Friday, April 2, 2010

Meet the Coupon Queen!

I want you to meet Amanda! She has agreed to do some guest posts on my blog for the next few Fridays. She began couponing two years ago and I am AMAZED at what she saves. She's going to help us go from knowing nothing about using coupons to saving money. Thank you Amanda for teaching us about this! I hope everyone enjoys.

I am so happy to share my knowledge of couponing with you guys! It has been a long and fun road to get to the "Crazy Coupon Lady" level, and I'm proud to give you tips on how to get there yourselves. When I started couponing, I was saving about 25% each week at the store, now I save between 62%-91% and I feel guilty if it's less than that! It sounds ridiculous, but it's possible for ANYONE to do this...all it takes it a little education, and some planning.

Before we get started, I should warn you...couponing is addictive! Once you really get into this, you will never want to pay retail for anything again! On some days it's difficult for me to accept the fact that I can't get everything for free or less than $1! :) I'm so used to handing over a stack of coupons that it feels odd to buy something without one. But I didn't get here overnight. There is definitely a method to this madness, and if you're patient, and take this one step at a time, I know you'll all be pros in no time! The key is COMMITING TO SAVING MONEY!

You all should know...I do NOT shop at Wal-Mart. I will teach you that you don't need to depend on "Everyday Low Prices" and you don't need to go straight for the "off-brand" to get the best deals. When you learn to combine coupons with in-store specials and in-store coupons, you can buy name-brand on almost everything for much less than the store brand. I shop exclusively at Kroger, Target, and Walgreen's, and except for my son's birthday cake from their bakery, I haven't stepped foot in Wal-Mart in over 2 years. And it feels great!!!

This first post is all about GETTING STARTED. To me, getting started is the hardest part. It's so easy to say..."I'll start couponing once the kids are out of school this summer, once I get settled into my new job, after the holidays, etc." The truth is, there's no better time than right now. Even if your first trip to the store only saves you $4, at least you've started saving money! Now, let's talk about where to begin.
Step One: If you haven't done this already, MAKE A FAMILY BUDGET. Before you start your shopping trips, you need to know how much you're allowed to spend at the store. Once you've made your budget and you know what you can spend, go back through the last 3-6 months in your bank account and figure out exactly what you DID spend. Were you within this budget? I bet most of you probably spent WAY more than you thought when you added up the trips to Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger, Walgreen's, Fred's, Big Lots, etc....not to mention how much you spent going out to eat (which is something my family does MAYBE 6 times a YEAR) When I first started couponing in 2008, I had budgeted $600 per month on groceries and household items. Once I sat down and looked at the actual statements, I realized I was spending $900-$1,000 per month not including the $300 a month we were spending on eating out. What in the world were we buying????. I was astonished! We now spend between $300-$350 for our family of 4, and this includes ALL groceries, toiletries, medicine (non-prescription) and household goods.

Step Two: Once you've decided how much you can spend each week, MAKE A BUY-PRICE LIST. This is a list of common purchases at the store for your family, and the amount you are willing to pay for them AFTER COUPONS. On this list should be items like: Milk, cereal, bread, chicken, potatoes, lunch meat, frozen dinners, etc. It's important that you make this list because this list will change A LOT during your growth as a savvy couponer. When I started this, I put $3 per box on cereal as the price I was willing to it's $.75. If I can't get the box for $.75 or less, I won't buy it. Carry this with you every time you go to the store for a while and make note of the prices of your favorite items. Are they all over the place? Moving up and down from week to week? This is to be expected. This will help you figure out how little you should be paying for these products. It's important to note: Virtually everything in the grocery store will be priced at its lowest price at some point during a 6-10 week period. If you are carrying your Buy-Price list with you and watching the prices rise and fall on your everyday items, you will learn what the bottom price is for those items. Once you see that price, that's when you want to go in and stockpile - buying enough to get you to the next 6-10 week cycle.

Step Three: LEARN HOW TO MENU-PLAN. Stop making grocery lists based on what you feel like cooking that week and start making grocery lists based on what you already have and what's going to be on sale. In the past, I would sit down and make weekly menus based on what we were in the mood for, then make a list of all of the grocery items I needed for those menus. Then I'd take my list to the store and buy what I needed. When I got to the checkout line, it just cost what it cost. I'd just shrug my shoulders and say..."well, we needed it" and accept the high amount. But no more! Each week, Kroger, Walgreen's, and Target put out their weekly circulars highlighting their best deals. Not every deal is listed, but it's a great place to start. Once you get better at this, you'll be able to pair your stock-piled items with the sale items and make super-cheap meals. For example, I was just able to pick up Uncrustables for $.84 per box (with 4 inside) at Kroger with my coupons. I bought 5 boxes. This makes for a very cheap lunch for my boys at $.21 per sandwich. I make sure he gets 2-3 of these per week. That will last me 6-10 weeks (until the price bottoms out again). These circulars are found in each of the stores, and Walgreen's and Target's are in your Sunday newspaper. You can also view these circulars online at hundreds of different couponing blogs (we'll discuss these a little later) a few days before the sales begin. This gives you more time to collect your coupons and make your grocery list. If you see a good sale on chicken, buy 5 packages of it and stick them in the freezer until you're ready for them.

