Stretching Your Dollar with Coupons

Watching shows like Extreme Couponing gives a lot of people a false picture of couponers. We’re not all crazy, we don’t all have a million rolls of TP and cat food but no cat, and we don’t all walk away with a huge cart full of stuff for nothing at all. I am a conservative couponer, but I manage to save $15-$20 every time I go shopping. Here’s how:

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  1. Subscribe to a paper. I actually subscribe to two- UT San Diego and LA Times. These two get different inserts, so I wind up with 2-4 different coupon inserts every week. You don’t need to get multiple copies of one paper, unless having multiples of coupons makes your skirt fly up, in which case go for it. Subscribing ensures you get a copy each week, instead of going somewhere on Sunday to buy a copy and finding they are sold out.
  2. Consider buying inserts. Some websites sell inserts from areas with a high cost of living. These areas (generally Southern California and New York City) have higher value coupons than more rural areas. I don’t do this because I live in Southern California, so the coupons I get are about as high value as they come.
  3. Clip all the coupons you’ll use. I keep my critera very broad and have no brand loyalty- Instead of saying, “I’ll cut out all Pantene coupons” , I say “I’ll cut out all shampoo coupons”. I generally don’t clip medication coupons, razor coupons (we use One Dollar Shave Club instead), or processed food coupons.
  4. Put them in your coupon binder. I use a three ring binder with baseball card organizers, separated into five categories: food, household (cleaners, laundry soap, dishsoap), pet stuff, baby stuff, and health and beauty. I used to have a cheap coupon organizer from the dollar store, but it took a lot longer to go through my coupons at the store that way. Keep your binder updated- generally, Sunday morning is a good time to clip your coupons and throw out expired ones.
  5. Choose your stores. I shop at four different stores: the Commissary, Target, Trader Joe’s, and Costco.The Commissary takes manufacturer’s coupons, Target will stack manufacturer’s coupons and Target coupons (plus Cartwheel), and Trader Joe’s and Costco don’t take coupons at all. Shopping at four different stores for things allows me to maximize my savings, despite having to drive. We always lump errands, so Costco (which is the farthest away) is not visited nearly as often as the Commissary.
  6. Know what to buy at each store. I buy bread, milk, and some produce at Trader Joe’s. Their bread is delicious, their milk is the cheapest around, and some of their produce is cheap and worth buying. Costco is for spices, yeast, and applesauce. We used to buy yogurt here, but since Little Man developed an allergy to berries, he can only eat 1/3 of the package, so it’s not worth it anymore. I go to Target for things that I have Target coupons for, which is generally shampoo, conditioner, laundry soap, diapers, baby wipes, and dish soap. At Target, you can use three discounts on one item: a manufacturer’s coupon, a Target coupon, and Cartwheel. This can lead to big savings. I also do our WIC shopping at Target- I feel like people are judging me less when I use WIC checks there than if I use them at the Commissary or another grocery store. Everything else, I get at the Commissary.
  7. Shop backwards. I always start in the Clearance Corner, or on the outskirts of the store where clearance endcaps are. That way, I can pick up items on my list on clearance instead of having to backtrack to put items back.

I don’t stockpile. I know several girls who do, and if you do, more power to ya. However, as a military wife, I feel that the uncertainty of this lifestyle isn’t conducive to having hundreds of cans and boxes in a closet. Plus, have you seen on base housing? There’s no storage for a stockpile. I keep one extra bottle of toiletries and cleaning supplies on hand, more so I don’t have to go buy dish soap at night because I ran out than anything. There are a few exceptions to this rule- I stockpile Tide, which I use to wash diapers, and if I find a killer deal on something that I have multiple coupons for, I’ll buy as many as I have the coupons for.

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