(written by Jackie)
You’ve probably caught an episode of Extreme Couponers and seen the beautiful stockpiles some of these couponers accrue and wondered if you could do the same.
I’ve been couponing for a while, and while it’s becoming more and more difficult (especially thanks to this show), you can still get something for nothing…or nearly nothing. But it’ll be more difficult than Extreme Couponers portrays.
Why? Well, from what I’ve read online, the show is at least partially fake. The show calls stores ahead of time and makes sure that they’ll be allowed to tweak store policy to allow for bigger, grander purchases. You won’t have this advantage. This couponing style also doesn’t work in every store in every town. Some stores double coupons, some don’t. Some stores have a 4 coupon per item limit, some don’t. And now, some coupons themselves are setting limits. The rules list grows with each passing season, so couponers have to keep on top of these rules.
So then the question is: Is it worth it? That’s up to you. I coupon, but not to an extreme, and still manage to get free items every now and then. I’ll share the easiest ways to do it that don’t require the full-time hours some devoted couponers claim to spend on research and prep. But, of course, you can then extend these methods to more intensive couponing if you choose.
First, if you’ve tried using coupons before, you may have noticed that coupons are typically for name brand items, and even after using a measly 40 cent coupon on that can of soup, the store brand soup is still cheaper. This probably frustrated you, and you gave up on coupons altogether. Sound about right?
The trick to getting items free or cheap is to match SALE prices with coupons. And, even better, to match up a sale, a store coupon, and a manufacturer coupon. This is called stacking. While you can’t use two manufacturer coupons for the same item, you CAN use a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon together on the same item. And if your store doubles the value of coupons, even better!
But that must take hours and hours to scour the ads each week and match sales up with coupons, right? Nope. Someone else has probably already done the work for you. You just have to know where to look.
How to get started:
- Pick one store. Just one. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Great stores for beginners include Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, and Target. All have good programs aimed at deal-seekers. But you’re welcome to start with your local grocery store, Walmart, or other big box store.
- Search online for the name of your chosen store with “deals” or “matchups” and the date of the first day of the sales ad. This is usually Sundays for regular stores and Wednesdays for grocery stores. So my search may look something like “Walgreens deals 11/10” or “Target matchups 11/10.” This will lead you to several websites that have already compared this week’s sale prices to coupons.
- The websites you’ll find will often only list sale prices that match up with current coupons or sale prices that are just generally too good not to point out. My favorites are often the ones that color code the best deals. They’ll then tell you where to find each coupon mentioned, whether it’s the Sunday paper from 3 weeks ago or a current printable internet coupon.
- Look over this week’s deals for your chosen store. See if anything interests you. Be sure to look at several different sites in case some of the deals were missed by one or another. When you’re just starting, focus on free items, super cheap items, and good deals on items you already use all the time. Keep your first few lists simple.
- Some of these deals will require coupons you can print right from your computer and will link to those coupons. Print these coupons right away. The best coupons often disappear quickly. Other deals will require coupons from the Sunday newspaper. Don’t have these? Don’t worry. You can begin purchasing the Sunday paper to create a coupon stockpile, but you can also order coupons online. (Links provided at the end of this article.)
- Make a list of your chosen deals. Keep this list with your coupons. To start, just place your list and the applicable coupons in an envelope. You can devise your organization system later. I’ll offer you a few typical organization options in a moment.
- Print out your chosen store’s coupon policy. Read it and keep it with your coupons (in case any cashiers give you a hard time).
- Give your first couponing trip a try. Be ready for your chosen items to be sold out if it’s a really good deal. You likely aren’t the only couponer in town. If your chosen store has multiple locations in your town, try to hit up more than one store if you can, but don’t waste a lot of gas doing so, or that defeats the purpose. Try to plan couponing trips around other errands that put you in the right part of town.
- Pay close attention as the cashier rings up your items. Have an idea of what your total should be before you are rung up, so you can easily catch any mistakes.
- Take your goodies home and add them to your stockpile. Remember not to get too carried away and to only purchase items you can use (or will realistically donate) in a reasonable timeframe. Some items like canned goods have rather flexible expiration dates, but that free bagged lettuce has a very definite shelf life. Be discerning.
(Side note: in some states with sales tax on food, “free” may mean just for the cost of tax. Usually store coupons actually reduce the price of the item, so you are only taxed on the lower price. But manufacturer’s coupons come off after tax is already determined. So you may still have a tax bill even if the item itself is “free” after coupons.)
So now that you’ve dabbled a bit and are hooked, it’s time to get organized. There are several effective ways to keep your coupons organized. Some people use a coupon binder full of baseball card holders or currency holders. Others use file folders with unclipped coupons sections sorted by date. Others use the more traditional coupon file organizer. (Your typical coupon file from the dollar store will likely be too small in the long-run, but will offer a fine beginning system.)
Here’s what I do that works for me. I have a large file box that will hold business-size envelopes (you could also use a photo storage box). I keep one envelope for each major brand name (Betty Crocker, Heinz, Kraft, etc.) and then file those alphabetically.
Here’s why this works for me. I am very rarely standing in the soup aisle flipping through coupons to see if Campbell’s or Progresso is cheaper with any coupons I might have. Instead, I plan my shopping trips at home using the methods outlined above. So it’s very easy for me to quickly find out if I have any coupons for the four different Kellogg’s cereals listed for sale at Target this week. I then pull out the coupons that match my planned deals. I get a fresh envelope (or recycled one) and make my shopping list right on that envelope, complete with which coupons I plan to use with that item.
Unless it’s just a quick trip in and out, I typically take my entire file box to the store just in case I find an unadvertised deal to hand-match with coupons, but I could certainly just pull out my store envelope to make it easy.
As promised, here are some websites to get you started. There are plenty more out there. Keep in mind with online printable coupons to stick to well-known websites you know are legitimate or the company’s own website. There are many fraudulent coupons floating around. Most good deal websites will also only link you to legitimate coupons. A hint: you will never find an online coupon that says you’re getting the item for free. It may end up free after you take that $1 off, but you won’t find a coupon good for a free package of Huggies unless it’s fake.
Legitimate online coupons:
Great deal sites to start with:
Wildforwags.com (Walgreens deals)
Totallytarget.com (Target deals)
iheartcvs.com (CVS deals)
Money Saving Mom (general deal site)
thekrazycouponlady.com (general deal site)
Coupon clipping websites:
eBay (just search for whatever coupon you’re looking for…someone is selling it)