- Personal Finance
Why You Should Consider Couponing
My Favorite Coupon Websites
Four months ago, I was on vacation with my family when my son turned on the TV and I saw some extreme coupon experts help a family get more than $400 worth of groceries for $35. There's a clip of the video below. Up until that time, I thought coupons could save $10 - $15 on groceries and weren’t worth the time it takes to clip them. I was shocked to see people save $10,000 a year by changing their approach on how to shop for groceries. Being someone who loves a deal, I decided to try my hand at this whole coupon thing. The result? It took a little while to master, but I am happy to report that I have personally cut my grocery bills by 65-70%!! I'm still pinching myself!
Getting started was easy. Thankfully there are a lot of websites out there with videos to train coupon newbies. I figured I would be bad before I would be good and that I just needed to jump in without over thinking it. I had to let couponing marinate in my brain for a while for me to “get it.”
First Steps to Get Started
- Get some Coupons - Get the Sunday Paper, multiple copies if possible. The more coupons you get, the better. If you don't want to spend money on the paper, you can get free coupons in the mail if you write to the companies of your favorite brands or you can also get printable coupons.
- Purchase some type of organizational tool. I started with a flash card size accordion folder for the first set of coupons I cut from the Sunday paper. I've graduated to a full 3" binder, which I think is best. There are online videos on the coupon sites recommended above to teach you how to set this up.
- Familiarize yourself with some coupon basics by visiting some of the more popular coupon sites. My favorites are The Krazy Coupon Lady, Coupon Mom and Coupon Suzy. The Krazy Coupon Lady has great videos and will show you overall how to shop for groceries with step by step instructions. Coupon Mom has a lot of the same information but they also have grocery lists you can print out showing the deals in your state. Coupon Suzy has printable coupons and online discount codes.
- Take baby steps. Start with one grocery store so you can understand the process of using multiple coupons for 1 item. When you feel comfortable, add a drug store like Rite Aid, CVS or Walgreens. They all have different coupon policies. Walgreens is probably the most difficult but they definitely have great deals! There are videos online to teach you how to shop at every store.
Things I've Gotten For Free
Mistakes I Made in the Beginning
If you could avoid some of these from the start, you would save yourself some trouble.
- I only cut coupons for the brands we already bought. Why are we so brand loyal when we’ve never tried the competing products? Gotta love advertising! Now I file all my coupons and only throw away things I wouldn’t want even if they were free, like cat food or Depends.
- I only had one set of coupons. That meant that if there was a good deal, I could only buy one. This defeats the whole purpose of couponing. I prefer to have 5-10 sets of coupons just in case there’s something at a great price that I want to stock up on.
- Forgetting to bring the coupons to the store or forgetting to use them. Ugh!!!
- Buying things that I thought were a good deal only to find out that I could have done better. There’s no way to avoid this mistake until you learn over time how much to pay for things. Thankfully, I was only buying things one at a time at this point due to my lack of coupons.
- I didn’t check my receipt. Once I learned to do this, it allowed me to mentally process what I was buying and how the couponing worked. I learned more about couponing from reading my receipts than anything else.
- Getting frustrated! I was annoyed that it took me so much time to figure this out. I have since learned that as soon as you master couponing, shopping becomes the same or faster than before. Why? Namely because you get more organized when you’re shopping. I enter the store now with a plan. All I have to do is grab the items and pay.
Realizations I’ve Had Since I Learned How to Coupon Shop
- The trick to couponing is matching coupons to sales. There are a lot of coupon websites that do this for you so all you have to do is get the coupons and follow their tips. It’s like having a coupon stockbroker that tells you when to buy.
- When a coupon expires, there’s usually another one that will come out to replace it. It took me awhile to use some restraint and not to use coupons just because they were expiring.
- Drug stores are a great place to shop. This was probably my most eye opening realization. No matter what you think – it is probably cheaper to buy your personal supplies (and sometimes food) at the drug store instead of Costco or Sam’s Club. If you are shopping at a membership warehouse store, you should drop everything right now and learn to coupon! You are probably bleeding money.
- Not everyone pays the same price at the same store. You have to be signed up for a loyalty card, have the right coupons and know what deals are available. It can be the difference between paying $13 or $1 for a bottle of shampoo.
- Just because a store advertises a sale, it doesn’t mean that it’s a good price and you should buy it. You have to start building a price list in your head or on paper so you know when something is a good price.
- Free toothpaste is easy to find! The same is true for a lot of other items once you start going online to read the coupon match ups to sales. All the work is done for you. You just have to read the information they post.
- Coupons are everywhere - the Sunday paper, printable coupons, magazines, store aisles, food coupons on products themselves, on the back of movie tickets, etc…
- Keep all the coupons – even for things you wouldn’t normally buy. That way, you actually have the coupon in case something is free and you want to give it a try.
Membership Warehouse Stores
Membership warehouse stores are the biggest waste of money for the average shopper. I shudder to think that I used to wait to buy things until I went on a Costco run. Here’s why:
- First of all, they charge you to shop there. Shop in your own neighborhood without a fee.
- Everything you buy is supersized. Now I buy smaller portion items that are more user friendly. For example, it’s much easier to use small 50 oz. bottles of laundry detergent than it is to deal with those huge bottles that are the size of gas cans. Recently I got 4 bottles of Tide HE for free at Rite Aid.
- Because things were tucked away wherever I had space and I just couldn’t use such a large quantity, some of the stuff I bought expired.
- Typically you can’t use coupons at a membership warehouse store.
- It’s a common misconception that buying in bulk saves you money. Not true!!! Look at the prices and check this out for yourself.
- I always got wooed into buying things I didn’t need – like Boogie Boards in the summer of Xmas decorations in the winter. Tell me this hasn't happened to you!
Pros & Cons of Couponing
- You save money. Big time! You can cut your shopping bills in half.
- You rarely run out of things and have to make a last minute trip to the store.
- You get organized and you don’t let food expire.
- You can stop shopping at Costco or Sam’s Club and save the membership fee. Avoiding the parking lot and cart traffic inside alone would be worth it.
- You can teach your kids a good life lesson about how to avoid wasteful spending and use the money for something more meaningful, like a vacation.
- There’s a learning curve
- You have to do a little more preparation for your shopping. I feel like the money you save is worth the preparation.
- Some people get addicted. Don’t be one of them. Let's face it, saving money and getting a deal is exciting. Keep it in perspective though. If your couponing starts to get in the way of spending time with your friends and family, cut back.
- You will shop at more stores. For me, this is not a big deal since I used to go to the store a few times during the week anyway. Now I figure out what I want from each store based on their sales. I personally will not drive to stores that are out of my way. There’s a Wal Mart that is 5 miles from me with a lot of great deals. It’s just too far and too crowded unless it’s for something that I absolutely need like when my brand of contact lens solution, that is normally $10 a bottle, was free.
If you have more money than you know what to do with, skip couponing. You don’t need it. For everyone else, give it a shot before you reject it. There are a lot of misconceptions out there, which are just not true. The one I hear the most is that couponers buy things they don’t need. No one is holding a gun to your head to make you buy something you don’t need. That’s ridiculous. What I do is give a product that I’ve never used a try. If I like it, I buy more. If I don’t like it, I don’t buy it again. I have found some new products I really like that I never knew about before and I was able to try most of them for less than $1.