Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shopping With Coupons, Part 1

A little while back I started posting some of my shopping triumphs on my status updates, seeing as how Mike is not easily impressed with my cash register victory dances. Since then a few people have asked me how I do my coupon shopping, and what the best way is to get good deals. I haven't been doing it very long, but I'll pass along the basics of what I've been doing. 

Step One: Know your local stores
Couponing is much easier in areas with lots of competitive local grocery and drug stores. Cincinnati is great for this, as it's one of the most competitive grocery markets in the nation, (oddly enough.) You can coupon shop anywhere, but if you have CVS, Walgreens, and/or Rite Aid in your drugstore market, and several chain grocery stores available, plus Wal-Mart or Target, that's a great spread. Look around at your local grocery store ads and call around, find out which stores price match (good), double manufacturers coupons (very good!) or accept competitor coupons (potentially REALLY good). Coupon policies can be confusing (I'm looking at you here, Target), so it can take a little trial and error to figure out what's going to fly at every store. If your local grocery store doubles coupons to $1.00, you're already on your way to saving quite a bit.

Step Two: Know how coupons work
There are basically two kinds of coupons. There are store coupons, which are the sort you can clip out of the Walgreens circular or get from the cash register when you check out at the grocery. These are discounts given by the chain itself on certain items. Store coupons typically do not double, and can only rarely be used at other stores. Store coupons will say things like "Meijer Coupon" or "Redeem Only At Kroger" or "Target Web Coupon." The other kind of coupons are manufacturers coupons, which are discounts given by the product manufacturer to get you to buy their product. These will always say "manufacturer's coupon" at the top, and typically give instructions to the store on how to redeem them. Manufacturer's coupons are the sort that doubling stores will double. You'll typically find them in coupon supplements in the paper, online at aggregator websites, or at a company's own website. 

The important thing about these two kinds of coupons is that they stack together. You can't just take a pile of different manufacturer's coupons and use them all together on one thing, the limit is typically one coupon per item. But you CAN stack one store coupon and one manufacturer's coupon together and get the discount for both. Target and Walgreens are both places to look for this. Once you start feeling comfortable with coupons, you can start adding in things like rolling catalinas, register rewards and Extra Care bucks, but there are better tutorials for that kind of advanced couponing. 

Step Three: Get help from experts
There are a lot of coupon-clipping websites out there, coupons in the paper, coupons you can send away for. Do not try couponing without some expert guidance, you will drown in paper and be sad. Luckily, there are many excellent websites that aggregate coupon deals and will teach you exactly how to collect and use coupons most effectively. Most of the sales that I have posted have come from using scenarios (lists of products on sale matched with coupons) Oftentimes the very best deals and freebies available are from drugstores like CVS and Walgreens, but they use a more complicated system of rolling rewards, and you'll want to read the tutorials these websites offer and get started out slow. 

Here are some of my favorite couponing websites: 

Money-Saving Mom: www.moneysavingmom.com Updates daily, searchable, also has giveaways and frugal ideas for recipes and gifts. 

My Litter of Six: www.mylitter.com Updates multiple times daily, covers lots of different stores. Has a good tutorial section for getting started with couponing, and I find her style easy to read and understand. 

Deal-Finding Chik: dealfindingchik.blogspot.com Updates daily, concentrates more on online shopping and website deals, but also does store coupons. Good for finding online freebies and free samples, as well as knowing what's super-cheap at Amazon.com.

Saving Cents with Sense: www.savingcentswithsense.net I don't use this one as often for everyday, but it has good tutorials on Walgreens and CVS shopping. 

Couponing blogs link to each other constantly, so once you start, you'll find lots of different sites of all types. Look for ones that are local/regional to you, though this isn't always necessary, or at least ones that tend to feature stores available in your area. 

That's probably enough for now.  When I come back, I will write about how to actually get coupons, and which ones are worthwhile.