Couponing, Take II

Hello, blog loves! I wanted to post an update on my venture into couponing-land. In my first post about this complicated new world, I showed the little accordion coupon organizer I started with. I’ve since collected many, many more coupons, and so I switched to the binder method to hold them all.

I’m still getting better at it, and saving more each time I coupon. But I’ll be honest… sometimes it’s just too much work, and so I’ll tell Joshua, “Screw couponing this week, let’s just go to the commissary and I don’t want to even think about my coupons!” Then of course, I get home and find all the coupons I could have used on said shopping trip, and then I just feel guilty.

When I do actually have my act together though, I save tons! It’s become such a game for us. Joshua helps too. He pushes the shopping cart and crosses the items off the list. I’m the psycho running from one aisle to the next, clinging to my stack of coupons and double checking the list a hundred times. Oh, I’m so annoying. And he’s such a saint. :-)

Being the girly-girl that I am, I of course had to have a hot pink zip-up binder. Which I found at Walmart (but you can find here or here). Which included a matching hot pink pencil pouch. Then I got my dividers at Staples, and I ordered my coupon inserts in several different sizes off Amazon (one two three). I also got the folder to hold lists and things and the velcro folder for loose/extra coupons at Staples.

I shopped around a bit to find the right materials for me, because I have to be organized to get anything done correctly. I also re-did my coupon categories to better suit the way I shop. So far, so good! Now, the trick is to stay on top of things and up-to-date.

Hopefully I will get better at this after the wedding!

Joining the Coupon Craze

Okay, so seriously? Am I the only one wondering when “coupon” become a verb?

I’ve had a lot of friends and bloggers who recently took up an interest in couponing. I have, too! With the economy as crappy as it is and prices are high as they are, money is tight for many of us. I was especially interested in what all the coupon fuss was about because we’re also planning/spending for our wedding and I’m building/spending for my business… so every penny counts in this household!

When I saw the flyer to take a budget/couponing workshop here on base, I jumped at the chance. After 2-3 weeks of couponing, I can now tell you this:

  • Couponing is a lot of work
  • Couponing takes a lot of time
  • Couponing can be very confusing

I know, you’re probably wondering why, right? Well. Let me start with a little background. Up until now the only “couponing” I did was Googling discounts for Victoria’s Secret online orders or Sephora/Michaels/Bed Bath & Beyond in-store coupons. That’s it, really. I didn’t bother with coupons when grocery shopping because I always ended up with bunch of crap in my cart I didn’t need, and in turn I ended up overspending. Yeah. Not good.

The first grocery trip I took after the first coupon class, I saved $13 on my bill with coupons. The second grocery trip I took after the second coupon class, I saved close to $20 on my bill. Which brings me to another awesome point I’ve learned:

  • The more you coupon, the better you get at it!

So here are a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned so far in my latest quest to be a Coupon Queen.

ALWAYS GET THE SUNDAY PAPER
It’s the #1 source for all the coupons you can think of. The Sunday paper generally has 3 types of inserts: Red Plum, Smart Source, and Proctor & Gamble. These inserts have all the manufacturer’s coupons. The Sunday paper also has store flyers, which sometimes have store-specific coupons as well as all the sales listed for the stores in your area that week.

GO ONLINE
There are soooo many coupons available online, as well as so many blogs devoted to couponing! Which is why, right now, I have to stop and tell you: there are a lot of better sources of information on couponing than this post. This is just a basic overview, from what I’ve learned just from 3 classes and a month & 2 shopping trips of doing it. But seriously guys, there are coupon PROS out there!

These are some of the coupon blogs shared in the class, and they are my new weekly favorites. A few are specific to the region I live in, but I’m sure with a little searching you can find blogs also specific to your area!

Both Southern Savers and Bargain Buggy have “coupon databases,” where you can search for specific items/coupons.

I also found the following sites & specific posts helpful… I’m still going through them myself; there is just way too much to learn. ;-)

Coupon Newbie @ Hip2Save
Learn to Coupon @ Southern Savers

Also online, you’ll find hundreds of PRINTABLE coupons. I really like coupons.com, which has manufacturer’s coupons. They reset every month and have a print limit, so check often! Target also has really great coupons online… some store-specific, some manufacturer. To access them, go to target.com and scroll to the bottom of the page to COUPONS under the TARGET STORES category. I only mention Target above other store sites because I shop there the most… for home things, health things, and recently, groceries!

The weekly inserts also have online versions so you can print your coupons online. Check out redplum.com and smartsource.com. Again, there a lots of printable coupons out there… just do your research. Those are my favorites.

