I love a good deal. I live in West Michigan in a suburban town with a long history of Dutch immigrants. Ever heard of going Dutch (splitting payment on a date), or someone being Dutch (cheap)? Yeah, that’s my town! You offer something free or discounted you’ll have lines around the block. I’m not actually Dutch, but I am definitely Dutch enough to enjoy a good deal, it’s fun for me to find items that are free or nearly free and couponing has allowed me to stock up on a lot of items at our house.
Where Do I Get Coupons?
Where to start. Well, first you need to get your coupons. I don’t buy a newspaper, so how do I fill my coupon binder? Easy, I ask people for their coupons. You’d be amazed how many people just throw away their coupon inserts.
- Check with businesses who get the paper delivered and ask if you can have their Sunday inserts, I would get them from work every Monday.
- Ask you’re neighbors or people from church.
- Start a coupon club- not everyone is going to use every coupon in their paper. Find some like minded friends and have fun socializing and cutting coupons that you’ll use. Any that you have left over can be donated to military families because they can use expired (usually up to 6 months) coupons at the commissary on base!
- Ask your local newspaper what they do with their extra inserts. See if you can get a few. Or befriend your paper carrier if you do get a paper delivered. They generally have more inserts than papers so see if you can get some extra’s from them.
Once you have your coupons cut out everything you can use. You get the most out of coupons if you’re willing to switch brands and try new items. The highest value coupons will be in the health and beauty section and for new items. If you see a buy one get one coupons ALWAYS clip those! Because when we talk about stacking you’ll find out how to save the big bucks.
You’ll see coupons at the stores all the time! I grab them off products, display’s, anywhere and every I can find them!! Also on Saturday afternoon’s you’ll find most stores have displays with products being tested, often they will also have coupons to get away.
I also print coupons off, but I try and limit this because ink can be expensive. I try to be more judicious with which coupons I print, and always print them in black and white. I also print some off at my alma mater (hey I gave them a LOT of money and my login still works so I print off a few pages a month there). Be careful where you print from because there are a lot of scam coupons out there. Try and stick to legitimate sites.
My favorite sites are:
- Target.com (we’ll talk stacking in a minute, but seriously AWESOME coupons from Target)
You can also get coupons directly from the company. Check their website, Facebook page, email them and tell them how much you love their products, sign up for fan clubs and newsletters you’ll find legitimate coupons that way especially signing up for newsletters. Companies such as Silk, Proctor and Gamble and Kraft are especially good about that.
Lastly, Loyalty Clubs and Mperks– lots of stores are going towards online coupons or loyalty cards related to your phone number. We have Mperks at Meijer. Check with your local store. Mostly these are manufacturer coupons just like what you find in the newspaper. What I love most about Mperks are the store coupons. They frequently have % off, produce (which is SO hard to find) and Meijer brand item coupons. It’s definitely worth the effort to get these, plus since they are saved to your phone number there is no cutting or sorting required.
What A Mess, How Do I Sort These?
After you have you’re coupons you’ll want to sort them in a way that will make them easy to find. All to often I hear of people not using coupons because they can never find what they are looking for, or they forget to take them because they don’t keep them in a central location. Over the years I have tried many different techniques for sorting my coupons and the absolute best way I found was to take a binder and get baseball card sorters. Sort the coupons into type and brand and put them in the binder. When you’re at the store it’s easy to just flip through the different sections and find your coupons, plus binders are just awesome.
I use the following section dividers
- Health and Beauty Care
- HBC-This includes general HBC items that aren’t further categorized such as make up, lotions, sunscreen, q-tips, etc
- Hair Care
- Oral Care
- General Merchandise
- General Grocery
- Snacks/Treats/Junk food (terrible I know ;-))
- Loyalty and Rewards Cards
However you divide them, just make sure it works best for you. It’s your book, so you have to know where to find things. As I’m shopping I will pull out the coupons I’m using and put them in the front pocket. Every week I take out the coupons that have expired and set them aside for donation and put in the new coupons from that week.
Where Should I Shop?
For the majority of my shopping I go to Meijer (an awesome mid-west competitor to Wal-Mart which I avoid like the devil because ick. If you like Wal-Mart that’s great. I’m willing to pay a few pennies more for a company that pays decent wages, is cleaner and has better customer service). Sometimes I will pick stuff up at CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid when they are having a good sale that works with my coupons. And sometimes when I am aspiring to be middle class I will go deal hunting at Target. The big deals that you find on shows like Extreme Couponers comes from stores that double coupons. We don’t have that here and most places are doing away with it, but at most stores they will stack coupons. (More on that later)
The best thing you can do is become really familiar with your stores coupon policy, usually you can find this on their website or by asking their customer service desk. Learn it, study it, know it! Check back periodically for updates. Most cashiers don’t know or care about the coupon policy, I can’t count how many times I have had to teach it to the cashiers helping me (I try and do it nicely, but since I used to work there I get frustrated and just want to hop the counter and do it myself). Meijer policy is that they will stack coupons, including store coupons from competitors of a like size. This throws them off a lot, so I try and stick to the cashiers I know and have used before. Avoid self scan, everyone behind you will hate you because the coupon scanner almost always screws up and you’ll need help anyways.
If you don’t have much options than work with what you’ve got. Stores should like coupons, they get the face value back from the manufacturer plus about 8 cents per coupon as a processing fee. This is a good deal for them.
Aren’t Coupons Just for Processed and Toxic Crap?
