by my dear friend and avid couponer, Ashley Alliman
1. Conquer your fears
I cannot TELL you how many times I saw so many smokin’ deals come and go and I didn’t do a thing about it. This was stemmed from the fear of doing it wrong. As a soon-to-be stay-at-home mom, I decided it was high time to for me to find shortcuts to saving money – for real this time. I was determined to get wrapped up in this coupon-crazed way of life and take advantage of it. I started from absolute scratch and led myself up to where I am now, and can honestly say I still learn something new every day! And well, if I can do it…you can surely do it, too!
2. The Binder
You HAVE to have a binder. This is not an option. You must have some kind of filing system to help you achieve ultimate organization. This helps you from the very beginning when you’re just getting your toes wet to when it becomes your actual hobby.
1) Buy a 3-inch binder 2) Buy some baseball style pocket pages (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0007XXFGG/ref=oh_o00_s00_i00_details)
3) Buy some dividers (Label: “FREE” “FOOD/BEV” “HYGIENE” “BABY”- just whatever fits your needs)
4) Buy a pencil pouch that can go inside your 3-ring binder (for calculator, pencil, scissors).
3. Join a local money-saving group.
Whether you are a newbie, or a veteran, it is always nice to give and receive tips on local hot deals and finds. In our area, we have our Facebook group “Couponing Housewives of Douglas County.” You may be able to browse and find a similar group in your area via social media sites or even email groups. We have a very active group of members who keep watch on what goes on sale and inform us of ways to get the best deal. We even inform each other when items are running low or out of stock before we make the trek. If you cannot find a local group, start one!
4. Clip EVERYTHING
I began by getting SO excited about coupons that I clipped every coupon I could find (magazines, brochures, Coupons.com, newspaper ‘P&G’ inserts, inside product packaging, store ads, etc.) This became a problem for me, as a newbie, because I felt the need to buy everything I had a coupon for (whether I needed it or not). This is the biggest mistake you can make. You actually spend more money than you would have prior to couponing. HOWEVER, after I got over this hump, I got into the habit of only keeping coupons of products I used daily. This was also a problem, because when a great promo would come up, I realized I hadn’t clipped the coupon and couldn’t take advantage of it. I learned to clip EVERYTHING and put it in The Binder just in case.
For example, in my recent All You Magazine, there was a coupon for $2 off of a Sally Hansen beauty tool. I clipped this, even though I figured I probably wouldn’t use it. Turns out Rite Aid had a new in-ad coupon for $4 off of a Sally Hansen beauty tool product. I was able to get a pair of REALLY nice nail clippers, priced at $4.29, for FREE by pairing my coupon with the in-ad coupon.
Rite Aid, along with some other stores do not pay overage, but “adjust” the coupon to make the item simply free. Even if you don’t use the coupon yourself, your fellow couponers just might. Worst that could happen is that you don’t use it and it expires.
5. Watch ‘deal’/couponing blogs like a hawk.
I am an avid follower of deal-seeker blogs such as hip2save.com, thekrazycouponlady.com, and raininghotcoupons.com. If you’re near a Target store, totallytarget.com is also a fun one. When I say I am an “avid follower,” we’re talking bi-hourly checks on the latest postings. The operators of these sites post the latest printable high value coupons, teach us of coupon stacking deals and inform us of other promotions that pop up over various websites. Bookmark your favorite sites and share your findings with others!
6. Get friendly with REWARDS
At one point, I just didn’t understand ‘rewards’ programs, so I just ignored any deals that came up involving stores like Rite Aid or Walgreens that utilize these. After seeing too many FREE offers come up, I dove in head first determined to learn. As an example, Rite Aid uses the Wellness +UP program. Every Sunday when their new ad comes out, there are products that are eligible for +UP rewards. These +UP rewards, when earned, can be used on your next transaction and will print at the bottom of your receipt. An example of a deal I tackled recently at Rite Aid was on Colgate toothpaste and toothbrushes:
Buy 4 Colgate Toothpaste $3.50 each
Buy 5 Colgate Toothbrushes $2.49 each
Get back (4) $3.50+UP rewards from toothpaste (limit 4 offers)
Get back (4) $1.50+UP rewards from toothbrushes (limit 4 offers)
Get back $10 monthly +UP rewards when you buy $25 worth of Colgate products
FINAL COST= FREE + $3.55 money maker! (so $30 total back in +Ups)
So, the part that is hard to wrap your head around, is that YES, you DO have to pay the $26.45 initially, but after this initial “investment,” I like to call it, and you EARN the $30 back in +UP rewards, then you can continue to “recycle” your rewards on future +UP offers and just keep using them over and over without paying a dime! This deal could have also been even sweeter if you had Colgate coupons clipped already. Using these reward programs is where I personally find the most outstanding deals.