Step Four: PICK UP THE SUNDAY PAPER. Finally...we're talking about coupons, one of my favorite subjects in the whole wide world!!! I LOVE getting my newspapers every Sunday. Because I look at my coupon blogs daily (we'll talk about those next), I know what coupons are coming, so I know exactly how many papers I want to buy. It's important to note: Coupons usually don't come out on Holiday weekends, so make sure to check this website to see which coupon inserts you should be expecting. Depending on where you live, make sure to pick up the biggest newspaper that your area distributes. Your local newspaper probably won't have as many coupon inserts as your "big city" paper. Also, before you buy your papers, check to make sure every insert you are expecting is in there. There's nothing worse than getting home and finding out they're not in there. Remember, not every newspaper, even the big city ones, carries all the inserts available. For example, our newspaper doesn't have the Red Plum insert. But don't can always go to EBAY (we'll talk more about EBAY couponing in another post) and BUY 5 inserts for $1.25 plus shipping. I recommend this if you want to make sure you have ALL the coupons at your disposal. It's very frustrating when a great deal comes up and you don't have the coupons to match with it.

Step Five: DISCOVER THE WORLD OF COUPON BLOGS. This is where I totally changed the way I shopped. For my first 2 years of couponing, I just took my circular and matched it with coupons and shopped that way and felt I was doing a great job. But these coupon blogs make it so much easier and really take couponing to the next level. They actually go through the circulars for you and tell you exactly where to find the coupons to match with the sales....LINE BY LINE. My favorites are: (Walgreen's stuff) (Target stuff)

I keep all of these tabbed on my toolbar and refresh them about 5-10 times a day, depending on how much I'm on the computer for that day. Each blog will post 5-15 new entries a day and they tell us where we can find the best coupons, unadvertised deals, clearance and close-out items, free samples, rebates, and best coupon match-ups for each store. When you first go to these sites, (and if you spend some time researching you can certainly find some favorites of your own) I suggest reading the last 10-14 days worth of posts. This will help you see all the deals you've been missing (this will HURT at first! :) ) and it will let you see what kinds of posts to be expecting. It's also very educational. Once you're "caught up" on these sites, you'll just be able to refresh to see the latest posts and you can take advantage of the deals that appeal to you.

Step Six: START PRINTING COUPONS ONLINE. I resisted doing this for the longest time because I thought these coupons weren't "as good" as coupons clipped out of the newspaper and I was almost embarrassed to use them because I thought they looked "homemade" or even "fraudulent"...but now I have seen the errors of my ways. I have never had any problems using these coupons and some of them are for ridiculously high amounts. Most of the blogs listed above will tell you exactly where to go to print these coupons, but if you don't want to scroll through the posts to find them, I recommend:

The very first time you print a coupon online, you will have to download a coupon printer. This is totally legitimate and takes less than 1 minute and you'll never have to do it again. This is required because of the barcode that will be on the coupon. It's important to note: Most coupons can be printed twice. Once you print it the first time, click the back button and you will probably get to print it one more time. If it's a particularly good coupon and you want more than two, you'll have to use a different computer because it recognizes your IP address. And's fraudulent to make copies of coupons, so let's not do that! :)

Well, I'd say that's probably enough information for the first day! Spend the next week doing all 6 of the steps I mentioned above:

Make your budget
Make a buy-price guide
Learn how to menu-plan
Pick up the Sunday paper
Discover the world of coupon blogs
Start printing coupons online

By the end of the first week, you'll have coupons in your hand and you'll have a plan and you'll be ready to start saving money.

On next week's post, we'll talk about Organizing your coupons, Making your grocery lists, The difference between blinkies, peelies, tearpads, and inserts, and Keeping track of your savings! See you guys next week!!!



Becke' said...

ooh, thanks Amanda! Can't wait to learn more! Thanks for sharing...

Bugs and Sunshine said...

This is Anna and I am SO EXCITED!!!

This seems very manageable. I totally make a menu and go shop so this is something I"ll be changing. I love the idea of never going to Wal-Mart again. Kroger is so much nicer and that's where we prefer to shop anyway.

Thank you again Amanda for taking time to get us started. Oh yeah, I'm still freaking out that you only spend $300-350 a month on food/toiletries. Mr. Bugs & Sunshine would love me even more if I could make this a reality at our house!

Shelia said...

Thank you so much Amanda and Anna! I have wanted to do more with coupons for a long time. Just felt to overwhelming. And now our family is in real need of saving money so this is God sent! Thanks! and I look forward to future blogs.

The Disheroons said...

what a great post. You have inspired me. I might just start merging into the coupon world.

The Holbrook Family said...

That is so exciting! Thank you for sharing that Anna :)