Extreme Couponing in Hawaii, part 1.
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Can I Really Be An Extreme Couponer in Hawaii?
Well, honestly, in the way that couponers on TLC's "Extreme Couponing" are, the simple answer is, "no". But, that doesn't mean that you can't be as extreme as possible and save your family as much as possible by using coupons. All it takes is a little planning, a little research, a lot of clipping and some patience. Part 1 of this two-part article will focus on preparing to be a couponer. Part 2 will focus on how to find great deals and make the most of your money-saving coupons.
Before I go any further let me just state that I live in Hilo on Hawai'i Island, aka, the Big Island, and not in urban Honolulu on O'ahu so whatever advice and experiences I give pertain to more rural parts of Hawai'i, my town in particular, and may hold true for smaller rural towns in the continental US as well.
Ok, so to answer the question - there are several reasons, political and economical, but I'll keep it simple. We can't, at present, be that extreme because:
- There are no stores on my island or in the state, to my knowledge, that double coupons. At all.
- Our cost of living here in this state, and in the more rural regions, are a lot higher than elsewhere in the US.
- Most of our goods arrive via a barge and that takes a lot of fuel, that means the products on our shelves have super huge carbon footprints. Fuel costs a lot of money so costs for goods and services won't be dirt cheap here.
Ah but fret not! That doesn't mean that we can't save our families money by couponing. On the contrary, I truly believe that because of those reasons listed above, we need to clip every coupon we can!
Dispel the Myths
I've heard them all - and subscribed to a lot of those myths about couponing. Here is a sample:
- coupons are manufacturers' way of getting you to buy something you don't need.
- I don't need to use coupons, I'm on the SNAP (food stamps) program.
- coupons don't save you enough money to make it worth your time.
In my experience and in my most humble opinion, I banish those myths with these responses:
- Yes, often times a coupon is a tactic to get you to try something but if you don't need it, don't clip or use it. Many couponers on the mainland will say this is bad advice but remember, we don't have double coupon days here in Hawai'i so we don't have the ability to "make money" from coupon purchases. If you don't need it, don't use it.
- SNAP recipients can and should use coupons. SNAP benefits is like cash that can be used to buy only food. Like the dollar, the more you save, the more you can stretch out your food money through the month.
- I save, on average, $75 for groceries that would normally cost me $200. That's not exactly extreme but it's a full tank of gas for my car or the cost of my monthly cable and internet bill so yes, it's very much worth my time.
Getting Started: Food For Thought
Haha! I don't usually laugh at my own writing but you have to admit, that was a great pun. Ok, on to the topic at hand.
The first thing you need to do is get your head together. What I mean by that is most of us have to change our way of thinking about grocery shopping. Warehouse stores like Costco and Big Box stores like Walmart and Target are very new to us. It was only less than two decades ago that those things didn't exist here. We bought cereal in single boxes, toilet paper in 4-roll packs, and milk only came in half-gallon cartons. When warehouse stores came along, we were undoubtedly saving money buying in bulk based on retail prices and, hallelujah, we could finally buy large quanities of almost anything! But as most of us know, often times we end up leaving the store with massive quantities of 4 or 5 items and our pocketbooks are lighter by hundreds of dollars. That's not a bad thing - anytime you can get a deal on anything at all, that's a great thing, right? Coupons can make those deals a reality without killing your pocketbook.
There's one more mental obstacle we need to overcome when it comes to the way we think about grocery shopping: we tend to want to do all our shopping in one place and be done with it. Yes, I undestand - I'm a mom and my time is super valuable but so is my financial stability. Lucky for me, Walgreens, Walmart, Safeway, Target, Sack 'n Save and KTA are less than a mile from one another, and all less than a mile from my home. Yes, convenient for sure but think about this: The only Costco on this island is in Kona - a 2-hour drive away. I know a great many people who will make that drive and pay the $4.25 per gallon of gas to get there in order to save a few dollars per unit to buy their groceries in bulk. I love Costco for their large items like playground equipment and furniture - things that would cost me more in shipping that the item actually costs if I bought it online from the mainland. But for groceries, I can do a lot better going from store to store here in my own town.