7. Stack, stack and stack some more
I feel like I talk about Rite Aid a lot. So here I will do that some more. Recently, on one of my hauls, I discovered a (Rite Aid) in-ad coupon for $4 off a Playtex baby item. I “stacked” this coupon with a $2 off coupon I received by signing up for Playtexbaby.com e-mails. Here is how the scenario went down:
Buy 1 (2 pack) Playtex Pacifier $5.49
Use the $2/1 coupon from Playtexbaby.com newsletter
Use the $4 in-ad coupon (needed to be adjusted down since Rite Aid doesn’t do overage)
Final cost= 100% FREE
So you can see that by “stacking” the in-ad coupon with the printable coupon I received via email, I was able to score these pacifiers for FREE. Literally. Not a dime spent. Another way to stack and get in on good sales, at Safeway or Albertson’s for example, is to watch out for their in-ad ‘double your manufacturer’s coupon’. For example, I printed (from Coupons.com), a coupon for $1 off of a Starkist tuna pouch. I then “stacked” this coupon with the Albertson’s doubler and scored the tuna FREE. Note: Safeway does not double printed coupons.
How I typically find my coupons: “like” the manufacturer’s Facebook page (most offer coupons or freebies that come WITH coupons) of the products you intend to purchase, Coupons.com, P&G/RP/SS inserts in the Sunday newspaper, from postings in the blogs I mentioned above, inside product packaging, in magazines (I HIGHLY recommend a subscription to All You magazine), and in-ad store coupons (these can be “stacked” with your manufacturer’s coupons).
8. Cash back websites
Websites I do use, but should probably use more often is Shopathome.com and Ebates.com. Plain and simple – any time you make an online purchase, first go to one of these cash back sites, find the store site in which you intend to shop (i.e. American Eagle, Magazines.com, Kohls.com), and receive cash back on almost every purchase. A few months back, I received $17.68 cash back (within 2 weeks of purchasing) on a magazine subscription that I was planning on renewing anyway (so the extra money was a nice perk). These ARE legit, and you DO receive a check in the mail for your purchases.
9. DO send in your mail-in rebates! (‘Peelies’ and ‘Stickies’)
Manufacturer’s LOVE mail-in rebates. Why? Because 99% of the time shoppers do not send them in. However, they succeed in initially getting the consumer excited to purchase their product because of the mail-in promotional offer. You either a) forget, or b) don’t feel like putting forth the effort. They also may make it inconvenient for you (read their fine print and see what I mean). For example (I like examples), I recently discovered a deal on these new Arm & Hammer laundry detergent drop-in packs. On the package was a small “peelie” or “sticky” that said “TRY ME FREE- up to $9.99 value.” I got the 60-count pack and approximately PAID the initial $7. I brought the package home and read the peelie. Arm & Hammer wanted the shopper to mail in a copy of the original receipt (I did a separate transaction for this so that I could have the receipt of the other items I was purchasing that day), the “peelie” found on the package, a 3×5 card with your name and address, and the original proof of purchase from the package itself. Not that I wanted to cut up my container prematurely, I just didn’t want to fall into the trap of forgetting to cut it out down the road, or losing my peelie and losing out on the offer altogether. Note: not all mail-in rebates are this picky, but I want you to pursue with caution. Most mail-in offers are easy: you send in your original receipt and TADA! I cannot express to you how many FREE products I have received by having a little patience, mailed in my rebate form and waited for my check in the mail.
10. Paid Surveys
Last, but not least, the paid survey topic. I have signed up for MANY survey sites and they were a joke. However, there are those out there that, if you have a spare moment in your day, you can truly benefit from. A few sites I personally keep up with and recommend are: Swagbucks.com, CharityVoice.com and Crowdtap.com. They are slow to accumulate (unless you have HOURS to give up in your day to answer surveys) but DO give you a little extra spending money. I know as a soon-to-be stay at home mom, these extra dollars will be a nice addition to my personal budget. I have been a member of CharityVoice.com for about 6 months. In 6 months, I have personally accumulated $31.50 to date by taking quick 5-minute surveys, maybe once every two weeks, that I can either cash out (and they WILL deposit to my PayPal account) or disperse to reliable, established charities listed on their site of my choice. Swagbucks.com and Crowdtap.com give you options to get cash back, gift cards, clothing, and other products with your points. Again, these are not a “get rich quick” option, but a slowly accumulating PERK!