Saturday, April 13, 2013

confessions of a coupon skeptic

I have to admit...I've always been very skeptical of couponing.

It's not that I don't believe coupons work.  I do.  I've seen the show.  I've seen my mom do it.  I get it.

It's just that it didn't seem like it was for me.  Here's why...
  • On the couponing shows, it seems like they mainly buy junk.  I'm a fan of the occasional candy bar just as much as the next person, but I don't need to buy junk food in mass quantities.  It's not good for me or my family. 
  • Extreme couponers spend hours on couponing.  It's a full time job!  I've already got a job...her name is Pebbles.  
  • I'm kind of an anti-stockpiler...I actually like having a fairly empty pantry.  Yes, I know...that's weird.  But I remember growing up having cabinets full of food but nothing that constituted a meal.  Or, I remember my mom having to throw out lots of food because it expired before we ended up eating it.  Yes, we may have gotten it at a great price, but it seemed like such a waste.
  • I have noticed that many amateur couponers end up spending more money buying stuff just because it was a good deal than they would have if they had bought only what they needed.
My philosophy has always been to make a detailed shopping list and then stick to the list.  Bing, bang, boom.  I figured that I saved more money by not couponing than by wasting time and energy on it.


Then this little thing happened.

And then a few weeks later, we kind of bought a house.

And a few months after that, I bought a beautiful dress and headed up to Kansas to be a part of my sister's big day.

And before you know it, we found ourselves needing to go on a stricter budget and severely cut our grocery and household expenses.  Eeeeks.

I realized that maybe it was time to rethink my shopping philosophy.  I started talking to some friends who are very successful couponers and figured out ways to make couponing work for me.  I'm not an extreme couponer...I'm never going to be.  I've also vowed the following:
  • I will never buy junk just because it's a good deal.  If it can't help me make a home-cooked, nutritious meal for my family, I don't need it.
  • I will never sacrifice time with my family in order to clip coupons.  Never ever.  Ever.
Instead, I'm going to learn to be a more savvy shopper.  I'm going to begin paying more attention to sale ads before I plan my weekly menus.  I'm going to be willing to acquire a very small (and I mean small) stockpile of those things that are staples in our home...buying those things at a great price now saves me the need to purchase them later.  I'm going to use coupons to help me buy only those things that we need, not want.  I'm going to allow coupons to bless us financially so that we can then, in turn, increase our giving to others.
So the big question now is how.  How in the world do you coupon in such a way as to maximize your savings?  I've learned that couponing is way more than just clipping out coupons and taking them to the store with you.  There's actually strategies.  Who would have thought?

I'm no expert...ha!  I've only been doing this for about 2 weeks.  I've searched lots of couponing blogs, and they all confuse's so overwhelming!  That's why I wanted to blog about my own entry into the coupon world.  I figure that if I describe my little baby steps, maybe another coupon newbie can join me and come along for the ride.  Or, maybe some of you coupon experts can share with me your tips and tricks. 

But for now, here's what I know so far:
  • Each store has a different coupon policy, and it can vary by region.  Because it can get confusing, it's best to learn couponing with just one store.  If you have questions about their coupon policy, ask the customer service desk.  If you have questions about how their store ads work, ask the customer service desk.  Basically, go and make friends with the customer service desk, just so that you don't find yourself having to take stuff back later (yeah...I wish I had followed this advice).  Once you get really familiar with one store, then tackle another.
  • There are different types of coupons.  Manufacturer's coupons are issued by the manufacturer of the product.  They actually pay the store the money on the coupon, so the store isn't losing money at all.  Manufacturer's coupons can be used at any stores that take coupons.  Many stores also issue store coupons.  These can only be used in the store that issues them.
  • To maximize your savings, use a manufacturer's coupon at the same time as a store coupon - yes...they can be stacked!  Even better, do it when an item is on sale.
Here's how this actually played out for me.

