I have never been able to get away with unlimited quantities of anything that’s a super bargain. In fact, my grocery stores put limits on items extremely (no pun intended) marked down so there’s enough to go around so people like headache-tablet-lady doesn’t come in and clean their inventory out in one trip. Why just yesterday I was at one store where their butter quarters were on sale for $1.99 (from $3.29). I snagged four – (2) salted and (2) unsalted, only for the cashier to reprimand me that there was a limit of (3) per purchase (rookie mistake still). I jokingly asked, since it was the last day of the sale, if they could lift the ‘limit’ restriction, and, well, let’s just say the ol’ biddie chastised me good and proper. Okay, then.
It’s instances such as this that really make me question the validity of the show and whether or not the show had an impact on grocery store’s policies regarding couponing and quantity.
With store limits set, I’ll share with you how I go about non-extreme couponing in my not-so-extreme real world.
First, I wanted to set up my ‘headquarters’. On my desktop, I bookmarked the websites for the three grocery stores (in my case, Stop & Shop, Big Y and Shop Rite) as well as Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens and Rite Aid. I also bookmarked sites I have rewards cards for (see how I downsized my wallet and organized my rewards cards here) such as Staples, Panera, etc. I then bookmarked two coupon sites – Coupons.com (where you can print a limit of 2-per computer ISP) and The Coupon Clippers (where you can purchase coupons for mere pennies). I like the latter because it has more a variety and. I also got a crash course in Couponing 101 from Hot Coupon World (an AWESOME, helpful sight).
After I was all set up, here’s what my bookmark drop down looks like.
I then created accounts so I can log in and get perks such as unannounced sales, points, rewards, etc. I strongly suggest setting up a dummy email to use specifically for couponing. Trust me, you will wind up getting spammed with stuff you don’t want.
My grocery store flyers arrive in the mail on Wednesday and each have different sale ‘from’ ‘to’ dates. Watch carefully. You don’t want to make the mistake I did by missing an enormous haul I would’ve gotten on Good Seasons 4-Pak (which we use a lot of) that was on sale from $5.29 to $3.49 and I had (3)$1.00 coupons and (2).75cent coupons (which would’ve doubled to $1.50 as my store’s policy permits it). There was also no limit on how many you could get, but I only was able to get five. At $3.49/ea. it would’ve come to $17.45. After coupons $12.45 – a$5.00 savings (hey,that’s a Starbucks Grande right there!)
Unfortunately, that never happened because I didn’t pay attention to the ‘sale end’ date and went the day after. The worst part – my coupons expired that week and they were the ones I paid for through The Coupon Clippers – double-ouch. Lesson learned. Onward.
I prepare by gathering my flyers and coupon binder.
Most of the coupons I print/purchase are for items we actually use. I don’t clip coupons for items we rarely, if ever, purchase just because they’re cheap (unless it’s free, I suppose). Even if it’s only a dollar, that’s a dollar spent on something I don’t need – which is money wasted.
I also have Coupons.com open to scroll through to see if there’s anything that coincides. Sharpie in hand, I begin to circle my bargains. Some grocery stores even have a section in their flyer which folds out containing in-store coupons and savings.
Example: One of my stores partners with a gas station and offers .10 cents off for every hundred dollars spent and sometimes include a section in the flyer where, if you purchase a certain dollar amount of specific products, you receive a certain number of points to use towards gas. I also make note of those. Target does something where if you purchase 3-featured products you receive a $5.00 gift card. Bonus if you have coupons for those items, but be careful – they’re specific. If the product you have to purchase is, say, a 24-count box of Aleve and you have a $1.50/off coupon that only pertains to 80-count and over then it doesn’t matter. Read the fine print.
Okay, I digress. Back to the planning process. Once I’ve gone through each flyer, circled the desired sale items and compare to any coupons I might have. Although I have them clipped by category, I’ve entered them into an Excel spreadsheet so I can review them faster. I can’t believe to tell you the time this has saved me!
I then set up my coupon binder where I have a section for each store.
Each section has a plastic insert with slots followed by plain note paper.
I turn to the section for the specific store – let’s use Shop Rite for this example. On the right, I head up the list with the store’s name, the sale duration and the date of my intended visit. I list out what I need to purchase, then note in green that I have a coupon for it and what it’s for as well as using a purple pen to jot down the non-sale price for my Master Grocery Price Sheet (another blog post to come on that!) Since I don’t bring the flyer with me (although I can always snag a copy at the entrance of the store if I have to), I make sure I specify any details which pertain to the sale or the coupon (size, ounces, limits, quantity, etc). On the left, I insert the coupons into the slots so they stay put.
I then do the same for the other two grocery stores, if applicable. If there are some pretty good deals – made even sweeter by coupon reduction – then I have to schedule my week very carefully as I work 8-5. Two stores not even a quarter mile from my office (as well as Rite Aid and Walgreens) and, depending upon the size of the list, I can knock it out on my lunch hour. The third store requires a special trip after work. But if the savings are great, it’s worth the special trip.
I also printed out a copy of each store’s coupon policy (see link above to a host of different stores) and keep them in the back of my binder, or, if it’s small enough like Targets, I can tape it to the back cover of the store’s divider page
I also make a point to head to the courtesy desk prior to shopping to ask any questions I may have (double coupon policy, returns, rain checks on sale items, etc) so I’m forewarned before I begin to shop and won’t be hit with any surprises at checkout.
Also, as I go along the store, I make note of the prices of commonly used items in a separate Price List Journal (again, that will be combined with the Master Grocery Price List post planned for a later date) for future store comparisons.
After my trip, I keep a section in the back of my binder to record my shopping trip, what I spent, what I paid and – more importantly – what I saved. Just a little thing I like to do:
That’s pretty much my simple routine. As I stated, it’s not-so-extreme by any means, but, as you can see from my savings sheet, I think I’m doing a pretty good job. Plus, I have enough paper towels, toothpaste, shampoo, ketchup, mayo, detergent and napkins to last till the end of the year and maybe beyond.
Well, what about stuff to make meals, you say? You’re right – I don’t want to be a hypocrit.
My husband and I also have a membership to Restaurant Depot where we set aside a certain Saturday every couple of months to buy boneless chicken, chop meat and certain cuts of beef in bulk as well as certain dairy items, olive oil, spices, potatoes & onions, bacon and deli meats (we invested in a slicer). It’s usually quite an expensive haul, but after we get it all home, divide it up into individual portions and seal them in a Food Saver to store in our deep freezer in the basement, it should last us a good 4-5 months.
Also, and this is my personal opinion only, when perusing these coupon sites, please be aware of the ‘click here for free samples’ links. They take you to a ‘survey page’ where you have to ask a number of questions before qualifying for the free product. I decided to try it for free Tide and figured, what the heck, I have a dummy email address so I don’t care if I get spammed for it as well as not being too concerned about sharing my grocery habits. Well, it got beyond that. Here’s the first page of the survey:
Yeah, stop right there. Why does this site need to know my age, how many children I have, whether I rent or own or about my health insurance coverage? All for free detergent?? No way. I stopped at that screen before I found out what else was going to be asked of me. All I’m saying is just be aware of what personal information you’re giving out to God-knows-who.
Okay, getting off my soap-box. Just a little peek into how I operate with coupons and juggle my shopping trips. I don’t quite have the stock-pile some of these people on Extreme Couponing have, but in less than a month, it looks pretty impressive (oh, yeah, basement stockpile and recording post at a later date!)
As always, love to hear from anyone regarding their system/setup. I’m still figuring stuff out, so I’m always on the lookout for anything that can streamline the system.