Saturday, May 28, 2011

Simplified Guide to Beginning Couponing

I recently had someone email me about where to start couponing. Watching a show like TLC's Extreme Couponing can be inspiring, confusing, and frustrating to figure out how they do that. Though I don't consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, I'm happy to pass along a few tips to get you started.

1. Begin following a couple of coupon bloggers. Knoxville is blessed with a great community of bloggers, each with a slightly different focus. Checking blogs cost $0 and it could save you hundreds. My apologies to anyone I've missed.
2. Gather coupons, lots of them. Consider clipping those for products other than those you use in case they might get you free stuff. It's a good way to try new products or donate to local charities, friends, or family. Look in Sunday newspapers, print them online, and contact your favorite store to have any additional coupon booklets sent. Kroger does a great job with this. Ask friends or family for any coupon inserts they'd otherwise throw away.

3. Organize coupons. Don't let the monster binders scare you. You can start with a few envelopes and paper clips. If you get more into it, you'll figure out the method that works best for you.

4. Change your mindset of how you shop. Start by checking out the weekly flyer to see what's on sale. Southern Savers and Coupon Katie do match-ups (pairing the sale price with available coupons to give you the best savings). When you see a good deal for something you buy anyway, stock up. You don't have to clear the shelves or have an excessive stockpile. But it's nice not to HAVE to shop every week and to never pay full price.

5. Don't chase every deal. Start small, use a few coupons, and gain confidence gradually. I try to limit my shopping to one grocery store and one pharmacy a week. I'll go to Target, Earthfare, and Staples each once a month. Make sure you have a rewards card if applicable for every store you frequent.

6. Explore other ways to save in bulk. When strawberries, blueberries, and tomatoes are in season, I pick a LOT and freeze, dehydrate, or make jam or salsa out of them. We also buy a portion of cow and chip away at that over the course of a year. My brother is a hunter; so I have all the duck and venison I want. Three Rivers Market also sells several organic goods by the case.

7. Have a plan and stick to it. Once you know what's on sale, figure out what meals you can make with that. Set a menu for the week and stick to it. Minimize waste by eating left-overs or using extra meat in a different recipe. Reducing your waste is one of the biggest ways to save money. And when you're in the store, resist the temptation to buy anything not on your list. Train your kids to expect that if it's not on sale and you don't have a coupon, you don't buy it.

8. Check out the pharmacy deals. I've learned I can usually save 85-90% on certain items at Walgreen's and CVS. But this can take some time to figure out. Check guidelines for shopping at the local blogger sites. Some stuff you can typically get for free are oral hygiene products, body wash, pain medication, shampoo, feminine needs, and chocolate. I usually do weekly posts called Couponing for Charity to walk you through specific deals.

9. Be realistic. If you're truly buying what you need for your family, you probably won't save 95% in a shopping trip. Be happy if you save 20-40% starting out. You'll figure out where you can save on the deals that are right for you.

Was this helpful? Are you ready to start couponing? Do you still have questions? Ask away.

1 comment:

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