Change It Up Challenge: Couponing
Change It Up Challenge

Change It Up Challenge: Couponing

I’ll start out this post by saying this: I never in a million years thought I’d be the crazy coupon lady.

You know the lady I’m talking about—with her two carts full of groceries and her stack of coupons as thick as a slice of Texas french toast who takes about an hour to check out and who asks to speak to the manager when one of her $1 coupons doesn’t seem to be going through that should. You know the one.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have officially become…one of the crazies.

My introduction to couponing started very young–my mom has always been frugal and will even say, to this day, that she’ll never buy anything full price. Then, when she started working at the magazine Refund Cents, she became even more savvy than before–I will never forget the summer where we scored hundreds (literally) of Nabisco snack packs for nothing but the cost of the sales tax. So you see, my training started early, although I was too caught up in my own teenage world of fantasy, where I always had plenty of money to do whatever I wanted and virtually no one to owe my money to, to pay too much attention.

In college, I made meager attempts at saving money–I would buy the generic brand more often than not and try not to buy too much ice cream. But I still held off on the coupons, rationalizing that the saving of a few pennies was not worth the time it took to cut them out.

Then I got married.

Now, Matt and I are better off than a lot of newlywed couples (as far as I know)—we’re in no debt and have the next year’s worth of school costs covered through scholarships and grants. We have money in savings, and we have a 401(k) left over from Matt’s former job at a clothing factory. So I figure we’re doing pretty well. But with dreams of going to Alaska next summer and wanting to buy a nice camera before then and not have to tap into savings for any of the above, I decided it was time–time to step into the role I was meant to inhabit since the day I first laid eyes (and tongue) on those bags of Nabisco snack packs.

But I won’t drag this personal part of the post too long—I’ve promised all of who have been following my facebook status updates (all ten of you) that I would share the secrets to all the free items and unbelievable deals I’ve gotten over the past month. So I’ll just do a quick run-down of some before and after comparison stats:

Before:
Average Monthly Grocery Total (incl. household supplies): $250-350 (for two people)
Rough Average Amount Spent Per Grocery Shopping Purchase: $65
Average Amount Spent on a Box of Cereal: $3
Average Amount Spent on Meat Per Month (Chicken & Beef): Probably about $50
Average Number of Grocery Shopping Trips Per Week: 2-3
Average Stores Visited Per Week: 2

After:
Grocery/Household Supplies Total for July: $170.05
Average Amount Spent Per Grocery Shopping Purchase: $18.90
Average Amount Spent on a Box of Cereal: 81 cents
Amount Spent on Meat: $36.42 (& I have literally probably 3 weeks worth of chicken in my freezer now)
Average Number of Shopping Trips Per Week: 1
Average Stores Visited Per Week: 2-3
**Note: By shopping trips, I mean trips out in the car taken only for going to the store. Therefore, if I stop off at a store that’s on the way to/from work, that doesn’t count toward the total.

The funny thing is, if I do this list again next month, I think it will be almost half of what it was this month–I just kept getting better and better at couponing and sale shopping the more I got familiar with it, so this is just my first month of savings and it’s the most I plan to spend in a month for a long, long time.

But now on to the steps that YOU can take to save just as much (if not much, much more than I did). I will say one thing–this whole couponing business is definitely a learning process, but it’s not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be overall. So if you haven’t done it so far because you think it will be too hard/time-consuming/embarrassing or whatever, I’m here to tell you it won’t be. So no more excuses!

But on to the list.

1. Be Prepared for Start-Up Costs

Couponing requires some start-up costs. But keep in mind, these resources will save you WAY more in the long run than if you hadn’t subscribed. Below is a list of the three circulations I subscribed to for maximum saving:

*The Newspaper. Since I don’t care too much about actually reading the news, I just subscribe to the Deseret Morning News on the weekend so I can get the Sunday coupon inserts. Cost: $37 for a 6-month subscription.
***Edit: Look around for deals online or call the newspaper subscription line directly and ask if they have any new member deals. Don’t pay full price for a subscription when you don’t have to!

*Refundcents.com. Technically I didn’t pay for this one (because my mom works there, so I get cool perks and stuff), but it’s super cheap and totally worth it–for just $18/yr, you can get the monthly publication full of refund deals and coupon bargains as well as the online subscription that comes with daily updates of all the best deals out there. Or, if you just want the online subscription (which is all I have), it’s just $12/yr. Trust me, this site is incredible, and Michelle (the magazine editor-in-chief) does literally almost all the work for you when it comes to shopping at certain stores like RiteAid and Walgreens (where you can make a killing every week). The best $12 (or $18) you’ll ever spend! If you’re interested in subscribing to refundcents.com, click here and type in this code in the “Notes” section when checking out: GKN4

*The All You Magazine from Wal-Mart. This one isn’t quite as *necessary* as the above two, but each issue comes with about $60 worth of coupons. Plus it’s just fun to read. Cost: $25 for 30 issues if you subscribe online, or $2/issue at the store.

