August 16, 2010

Back to Basics | Couponing {Part 1 of 4}

This is the first of a four part series how-to series I wrote about couponing in January 2009. I'm running each part this week as well as some other important information about the basics of couponing. If you're new to the power of the coupon, I hope this series helps you!

{Every Friday during the month of January, I'll be posting my Back to Basics: Couponing series. Go here to see what the topics will be. I hope this series will help those of you out there who are just starting to use coupons to reduce your household budget. I'd love to hear what works for you! Add your ideas or links in a comment.}

Back to Basics: Couponing

Part One: Where to Get Coupons and How to Organize Them

If you're going to use coupons to lower your budget, you'll need a good supply to get started.

Sunday Newspaper Inserts

The first place to start is your Sunday newspaper. If you already get this delivered, you'll have the coupon inserts that come each week. Depending on which region you reside, you'll see one to three inserts (sometimes more; sometimes none during the big holiday weekends) that might include these inserts:

Smart Source (SS)

Red Plum (RP)

Vlassis (V)

General Mills (GM; for GM products, usually comes in back-to-school season, beginning of the year, and just before the big holiday cooking seasons)

Proctor&Gamble (PG; comes monthly in just about all regions)

If you don't have a newspaper subscription, you can usually get a good deal as a new subscriber. Find your local newspaper's website, then click on their Home Subscription or Subscribe tab or link (often buried at the bottom of the page).

Right now, my local paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, is offering a free $10 gas card or $10 Kroger card with new subscriptions; weekly subscriptions are $16.31/month and Sunday only subscriptions are $10.71/month. Go here if you're in my region to see this offer.

If the cost of a monthly subscription is too high for you, consider calling the subscription office and just asking if they have any better deals. If you happen to be enrolled in school, you might get a student subscription cost.

If chatting up a customer service rep doesn't net you a better offer, consider just buying the Sunday paper at a local drugstore or grocery store. Right now, the Enquirer is sold for $0.99 at Kroger; this is an offer they have every once in a while. The regular price is usually $1.50, so for 4-5 Sundays a month, you'll pay $6.00 - $7.50 normally. If you're out and about on Sundays, this may be the best option for you, value-wise.

Now, the next thing you'll need to do is pull your coupon inserts each week and keep them. ALL OF THEM! I can't stress this enough; many people who use coupons casually flip through the Sunday coupons, clip the ones for products they *might* buy that week, then toss the rest into the recycling bin.

Please, please, please - DON'T TOSS THOSE COUPONS!

The key to successful couponing is to keep all the coupons that you get in the Sunday inserts, along with finding coupons elsewhere. We'll discuss other places to find coupons here in a bit.

So, you're buying the paper, pulling the coupon inserts and saving them. Good job! But you'll do better if you have more than (1) copy of coupon inserts each week.

How do you get more?

~ Ask your friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers for their Sunday coupons. My mom and dad give me theirs so I always have (2) sets of inserts for each week.

~ Buy extra copies of the newspaper on weeks where there are lots of inserts. This past Sunday (1/4/09) was the first Sunday of the month and of the year. This is significant because the PG inserts usually come out the FIRST Sunday of the month, giving you (3) inserts total (PG, SS, RP -- my region). Since it was the first of the year (new year = new financial qtr in a new financial year for manufacturers and retailers which means LOTS of coupons for us), there were also (2) extra SS and RP inserts in my paper, along with a GM insert.

How do I know which inserts will be in the Sunday paper and how many? I check the Taylortown Coupon Preview each week where I can see not only how many inserts are coming, but which coupons will be in the inserts.

Southern Savers also has a post up with the 2009 coupon insert schedule for each Sunday in 2009 right here.

~ Start a coupon swapping club. If you and a friend or two or three are all beginning to coupon together, you might be able to help each other out by swapping the coupons you don't need. Maybe your friend has a dog, but her kids are older. You have no dogs, but have a little one in diapers. You could agree to swap your dog food and dog treat q's with your friend for her diaper q's. Everyone wins!

Internet Printables

Several sites offer printable coupons you can use at the grocery store and at drugstores. It's important to note that each store has a different coupon policy for both regular insert coupons and for internet printable coupons; it's a good idea to go to your store's corporate site and search for, then print, their coupon policy. I've never had any problems using coupons at Kroger, CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Target, or RiteAid, but I know some bloggers have.

Some top internet printable coupon sites:

Smart Source

Red Plum

Cool Savings

Mambo Sprouts (organic products)

Eat Better America (a General Mill site; healthy food coupons - see link at bottom that says Coupons/Promotions)

Box Tops 4 Education (coupons for products bearing BoxTops -- WOOT!)

HomeMadeSimple (coupons for cleaning products) (coupons for P&G cleaners/household products)

Printable coupons usually change every 30-60 days; while they're active, you can usually print only (2) per computer (they track if you've printed them by your unique IP address).

You can also find printable coupons just by searching at individual manufacturer's websites; often, they'll have a tab labeled "Promotions/Coupons" for their products.