I decided to learn couponing at Target.  Target offers lots of store coupons on their website (scroll to the very bottom of their webpage and look under "Ways to Save."  These rotate, so it's a good idea to check back every one or two weeks to see what's new.  I printed off only those coupons for products that my family might use.  Sometimes I find a lot...sometimes I find nothing.

I got manufacturer's coupons online as well.  You can go to a website like or to look through hundreds of coupons.  Once again, I printed off only those coupons for products that my family might use.  You can print up to two coupons, so if it was a product we use often, I printed two.

Last week, I realized that I had a lot of store coupons and manufacturers coupons for the same products...score!  I also had some coupons for items that were on sale.  Here's what I got and how much I saved.

I love Method brand cleaner.  It's originally $2.99 a bottle at Target, but it was on sale for $2.66.  I had two  store coupons for $1 off a bottle.  End price - $1.66 a bottle.

Original price for 2 bottles of Method cleaner - $5.98.
What I paid - $3.32
Savings - $2.66 or 44%!

We were needing some toilet bowl cleaner, and I happened to have coupons for Green Works brand.  Do I need 3 toilet bowl cleaners?  No.  But, my church happens to be doing a drive for household products to provide to families who are struggling financially.  I decided to buy one cleaner for me and donate the other two.

Each Green Works toilet bowl cleaner cost $2.49.  I had a manufacturer's coupon for $0.75 off of any 1 Clorox product (since it contains Clorox, it counts!).  I also had a manufacturer's coupon for $1 off of any 1 Green Works product.  Finally, I had a store coupon for $2 off of 3 Green Works toilet bowl cleaners.  End price -$3.72.

Original price of 3 bottles Green Works toilet bowl cleaner - $7.47
What I paid - $3.72, or $1.24 a bottle.
Savings - $3.75 or 50%!

Gold Bond lotion is my absolute favorite.  It costs $7.99 a bottle...pricey!  Fortunately, I had 2 manufacturer's coupons for $1 off a bottle.  Then, I had a store coupon for $3 off of 2 bottles.  End price - $5.49 a bottle.

Original cost of 2 bottles Gold Bond lotion - $15.98
What I paid - $10.98
Savings -  $5 or 31%!

Vitamins are soooooo expensive!  These Nature Made prenatal vitamins originally cost $11.67 apiece.  Fortunately, they were on sale for $9.91 apiece.  I had a manufacturer's coupon for $1.75 off of two.  I also had a store coupon for $3 off of 2.  End price -  $7.54 a bottle (and now I'm set for 6 months!).

Original cost of 2 bottles Nature Made prenatal vitamins - $23.34
What I paid - $15.07
Savings - $8.27 or 35%!

Babies need medicine.  My poor kiddo has to take Miralax occasionally, and that stuff is expensive.  This bottle originally cost $16.99....eeks.  I had a manufacturer's coupon for $3 off or 18% savings!  End price - $13.99. 

We have also gone through our fair share of Children's Tylenol thanks to teething, ear infections, and the like.  I didn't have any coupons for Tylenol, but I was lucky enough to find this particular box in the clearance section.  Originally, it cost $6.49...I got it for $4.54...savings of  $1.95 or 30%!  I can't figure out why it was in the clearance section - this box doesn't expire until 2015!  Lesson learned - it always pays to check out the clearance racks.

Original cost of children's medicine (Miralax and Tylenol) -  $23.48
What I paid - $18.53
Savings - $4.95 or 21%

Finally, I bought razors.  I never buy razors...I will make one disposable razor last for months.  But, even I realized that the one in my shower was desperately dull.  Each of these packages of razors contains 3 disposable razors and costs $9.49.  I had 2 manufacturer's coupons for $4 off of a package.  I also had a store coupon for $5 off of 2 packages.  End price -$2.99 a package.

Original cost of 2 packages of Schick Hydro disposable razors - 18.98
What I paid - $5.98
Savings - $13 or 68%!

Considering that I'll probably make these two packages of razors last me a full year, I'd say that's pretty awesome. :)

So...drum roll...

My total savings for this shopping trip was $37.63 or 40%!

Phew...that was a lot of math.  I think I'm going to go take a nap now.

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