Friday, September 11, 2009

Basic Couponing 10 Tips and Tidbits to Get You Going!!

Hope you are all on your way to getting set up in couponing. I know from experience that getting set up can seem like a daunting task and you want to start saving lots right away. Remember to be patient as it can be a slow start. Try to keep an eye on the percentage that you are saving...that should, on the whole, go up each trip. Also keep in mind that if you do a shopping trip that is loaded with produce and meat, you are generally not going to be saving as much money because those coupons come around much less often. With this in mind, I figured that I would give you a few guidelines and items to keep in mind as well as things that have helped me and others.

1. Get to know the base prices in your stores. This is especially true for military people who have the option of shopping at the commissary. I have found, in many cases, that I do better at the commissary on meat and produce (even compared to the sale price in regular supermarkets). For other items, the fact that the commissary does not have store coupons and does not double coupons, it's a toss so you just have to know. As an example, I had coupons for 60 cents off of 2 Old El Paso items. I went to the commissary and bought 2 packets of taco seasoning for 60 cents each. With my coupon, I paid 60 cents for the 2 packets. While I was at Kroger yesterday, I noticed that they had Old El Paso taco seasoning on sale for $1 each. Clearly I got a better deal at the commissary. (I paid 60 cents for 2 packets vs would have paid $1.40 for the 2). As an example let's assume that the commissary price was still 60 cents but the supermarket price was 75 cents and the coupon was valued at 50 cents instead of 60. At the commissary, with the coupon, the 2 packets would cost 70 cents but at the supermarket, the coupon would double taking the price to 50 cents makin the supermarket a better deal.

2. Stack coupons whenever possible. Store coupons and manufacturer coupons can be stacked to maximize the difference. A coupon that often see in the Walgreens flyer is 10oz bottle of Dawn detergent for 99 cents. Their regular price is usually $1.49 so the store coupon will take off 50 cents and then you can add a manufacturer's coupon from the Sunday paper. If there is an e coupon available, that will also stack with the store and manufacturer's coupon. Sign up at cellfire to get e coupons.

3. Know your store's policies. Every store is different. There are a few basic things that you need to know about the stores that you frequent.

Do they double coupons? If so, what is the limit. For most stores, it is 50 cents (this means that they will double coupons with a face value of up to 50 cents). Some stores will double up to 99 cents. You will also find that stores will have "events" where they will triple coupons for a given amount of time. (Harris Teeter is one that does this relatively regularly). There are variations in how stores handle the cap on doubles. Some double based on the face value which means a 35 cent coupon becomes 70 cents. Others will double based on a designated cap. Some stores that double up to 99 cents. will actually take a 60 cent coupon and make it 99 cents because doubling the 60 cents will go over the cap which is obviously better than the store that simply does not double anything with a face value of over 50 cents.

BOGO (Buy One, Get One) Sales. The biggest question with BOGO is how the register records it or whether or not you must buy 2. For many stores, if something is BOGO, you must buy both in order to get the sale price. On the register tape, the first item will ring up at price and the second item will show 0.00 for price. In this scenario, you can only use 1 coupon because the second item is free. Other stores will ring up both items at regular price and then the free item comes off at the end of the receipt. In that situation, you can usually use 2 coupons. In other stores, they take the BOGO price and divide it in half and actually charge that much. Publix does this. If they have an item that is BOGO for $$3.99, the firs item will ring up at $2 and the second at $1.99. This means that you can buy one item if you choose and still get the sale price. It also means that you can use 2 coupons.

Competitors' sales and coupons. Some stores will match competitors' sale prices but there are usually some type of restrction. Many require you to bring the ad but some just require you to let them know. Stores like Publix will honor competitor coupons. It is important to know who that store considers to be a competitor. This will vary, of course, from store to store and often from area to area. A couple of weeks ago I found out that Publix (for those of you not familiar, Publix is a grocery store) considers Rite Aid and Target a competitor! I would have never suspected that. It also meant that I was able to use my Rite Aid $5 off $50 coupon!!

Are there item limits? This is usually printed on the ad somewhere. If you go above the limit in the transaction, you will be charged a higher price for items over the limit. Sometimes you can simply do 2 transactions but for some stores (CVS is a perfect example because their sale price is usually with card). Once your card scans, it registers that you purchased the item so even if you come back the next day, you will be charged the non-sale price.

Do you have to have a loyalty card? Stores like CVS, Kroger, and others will have some regular sale priced items and some items that say "With card". If you do not have the cashier scan your card, you will not receive the sale price.

What is their coupon policy in regards to overage? Some stores will adjust the coupon down to the item value (If you buy something for 99 cents and then have a coupon for $1 off, they will give you 99 cents off so that the item is free). Others will actually apply the overage to other items that you are purchasing but most will not refund this money so make sure you have enough to cover the overage. For example, I had 2 coupons for $3 off Smithfield bacon. At the commissary, the bacon was $2.10. That left me with $1.80 overage between the 2 coupons. That amount got applied to the fruits and veggies that I also had in my cart

4. Subscribe to the Sunday paper. Be sure to choose the largest paper in your area in order to get a paper with the most number of coupon inserts. It is generally 50 cents less per week to get the paper delivered vs going to the store to buy it (there are often even better deals for new subscribers so keep your eye out!). This also ensures that you get a paper every Sunday. Many people pick up multiple copies of the Sunday paper...up to 4-5 copies per week. This is generally a great idea when you are starting out so that you can get several copies of each coupon. Personally I have never regularly purchased several copies of papers. Normally I get my regular paper and if it happens to be week with FABULOUS coupons, I will go and buy 1 or 2 more copies. On the average week though, I stick with my 1 paper. Many dollar stores also sell the Sunday paper for $1 vs the normal newsstand price of about $1.50.

