I started couponing in February 2010 because, like so many Americans, I'd been let go from my job and had just given birth to my baby so I needed to find some way to cut the family budget. Sure, I had used coupons in the past, saving a dollar or two on a shopping trip and feeling like I'd won the lottery! Little did I know Couponing goes far beyond clipping one or two coupons a week and tossing the rest. In the past few months I've learned how to gather and stack coupons in order to stockpile my families everyday items! In the course of 4 months I've saved over $3000! No, I don't have to buy generics, and by using high value coupons combined with sales I am able to provide nutritious meals and snacks for my family without breaking the bank! An added bonus? I've discovered several yummy foods I wouldn't have tried before.
How do I get so many coupons?
I use many sources to gather my coupons. Of course I get the Sunday paper delivered to my house and get coupons from the weekly inserts. There are also internet coupons, blinkies, peelies, retailer coupons, coupons in magazines, home mailers, coupon clipping services, ebay, directly from the company and sometimes coupons can be found in the black and white pages of the newspaper.
The Sunday paper is a good resource for coupons. I personally only get one paper each week (delivered on Sunday only at a discounted rate), but there are folks who buy several copies of the Sunday paper so they can use multiples of the same coupon to get the best deals on items. If your Sunday paper costs $1, and you save at least $1 from the coupon inserts, you may be able to justify purchasing multiple copies of the paper for yourself. The more people in your family the more papers you may want to buy. Some areas discount the Sunday paper later in the week. If it's done in your area that may be an option for you.
The majority my coupons are printed from online sites like coupon.com, redplum.com, smartsource.com and retailer websites. The majority of these coupons can be printed twice. Most of these coupon sites reset around the first of the month. (If you've reached your print limit for a specific coupon on a site, check back the first part of the next month. Odds are, if the coupon is still being offered your count will be reset and you can print it again.)
Retailer coupons can be found on store websites, home mailers and in store ads. Target lists all sorts of printable coupons, and they have a nice variety, although I don't see they keep any specific online coupons available long. If you see a Target coupon you will use, my advice is to print it when you see it because it most likely won't be available a couple days later. Walgreens has "bonus" coupons you can print each week, and many grocery stores are getting on board with adding coupons to their site. Remember, many grocery chains accept competitor coupons. My Publix and Winn Dixie both accept Target coupons as competitor coupons. The beauty of Retailer Coupons is they can be combined (aka stacked) with manufacturer coupons for BIG savings, especially if the item is ON SALE TOO!
Blinkies are found mounted on the shelves at many stores, you pull a coupon out of the little box and out pops another. During your shopping trips keep an eye out for blinkies. Several times I've taken blinkies home and a week or two later that item goes on sale. Do I spot a possible trend?
Peelies are coupons or mail in rebates found on the packages at the store. I personally won't take a peelie off an item I don't intend to buy, but some folks feel it's okay to do so.
There are coupon clipping services such as The Coupon Clippers or sellers on ebay that will clip, sort and mail you specific coupons. You pay a small fee for their service and they send you the exact coupon you want. I've never personally used these services (YET) but can see how advantageous it would be since coupon distribution is largely regional.
You can contact companies directly to request coupons. I personally don't ask for coupons from companies. I email them my praise on the items I love and let the chips fall where they may. Most companies like feedback from consumers and are happy to send coupons for their products for your loyalty.
So how do you organize all those coupons?
(This section is a bit long winded, my apologies up front!) When I first started couponing, I piled all of my coupons into a folder and hoped for the best. It didn't take long to realize that was not the best option out there, so one afternoon my oldest daughter and I sat down with the pile of coupons, some scissors and a shoe box. We spent hours clipping every single coupon and throwing them into the box. WHEW! Was I glad to get all that clipping done. I soon realized I'd never be able to find a specific coupon in that seemingly endless box, so I got out some envelopes and labeled them all into categories and began sorting the coupons from the shoe box into these envelopes. By the time I got all the coupons sorted I had acquired yet another stack of inserts that needed to be clipped and sorted. How overwhelming it became! I felt like I was chasing my tail.
At that point I decided there HAD to be a better way so I did some Internet searches and discovered THE COUPON BINDER! The coupon binder sounded so great that I hunted down a 3 ring binder and bought some baseball card inserts and got started on making my binder by taking all the coupons out of the envelopes and placing them into the inserts separated by category. That was 3 months ago and I must say I still don't have the binder in any better order than all those envelopes...and to be honest I can be a bit lazy and don't see the point of putting all the coupons into the little sleeves just to take them out again and use them. It's really time consuming! (And with a 3 month old I don't have a lot of time to spare!)
With all this said, I currently find the best organization system for me is a manila envelope. Each week I pull out the Sunday coupon inserts, write the date on the front and stick them in the top of the pile in my manila envelope. I then take out the ads for the stores I want to shop at. I go through the ads and circle the items I need, want or what I think I can score for cheap or free with a coupon. I keep an eye out for great prices on my stockpile items (more on this later). I write down the items on a list (I have one list per store). Next I look through the coupons to match them up with the items on my list. (Generally speaking, after looking through the inserts for coupons for several weeks I have a good idea of what coupons I have, even though I don't know exactly the value or which insert it may be in.) I note any rewards (such as ECB or RR) that I have available to spend and jot that down on my list too so I'll know how much I have to spend to use my rewards. (I don't want to go in and buy one bottle of dish soap for $0.50 after my coupon only to discover I have a store reward for $3! Sure, I could use the $3 to get my $0.50 item, but I'd lose out on $2.50!)
After I finish my list and gathering my coupons I put each stack into an envelope for that store. (I currently have one envelope for each of the following stores: CVS, Walgreens, Publix, Target, Walmart and Winn Dixie.) These are what I carry with me from store to store. I find if I only have the coupons for the items on my list it helps me stick to my budget. Sure, I miss getting an unbelievable deal on an unadvertised sale once in a while, but it's less stressful for me this way so I'm sticking to it!
In a nutshell, try a few systems to see what works best for you! But don't invest a lot of money in an organization system because even though it looks great and works wonders for others, it doesn't necessarily mean it will work for you!
The way to get the most bang for your buck is to hold onto your coupons until an item goes on sale. If you can find the item on sale BOGO, that's even better! Some stores will accept 2 coupons for BOGO items, some stores won't. Check with your store management on their coupon policy before you shop to avoid issues at checkout time.
Often I'll have coupons for an amount off 2 items. While saving $0.75/2 might not seem like a lot of savings keep in mind if the coupon does not specify a certain size you can see the biggest savings if you buy the smallest package available. A good example is a coupon I for $0.75 off 2 packages of a brand name yellow rice. The smallest package of brand sells for $0.89 so when I buy 2 of the small packs and use my coupon I've purchased 2 packs for $1.03, or just under $0.52 each.
What is "stacking"?
Stacking is when you combine a retailer coupon and manufacturer coupon for the best savings! On occasion, I can use one store coupon, one manufacturer, AND a competitor coupon for a purchase. I love when those deals come along!