Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Couponing 101: Getting Started

Last night after I came home from a grocery shopping trip I posted on my facebook page, "I am totally on a couponing high. I paid $50.83 for $135.00 worth of groceries. Saving me $84.17 all thanks to shopping the sale and using coupons! Score!" From that I got many questions of "how did you do that?" "Where do you get your coupons at?" "Maybe I should give this a try, where do I start?" I had no idea that such a innocent status update would create such a buzz. Because of all your questions I've decided that I would do a series of posts to answer some of your questions and hopefully make the couponing world a little less intimidating.

Let me first start off by saying that I am NOT a couponing expert. Back in October or so a group of ladies from my mom's group got together to learn more about couponing. There were some extreamly seasoned couponers there, some beginner couponers there and even some that had never clipped a coupon in their life. From that meeting we all entered into the couponing world with high hopes in reducing our grocery budgets and saving our family a few bucks along the way. Over the past few months we have helped and guided each other, shared some tips and strategies in hopes of maximizing our mighty dollar. Through those people I have begun to develop a bit of knowledge of the couponing world. But, I assure you that I am no where near the expertise of some couponers out there. So, I am going to just use these posts as a starting off point to get you going in the right direction. There is a lot to learn (and I will join you on the ride), but the good thing is that with a little time, effort, research and practice you, too, can become a couponing extraodinaire!

So, like I said, I have been couponing since about October. Since we buy many things that are organic I thought that couponing would never be for me. After all, coupons are just for junk foods like chips, dip, and a whole bunch of over processed foods, right? WRONG! After doing some research I have found that even someone who wants to eat organically can use coupons too! There are MANY to be had if you just know where to look and how to shop the sales. I can't tell you the amount of things that I have gotten for FREE or next to nothing...even on ORGANIC and GREEN items! So sit back, grab a pen and a (free) organic Honest Tea (that you recently got at your Fry's MEGA sale) and lets begin, shall we?

Where do I start?
First you will want to start by subscribing to the Sunday paper. It is filled with weekly coupon books and ads for stores that are advertising their sale items. But isn't spending money on a weekly paper counter-productive you ask? The answer is "No." Here in Arizona I get my paper for $1.00/week. This gets me the Sunday paper and the Wednesday paper (for free). The Wednesday paper is important because in that comes the ads for most grocery stores since their new sales usually start on Wednesday. I save well over a $1.00/week with coupons so in my opinion it is well worth the investment. The coupons in the paper are mostly for mainstream items, but with organics becoming more of a demand there are more often then not at least a few in there from time to time. Plus, you get coupons for toothbrushes, toothpaste, pads, tampons, razors, toilet paper, etc. We all need those right?! If you can, a lot of "expert" couponers get more than one Sunday paper. If they don't allow more than one (or two-sign up in your hubby's name as well) then have your family sign up and give you theirs. You'll see why later.

I have my paper so what next?
Now that you have your paper don't sit down and clip every single coupon in there. It's not necessary. Look through and clip the ones that you pretty much think you will use right away or in the very near future. The rest of the coupon book should be filed. DO NOT THROW THEM AWAY! You may find yourself going back to them and clipping something that you didn't think to clip before (or you can trade them). I stick a sticky on the front with the Sunday date that I got it and paperclip all my coupon books that I got that particular week together. I then file them in my drawer for later use.
You will want to go and buy (or if you have some laying around, even better!) a 3 ring binder. This is the best way to keep coupons (in my non-expert opinion!). I like the ones that have a flap in the front so that you can slide envelopes in there, but it's up to you. Here you can see that I have a cover sheet with all the coupon categories. I printed them here. I didn't orginally have the dividers for the categories but just recently started using them. They are a life saver and make my binder so much more organized. I say, IT'S A MUST!

Here you can see one of the category dividers up close. I bought the clear page protectors to insert them into for easy turning. Cause your pages will do a lot of turning!

Next, you will want to buy some baseball card holders for your binder. This allows you to put one coupon in each slot for easy veiwing. I got mine at Walmart, but I am sure many stores sell them. Start off with at least 50. I already need to go buy another pack since all of mine are used up.

I also keep envelopes in the front of my binder with each store's name written on it. When I am planning a trip to that particular store, I pull my coupons that I need and keep them in the envelope for easy access. I also store catalinas (we will get to those later), rain checks, Extra Care Bucks (which I will now refer to as ECB's) in there so I don't lose them.

Wait, is there still more prep work?
Yes, there is! I promise we will get to the fun part of saving a dollar, but there is still more work that needs to be done before we get there.

I set up some accounts that were just devoted to my couponing. A couponing email account and a couponing facebook account where I don't have "friends" on it (yes there are coupons on FB!). I would advise doing this cause as you get going you will be signing up for a lot of websites that send you stuff through email. Don't bog down your main email with all this junk. You will also need this for logging in to many websites to get coupons.

Next you will want to get grocery store club cards. You know those credit card looking things that they ask you for every time you check out? Not only do those little cards allow you to get the "sale" price on items, but you can also electronically load coupons to those cards! So, when you check out, if you have an ecoupon (as they are called) for that item it will automatically be deducted at the register! How easy is that?!?!? I would also advise you to get a CVS card as well to earn your Extra Care Bucks (ECB). CVS and Walgreens (which you don't need a card for) are the two biggest pharmacy's here in AZ that I shop, so I can only offer information about those in particular.

Now that you have your grocery cards you will need to register them on the websites. Go to cellfire.com, shortcuts.com & PGesaver.com. Also the grocery store website, like Fry's here in AZ or CVS.

Phew! That's a lot of information! Now that you have some homework to do get that all completed and check back with me tomorrow for lesson #2!

2 comments:

mwr2sbr said...

Yep, I am officially coupon challenged. That excellent run down just left me sitting in the corner, banging my head against the wall drooling!
You are SO much more organized than I.
I'm going to go back and read it again, maybe I just need to take it like really really slow. I'm going to reread and break down the steps as you so carefully explained them to me...
Wow, feeling totally blonde right now!

Amanda Longie said...

This is awesome Tracey! Thanks so much for doing this! I couldn't make the couponing classes because of school but wanted to learn how to do this...not that I need an extra thing on my plate, but when it comes to saving money, yeah, I'll definitely consider it. I also am happy it's here for future reference because I'm a little SLOOOOOW and am going to have to reference this bad boy!!!