As I mentioned in a previous article, my wife, Sherry won’t claim any level of geekness, but there is one thing she is very geek at and that couponing. She has earned the title “The Queen of Free” and its a title well earned. Just this past week, three bottles of French’s Worcestershire sauce was picked up completely free.
So I spoke with her about guest blogging, and well blogs are for geeks, so I’m going to share her secrets for you.
Successful savings starts by knowing what’s on sale and what discounts are available. There are two phases to being organized. One is getting coupons for the products that you use and keeping track of them. The other is keeping up with what is going on sale at what stores.
Sherry has been helping others get started with their coupon organization using simple 3 ring binders. Her standard kit includes a pencil pouch that holds a calculator, scissors, pencil and un-filed coupons. Then for the coupons themselves, she uses clear baseball card holders. This lets her quickly see the coupons, how many she has, scan for expired coupons quickly and find them while at the store. The pages are divided by simple page dividers. The entire kit can be picked up at your local office superstore for around $10-$15 or so (presuming you already have a calculator and scissors!).
She chooses to divide her coupons by area of the store: Meats, Dairy, Can Goods, Snacks etc. There are other choices for dividing the coupons. For instance you could divide by the layout of the store or by expiration date. You need to choose what works for you.
Once your book is ready, you need to fill it with coupons. Your best source is the Sunday newspaper. You can save enough from a single week of coupons from the Sunday paper to pay for the year’s subscription!
The next source is the manufacturers themselves. You can visit sites for products you use and sign up for either online or physical mail newsletters which generally contain coupons. Frequently the sites have coupons you can download as well.
While your online, you can visit sites dedicated to coupons. Sites like Hot Coupon World will have printable coupons. Then there are websites dedicated to stretching your money that’s not just coupons. Sites like Savvy Dollar cover a variety of areas to save in. Savvy Dollar is primarily for North Carolina residents, but similar sites exist for other areas.
As a rule, stores will have limits on online coupons, such as two per item or a maximum of 20 per trip. You need to visit your store’s website to learn the specific rules for that store.
Keeping up on Sales
Intelligence for many geeks is about brains. But in government, its about spying. But in either case its about Knowledge and knowing whats on sale is key to saving big. Many grocery chains “double” coupons all the time. There are rules in play. Some stores will only double coupons of $0.50 or less, others $0.99 and some don’t double at all. There are also limits on the number of coupons that will double. For instance, Harris Teeter will only double up to 20 coupons. Some stores will periodically triple coupons. These are for the manufacturer’s coupons. Stores will produce their own coupons. These rarely double, but they do stack with the manufacturer’s coupons.
The stores also put out weekly sale fliers, which frequently can be found in the Wednesday paper, are sometimes delivered in the mail or can be picked up at the store. The stores sale week will typically run from Wednesday to Tuesday of the next week.
The sale ads will tell you whats on sale. Things that are BOGO (Buy One Get One for free) or “Two for $XXX” are frequent targets for big savings. Buy Two’s or BOGO’s trick you into thinking you need to buy two items to get the savings, but most stores will just discount the one, effectively making everything 50% off instead.
You will need to track the sales. You can also find online sites like Savvy Dollar where others figure out a lot of the best deals for you and you can sign up for news letters to let you know when really good sale deals are about to start.
Making it all work
A lot of people go to the store to buy what the need. The store hopes this is the case since you will buy things not on sale because you need them and then you will pick up extras too. Its these trips that break the bank. Saving the big dollars means buying whats on sale and stocking up and being disciplined about it.
On a recent trip, Kellogg’s Rice Crispy’s and Corn Flakes were on sale with a BOGO. Sherry used doubling coupons and got the cereal for around $0.50 a box. But she didn’t get one box. She had 6 coupons and ended up with 6 boxes of cereal. We will eventually eat it before it goes bad. In this case, the $3.00 box of cereal was in effect half price because of the BOGO sale, making each box $1.50. The $0.50 coupon doubled to $1.00 leaving each box at $0.50. Now I’m going to be eating corn flakes for a while. There is probably a dozen boxes of cereal in the pantry as Cap’n Crunch had a great sale that matched up with good coupons.
With careful matching up of manufacturing coupons, store coupons and sales, you can get things for free, or depending on the store’s policies, get paid to take things.
Take advantage of Rain Checks
Sometimes the other coupon shoppers will make runs on products and when you get there, the store will be out of the item. Instead of leaving frustrated, go to customer service and get a rain check for the sale item. They will ask you for a limit, try to get the max out of them that you can. Either ask for the max or ask for 6 or 8 of an item. Then save these rain checks until you really need them.
An example of this is we recently hosted our son’s Junior hockey team for a team dinner when they came to town. To put a scope on this, we fed 20 players in age from 14 to 21, two coaches, 5 parents that travelled with the team and their 4 children. The menu was spaghetti and meat sauce or meatballs. The total cost of the meal was $36 for 31 people. Here is how we did it:
- Ragu w/ Meat Sauce BOGO + Coupon sale ran three weeks earlier
- Hamburger $1.98 / pound on a Rain Check from where it was on sale a couple of months ago.
- The Spaghetti was free. Store brand on sale with a store coupon (if I remember correctly)
- 4 loaves of Italian Bread. I think we paid retail for that.
- Soft drinks: Pepsi had gone on sale for Buy 2 get 3 Free. We picked up 10 of the 12 pack fridge mates.
Using this shopping method, between coupons and store discounts with the rewards card prices, we saved close to $8,000 last year.
I know some people don’t like to use the rewards cards, but many of the good sales require it.
Of course, you’re milage will vary.
Sherry has agreed to occasionally provide more tips, so check back later to see if she’s willing to let go of more of her secrets.