2. Clip out coupons like crazy

Coupons are everywhere–in the newspaper, in magazines, in the aisles at the grocery store, in the mail, in the front of grocery stores…plus, there are a TON of online coupon sites that allow you to print out coupons for absolutely free. My favorite is Coupons.com, because it has links to a lot of other brand-specific sites, like Kellogg’s or Pillsbury, which offer coupons of their own. Often, all you need to do is sign up for a free subscription by giving them your email address and you’ll get weekly coupons coming to your inbox.

Since coupons tend to accumulate VERY quickly, I’d recommend getting a coupon organizer. Refundcents.com has some for very cheap ($6.94, incl. shipping). Click this link if you’re interested. Or you can keep a bundle of envelopes or a binder or a special place in your wallet…whatever works for you!

3. Match the sales to the coupons, and cater your weekly meals around the sales

This is the single most valuable piece of advice I can give. I used to just go to the grocery store every time I needed something for a recipe and just make whatever recipes I wanted to without giving thought to what was cheap or what was in season, and that’s how I spent so much money on groceries before (because I love to cook). Now what I’ll do is look at the weekly ads for my local grocery stores (Smith’s is my favorite, because of their Rewards program) and see what good deals are going on that week. Then I look and see what coupons I have and match them to the items that are already on sale. Sometimes this means buying things that I don’t necessarily need right at that moment, but that I’ll certainly need later, like toothpaste or cereal. Also, when something is a really good deal and you use it a lot, just buy a lot of it. I wasted so much money on meat before by buying it every week; now I just buy a whole lot when it goes on sale and stockpile it in my freezer until we’re ready to use it.

If you plan out your menus and your shopping around the sales, you not only save money, but you also cut down on your grocery trips (hence cutting down on your gas costs), because you’re not running out every time you need something—organization is key to saving.

4. Look for special deals like promotions or rebates or cash back that will save you even more money

Once again, refundcents.com cannot be beat in this category–many companies offer free samples of full-size products or amazing rebates or cash back rewards if you just know where to look. The site does all the work for you and you just have to choose the deals you want. Also, look for specially marked packages for promotions–a lot of the times, companies will offer rewards if you go online and enter in the codes from your purchase. That’s how I got 5 boxes of Kellogg’s cereal for $1.50–I bought 5 on them for sale for $6.50 (using coupons), then I entered in the 5 codes from the boxes to receive a $5 prepaid debit card in the mail. Yeah, promotions and rebates take a bit more work, but I’ve received (or am expecting to receive) almost $100 back in the mail from rebates/promotions for this last month alone.

5. Don’t be scared to speak up to the cashier or ask for a manager if something doesn’t ring up right

This is the area I need to work on the most, but it’s something my mom has told me for years. Basically, it boils down to this: a smart manager is not going to want to lose your business, so they’ll usually be very willing to help you work out any problems you have with your bill. I’m pretty terrible at confrontations like this, but I’m usually really glad that I do—for example, when Matt and I went to Target to spend all of our wedding gift cards, they didn’t enter the coupon we had right. I ended up going back to the store later and disputing the amount of the receipt and we ended up saving $60. That’s half a month’s worth of groceries, just for speaking up! So don’t be shy. We’ll work on it together.

Anyway, thus concludes my very official list. I think it sounds almost too official—like all of a sudden I’m a know-it-all, which I most definitely am not. But I am maybe a teensy bit of a coupon addict now. And I am my mother’s daughter—I am now finding it nearly impossible to buy anything full price. So all you of you readers out there who haven’t tried this yet but kinda want to, I say: JUST DO IT. You can thank me later 🙂

Change It Up Successful? I think the numbers speak for themselves.

P.S. If any of you have any specific questions for me, leave a comment or email me at torrief@gmail.com, and I’ll get back to you ASAP. Plus, I think I might start a semi-regular posting of some of the killer local deals I stumble across. What do you think?

**Edit: My sister pointed out that if you live in the Cache Valley area, you can actually get a newspaper subscription through the Herald Journal for cheaper than you can get it through one of the papers out of Salt Lake (like The Morning News). Thanks for the tip, Jill!