Coupons 101

If you have just started then I am sure you are asking yourself "What did I get myself into?" HaHa. Don't worry we all have felt that way. Here are my top ten tips and words of advice for you:

  1. GET COUPONS - Start getting the Sunday paper, even if it is only 1 (1 per person in your house is recommended, but I only get two papers and I have three little children and two adults, and I find it is sufficient.)
    There are several other ways of getting coupons, but these are only in addition to getting the paper. You can sign up at several sites and get mailers or special offers, and you can go to coupons.com. The site Grocery Smarts is great for letting you know what store has the best deal, and what coupons you will need to get it. Double check your coupons to make sure you aren't missing an opportunity, once your list is made.
  2. ORGANIZE - From the beginning find  a good way to organize your coupons. You can get a file folder and separate them by week, or by publisher. You can get a binder clip them into categories. Whatever works for you, but make sure you stay organized or it will be a lot harder than it should and take a lot longer than you want.
  3. BUDGET - Create a budget if you don't have one already. Figure out how much you have been spending on groceries/toiletries/etc and make a goal for yourself. Try to decrease your budget by $25/mo until you are down to a reasonable amount (mine is $200/five people - for everything). It will work if you are diligent and give it time. 
  4. LIST - ALWAYS make a grocery list when you go shopping. Write down everything you need to get, approximately how much it will cost PER ITEM, and what coupons you have, then figure up a rough sub-total. If you stick to your list, it should be pretty easy to know if the cashier rang everything up right, or if you need to have them double check. DON'T be afraid to get the right price on an item. If they range you up wrong, TELL THEM and have them fix it. You will be glad you took a little extra time and got it done right the first time. Try to stick to your list. It is so easy once you are in the store to grab things you think you need, but most of the time they are just wants, and you can do without them. Stick to your list, and you will stick to your budget too!
  5. TIME -Make sure you plan on spending more time than usual for your shopping trips until you get the hang of it. While you are shopping, take your time and make sure you are getting the right items for the coupons, (look at the description, not the picture), look for store coupons, and check the prices of things you buy regularly so you know when you are getting a good deal. Before you know it you will be shopping just as fast using coupons as you were before, and you won't be stressed about spending the money!
  6. RECEIPT - ALWAYS check your receipt BEFORE you leave the store. This is very important. Make sure everything was priced correctly, and that all the coupons you had were applied. If you do this, you will save yourself a lot of frustration and anger (believe me, I know!)
  7. SELF-CONTROL - It will take a lot of self-control to only buy what you need and can use. Just because the item is on sale, does not mean you have to buy it. A good deal is only a good deal if you can afford it. If you don't have the money, then pass it up and another great deal will come along, and you might just be glad you waited! If something you were planning on buying doesn't work out to be the best deal, you DON'T have to buy it! Wait for them to re-stock the items or whatever the situation may be, otherwise, whats the point?
    You do want to get a little extra, and over time will realize that you are getting more, and stocking your shelves for less than you paid to scrape by before. This is a great feeling and a great way to start to build up your "food storage" and have that peace of mind. One thing that might help is to use cash, and when your money is gone for the month, then you are done too. You could even divide it into weeks or bi-weekly. Whatever works best. 
  8.  KEEP TRACK - Keep track of what you are spending, where and on what. This will help you make cuts if necessary, and help you realize where you need to focus more time or preparation.
  9. OFFERS -There are several deal sweeteners that you will come across, like Rebates, Catalina's (where a coupon prints out with your receipt when you buy 1 or more of something), BOGO Free, and more.
    • Rebates - If you don't know, a rebate is where you pay for something out of pocket (oop), and then you submit your information for a rebate of a specified amount. These are great IF you can afford the money up front to pay for the items. If you can't, then don't. Wait. Other great deals will come along. Wait until you have a little bit extra to spare. Then when you get your first rebate(s) you can start applying those towards other offers.
    • Catalina's -  These are coupons that print out with your receipt when you have purchased qualifying items. It is good on your next purchase at that store. So if you plan your trip right, and you know you are getting Catalina's you can include them into your shopping trip, so you don't have to worry about remembering to use them next time!
      (Example: Smith has a sale for Cool Whip. It's $0.99. When you buy 5 of them, you get a coupon that prints out with your receipt good for $3.00 off your next purchase.)
      • If your catalina didn't print, you can go about getting yours two different ways:
        • Call Catalina Marketing (877) 210-1917, option 1. When I called it took about 10-15 minutes (since I was on hold for about 8 mins). The rep was nice and took all the info described below. They said it would be about 2-8 weeks before I heard anything.
        • Email Catalina Marketing at coupon@catalinamarketing.com. Requests will be resolved within 2-3 days. Then it takes about 2-8 weeks to get your check if you do qualify. 
      • In both instances, they will need several pieces of information that can all be found on your receipt. They will need:
        • The store name and address where you shopped.
        • The date and time you checked out. 
        • The number printed on your receipt after the time stamp. 
        • The items you purchased and what catalina you were expecting. 
        • Your name and address.
      • They take your information and "verify" that should have or not received it. This can take a few days. Once they have verified that you should have received the catalina, they will simply mail out your catalina coupon! This will take about 2-8 weeks.
    • Buy One Get One Free Coupons - These are pretty close to the best deal you can get on anything. Many people don't know this, but when an item is on sale for BOGO Free, you can take your BOGO free coupon (if it matches that item) and get TWO ITEMS FOR FREE! all you have to pay is sales tax. How awesome is that? How does this work you ask? It is because the BOGO Free coupon is worth the specified amount. So when you give them this coupon, it is essentially the same as handing them the specified amount in cash. So you are therefore, paying for the 1st item with the coupon, then you get the free item, Free!
    • Register Rewards - These are similar to catalina's but the difference is, that you only have to buy one of the specified item to get your reward. And also with these, if you know you are getting them, you plan them in your shopping trip so you can save that extra money out of pocket.