These are electronic coupons that you load to your shopper's loyalty card (Kroger Card, CVS Extra Care Bucks Card, etc). You open a free account, link your loyalty card number to your account, then go through the available e-coupons and select which one's you'd like to load to your card.

At the store, the coupons come off automatically once your card is scanned.

I've had great success with these two services:

P&G E-Saver

Short Cuts

You should note that it sometimes takes an hour or so between the time you load the coupons to your card and the time they're actually active on your card. Load them the night before you shop just to be sure.

And you can print out a copy of what you've loaded to your card. This is a good idea so that if you check your receipt and see that the e-coupon did not get taken off your order, you can go over to the customer service desk with your printed e-coupon list and your receipt and ask them to fix it. They usually will!

In Store

The little coupon machines that spit out coupons are called blinkies; my kids love collecting these for me! Grab ones you might use but don't be greedy. There's enough to go around.

There are often coupons on packages of items; these are known as peelies. Please, PLEASE, don't be a greedy gus and take all the peelies off of packages that you're not buying. If it works out that they're on something you're getting, use them or save them.

Stores often send you store coupons in the mail (Kroger does this based on your what your store loyalty card has recorded you purchasing in the previous quarter). If you sign up for email alerts at CVS or Walgreens, you'll get emailed printable coupons in your inbox.

Catalinas are coupons that print at point of sale separately from your receipt. Save those, too!

CRTs are coupons that print on the end of your CVS receipt; these are often for products that will earn ECBs in the future. Save those!

Finally, keep your eyes open while you're in CVS or Walgreens; they often have booklets of store coupons lying around near the pharmacy, cosmetics, photo, or registers. Take one or two and leave the rest for everyone else.

In magazines

All You magazine usually has great coupons. You can subscribe or purchase at Wal-Mart.

Good Housekeeping often has good coupons inside it's pages, too.

Online Couponing Resources I Use

Hot Coupon World
Register for a free account then you'll have access to search the coupon database and locate coupons for virtually anything.

A Full Cup
Hands down, the best printable coupon database. Also has printable Target coupons for Target grocery stores.

This site is huge and is an enormous resource for all kinds of deals, coupons, and scenarios. Give yourself time to click around.

Organizing Your Coupons

After a few weeks of keeping your Sunday paper coupon inserts, you'll find yourself with quite a collection. Time to get organized, and to decide...

To clip or not to clip?

I personally do NOT clip my coupons until I need them for a planned trip. I know some people who do clip their coupons and swear by that system. I am simply too busy with my three kids, two dogs, carpooling, Girl Scouting, school volunteering, blogging, and occasionally sleeping to clip the coupons.

The key to successful organization of your coupons is to do what works for you. Try out a method and adjust as needed until you figure out what's best for your life and time constraints.

I organize in two ways.

For my inserts, I label them with a Sharpie on the front cover with the date they came out (ie: last Sunday's are labeled 01/04/09), then file each weeks inserts in an expandable file folder with the oldest in the front and the newest in the back.

When I need to locate a coupon by date of insert, I can find it easily. Hot Coupon World's database rocks because it lists coupons by insert and date, making it a quick job to locate and clip the ones I'll need for my shopping.

For internet printables or for coupons I clipped and then didn't use at the store (they were out of stock or I found a better deal), I have a small plastic shoebox with envelopes labeled with categories (ie: baby items, toothpaste, canned goods). I file those unused clipped coupons there until I need them (and try to remember that I've filed them!). I also file my catalinas there in a separate envelope, along with any individual store coupons I received by mail, or email, or found in the store. I file blinkies and peelies in this box, too.

Here's some other ideas from fellow bloggers:

~Coupon Binder
Watch my friend Alyssa's video about how she uses a binder to organize her q's.

My friend Jennifer discusses how she uses both a Couponizer and a filebox for her system.

~Coupon Box
See how Crystal uses a simple box and envelope system that keeps her organized.

I should also note that I don't take ALL my coupons with me to the stores all the time. I plan my trips very specifically and pull the coupons I'll need. Sometimes, I'll toss in some coupons for things I might luck into on sale (marked down salad or yogurt or bread). I shop with my three year old during the school year and all three of my kids during the summer; a binder or box would be at their mercy if I had it with me.

Bottom line: try a system, change it as needed and do what works for you.

This is a long post with a lot of information; read and come back to it if you need to reference it. Feel free to link it with credit to me (thanks for linking me!).

And if you have any questions or if I missed something (quite possible as I've been working on this off and on all day), leave a comment and share your questions or your knowledge.

Coming up next Friday (01/16/09) is part two of Back to Basics: Couponing {Planning}.

When I have time this week, I'll post a B2B: CVS a B2B: Walgreens with explanations of how to save at these stores. It's critical knowledge to have before planning your shopping scenarios.

Thanks for reading! Love you all!

What tips do YOU have? What works for you?


Anonymous said...

When I take my newspapers to the recycling center I pick through the top few layers and usually find at least a few inserts. It's only newspaper so it is clean! :)