(Guest Post by Lisa, while J$ is in Cali)
It seems I have finally come in to fashion. See, I’ve been couponing since long before couponing was cool. Notice how I even use the word coupon as a verb? I do it with CVS too. As in, “I’m going CVS’ing as soon as my husband gets home.” Read: “I’m going to walk into CVS with a pile of coupons and walk out with bags loaded with stuff I didn’t pay cash for.” Even when times were extremely prosperous and Americans were spending money as quickly as they could and spending money they didn’t have, I was clipping coupons. Raised by a frugal grandmother, it’s in my blood.
Then a few things happened, a perfect storm if you will. The economy tanked as did the housing market. Americans were losing jobs and their homes were losing value so quickly heads were spinning. Suddenly, it was cool to get stuff for free by clipping coupons. Now I no longer try to keep friends and family from seeing my stockpile of free goods in my basement. I became proud of it and now show it off. Instead of worrying that they’d turn me in to the show “Hoarders,” I’m secretly hoping they’ll suggest me for “Extreme Couponers.” (As an aside, one of my best couponing buddies, Heidi, insists that we are hard-core couponers, not extreme.)
With smart phones and social media, a hard-core couponer can now find a deal, find a few dozen free somethings, and have it posted on Facebook before the cashier is done scanning the last coupon. And non-couponers gawk at the photos and long for all that free stuff. Couponing is finally en vogue. I taught a couponing class at my local library last month, and it had record attendance out of all their classes! How do we do it?
It’s really not that hard. Admittedly, as the hobby becomes more popular, the manufacturers and retailers are catching on to our game and they are making it a bit more difficult with limitations and wording on coupons. But there are still deals to be had if you know where and how to look for them. Even if you don’t want to dumpster-dive for Sunday coupon inserts (I don’t, btw) you can do well. Follow these few steps:
- For hard-core couponers, it’s just all about stacking deals. Here are the various deals that could possibly be stacked: sale price, store coupon, manufacturers’ coupons, Catalina offer (certificate printed out at register, like a gift certificate, when you buy a particular item or family of items), mail in rebate, e-savings, buy one-get one (bogo) sales, gift card offers, and earning rewards points.
- Pick one or two grocery stores that you like and be loyal to them to learn their policies as far as coupons and deals. It can be overwhelming when you are first introduced to deals, and it’s easier to learn a store or two first, then branch out.
- Many stores now offer shopper loyalty cards, get one. And then see if you can register it online for additional e-savings or e-coupons. These are electronic coupons that are attached to your card that automatically deduct from your total when you scan your card. (Editor’s note: Mrs BudgetsAreSexy and I just started doing this — SO EASY!! And we had no idea ourselves until we started watching Extreme Couponers ;))
- When the store runs sales and promotions, learn what deals you can stack. Will your store allow a bogo coupon to be combined with a bogo sale? Some do. On a bogo sale, some stores will allow you to use a coupon on each item, even the free one. Will they allow you to use a paper manufacturer coupon in addition to the e-coupon?
- When I am getting items for free, all I am doing is stacking deals. For example, Kellogg’s cereals is on sale this week at my local grocery store. First deal-sale, price is three boxes for $5. Next deal-when you buy three boxes, you get a Catalina printed out at register for a free gallon of milk. Next deal-I have many manufacturer coupons for Kellogg’s, making the cereal anywhere from $.27-$1.17 per box. Next deal-in store promo for a free tote bag when you buy two Kellogg’s cereals. Next deal-the Kellogg’s boxes at my store also had coupons attached to the front of the box that had a “Free produce or M&Ms when you buy two Kellogg’s cereals.” Next deal-there’s an online printable rebate form for $10 when you buy $10 boxes of Kellogg’s. That’s all it is, stacking deals. And I’ll score 40 or 50 boxes of Kellogg’s cereal, dozens of tote bags, my produce, several bags of M&Ms, a dozen gallons of milk, all for about $20 after all is said and done and I get my rebates.
I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, I started couponing in college. I’ve learned that both retailers and manufacturers are not that original nor are they very creative. It’s the same deals, recycled over and over. Chances are if the item is on sale, there is probably a coupon out for it. The internet is your friend-just search the brand name + rebate or printable coupon and see how many hits you get. Consider finding a deal blog or board that you like and follow them. Lots of bloggers (and may I suggest SmartSpendingSpot) post all the deals in their area, complete with links to printable coupons, e-savings and rebate forms. Find a site you like, and the deals will be spoon-fed to you and soon enough you’ll recognize it all on your own.
Hard-core couponer Lisa lives in southeastern Pennsylvania with her husband, two young sons and three dogs. She runs the site SmartSpendingSpot.com and is also a moderator for several forums on Hotcouponworld.com, including the Stockpiling forum.
(Grocery stockpile pic by Tammra McCauley)