Coupon – (koo pon), verb

This post was written by Kathy. Leslie’s 2 cents appear a few times in blue.

To coupon or not to coupon, that might be your question.  Here are a few things I take into consideration when I’m trying to save money.

What should I clip or print?

When I was cutting coupons by myself (now I share with others at church), at first I only cut coupons on items that I previously bought.  However, this changed for 2 reasons.  1- Before I couponed, I usually bought store brand items.  Often there aren’t coupons for these things.  I had to learn that sometimes name brand, paired with a coupon and a sale, could be even cheaper than store brand.  AND 2) Inevitably, I would see a deal later that I wished I had a coupon for.  So, I changed my strategy.

Now, when clipping coupons, I ask myself, “If this product were virtually free, would I use it?”  If the answer is “yes,” then I clip it.  I am now willing to try multiple brands of personal care items in the name of “almost free.”   Sometimes the answer is “no” — For instance, I’m never going to buy “stop-smoking gum” because I don’t smoke, so if I see a coupon for that (which I have), I don’t cut it out.

If it’s a printable coupon, I’m usually more selective.  In the beginning I printed often and wasted paper and ink.  Now, I usually print Facebook or special offer coupons right away because they can sometimes be limited in the number of people to get them.  Online coupons like Red Plum or Smart Source, I only print if I’ve previously purchased the item.  Usually these coupons are available for a few weeks and I can always go back and print later.

BOTTOM LINE:  “If this item were free (or just pennies) would I buy it (to use or give away)?” — CUT THE COUPON!

How do I organize my coupons?

I organize my food coupons much the way I organize my grocery list.  At my store, the produce is first, then the “pantry” type items and then the cold/frozen section.  I actually make my list in groups so that I don’t forget what I want when I’m in a particular part of the store.  Therefore, that pattern carried over and my food coupon categories are:  “pantry,” “refrigerated/frozen,” and “treats.”  I put treats as a separate category because they aren’t a necessity and even a good deal on something you don’t need is not a good deal.

I have 4 other spots in my coupon organizer.  The first one is store or restaurant specific coupons.  This includes my Rite Aid Video Value coupons and dining out coupons.  Another one is called “personal care” and includes shampoo, razors, etc.  The other two are random, but they work for me.  One is labeled “medicines, TP, diapers.”  The final one is misc/household and includes cleaners, batteries, light bulbs, etc.  Basically all the leftovers are in this category.  These I found by trial and error and what I had coupons for.  Sometimes I mix things up and have to look in two places — is Blistex lip care a “medicine” or a “personal care”?  Overall though, this works for me.

The coupons that I collect with friends at church are arranged by expiration date.  We figured that this for a few reasons:
1- We’re often looking for a duplicate coupon, so we’d already have one coupon to know when it expired.
2- It’s much easier to separate since people use different categories.
3- It’s much easier to clean out since we just take a month at a time and throw them away.
4- Leslie has mentioned the coupon database before in this post.  I can search for a coupon there, get the expiration date and then go to my group coupon box.

I’ve been using the Couponizer for 3 months and am very happy with it so far. When I’m about to make a trip out, I load my “coupon purse.” The coupon purse is the place where all of my coupon-related things live. I add my wallet, keys, etc. so that I don’t have to carry an additional bag. Here are the things that are always in the Coupon Purse:

  • a 9×13″ envelope that holds duplicate coupon inserts from the newspaper
  • scissors (to cut out the duplicate coupons when I find a steal!)
  • a white envelope that holds all of my store-based coupons (Rite Aid vv, CVS, Grocery store, Target)
  • all of my frequent customer cards (in the silver pack)
  • the Couponizer
  • a store flier, list, coupons, and any rewards for each stop.

BOTTOM LINE:  Organize the way that suits YOU and how you shop!

How do I plan a trip?

This is a little trickier to answer, because I spend a decent amount of time (it has lessened as I’ve learned more), but sometimes my careful planning doesn’t work if I get to the store and they’re out of what I needed to make my deal.  However, here is my usual routine.

1- Check out CVS for next week on the previous Thursday. This at least gives me an idea of what sales there might be.  It also helps me to know if the $5/30 coupon I sometimes receive by email on Thursdays which are good Thursday-Sunday is better off used this week or next week (Sunday only).

2- Read blogs and check newspapers for coupons.  I have 2 blogs that I have found to be helpful to me.  There are many out there, but I encourage you to find 1 or 2 that seem to be helpful to your specific needs and follow them.  Don’t drive yourself nuts trying to read a ton of blogs.  Hopefully you’re finding the deals on this blog helpful to you!

3- Make a list.  When I make a list, it usually goes through a few drafts.  Sometimes I scribble down a deal from a flyer or a blog on a quick list.  Then, I go back and “plan” my list.  In the beginning, I really tried to make several transactions so that I wasn’t carrying around UP rewards or ECB.  However, I now have a cyclical stockpile of those coupons, so I don’t worry so much about walking out without “future rewards.”

