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A penny saved

I have always liked the idea of coupons, but I’ve always been too disorganized and scattered to make them work for me.  I’m the girl who has 50 expired coupons stuck to the fridge and always forgets to take them to the store.  Then came the Extreme Couponing craze and I thought those ladies on TV were, well, crazy.  (I also suspected from the start that there was something unrealistic about that show, and, BINGO, turns out there is.)  But earlier this year, my sister started couponing and I jumped on board.  Who doesn’t want to save some money, right?

The thing about couponing is that it’s grown some kind of mystique, as if there’s a secret coupon code.  Coupon classes are a booming business and people are shelf-clearing in a frenzy.  If you want to get the really ridiculous deals, then yes, a class might help you.  However, when I started down this road, my husband laid down some ground rules from the get-go.  (He acts as though I have a history of going overboard…hmmm….)

Rule #1 – You shall not spend extra money to save money.  Obviously $3 off something is a fantastic deal, but not if you’ll never use it.  I only use coupons for things that we will realistically use within the shelf life.

Rule #2 – You shall not take over my house with coupon deals.  Every square inch of our house is in use (not counting the attic or the crawlspace, but it hasn’t come to that yet.)  If I start buying too many extras, something else will be displaced.  I cleared off one shelf in my linen closet for coupon buys.  We always have extras of toiletries –  but within reason.

Rule #3 – You shall never change our brand of toilet paper, no matter how good the coupon is.  This is pretty self-explanatory.  Brand loyalty is frowned up in the world of couponing, but some things must never change.  In our house, it’s cat food, toilet paper and laundry detergent.  This makes finding coupons for “our brand” all the more exciting.

So by following these rules and collecting coupons patiently over time, I have managed to save money and gradually learn the ways of moderate couponing.  I’ve also made myself more price conscious of everything I buy, since I am often called to the carpet to explain a couponing purchase.  (I swear my husband is not a dictator, but you’d never know it when it comes to this particular topic.)  Here are a couple easy things I have learned to save a couple bucks.  Maybe you already know them, too, but rule #1 of couponing is share, and so I shall.

Just because you have a coupon now, you don’t have to use it now!  Unless it’s an item that you really need right now, hold on to that sucker and watch for it to go on sale.  I always have a variety of soup coupons, and I can count on my local supermarket to put one brand or another on sale every week during the cold weather months.  $1 off 4 cans is pretty sweet, but it’s even sweeter if they’re buy one/get one.  Obviously soup is just an example, the same goes for everything!  If you watch the sales closely enough, you will start to see a pattern and you’ll know what to expect.  Walgreens in particular is very good about matching up their sales with recent coupons.  Walmart Some other stores tend to have “disappearing items” when there are good coupons out.  Check all the sale papers and be open to shopping at various stores.

Never, ever throw away a coupon.  Get your Sunday paper every week and then pass it on.  Just because you can’t use all the coupons doesn’t mean someone else can’t.  Get yourself a coupon buddy and share your unused coupons on a regular basis.  It’s amazing how many extra coupons I get from my sister each week, although I sometimes question her opinion of me when I consistently get Depends coupons from her.  (Although I am pleased for her sake that she does not need them.)  Also, DO NOT throw away your expired coupons.  Military families can use expired coupons on base (up to 6 months after the date).  Separate them by food/non food and send those suckers to our troops!  The financial difficulties these families can encounter is often overlooked and any opportunity we have to give back is a blessing.  There are a number of addresses you can send them to, just Google it and get yourself to the post office!

Be prepared to take an extra chunk of time shopping, especially when you’re starting out.  If you can convince a patient family member or friend to go with you, you’ll make your life a lot easier.  You need to do a lot of price comparison.  Does your coupon make the brand name less expensive that the generic you might normally buy?  Is fifty cents really worth this purchase?  Watch out for coupons that require multiples.  $1 off 3 boxes of cereal is not really a great deal, unless you normally go through cereal three boxes at a time.  Take a few minutes at home to match up the coupons to your grocery list to ease the pain a little.  Also take it easy on your cashier and make sure you actually buy all the products for the coupons you plan to use and don’t forget to check expiration dates.

Don’t get so wrapped up in your coupons that you miss other great finds.  We recently discovered spices and seasonings in the Mexican food section of our grocery store (the authentic food, not the taco kits).  You can buy such goodies as garlic powder, parsley and sesame seeds in restaurant sizes for a fraction of the price you’ll pay in the spice section a few aisles over.

Every dollar counts!  You’ll never make coupons work for you if you tell yourself such lies as, “it’s only fifty cents.”  It adds up very quickly and every little bit really does help.  Think how great you’ll feel when you see $20 of coupon savings on your weekly grocery receipt!  $20 may not seem like a lot, but what if you took that extra money and put it in your savings account every week?  Worth a little extra time and trouble?  You bet it is! 

Don’t ever buy into the idea that using coupons means you have financial trouble.  First of all, who the heck cares?  Secondly, regardless of what you can or can’t afford, isn’t it just smart to save money where you can?  I never make a purchase any more without first looking for coupons and discounts.  If I pay full price for something, I feel like I’ve been duped.  Do you have more couponing tips and tricks?  Please share them!!  It’s all just a game and it isn’t that hard to start winning.  Now go get yourself a coupon binder and a newspaper and get to work!


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