Wednesday, September 9, 2009

This Whole Couponing Thing

I've been couponing now for several months, and I am completely sold, y'all. It has made a HUGE difference in our spending. For example, yesterday I paid 34 cents--yes, 34 cents--for all the items in the picture below.

And got $6.50 back in CVS Extra Care Bucks! Want to get started yourself? There are a few things I have figured out along the way that have helped me with this whole couponing thing.

1. Organize Your Coupons.
There are lots of ways to organize coupons, but this is the way that works for me: As I clip the coupons from the Sunday paper inserts, I sort them into piles according to type...dry goods, canned goods, baby products, medicines, etc. Then, I file them in a miniature accordion folder, with labeled sections. Most store-specific coupons go in the very last section, although I keep a section designated for CVS and another for Babies R Us, since I frequent those stores and get a lot of coupons from them.The newly clipped coupons (which likely have the farthest away expiration day) go behind the coupons already filed in each section, so that coupons nearing their expiration date slowly move to the front of the file, where I can take special note of them and decide whether I want to use them. At the beginning of each month, I go through and weed out all the coupons that expired the previous month, so that my files are streamlined. It's really frustrating to hunt through a bunch of expired coupons.

I also keep a section for receipts, so that I can stow away any receipts I need to send in for rebates. In the front of the accordion file, I keep 2 envelopes, one marked "CVS" and the other marked "Grocery," because these are the two places I do most of my couponing. As I look through the Sunday grocery store and CVS circulars (the inserts that advertise that week's sales), I pull all the coupons I have that match up with the sales. For example, if CVS is having a buy one, get one free sale on shampoo and I have two coupons for $3 off that type of shampoo, I can use both those coupons and get 2 bottles of shampoo likely for free or close to it. So, I put all the coupons that match the sales into the appropriate envelope, so that I don't have to shuffle through the file repeatedly at the store. I'll also pull coupons for anything that we just need right away, but usually there is nothing that we need, because we've stockpiled when things were on sale. Which brings me to my next point...

2. Manage Your Stockpiles.
When I first started couponing, I was doing great getting products we regularly used for very little money, but the products were taking us over. Our bathroom cabinets were a nightmare and I had no idea whether we already had another tube of toothpaste when we needed one. So, I invested in a bunch of plastic shoe boxes from the dollar store and categorized our stockpiles. Now, when I bring things home from the store, I throw away the extra packaging and store the products in the proper container. We know where to look for a razor when we need one and I know when to be paying attention for good deals on certain things.
Like right now, I only buy toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, and shaving cream if they are completely free or I can get them for a negative price, because we are so well stockpiled on them. The thing is, even with that standard, I'm still coming home with all of those things on a regular basis. But it's hard to resist getting them if doing so means that a couple dollars come off my total bill. {I know this probably sounds crazy to non-couponers, but you really can get products for a negative price, and as long as you have other items in your purchase to absorb the negative balance, you're good to go!} I follow this same method for our kitchen cabinets, stockpiling on non-perishables at very low prices. We pretty much only buy perishable items on an as needed basis. Everything else, we already have at hand because it was bought on an as on sale basis! So what do we do if we have too much of a certain thing or if a product that comes at a negative price is not one we like or want?

3. Give Away Your Surplus.
I keep a running bag of products that I get for free or less that we can't or don't want to use. Those products are intended for a shelter in the area. Shelters are in constant need of toiletries and your donation can be a blessing to people at the shelter. Plus, you can count your donation for your taxes.

If I know someone who could use what I got for free or less, I give it to them. When CVS was running week after week of school supplies deals last month, I gave a bunch of free supplies to my brother and sister-in-law and took another big bag of free supplies to my niece and nephews. Nobody turned me down!

4. Read Carefully.
The most frustrating thing in couponing, I think, is trying to swing a deal and then belatedly realizing at checkout that you didn't fulfill the terms of the coupon. Lots of coupons apply only if you're buying two of the item. I save these for buy one, get one free sales because then you get the coupon face value amount off of the price of just one. Do your reading at home and mark the number or other restriction on your shopping list, so you don't mess up.

Pay attention to whether there are any size or item count restrictions on the coupon. If the coupon says, for example, "$1 off any..." and doesn't give a size limit, then you can use it for trial size or individual items. Using this method, I got the 2 face washes, 2 toothpastes, and 6 green razors in the first picture above each for a negative price. You can save the trial sizes for travel or just use them up at home!

It's not just the coupons that have to be read carefully but also the store circulars. If I plan to get lots of things on sale at a certain store, I'll just keep the circular in my accordion file to be able to consult at the store, because sales are not always marked well. If I just plan to pick up one item, I may cut out the ad for it and stick it in the store envelope to carry with me to make sure I'm getting the right size and variety for the sale.

These are a few of the things that help me keep up with my couponing...what works for you???


Julie said...

I think you've got it all figured out! Do the people at CVS know you by name? Ha! I've always clipped coupons but your system puts me to shame!Think I need to start with an accordion envelope!

Family Snodgrass said...

They know Andrew by name! And they just call me "Andrew's mommy". :)

Rhonda Hennessy said...

What a great explanation! I've been thinking of getting into couponing, but trying to work leaves little time...or I just want to spend it all with ML :) BUT if I can just find a little time to get as organized as you, I feel like I could make it work! You've inspired me!

laura ann said...

How long does it take to shop?

etalbert715 said...

Wow, Elizabeth... I am so impressed!!

Family Snodgrass said...

It takes a while to shop if you don't get everything arranged beforehand, but if you pull all your coupons in advance and make an exact list (which can be done in downtime/TV watching time at home), it's pretty much like a normal shopping trip. So...I guess my answer is that it's the prep work that takes the time. And I'd say that's about 30 minutes per big grocery shopping trip, and just a few minutes for the drugstore.

J said...

I loved reading this post!!! We've saved TONS couponing, too! (We have like 20 tubes of toothpaste right now.) I do exactly as you do, but my accordion file gave way and now I use a larger plastic tub with dividers.

We're on a first name basis with the folks at CVS, too. It's so much fun!

EWP said...

Golly, that is amazing. I just started using coupons last week. I was really excited when I saved $7, and still paid $43. Hey, it was a start.

Mary Blanche said...

Oh my, how things have changed. I'm very impressed with your organization.

Family Snodgrass said...

That's a very good start, EWP!

And, yes, Mary B, things have indeed changed. I hardly ever lose a shoe under a chair anymore! :)

Anonymous said...

I've gotten in the coupon craze too, although I've just started! This week at RiteAid I got 5 bottles of Johnson and Johnson's, a Healthy Choice meal, a box of Bounce, and a bottle of Herbal Essence shampoo for $12.63, but I'll get $15 back in rebates! It was definitely my best trip yet!

Elizabeth, are you still enjoying your sewing machine? What kind did you get? I am wanting to start sewing, but I'm not sure what kind of machine to buy.

Nita Northington

Family Snodgrass said...

Good job at Rite Aid!

I am loving my sewing's a Singer Futura. It has an embroidery attachment, which is one of the reasons I liked this one, but I haven't even learned how to use that part yet. Soon, soon!