Category Archives: Couponing 101

Couponing in Unknown Territory!

My family and I just moved to a new area that offers different grocery stores than our old city.  I have spent the first few days at our new grocery store trying to learn their policies and procedures.  So, while this experience is fresh, I thought I’d share some tips for you!  Maybe you moved?  Maybe you want to try shopping at a store in your area that you haven’t visited yet?  Enjoy the tips, share yours and remember to have fun!

1) Have your coupons organized!

I found that the best way to organize coupons is to sort them by category in a binder.  Use baseball card pages so you can quickly reference the brand, savings amount and expiration date.  Pull any expired coupons.  I am often asked if I clip all coupons.  No.  Right now I am focused on food.  I have acquired enough cleaning supplies from my last year of couponing to last five lifetimes!

I clip food coupons, pet food, dish soap and laundry soap.  I file the clipped coupons in my binder.  The binder travels with me into the store.   I KEEP the unclipped coupons in my hanging file box.  The hanging file box stays at home.

I liken organizing coupons to preparing a quilt for assembly.  You must first choose what fabric you want and like, then carefully cut out the shapes.  You cannot make a successful quilt if your pieces are scattered or missing!

2) Sign Up for a Store Reward Card!

A store reward card or shopper card will save you even more money!  Many stores offer ecoupons.  These ecoupons can be loaded from their website, directly to your shopper card.  Many stores allow you to combine the ecoupons with the coupons from your binder.  This is called “stacking” and will double your discounts!

Stop in the store and sign up for the store savings card.  Don’t shop!  Just sign up and go home!  Okay, pick up the store map and coupon policy while you are there.  But, no shopping!!  Go home with your shiny new store card and register your card on the store’s website.  Sometimes you will receive a coupon printable offer just for registering your card online!

If you sign up for your store card online, rather than in the store, you may have to wait for your reward card to come to you in the mail.  This could take days or weeks!  How will you take advantage of the current sales without  a card?!

3) ASK QUESTIONS!

Learning new store policies and procedures can seem overwhelming.  Just take it slow and be sure to ask questions of the customer service associates.  They are there to help you!  And remember no matter what you are told from one person, it may be totally different coming from someone else!  Example: I asked the clerk at the service desk if they accept internet printed coupons.  She said “NO!  We have had too many problems with them.”  I smiled and said “Thank you.”  When I was going through the checkout lane I asked the same question of the cashier.  She said “Yes” and pointed to the internet coupon policy hanging at her register.  A perfect example of YMMV (your mileage/market may vary).  The mileage you get with coupons can change from one cashier to another, and one store to another….all within the same chain! 

4) Learn the layout of the store

Pick up a store map.  Don’t see one?  Ask at the service desk.  Use the store map to create the flow of categories in your binder.  Whichever store you shop at the most, your binder should follow the same order as the aislesThis may seem a little over the top BUT it pays off!  As you walk through the store, you flip through and follow in your binder.  Many times you will find unadvertised sales and be able to quickly match your coupon to the item.

5) HAVE FUN!

The most important thing to remember is if you aren’t having fun, then you shouldn’t be couponing!  And when you experience good customer service, be sure to take a moment to tell management about it!

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…But I Don’t Have Time To Clip Coupons!!

….But I don’t have time to clip coupons and file them all into baseball card pages in a coupon binder!….

So, in this case, here is what to do with your multiple copies of the Sunday coupon inserts…

Use a file box, or portable bag (as pictured above), along with manila file folders.  I started with a large, clunky plastic file box, but it was too awkward, rigid and heavy to carry around.  Plus, I was always worried the lid would pop off and all of my coupons would dump out!   I found this AWESOME Land’s End medium canvas tote .  It is sturdy, durable and holds it’s upright shape.  It has flexibility, being fabric, to load it up with all of those inserts! Not to mention it is super easy to transport.  I am in love with these bags!  My only regret is not getting it embroidered with “COUPONS”!

Each week, pull out all of the coupon inserts from the Sunday paper.   Let’s say you have P&G, RP and SS coupon inserts. (Proctor & Gamble, Red Plum and Smart Source.)  Label your manila file folder in pen with “PG” and with pencil for the date, let’s say “2/14/11”.  Do this for SS 2/14/11 and RP 2/14/11.  Put the corresponding coupon inserts in the manila file folder.  Did you know that each coupon insert is labeled, in tiny print, on the front spine with the date?

The key is to start saving the inserts. Then follow a store blog, like For The Mommas. Follow the Drugstore coupon match-ups for Rite Aid here. For the sale week the Rite Aid post may mention:

Afrin sale price $1.99
use (1) $1/1 Afrin 2/14/11 SS
get $1 UP reward
=FREE

This means you would go to the 2/14/11 SS file and clip as many of the Afrin coupons as the store will allow you to use, or that you want to buy.

You may also chose to clip the coupons from your weekly inserts only for products that you KNOW you will use. Then, file these coupons in a zippered binder with baseball card sleeves. See my instructions for filing in a binder here. This will show you step-by-step, with photos, how to gather several identical copies of coupon inserts, cut and file them into a coupon binder.