My next list has four columns.

  1. The first is the item.
  2. The next is the price (I don’t take coupons off on this column because I might be trying to get a certain dollar amount for an additional coupon.  For instance, my CVS coupons are spend $30, get $5 ECB.  The $30 is the price without coupons).
  3. The third is the $ amount of coupons I have (this column will be subtracted from column 2 when I go to pay).
  4. The fourth column is the amount of rewards I plan to get back.  These are for future use, so I don’t figure them into today’s shopping trip, but I do like to know if my bottom line is a good deal.
Here’s a sample list. The first column is the item. Column 2 – the price ($). Column 3 – coupons (C). Column 4 – rewards (UP). Across the bottom I’ve tallied each column. Then, I subtracted the coupons from the price to get my Out Of Pocket (OOP). That’s what I’ll pay. My net cost for today is determined by subtracting my rewards from my OOP.  In this scenario, I’m purchasing 4 Lip care products, 2 Body Washes, 1 Lotion.  My OOP will be $12.97 and my net price for all those items will be $2.97.

Sometimes I’ll need to break my transactions into two if I have multiple $ off total order coupons.  You cannot use a $5 off 30 coupon at CVS and a $3 off 15 coupon too.  If I want to do that, I’ll figure out my totals so I can use both.  However, like I said earlier, if the deal doesn’t pan out, that can be wasted time!

In addition, I might have to match my current in hand rewards to today’s purchases.  I think Rite Aid prints out a separate coupon for each UP reward, so they are often small — $1, $2 or $3.  (However the Nivea deal in the picture was from Rite Aid the week of 12/26/2010 and it had a $10 UP).  In my opinion these are easy to match up and use to an order.  However, CVS will sometimes combine two deals (If the limit is 2 on one deal, they will add those rewards together).  I spend time with CVS to match up my rewards so that I spend the least OOP on each trip.

In addition, as with coupons, make sure you use your rewards before the expire.  Otherwise, they are wasted rewards!  Try to use the ones that expire soonest first.

I paperclip my list with my coupons, rewards, and my shoppers’ card to the weekly ad and take the whole thing with me to the store.

BOTTOM LINE:  Saving money takes time; prepare the best way you can, but be prepared that something might not go as YOU planned it!

THE Trip

When I finally make my trip, I hope they have everything!  If not, ask for rain checks.  Both CVS and Rite Aid give them, and with the appropriate rewards (watch your expiration dates on the coupons though!).  I now started carrying around a calculator for quick figuring in the store in case an item isn’t there and I have to rearrange.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I can’t tell you the number of times the items I’m looking for don’t have a sale tag.  I double check my flyer when getting the item.  When I get to the front, I ask the cashier to scan the item to see how it rings up.  For me, it usually rings up correctly, but it’s easier to ask first than to fix a mistake on a purchase with all those coupons and rewards.

Finally, don’t leave the store without checking your receipt.  There have been occasions where rewards didn’t print.  Just ask the cashier or a manager.  You have your copy of the flyer, so you can show them the deal and they will fix it! Yes! Please check your receipt, especially if you are carting around one or more children! Nothing is worse than realizing you have to go back to the store…

BOTTOM LINE:  You’ve spent the time on the deals beforehand.  You know what to look for.  If something’s not right, ASK FOR HELP!

Before, During & After

Don’t beat yourself up over a deal that didn’t quite work out.  If it was a bad enough botch, return the items.  If not, just be thankful for the deal you got!  For instance, this past week, I realized I bought an extra Nivea Body Wash that I didn’t need to make the deal.  In my head, I’m thinking, “That’s $2.99 I didn’t have to spend!”  I also didn’t get the rewards on the pencils, erasers and brads that was advertised.  In my head, I’m thinking, “I should have gotten $12 back and I only got $6.”  I should remember that this trip netted me a PROFIT of $5 (I bought several other things).  So, even though it could have been a net of $14, I still got a good deal.  I’m still learning this principle!

BOTTOM LINE:  Be willing to see the big picture, when deals don’t go quite as planned.  If the big picture is still in black and white, return it!  But possibly,  you’ll see the overall deal through rose colored glasses.


3 Responses

  1. About halfway through this note, I suddenly thought, “I think THIS is why she hasn’t quite finished that dissertation yet.”

    Also, soon you need to toss a small baby toy into that coupon bag. I have a “mini diaper bag” I keep packed for the store. A tiny stuffed animal or car works for us. Maybe in case of emergency, one diaper, one of those slim packs of wipes, and a mini plastic bag for the old diaper.

  2. The problem with dissertation writing is that I need long uninterrupted blocks of time. Somehow clipping, sorting, and writing about couponing uses another section of my brain that can work in five minute intervals. Maybe I need that book that is something like “How to write your dissertation in 15 minutes a day.” Yup. Probably should read that.

  3. […] am going to use Kathy’s table format to display how I scored some seriously good deals to be had at CVS this […]

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