Getting Started: Knowledge Is Power
Yes, when it comes to coupons knowledge is power and it can keep you from making embarrassing money-costing mistakes. You need to read the fine print on your coupons and know your stores coupon policies. Policies are different from store-to-store, even different chains of the same franchise may have a different policy when it comes to coupons so make sure you read the coupon itself and the familiarize yourself with the coupon policy (which can normally be found at your store's website). Why is this important? Because sometimes there is a limit to how many of one product you can purchase with coupons per visit (which is easily alleviated by doing more than one transaction). Sometimes you can stack coupons (using store, card-loaded and paper manufacturer coupons at the same time) and sometimes you can't (this is covered in Part 2). Sometimes there is a limit to how many items or coupons are used per household. Read your coupons and store policies to save you time, money and trauma (I speak from experience here).
Getting Started: Have A Plan
Most of us who do the shopping in our homes also do the cooking and majority of the cleaning so it stands to reason that we know what kinds of groceries and household items our families need. Sit down with a pen and tablet and go through each major room of your home, either physically or mentally, and write down these things:
- NECESSITIES. These are things you use daily and cannot do without. For example, toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, rice (we eat rice almost daily here in Hawai'i), bread, milk, etc. If you have babies this might include diapers, wipes, formula, baby food, etc. Whatever your family consumes a lot of and would be traumatizing if you ran out.
- COMMON ITEMS. These are things you consume and use very often but not necessarily daily or may take a longer than a few weeks to run out. For example: vacuum bags, cotton swabs, feminine products, pasta, marinara sauce, cereal, instant oatmeal, sugar, canned goods (soups, tomato sauce, fruits, etc).
- WISH LIST. These are things you'd like to get except they're not particularly necessary and don't fall in your budget. This could be ANYTHING at all from that expensive cut of cheese you prefer to have on your sandwich rather than the individually wrapped American slice, to pretty candle room deodorizers, to buying a great piece of steak other than chuck or round every now and again, to a more expensive brand of facial cleanser or makeup that you'd love to have but settle for the less expensive stuff (if it's one thing I know it's how so many of us will be a martyr for our families). Write it all down.
Now, go back to the "necessities" and the "common items" and write down what brand you currently use and place a star next to it if you're unwaivering in your resolve to purchase and use only that brand. This will help when you begin to create your list.
I do this process every month or so because, as you move along in your couponing adventures, you might find that you no longer have a preference for a particular brand or some of your "wish list" items have become "common items" - and you'll begin wishing for other things.
Getting Started: The Work Begins
There are two coupon inserts that we get here in Hawai'i in our Sunday papers: SmartSource (SS) and RedPlum (RP). In the paper on my island we only get SS but the Honolulu Sunday paper carries RP so I purchase one of each newspaper every Sunday which costs me $3.50 all together. The major stores put out their Weekly Ads in Sunday's paper so I'm armed with all the sales information I need.
SS and RP also have coupons online so you can print those as well. You're only allowed to print a coupon twice from a single computer so if you come across a coupon you really want and/or need, use another computer to print more. There are several online coupon sites that I am a member of (for free) and are very helpful in my planning. couponkim.com, coupons.com and couponmom.com are among my favorites. I also join several manufacturer sites in order to get online coupons directly from them like Kelloggs, Kimberly Clarke, Depends, Oscar Meyer, etc. Many manufacturers have FaceBook and Twitter feeds and "liking" or subscribing to their feeds can give you more coupons. Side note: I find it fascinating that SS and RP usually contain coupons for make up, home cleaning supplies and hair coloring products - it's almost as if they think we don't eat in Hawai'i. The majority of your grocery coupons will be found online.
Here's where a lot of people lose steam and decide against couponing. Like anything new, it takes time to get used to. Believe me, it will get easier and it's so worth the time and the trouble. Go through the Sunday sales ad inserts and cross them with the lists you made above then cross that with the coupons you have available.For example, I have diapers/pull-ups on my "necessities" list. I don't prefer one brand to another (exception: the only store brand I buy is Exchange Select at the PX - most others aren't worth a dime, even though they're less expensive). I have coupons for Pampers and Huggies but Huggies are on sale at three different stores so I'll write down the sale cost at each store and write down how many coupons I have and their denominations next to that (it might be more helpful and clearer to create an Excel spreadsheet instead of writing everything down). Make sure to note any promotions that store has in place for that product (Walgreens Register Rewards, Target Gift Cards, etc). Do the same process for your "common items" list. For the items that you don't have a coupon for, write down the stores that have them on sale and what the prices are. All other items leave blank.