I won’t lie, couponing isn’t as fantastic when you live on a whole foods diet and don’t use commercial cleaners/beauty products. If you find coupons for produce or even non processed meat products pinch yourself, cause you’re probably dreaming. But that doesn’t mean couponing isn’t a valuable tool. Yes, most often coupons are for junk food, processed crap, and cleaners, but you can also find them for items like pasta, rice, canning items, baking items, medicines and first aid items, and general merchandise purchases. I don’t bother cutting or clipping coupons for processed food. I do take the high value HBC and cleaning ones though for money makers (I’ll explain in a bit). You have to work a little harder and you won’t be able to save 80% but couponing can help you stock up on household items and healthy pantry options.
Ok So What is Stacking?!
Now that you have all your coupons and have them sorted, you’ve read the coupon policy at your store and you’re ready to go… Sorta! 😉 Sorry, I couldn’t help it. You are going to want to do one more thing before you go. If you have a smart phone you MUST download these apps. This is where the real beauty of couponing/deals comes into play.
Cash back on purchases at the grocery store, online shopping, the movies and other retailers. I’ve made back over $100 in the last few months using this, they have lots of items, and the bonuses is where you can make big money. The money will be sent to a paypal or venemo account or you can get gift cards. We put all our cash back things into a single paypal and it adds up fast. I love this because you only need a $5 minimum to transfer. ($10 for the giftcards). Use my personal referral code sf9w and I’ll be your best friend forever! One downside is that this app is store specific. Which is difficult for people who live in small towns. But worthwhile for online shopping if that’s your thing.
Shopmium– You won’t get as many options from Shopmium as you do from Ibotta, but it does have some more interesting options. You try the item, they immediately send the money to your paypal and that’s it. I also really like that they have a natural/organic option, right now there are Shopmiums for Bob’s Red Mill, Annie’s Mac and Cheese and Applegate Cheese. Not to shabby. You can only use a Shopmium once per item, but definitely worth it. Use the referral code MACFGMTK when you enroll and you’ll get a free Lindt chocolate bar (yum). I love that this isn’t store specific!
Checkout 51 is my last app, the offerings change each week, they usually have at least one produce item and sometimes you can find items on both Checkout 51 and Ibotta which stacks up even more savings for you! The major downside of Checkout 51 is that currently the only way to get the money back is through a check, and they only will send that to you when you get to at least $20 saved up. If you purchase cleaners or HBC on Checkout 51 it will add up faster. This one is also not store specific which is great for using it at local stores.
Ok OK, NOW We’ll Talk Stacking!
Stacking means they will take one manufacturer’s coupon and one store coupon per item, you can tell what kind of coupon you have by the marking at the top. THAT is how you save the big bucks. Stacking is the only way to coupon at a store that doesn’t double coupons.
I stack in a couple of ways. First, I usually will look for items that are on sale. Then I look for a manufacturers coupon and cross my fingers for a store coupon. If I’m REALLY lucky there will be an offer from one or more of the cash back apps. Getting all of the above makes me feel like I have won the lottery and usually mean I’m making money by taking the item out of the store. I usually don’t look ahead of time, I enjoy wandering the store with my coupons and phone and finding the deals. But if you need a better game plan look at the Sunday ad’s or check online for what is on sale that week. This is where being flexible is most important. If you’re willing to try different brands you’ll find the best deals. And always make sure you look at store brand, there are times where even with cash back, coupons and sales the store brand is still the better deal. Coupons can be used to blind people to the better deal. DON’T BE FOOLED!
Meal Planning and Coupons
I’m a terrible meal planner, honestly I’ve done it lots of times (I have a binder full of menus to prove it) but usually when it comes to making the meal that day I have no desire to make the meal of the day. What works better for us is to keep the basics on hand for a variety of things and then if we desire something special we plan it into the meal budget. But if you are better at meal planning couponing can be used. Every week stores will have loss-leaders. Great deals to get you in the store, those items can be then used for your weekly meal plan (or two weeks ahead would even work) every Sunday sit down with your ads, coupons, apps and calendar and plan your meals based on what you have in the pantry and what is on sale that week. Again, don’t be fooled by something that looks like a great deal, always compare to other brands!
Stockpile, Use, Donate, Sell
Ok so what do you do with all the deals you found. Well if its shelf stable or non-food items that we use I will stockpile as much as possible when I can. When I have extra cash, find items for free or nearly free, or it’s in the budget to buy those items anyways I will stock up. I have a cupboard full of bars of soap, extra toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and razors. We almost never run out because I usually find another great deal before then. I used to stock up on shampoo and body wash but don’t use those anymore so when that leads us to either donating or selling the items you get. Donating is great, I donate to the homeless shelter, to a women’s shelter, to local food pantries anyone who needs what we’ve got. It’s great to be able to give and know I didn’t have to spend a lot to make a huge difference. Selling is the gray area. I have friends and family who hate to coupon and shop, so when I find items they’ll use I see if they want it, pick it up, and they pay me back (plus a little extra). It’s a win win scenario and I then use the little extra to make up for the fact I don’t get coupons for produce or other items we do use. It’s up to you how you feel about it.
Moral of The Story
Coupons are like free money! Use them! Be conscious of price comparisons and always get coupons from reputable sources. Know you’re coupon policies and STACK STACK STACK!! And while .75 cents here and $1.00 there might not seem like much it adds up fast!This year we’ve already saved close to $2,000 dollars thanks to coupons and cash back apps. That’s serious money. So have fun, start a coupon club (seriously if you’re in Holland and want to start a coupon club me and my binder will be there!), clip, organize and get to saving!!