5. Subscribe to All You magazine. This magazine is available only at Walmart and by subscription. Each one is stocked with coupons and I personally have saved far more than my subscription price within a couple of months. Each issue usually has one pretty high value coupon (! month I got a free Rimmel mascara with a price of approximate $8-10 and 1 month I got a huge bag of chicken jerky worth about $8...not bad for a $2 magazine!) This of course is in addition to th regular coupons that are on approximately every other page. If you go here , you can get 2 free trial issues.

6. Big bulk packages are usually not the best buy! Buy the smallest package you can with the coupon. It is usually much less expensive to buy 2 smaller items with 2 coupons than the one larger one. Also, for freshness sake, 2 smaller packages will usually last longer. Watch the fine print (or lack thereof) on your coupons. If the manufacturer wants you to buy a large package, they will note the coupon with the size requirement. If there is no restriction, sometimes it is worthwhile to check out the trial sizes. The other day I was at CVS and I found Gold Bond powder in trial size for 99 cents. I had 4 coupons for $1 off. I could have purchased a regular size bottle and used one coupon but still have an out of pocket of almost $4. Instead, I got 4 trial size bottles for free! It's not something that we use very often, but sometimes my husband likes to sprinkle a little in his stinky Army boots. The trial size bottles are perfect for that. I keep a basket under my spare bathroom sink where I just toss all of the trial size bottles, jars and tubes. This is perfect for when company comes and forgets a toiletry or when we travel, I have a good assortment of travel size items. Most of these were free!

7. Build a stockpile. I will do a post later on specifially on stockpiling but in essence, your goal is to get to the point where your weekly shopping consists primarily of your fresh fruits and veggies as well as whatever items are on sale and that you have coupons for. You want to get to the point where you are never forced to buy something that you need, which regularly goes on sale, at full price because you need it. When you are building your stockpile, keep your "social" needs in mind. As a military spouse, we are often called upon to make meals for families, baked goods for sale, or contribute to a company barbecue. There are many items that I wouldn't normally buy for myself but I will buy it for those purposes. I keep a good stock of cake and brownie mixes that I have gotten for a very low price and that way if I am called upon for one of these things, I always have something to contribute. Another example is something like macaroni and cheese. Personnally I only like Velveeta Shells and Cheese (normally I make homemade but it is nice to have on hand for the quick throw together). If I find a really good deal on another brand, I may purchase it in the event that I am asked to make a meal for a family in need. The other thing to keep in mind is saving yourself from having to eat out. If you normally cook on most nights, like I do, you will no doubt run into a situation where plans change. I have had times when I just don't feel well or once my husband and I were supposed to go out to eat with friends so I didnt take anything out to cook. The plans fell through and I would have been in a position to be forced to get take out when there really was no need for that. For that reason, I keep frozen entrees in my freezer and packaged meals like Hamburger Helper. You can always pull frozen chop meat and drop it right into a pan to brown and thaw at the same time. Save the eating out for a time that you really want to eat out (and have a coupon!)

8. Bookmark the websites below and pint off the coupons. Whenever printing coupons, set your printer settings to draft/grayscale (you probably want to set this as your default because many of the coupon printers do not give you a chance to adjust your settings and you will waste tons of money on ink). Also, most will allow you to print 2 copies. Once you get the page that says that your coupons have printed, hit the back button, click retry when the dialogue box comes up and refresh the page.

9. Know your cashiers! This may sound crazy but there are some cashiers who get really upset when they see you leave the store with $100 worth of groceries for $20. They do everything they can to try to stand in your way. When I went to CVS the other day, with the coupons for the Gold Bond powder for $1.00 off (the trial size was 99 cents) was thegist of our conversation:

without even scanning she said "You can't use this. Maybe you need to get the regular size!"

Me: "Did you try to adjust down th coupon?"

Cashier: "It doesn't let you do that."

Me: "Did you try?"

Cashier: "You have to buy the regular size one."

Me: "Funny I have done this before. Forget it just take them all off."

I guess now voiding was going to be more of a hassle than scanning my coupons and miraculously they worked! All 4 of them! In addition, she was able to adjust them down. Funny how that works. Other times you get cashiers who are also couponers and love helping fellow couponers. Thse are the best cashiers in my opinion because they will make any coupon go through and if there is a problem they will call the manager and swear under oath on your behalf! There are also cashiers who are thoroughly impressed and will also pretty much go out of their way to help you and may even ask for a tip when you are all done.

10. Present money off the total purchase coupons before the manufacturer or store coupons. Rite Aid and Kmart often put out coupons for $5 off a $25 or $50 purchase. If you present your regular manufacturers coupon first, your purchase will have to be the$25 or $50 after coupons. If you present that $5 off coupon first, it will take the $5 off, then your manufacturers coupons which means even though the coupon states you need a $25 purchase to get the $5 off, you may actually walk out spending $5 or less!! See that! It's all in the presentation!

This should get you started and well on your way! I am definitely looking forward to the big coupon day this weekend! There are supposed to be 5 (YES FIVE) coupon inserts this week! May be a good week to buy an extra paper or 2. Happy Couponing!

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