Friday, August 17, 2012

Worth the dirty looks

**Warning: this is a long one. :) I didn't realize I had so much to share about the subject. :)**

When I was little, I would sit and cut out every single coupon in the Sunday paper because I felt like a "grown-up" when I did it.  Granted, my mom didn't do anything with them, except throw them out, but I still felt a sense of accomplishment when I got through all the inserts.

Earlier this year, I found myself cutting coupons again, but now, it's not every single one, and I DEFINITELY do something with them when I'm done cutting. :)

I had seen the huge savings my FB friends were getting through couponing and though most of them were on the Mainland, I thought that if I could get the basics down, I could really help our cut costs and make it work for me in Hawaii (where we DON'T have double-coupon day...BOOOOO!)

Several of my friends have been wanting to meet up to learn the basics, which I learned from one of my in-laws on the Mainland, and since we haven't been able to get together yet, I thought this post might be helpful. 

I LOVE couponing, and yes, I get the "looks," the stares, the "oh jeez, is she coming to my lane" eye from the cashiers, and the "oh man, I'm behind a couponer in line," but it's hard to care when you're saving so much mooolah.  Finding a GREAT deal in the stores really does make you feel better.  I was having a junky-funky day today.  Got some bad news that really bummed me out...and BAM, saved more than half off my grocery bill at the commissary.

So, here are my tid-bits.  I'm no authority on Couponing, but I have saved a good amount of change using just the basics. Take from it what you may... :)

*Get a subscription for the Sunday paper.   Our local paper was running a special that gave you the weekend papers (Fri/Sat/Sun) for $1 a week!  Our Sunday paper alone costs $2 in the stores!  Needless to say, I signed up quickly and now don't have to worry about going out to buy a paper. 

*If you're in Hawaii, find a way to get coupon inserts from the Mainland.  I have an Aunty in Utah who helps me out with getting coupons inserts.  She sends them to me every couple weeks in exchange for Chocolate Macadamia Nuts. :)  You can also order these online if you don't have anyone who can send you some.  Here's why: for some odd reason, which I have yet to figure out, we get GIPPED on coupons!  The Mainland inserts often have WAYYYY more coupons in them, sometimes higher dollar amounts "off" of a certain product.  I also find that they have a lot more food coupons that ours do.  I'm sure it probably has something to do with the cost of shipping things here.  But, Mainland coupons work in Hawaii and I've found they're TOTALLY worth getting your hands on.  When I first started couponing, I was buying 10 papers every week to get the inserts.  NO. BUENO.  By the end of the first month, I had a GROSS amount of wasted newspapers and I was getting Bubba up early Sunday morning to run to the store. It's not easy to grab 10 papers off the rack with one hand while trying to hold my 35lb. 18-month old Bubba with the other.  {the quick run in and out didn't warrant the stroller, at least I thought so. lol}

*When I'm buying my papers/inserts, I try to make sure I end up with an even number at the end.  EX: I have one paper delivered, and then order a pack of 5 so that I ended up with 6.  Many coupons I've seen have a limit of 2 or 4 coupons per transaction, so to maximize on that, I like to at least get 4  or 8 at the most if the inserts are really good. ;) 

*If you have multiple copies of an insert, best to invest in a paper cutter.  Yes, I started cutting them by hand, one insert at a time so put down your scissors and get yourself one of these babies (or one similar to it):

*Start following a local coupon diva.  There are SO many out there.  I follow Ashley with Hawaii Shopaholics.  She is SO good...she is constantly finding great deals and posting about her latest finds and shopping trips.  I suggest checking out her blog, especially the videos she has about getting started.  I set up my binder, Big Bertha, according to this video.    She also teaches you how to do "Match-ups" (where you match the coupons to the ads to maximize savings), stack coupons (using store coupons with manufacturer coupons) hosts coupon swaps, and shares shopping trips from her followers.  I've been featured a few times myself and have always smiled a big "COUPONER" smile when I see "Shopaholic Vania's Shopping Trip" pop up in my email. :D

*Get your coupon binder together.  Those little accordion things are not going to cut it.  The video I mentioned above shows you how and what to get together.  My husband's cousin who taught me the basics via Skype (Thanks Mele!) showed me her THREE big binders filled with coupons!  I can only handle the one right now.  :)  Mele mentioned getting baseball card protector sheets and Ashley also points out that these are great for organizing your coupons.  FYI, I couldn't find any locally so I ordered mine on Amazon.   This is my Big Bertha:

*Look up the Sunday coupon previews online.  There are sites that can tell you what coupons are coming up in the paper.  The first Sunday of the month usually has the best coupons. ;)  Hawaii Shopaholics does a coupon preview that I've found really helpful.

*Most coupons print in cycles.  I've seen quite a few of the same ones come up every few months or so.  There's probably a science to figure out what kinds of coupons come up when, but I haven't seen or figured it yet.