USE YOUR SMARTPHONE
Another portion of the class covered smartphone apps. If you have a Blackberry, iPhone, or Droid, there are a lot of apps you can download to help find coupons, price comparisons, and deals. I personally have a Droid & iPod touch, and although I downloaded the apps, I haven’t really explored them much. For those of you who are interested, these are the apps mentioned in the class: Provisions, Red Laser, Coupons.com, and Yowza. A lot of stores also have their own apps now, too. I downloaded Target, Best Buy, & Etsy on my Droid. Just do a search on your phone.
EXPLORE FACEBOOK
There are lots of coupons available on Facebook too, just for “liking” certain pages. Again, just search and explore! These are some of the pages I’ve “liked” and received coupons or info about deals from:

P&G EVERYDAY SOLUTIONS
SNAPFISH
SEPHORA
VERA BRADLEY
PETSMART
BED BATH & BEYOND
ZiplocĀ®
NABISCO COOKIES
ULTA
LEAN CUISINE
REGAL ENTERTAINMENT
WEIGHT WATCHERS
NEW YORK & COMPANY
VICTORIA’S SECRET

Nowadays, almost every store has a Facebook page.

MAKE A LIST
Possibly the biggest thing I learned was to make a list. Never shop without a grocery list, and never impulse shop. Take your time to plan your list ahead of your shopping trip, based on the coupons you’ve collected, and stick to your list. This is a VERY important tip!
ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE!
Another big key to couponing is organization. There are lots of ways to organize, but you have to figure out which way works best for you. Any of the sites I listed above under “GO ONLINE” will show you the different ways to organize. The real “pros” keep coupon binders with plastic sheet protectors for each week’s newspaper inserts (which you should always date & save) and plastic baseball card inserts for clipped and internet coupons.

Just starting out, the binder is too much work for me. I chose the accordion file method. It works fine for me, especially since it’s just the two of us and we’re pretty specific about what we want! You can also just use envelopes, recipe boxes, or index card files. Whatever you think will work best for you.

{I got mine at either Target or Walmart, & it came with these colorful dividers}

{Having a pretty organizer makes couponing more fun for me!}

{Mine fits perfectly in my purse, so I can keep it on me anytime I want}

Then, choose how you want to divide everything. By expiration date? By store? By category? My coupons are organized by category. Everyone will have different categories depending on their shopping preferences. These are my categories:

Canned/Boxed Goods
Snacks/Drinks
Refrigerated Foods
Frozen Foods
Baking
Condiments
Toiletries
Misc. Products
Paper Products
Cleaning Products
Restaurants
Retail

To be completely honest, I Googled “coupon categories” before deciding on mine, made a giant list of all the ones I found, then narrowed it down to 12 to fit the tabs in my accordion file. If I had a child, I’d probably have a “Baby” tab too. Now that we have the puppies, I may eventually change some things around to add a “Pet” tab. Some people keep restaurants & retail completely separate. I prefer to have everything all together. It simplifies my life a bit. :-)

STOCK PILE & MATCH UP
Lastly, you have to learn the HOW TO part of it, especially if you want to save hundreds of dollars like the extreme couponers do. From what I understand (and again, check out the blog links above for how-to advice from the REAL couponers!), it comes down to stock piling and matching up your coupons.
At some point or other in time, every item you purchase will go on sale. The key is to wait for the sales until you purchase those items, and when they do go on sale AND you have coupons for it, stock up! This is what has been hardest for me. I can’t wait for the sales. But the longer I do it, the better I get at it. For example, we love Wheat Thins crackers in our house. Even though we had a half eaten box at home, when I saw they were on sale at Target a few weeks ago, I bought 2 more boxes for pretty cheap. Now, I won’t have to buy Wheat Thins for a couple of months.
The other “hard” part is matching up your coupons. When stores have sales on the items, that’s when you go in with your coupons to get the store sale and the coupon discount. That’s how you can get items for free, too. If I even attempt to explain this, it won’t make sense because I barely understand it myself, but basically you have to watch the ads, watch the blogs, and shop around at different stores for when the items you need go on sale.
There are all sorts of tricks, too. Like certain grocery stores that double your coupons, or “extra bucks” at drug stores, or buy-one-get-one deals, or using manufacturer’s coupons AND store-specific coupons together. So do you your homework! Read store coupon policies! I find it confusing, but you may not.

So I hope this gives you a little background info, or at least some good resources, to help you begin couponing. A big thank you to Chelsea, if you ever read this! Chelsea taught the class and was great at it! If any of you have advice or tips for ME, please share… I’m still learning how and it’s still pretty complicated to me! Good luck!

Followup post: Couponing, Take II
(I’ve switched to the binder method!)