Monday, February 7, 2011

Couponing 101 Part 3: Putting it All Together

Okay now we are getting to the fun stuff. Let's finally talk about using those coupons and watching the price on the register go down, down, down! It's the best part of grocery shopping and I always feel my palms getting a little sweaty watching all my items getting rung up. But as they start by first swiping that club card and then swiping your coupons you get this rush of excitement inside! Oh, so fun!

If you are just tuning in now and want to read the first two introduction posts to couponing, read post one and post two. Again, I am going to reiterate that I am NOT a couponing expert. But I have recently gotten so many questions about it that I thought I would, at least, give you an introduction. Some of my facts may be off a little here and there, but we are all learning so let's navigate this new world of coupons together!

What should my goal be when using coupons?
Your goal to getting the best deal on your groceries is to never buy things at full price. Patience is golden when trying to maximize your dollar. Then when you see something go on sale for a great price that's when it is time to buy it, using a coupon getting it for free or extremely cheap. When that happens you want to STOCK UP. The key to saving big is buying cheap, buying a lot at one time and creating a stockpile. That way you will never find yourself having to run out and buy something at full price since you always have your staples on hand. And you got them for virtually nothing!

Remember when I told you that there are people that subscribe to more than one Sunday paper? Or people that actually "buy" coupons? Well, this is exactly why. When you see something at rock bottom prices you want to buy as much of that item as you can to add to your stockpile. Most things have a pretty decent shelf life like cereal, pasta, pasta sauce, juices, not to mention toothbrushes, pads, soap, diapers, etc. You can freeze practically everything as well. Buy as much as you can when it's super cheap and you'll never have to pay full price ever again!

From what I understand, things go on sale cycles. One week it may be cereals, the next it's pasta ingredients, the next it's beauty stuff, etc. These cycles, from what I have read, go in 4-6 week spaces. When you see cereal on sale, stock up on enough to last you 4-6 weeks before it goes on sale again.

One thing I have learned is that you NEVER have to pay for toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash, floss & body wash. It is sooo easy to get those items for FREE, it's ridiculous. I already have a stockpile of probably 10 toothbrushes.

What are the rules when using coupons?
Okay, coupon rules will vary from store to store. You just need to check their coupon policy. This can usually be found on their website or calling their corporate office. Sometimes even the, so called, managers in the actual store seem to get it wrong. So, for the "official" policy check one of the places I mentioned.

Generally, the rule is that you can use ONE MFR coupon per item. That being said, there are ways to use two coupons on one single item. This is called "stacking" a coupon. You may use one manufacturer's coupon + one store coupon to maximize your savings! Here is an example below of how I did this on some Almond Butter that I recently purchased.

MaraNatha Almond Butter on sale for $4.89 (originally $6.29)
$2/1 MaraNatha product (MFR printable) +
$1/1 Whole Foods printable
Final cost? $1.89!

Now the only way you can't use one coupon per item would be if the coupon specifically says something like this: $1/2 Philadelphia Cream Cheese. That means you get $1.00 off wyb 2 of them. So you can only use one coupon for the two packages that you will be buying. UNLESS you have a store coupon to stack with it! Lucky for you I recently bought some Philadelphia Cream Cheese and can give you and example. *Note* My store was doing a MEGA sale which means that you got an extra $5.00 (essentially $.50/item) off your transaction wyb 10 "participating" items included in the sale. So I will include that in my breakdown below.
Philadelphia Cream Cheese $.99 wyb 10 (originally $2.29)
used a $.50/2 Philadelphia Cream Cheese printable (which doubled to $1.00 since my store's policy right now is that they are doubling all manufacturer coupons up to $1.00) +
$.50/2 Target printable (since my store is accepting competitor coupons which are only worth face value)
Final price? $.25 for each wyb 2!

You will also come across some buy one, get one (BOGO) coupons out there that can be a lot of fun to use as well. I can't explain it any better than this post, so happy reading!

