Some of you know I was recently (a few months ago) an audience member on the Rachel Ray show. During the show we saw, Rachael hosted two women from the Extreme Couponing show. I was quite amazed and decided to try serious couponing myself.

After a steep, but relatively painless, learning curve, I began regularly saving roughly 60% of shelf prices on my groceries. There are lots of websites and blogs to teach you how to do this. I use Couponing 101 and Living Rich with Coupons the most. I employ what Couponing101 calls "Realistic Couponing." I do not regularly save 90% on my groceries (though I did yesterday for one transaction), nor do I hoard 48,000 rolls of toilet paper in closets and under my children's beds (though I did add some shelving in my basement to better store cleaning products, and I reorganized my bathroom closet to better store deodorant, shampoo, etc). Nor did I spend lots and lots of money in order to accommodate my couponing (though I did buy a big honking binder, some clear sleeves for coupons and an on-sale laser printer ... but we'd already been pricing the printer, anyway).

Here's my basic process.

Throughout the week, I check daily on the two above-mentioned blogs and print out any coupons of interest. I leave these printouts to gather in my printer's out tray all week. On Thursday - Saturday when the blogs begin posting the coupon to deal matchups for the stores I use (Walgreen's, CVS, ShopRite, and verrrrry occasionally Target and Staples), I begin copying and pasting from the blog lists to my weekly Word doc shopping list.

But Sunday is my big day. On Sunday I buy 2-3 newspapers to get multiple copies of the various coupon inserts (SmartSource, Red Plum and the monthly Proctor and Gamble). My mom also snail mails me her Red Plum inserts a couple of times a month, since Red Plum is strangely hard to find around here. Then I begin clipping. I cut out all the printed coupons and all the ones I want from the various inserts. I sort them alphabetically by brand name: Avanti, Betty Crocker, Campbell's, Duncan Hines, through to Welch's, Yoplait, ZipLoc, and file them in the binder. I pull out all the coupons I want to use, based on the shopping list I've already created, and file them in envelopes marked with the store's name. I cross out any coupons I personally don't have off of the list, so I don't buy something that's not a deal, if I can help it. Then I pull all the remaining coupons that are due to expire before the following week and pick out a few that may not have corresponding specials, but that I'd still like to take advantage of. These go in their own envelope. Finally I edit the shopping list and reprint it.

This preps me for shopping day. I have my envelopes for ShopRite, Walgreen's, CVS, and "Expiring." I have my shopping list on a clipboard. I have my binder with me in case there's a manager's special or something in the clearance section I want to add a coupon to. Armed with this arsenal of savings, I usually shop on Mondays or Tuesdays. I use my reusable shopping bags, and I'm not afraid to run things through in multiple transactions to get the best deal.

Here's what I did yesterday.

Expo 4-pack dry erase markers: sale price $1.99
Scotch envelopes (big manilla ones for mailing resumes): regular price $2.29
5 Wexford mini composition noteboooks: sale price 5/$2.50
Walgreen's in-ad coupon: $1.45 off the notebooks
Expo printable coupon: $2 off the markers
Walgreen's register rewards from last week: $3 off the transaction
Total value: $12.41
Total Out-of-pocket (after tax): 46¢
97% savings

Colgate toothpaste: sale price $1.67
Colgate toothpaste: $3.69
3 Simply Asia noodle bowls: sale price $1.50 ea.
Gardetto's snack mix: sale price $1.50
Kellogg's ceral: sale price $2.50
3 Chex cereal: sale price $2.50 ea.
2 Nature Valley granola bars: sale price $2.50 ea.
3 Milk-Bone dog biscuits: sale price $3.00 ea.
2 Hershey Air candy bar: $1.19, BOGOfree
Lysol hands-free soap dispenser kit: $12.99
Coupons for the above products, including a $5 Extra Care Bucks reward from a prior week: $20.84
Total value: $73.37
Total out-of-pocket (after tax): $28.30, plus I received a $5 ECB certificate and a $10 Exxon gas card (An advertised deal ... spend $30 (shelf price, before coupons) on an assortment of items ... hence the weird Gardetti's snack mix purchase and the non-sale Colgate purchase ... and get a $10 gas card)
 61% savings, not including the $15 toward gas and future CVS purchases

I'm not going to list out everything on my ShopRite transaction. I purchased 55 items (including 24 containers of Yoplait) ranging from country-style ribs, watermelon, Degree deodorant, Breyers ice cream, Dove bars. My out-of-pocket cost was $65.61, and my savings from sales and coupons was $76.48, for a total value of $142.08. Plus, I received $10 in certificates toward future grocery purchases. 54% savings, plus the $10 toward future groceries.

I haven't been hyper-vigilant about recording all my transactions, but I've remembered to record most of them in an Excel spreadsheet. According to this, I've saved over $2600 since April. I feel that's a great return on the time I've put in (maybe 15 minutes a day, plus (generously) an hour for making and refining the shopping list and 2-3 hours clipping and sorting -- which could be faster, but I do it while watching TV). About $31 per hour, which is more than I make at my other part-time jobs.

I don't know that I'll be able to do as much of this when I eventually return to full-time work. I think I'll have it sufficiently streamlined by then to continue with it largely the same way I do it now. There are coupon storage methods that have far less front-end work. Some people just store the intact circulars and then just clip the coupons later that they intend to use. I'm reluctant to switch to this method because I invested money in the plastic insert sleeves and, frankly, I have the time to clip. Plus, it's easier right now for me to just clip and file everything and get it over with.

Also, I send all my expired coupons to Support Our Troops. Overseas military folk can use coupons for up to 6 months past their printed expiration dates. Online self-printed coupons aren't accepted, so those I just recycle.

Anyway, the major trick to couponing these days is to find a blogger who already matches up your local store's weekly deals with the database of currently available coupons. She (I've yet to come across a male couponing blogger, though I've online met a number of male couponers) does the legwork for you. Then just compile a good stockpile of coupons so that when something goes on sale, you can get additional coupon discounts off 4 of 5 of them. Frequently this results in free items, especially with stores that double coupons. Coupons can be found online all over the place, too. There are coupon sites like coupons.com, but also the manufacturers provide lots of coupons and promotions. Go to their actual websites, and also "Like" their Facebook pages, and you'll get a ton more coupons. Signing up for free samples also results in a lot of high-value coupons.

That's the jist of it. Good luck saving money on stuff you already buy!



Kristin said...

I admire that you can do this. I've tried in the past, but haven't had much success. I don't think I"m organized enough right now (I have enough trouble putting together a grocery list without forgetting some key ingredient). if I do run across a coupon for something that I am going to buy anyway, I will use it though.

Heidi said...

One regret I've had in this process is that now I'm less organized regarding menus. The Saving Dinner weekly plans have gone right out the window. I just can't guarantee that I'll be able to get good prices on any particular foods at any particular time. Oh, and I've quit buying any meat that costs me more than $3 per pound, unless it's a very special occasion. So ... lots of chicken and pork.