*Know the coupon policies for the stores you're going to coupon at. A tip from my Coupon Teacher: print out the policies and put them in your binder so that in the event a cashier tries to say "no you can't do that," when you know you can, you can show them the policy. 

*LEARN COUPON LINGO:  This is have to know what the coupon rules are.  Understanding what is and isn't allowed by reading the coupons will save you drama at check-out.  One of the supervisors at Walmart tried to tell me I couldn't use more than one Ivory coupon because the coupons said "one coupon per purchase."  This means  you can only use no more than one coupon for the one product.  I proceeded to tell him, it's ONE coupon per ONE pack of soap, and limited to 4 identical coupons in ONE transaction.  Know your coupons and what they mean. "Transaction" = separated by the plastic divider bar, ends when you get a receipt.   There are a lot of blogs out there that explain it in detail like: here, here, and here.

*The item pictured is not necessarily the ONLY product you can apply the coupon to.  Many times, the manufacturer will put the more expensive qualifying item on the coupon.  But, read the wording carefully, it will tell you size restrictions if any and what specifically qualifies for the savings.  Example: the Ivory coupon I was using at Walmart?  Yeah, it was for any "$1 off any personal cleaning product" and said it was not valid on dish soap.  The coupon had a big bottle of Ivory Body Wash pictured, but I used it on a $1.21 3-pack of bar soap.  The cashier tried to tell me that Bar Soap wasn't a personal cleansing product.  I insisted it was and her supervisor agreed.  You can't be a pushover when it comes to bar soap for $.07 ($1 off of $1.21 is $.21 for three soaps, or $.07 per bar)

*You kind of throw brand loyalty out the window when you coupon.  Coupons are a great way to try new products out, so it's important to keep an open mind when you're shopping your ads.

*When you're standing in front of possible products to apply your coupon to, you want to get the item that will give you the least "after coupon" price possible.  I used to think that if I applied the coupon to the bigger, more expensive item, that I was using the coupon more wisely.  Not so, at least I think so.   EX: $.75 off any box of mash potatoes 13.75oz or larger.  If the smallest box costs. $1.25, and the bigger 20oz. box costs $2.25, applying two coupons to the smallers box will get you 27.5oz for $1, verses paying $1.50 for 20oz.  I almost flunked out of college because of math...if forgive me if that example wasn't clear! :D)

*Get a printer and make sure it's loaded with ink at all times.  There are tons of places online to get coupons.  My favorite place is Swagbucks.  This is an online reward site where you can do tasks online (surveys, games, redeem coupons) and earn Swagbucks that can be redeemed for stuff like gift cards, electronics, toys, etc. Lots of good stuff.  Redeeming a coupon you got from Swagbucks earns you 10 bucks.  Swagbucks' coupons are connected to the same network as and so you will see the same coupons in all these places.  You can only print TWO (2) of any coupon from one computer.  So, if you have a desktop AND a laptop, you can print a coupon twice from each of these computers until the coupon resets for you.   Many times, high value coupons will pop up--I usually find out about them from Hawaii Shopaholics--and will have a limited number of prints attached. Meaning, the manufacturer will only allow it to be printed "X" amount of times, so when you see it, grab it before it runs out. 

*On occasion, you may come across a coupon with a value higher than the price of the product it's for.  Hawaii Shopaholics calls these Money Maker coupons, because that will come back to you in most cases, or just be applied to your shopping trip.  Ex: I found a $2 off coupon at my dentist for ANY REACH floss product.  I took it my favorite grocery store and found REACH floss for $.75.  A whole $1.25 was applied to the rest of my shopping.  These are sweet little treats and they're the reason I sometimes cut coupons for items I may not use...if there's a chance it will be a Money Maker, I definitely don't want to be caught without the coupon. 

*Consider what your maximum Stock-Up Price is.  Meaning, what's the max amount, after the coupon is applied, that you will pay for an item.  For me, I have different prices for different items, but for the most part, if I got it for FREE at some point, or even made money back on an item, I'm going to expect to get it FREE (or close to free) again the next time the coupons comes up.  If it was a $1 the last time with the coupon, I'm going to try and shoot for a lower price when it comes time to stock up again. 

*Build a stock pile.   We don't have to turn into Doomsday Preppers, but it's smart to stock up on certain items you know you use regularly, especially if you can get it for super cheap.  Don't buy thousands of one item, because things expire.  The best stockpiles have VARIETIES of items, not 100 tubes of toothpaste, and 50 toothbrushes, and 1500 bottles of dish soap.  Hawaii Shopaholics mentions this on her site.

There's more that can be said about couponing, but this post is already SUPER long, and if any of you are still with me, THANK YOU THANK YOU for sticking it out.  Here's a pic of my most recent shopping trip to our local commissary.  I share this with you because the savings percentage is a personal best so far and I'm pretty proud I could save us some cash AND score some sweet freebies!

Price before coupons: $154.03
After coupons: $70.63
Savings: $83.40 <---'s definitely worth the dirty looks. :)

Have a good week!

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