Now, take a deep breath. If it's too overwhelming then just do a few items at a time. The idea is to get your mind used to "seeing" the worth of saving through coupons, not to traumatize yourself. Over time you'll find that some stores regularly have better deals on certain items and you'll begin to recognize the coupon and sales trends.
Wait, "Trends"? What Does That Mean?
"To everything there is a season". Yes, it holds true in the world of couponing too. Have you ever noticed that the only time you can get a composition book for less than $2 each is right before school starts in August? And why is that Christmas Tree stands and wrapping paper go on sale after the holiday when you've no immediate use for them? How come I was able to buy those new Huggies Slip On diapers for $7.99 and got $3 off coupons last month and this month I'm lucky to get a $1 off coupon and they never go onsale for less than $10.99? Fresh strawberries are $8 a pound? Last month they were $4, are they made of gold now?? It's so frustrating! Well, the answer to all of those questions is that products, like fashion and wrapping paper, are seasonal and "trendy".
For example, school supplies (paper, crayons, pens, facial tissue, etc) will go onsale from around July through the first week of September. Often times you can buy crayons for 5 cents, filler paper for 10 cents and composition books for 40 cents. For the other 10 months of the year, those products might go on sale but they'll never be as inexpensive as they are right before the start of school. That is their season. Christmas tree stands, holiday decorations and wrapping paper usually go on sale for 50% or more off after the holiday season so stores can unload product before the new trends kick in (this is true of most any holiday-specific item like Valentine stuffed animals and Halloween costumes). Another popular trend is the introductory period. When a company makes a new product, or new and improved product, it releases it at an introductory sale price (and often provides coupons as well) in the hopes that it's purchased and create loyal buyers. Like the Huggies Slip-On diapers I've mentioned, Huggies provided a $3 off coupon for a limited time to get you to try to product. If you like it, more than likely you'll be loyal to that brand but don't hold your breath waiting for another $3 off coupon - those will be few and far between so get as many as you can, while you can. Fresh fruit and vegetables are seasonal as well but, as we who live in Hawai'i or other remote areas know, seasonal doesn't mean inexpensive. When they're most abundant, they will be the least expensive. As their season begins its decline, their prices begin their incline. Plan well and consider frozen fruits and vegetables as an alternative (with coupons!).
Is There A Coupon For Everything?
Sadly, no. There are a few items that we consume that you will rarely, or never, be able to find a coupon for. Fresh meats, poutry, vegetables and fruits may go onsale but you will almost never find a coupon for them outside of a store coupon every now and again. Watch your weekly and midweekly ads for the best deals.
Most store brands do not have coupons except in store coupon books and weekly ads. Their prices are usually already low and so many people tend to buy them thinking their getting the best deal. The truth is, you will get a better deal with a brand-name product that you have a coupon for and is on sale (we'll cover this in Part 2) so don't be fooled.
Many manufacturers rarely give out coupons for certain products. This is especially true if there is no direct competition and the product has a loyal following. It may go on sale but rarely is a coupon provided because, let's face it, without competition there's no need to entice converts. For example, Nutella hazelnut spread is a favorite among kids and moms for its chocolaty taste and believed nutritional value and there is presently no other item on the market (that I know of) like it so there is no direct competition. It's rather pricey here ($8 for a large bottle) so I only buy it when it's on sale. A few months ago I got a $1 off manufacturer's coupon, can you imagine my excitement! That's the first time I can remember getting a coupon for Nutella. Can't wait for the next time.
A Glimpse At Part 2
Ok, now we're mentally and in a great head space for couponing. Now we need to be physically ready and get organized. Part 2 will take you through figuring out where the best deals are, where you'll save the most money, organizing your coupons and making your lists. So stay tuned!