What about those organic coupons you keep talking about?
Believe it or not, I still buy a bunch of organic items at Costco. They have organic bread, organic blocks of cheese for like $7 (which I shred in my food processor and freeze in ziploc bags), organic apples, organic ground meat and chicken for like $4.00/lb, organic olive oil, etc. On those items I haven't been able to beat some of their prices even with coupons at the regular grocery stores. But, guess what? Organic coupons are out there. More than you would think. I was originally so hesitant to even try coupons because I buy a lot of organic items, but I soon found out that they are everywhere!

Muir Glen has coupons out there all the time on which will get you pasta sauce, tomato paste, diced tomatoes for really cheap. Especially if you can stack those with a store coupon like Whole Foods. I stocked up a few months back.

I scored a couple Applegate Farms coupons (a very rare find) a month or two ago and I am just waiting for their organic sausage (my kids love their sausage for pancake breakfasts!), chicken nuggets, lunchmeat or hot dogs to go on sale. always has coupons on their site. They don't reset their coupons very often, but it's worth the print. I just scored a 3-pack of organic milk singles at the store last week for .$99!

Alexia products had a Facebook offer not that long ago where you could print a few coupons for "liking" them. We stacked those with Whole Foods coupons at Fry's when they had a sale on their french fries and scored about 5 bags for FREE!

Target, in the past, has had some coupons for "$1.00 off produce" which we then printed and took to Fry's (since they accepted competitor coupons at the time) and bought some organic produce.

Keep in mind, too, that many brands make an organic version of their product. Most coupons will work on these even if the coupon doesn't show that organic version in the picture unless the small print says otherwise. Just last week I had a coupon for $.50/1 Shamrock Farm. Knowing that they make an organic sour cream I used that coupon for that variety because the coupons stated "off ANY Shamrock Farms 16 oz or larger...". Keep your eyes peeled!

Do the coupon policies change?
YES. They are different from store to store and change frequently. When I first started, my main grocer (Fry's) was doubling or tripling all manufacturer coupons up to $1.00 and accepting competitor coupons as well (at face value). That went away right after the holidays for about a month but then it just came back a couple weeks ago. Some stores may only take coupons at face value (like Walmart which is why I hardly ever step foot in there anymore for groceries) or only double them (making a .$25 coupon worth $.50). So you need to read their policies...usually stated on the front of their weekly ads.

What about CVS and those ECB's?
Ahhh, yes, CVS. I was sooo intimidated by CVS when I first started out that I never went in there. I just couldn't figure it out to save my life! But, I pulled myself together one day, put on my big girl panties, gathered up my coupons and made a fantastic purchase on diapers, pads and toilet paper earning me $9.00 in ECB (which are essentially free cash to use at CVS)! I then went back about a month ago and got some Tom's of Maine products (I'll show you that break down in another post) using my ECB (and earned more ECB!) and didn't have to pay anything OOP (out of pocket) except for tax! In fact, they actually "paid me" to buy it! That place is my new best friend.

Read about CVS's game here.

Now what?
Okay, now's the time to get out there and start using your coupons! Don't feel like you have to know everything all at once. I made the big mistake of thinking that I had to buy everything that I saw when it was on sale. And, in turn, I spent WAAAAY too much time focused on couponing. I can't stress this enough-start out slow. Buy a thing or two here and there for really cheap (or even better, FREE!) and before you know it you will be creating your stockpile. I am already at the point where I can pretty much live on what I have for the next month or so without going to the grocery store for things other than milk, bread, fruits/veggies (unless I see a super fantastic deal that I can't pass up). It doesn't take long so don't overwhelm yourself early on.

If you want a deal that is super easy to practice with try this (for those of you with a Fry's nearby). Fry's has Wholly Guacamole on sale until Tuesday 2/8 for $1.00! Print two of these coupons (for more print from another computer in your home as well) and get them for FREE! *Because the coupon is more than the price of the item they will (more than likely) adjust the coupon down to $1.00. But that's okay! You'll still get it for free and you can freeze these babies!

I will post one more post with a few examples of things that I recently bought using coupons. Hopefully this will help you see how to use the sale price and coupons, including stacking them, to get some killer deals. I will also include a CVS purchase that I made to give you an idea of those ECB's at work. I'll post some other websites that are great for deals and earning "points" towards coupons and free stuff as well as some tips that I have learned along the way.

Good luck, have fun and save big!

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