January 18, 2010

Coupon 101: Getting Started

It wasn’t too long ago when I casually mentioned to a friend that the Sunday paper coupon inserts shouldn’t be thrown away if you don’t need anything in it right then.  When I saw the days inserts on top of the heap in her recycle bin I asked if I could keep them.  She said yes and then told me that there was nothing in it she needed so if I can find anything they’re all mine.  Woo Hoo!  I told my friend she could keep the inserts because she may need them in a few weeks, but she wasn’t interested.  I think most people are like this though.  But I’m here to educate you to the need for saving these gems.  And possibly even buying multiple newspapers so you can really get some super deals.

Every year consumer product manufacturers spend millions of dollars to provide the shopping public with billions of dollars worth of coupons.  They even set their promotion schedule and product pricing with these coupons in mind.  If there is a sale and a coupon available that allows you to get the product for free, rest assured that you’re not pulling a scam (regardless of what the cashier might say) and doing something illegal.  Following are my couponing basics for getting started:

To get started, you need to have a source for your coupons.  The best source is your Sunday newspaper.  I suggest getting a subscription because the coupon inserts that are in the home delivery papers are often better than in the papers purchased at the store.  I know this first hand!  One week there were 5 inserts in my home delivery paper but only 3 in the newspapers delivered to the stores.  This was very frustrating as I wanted to stock up on a few items and the store-bought newspapers did not have that particular insert.  The other benefit of home-delivery is that you often get a small discount for your subscription.  That being said, here we go!

1.  Start Slowly — Do not expect to walk in to a store and get $200 worth of groceries for $1.68.  It takes time to work up to scenarios like that.  By using coupon matching websites like Saving for Someday, you can check to see if what you are planning to buy has a coupon available.  By just using a few coupons on your weekly basics you can save $10 a week.  Over a year that’s $520!

2.  Plan Ahead — Everyone needs a good supply of toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, toothpaste, extra toothbrushes and many other things.  Stocking up when these items are on sale and using a coupon will ensure that you always have these in your supply closet and will never pay full price again.  Buying these household basics through a plan ahead process can save you $100 or more every year!

3.  Try New Brands — If you’ve always been a Charmin person, consider trying another brand to take advantage of a great bargain.  If you end up not liking the product, then you know for the future and you can always donate the unopened packages.  I used to be very brand loyal, until I started couponing and I realized that with some things it didn’t pay to be loyal.  Of course there are brands that I am VERY loyal to and won’t budge if you gave me something else for free, I know this and am always ready to scoop up these items when  they are at their lowest price.

4.  Save Your Coupon Inserts — I can’t stress this enough.  Each week I take my inserts and put the date on the front and put them in a file folder.  I clip the coupons I’ll need immediately and hold on to it until all the coupons are expired.  There are many different ways to store and organize coupons, but I find this method works best for me.  You never know when you’ll need that coupon from six months.  I know it sounds weird, but it’s all part of the manufacturers marketing plan and how the stores cycle through their sales.  Coupons have different expiration dates, depending on what the manufacturer wants.  Some companies commonly have their coupons expire 30 days after they appear in the insert.  Procter & Gamble often has coupons that only last for a calendar month because they have a new insert every month.

5.  Organize Your Coupons — There are many different systems out there (binders, expanding files, envelopes, etc.), but the only one that works is the one you will use.  I’ve used the expanding file system for some time and it works quite well.  Although, as I have amassed more and more coupons I find that I am spending more time trying to find a certain coupon and am exploring other methods.  But, again, the only system that will work is one you will use.  It doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy.  It just has to be something that makes sense to you.

6.  Getting Your Supply of Coupons — In addition to the Sunday paper coupon inserts, there are coupons you can print from your home computer.  Many manufacturers have coupons right on their website.  There 3 major resources for printable coupons are coupons.com, redplum.com, and smartsource.com.  These three sites have built in fraud-prevention technology and will require that you download special printing software.  Often these sites will have high value coupons that you will want to print and save for a few weeks to combine with a great sale for even greater savings.

7.  Use eCoupons — New technology has allowed companies to let consumers load coupons onto their grocery store loyalty card.  This is great for those who just want to run in and grab one or two things or for not having to think about using a paper coupon.  According to the policy at each of the eCoupon sites, you are not permitted to combine an eCoupon with a paper coupon.  That would, essentially, allow you to use the coupons in violation to the manufacturers rules.  Some may go as far as saying it is coupon fraud.  But, don’t get caught up with this if you are not intentionally doing anything wrong.  For great eCoupons check out cellfire.com, shortcuts.com, P & G eSaver, and Kroger’s eCoupons.  Note that Kroger’s eCoupons can be loaded on to the loyalty card of any of the affiliates.

8.  Have Fun! — If people in your real life do not think that your couponing is something to be excited about, find online resources such as this site, to share your joy.  Find ways to make using coupon an enjoyable experience.  Even if it’s just using 2 or 3 coupons know that if you’re happy and having fun finding deals that there are like-minded folks who want to offer you encouragement.  Using coupons isn’t supposed to be a drag.  If you can find ways to have fun you will also find success in your desire to save money and time.

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Live Inexpensively | November Sunflower
January 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm

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Suzan April 18, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Very informative. I didn’t know you could load coupons onto the store loyalty card. Can’t wait to try that! TY.

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