An online searchable coupon database is also a great resource. For The Mommas has one, and there is one available on my blog as well. (It is on the right side, about one quarter down the page, titled “Searchable Coupon Database”.) With using the coupon database, you can match your local store ad to the database to see if coupons are available for specific sale items. I do this with our small local grocery store, since it isn’t listed in any online forum.

One benefit to filing whole coupon inserts is that it is less time consuming than clipping all coupons and filing them in a binder. Another benefit is you can carry the filed coupon inserts with you to the store. If you have a smart phone, you can pull up the online database while you are shopping. So, when you see a good sale price, you are able to quickly search for a matching coupon and clip it out right there in the aisle! If you don’t have a smart phone, you can create a master list of all of your coupons in the inserts by visiting the Sunday Coupon Preview website. With a little effort, you can copy and paste the lists into a spreadsheet, print it and keep it with your inserts. Then, just access your printed master list to find a matching coupon for your sale item.

The downside of filing whole inserts is it can be time consuming and cumbersome finding a coupon for a hot sale price item while you are in the store, and you’re more likely to miss out on a deal. Also, the coupon databases may not list some coupons specific to your area. Again, you may miss a deal.

I have found, after couponing for the last year, that keeping a coupon file system AND a binder works best for me. There are always higher value printable coupons online, so having the binder to file these loose coupons is needed. When I am going through an insert to determine what coupons to clip, I ask myself “Would I use this item if I could get it for free or for a fraction of the price?” If yes, I clip and file in my binder.

Again, everyone finds a system that works best for their situation. Your filing system may also evolve over time, along with your stockpile. When you are just starting out couponing, you may want to clip most of your coupons and file in a binder. This will help you to expedite your shopping trip and maximize your savings in order to build your stockpile at the lowest cost. Once you have built an inventory of items, you may decide to only go after the freebies that are listed on the store coupon match-up forums. No matter how you decide to keep your coupons, know that your efforts will pay off in huge savings!

Happy couponing!
~Allison

Organizing Coupons 101

This is a step by step guide to help you organize your coupons using the binder system. A binder that zips closed is your best bet so when you carry it to and from the store, coupons don’t fall out.  Whether you get one or several copies of the Sunday paper, this system will help you to increase your grocery savings. This is the method that I currently use, which has evolved over the last year. Your system may change too. It will take some time to learn what works best for your situation. No one method works for everyone, this is merely a guide to help you get started on your road to successful savings!

The purpose of filing coupons in baseball card sleeves, rather than a small accordion file, is to be able to clearly see what the coupon product is, the dollar value and the expiration date. Next, arranging your binder by category will help you easily locate specific coupons. Further, arranging each category within your binder to follow the order of the aisles in your favorite store will make shopping a breeze!

It is recommended that you purchase multiple copies of the Sunday paper. A general guideline is to purchase one paper for each member of your household. I buy 6 newspapers and we have 5 people in our household. I rounded up to an even number for the purpose of matching our grocery store gas deals. If we buy 6 of an item, we receive an extra $.20 off per gallon of gas.

So, now that you have all of these coupon inserts, how do you manage them? Here is your step by step guide to keeping them all organized!

Step 1:

Tear apart each insert down the center and stack like pages together.  Be careful not to rip through any coupons or bar codes.

Step 2:

Collect each group of like pages and make one large stack.  Alternate the direction between different pages in order to make it easier to pull them and clip.

Step 3:

Gather the group of same pages and carefully cut out the coupons, front and back sides.  Before cutting, you may choose to staple the pages together to keep them from sliding around while you are cutting.  **Be sure you do not cut off any part of the expiration date or bar code or your coupon will be rejected!!

Step 4:

After the coupons are clipped, place them into their categories.  I have created a sorting board with the categories written in each space.  The categories on the board follow the same order as the coupon binder.  This prevents unnecessary flipping back and forth through the binder as you file the coupons away.

Here is a list of categories:
Produce                                                           Deli
PB&J                                                                Condiments
Breads                                                             Candy
Can Fruit                                                        Salty Snacks
Juice Jello – Pudding                                  Can Meat & Fish International
Water & Soda                                               Chips – Crackers – Cookies
Can Veggies                                                   Soup
Pasta                                                                Prepared Foods
Baking                                                             Breakfast
Granola – Fruit Snacks                               Coffee – Tea
Yogurt Refrigerated                                    Frozen Bags – Wraps
Paper Products                                             Office – Misc
Pet                                                                    Laundry
Surface Cleaners                                          Air Fresheners
Dish Soap                                                       Beauty – Face
Soap – Body Wash                                        Lotion
Hair Care                                                        Pain – Cold – Allergy
Vitamins                                                         First Aid
Oral Care                                                        Feminine Care
Eye Care                                                         Shaving – Deodorant
Baby

Step 5:

Place coupons into the pages of your binder!

You may want to keep brands together on one page within a category.  An example of this is in the cereal category.  Keep General Mills coupons together and Kellogg’s on a different page.  Sorting brands together expedites the process of matching coupons to specific sale items.

Be sure to include your name and phone number in your binder so if it is lost, it can be easily returned to you.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.  I’d also love to hear if you have implemented this system as a result of this article!

Happy Shopping!

~Allison