Frugal Living

Not-So-Extreme Couponing

I’ve been mulling this blog post over in my mind for a few months now and just haven’t taken the time to sit down and write it. But you know what? I’m so glad. I’m so glad I waited (procrastinated?), because I have been experiencing tension about the purpose of this post.

You see, I like a good challenge when it comes to saving money. Even better, I like to gloat a little while sharing success stories. I also love to share ideas with others who may not know how to make a tight budget stretch. That is a passion of mine because I’m in those trenches now.  I’ve found myself desperate for tips (or hacks as the cool moms say). So, here I am wanting to share couponing lessons while also desiring that we keep things simple and in focus. Hmm…here is the tension: couponing is NOT simple. It can be very complex and actually a budget KILLER. Personally, I’ve had to take a step back to free myself from the materialism that was starting to invade my heart. So why do I still want to publish a post on couponing? Well, I guess you could say that I’m even more driven now to protect those I love and encourage smart shopping at the same time. Let’s start out by looking at the what and why of couponing.

What is “couponing?”

Couponing is the term used to describe the use of coupons to make a purchase.  It can be as simple as cutting a coupon out of the local grocery store ad to get $1 off of one canister of Folger’s coffee or it can be as extreme as combining a store coupon for $1 off a product, a manufacturers coupon for an additional $1.50 off, while submitting a rebate app for $3 back on one single item (sometimes resulting in free product) and then buying 20 of those products in various transactions to stockpile for the future. Whew! Craziness.

Why is couponing worth it? 

There are a lot of coupons out there, but most are not worth it. Most coupon offers are for name-brand, non-essential products. With the amount of competition in our markets and the rise of generic brands offering nearly the same quality, there isn’t a large need for the use of coupons. If a coupon arises for 50 cents off of two boxes of Kellogg’s cereal that normally cost significantly higher than the off-brand you already enjoy, using the coupon results in you paying more for cereal than you already do.

So how can it be worth it? Coupons can save you money or result in free product if you find high-value coupons for merchandise that you normally buy. When multiple coupons or sale prices can be used on one item or purchase, the savings can significantly affect your budget. (By significantly, I mean give you a few more dollars to use on other needs and some breathing room in the budget- that is significant to me.)

How can coupons be used effectively

1. Clip coupons for products you normally use. Of all of the coupons I come across, I maybe clip 20% and actually redeem 5% of those. If you are keeping a best price list, you probably have a good sense of your normal products. When you see a coupon that lines up, snatch it! Mostly we use diaper, seasonal candy, toiletries, beauty supplies, paper products, cleaners, and “junk” food coupons.

2. Combine multiple offers. 

The goal is to get the best price on the products and groceries your family needs and prefers. Coupons can help with that, especially if combined with other offers. Every coupon has a title printed on the top as either a “store coupon” or “manufacturers coupon.” Only one store coupon or one manufacturers coupon can be used per product but one store and one manufacturers coupon can be used per product. For example, every month, the drugstore chain, Walgreens, puts out a whole book of store coupons. There is usually a coupon in there for $1 off of two large bags of M&Ms. The Sunday paper usually has a manufacturers coupon during the holidays for $1 off two large bags as well. If I wait for the Walgreens ad to show M&Ms on sale for 2/$6, I can combine the coupons for $2 off resulting in a final price of 2/$4. . They also have a rewards program that helps us earn money when we spend (including prescriptions) that can be used toward future purchases. We buy many toiletries and sometimes baby supplies at Walgreens because of this.

In recent years, marketing agencies have been utilizing rebate apps for your smartphone that reduce the need to clip paper coupons. However, I like to use these in addition to paper coupons. The rebate app called ibotta allows you to “unlock” deals by watching a quick commercial or answering a survey question. After purchasing items that you’ve unlocked such as Huggies diapers ($8 back at Costco), a gallon of milk ($0.50 back) or a pack of Orbit gum ($0.50 back), simply take a photo of the receipt and sometimes scan UPCs of products. Money is credited to an account which can be linked to PayPal or redeemed in the form of a gift card (Amazon is our favorite). *If you’re interested in joining the ibotta world, PLEASE don’t sign up without talking to a friend or relative who is already using the app. Each user has a referral code (mine is rhapgos) and he/she receives $5 FREE MONEY every time a friend joins with his/her code. If you use a code when you join, you get a $10 welcome bonus after you redeem your first rebate! 

Here is an example of a transaction I made recently where I combined multiple offers: Walgreens has a new end cap of household multipack paper products for $9.99 (Kleenex, Viva paper towels, and Cottonelle toilet paper). In our home we use Kleenex brand tissues and Cottonelle exclusively. Walgreens’ Monthly Savings book for May has a $6.00 off of 3 offer (and it automatically takes $2 off per pack after 3). Because it is a store offer, I could use additional coupons from the brands themselves so I went to Kleenex.com and printed two coupons from them ($0.75 off 4-pack or larger) and then to Coupons.com and printed two Cottonelle coupons ($0.50 off) for an additional $2.50 off. So far, this has dropped the total purchase price from $40 (I chose to buy 4 packs) to $29.50 . There was ANOTHER promotion that I learned about from The Krazy Coupon Lady website that clued me in on a secret: Spend $25 (after coupons) on Kleenex, Cottonelle, or Viva and receive a $5 off your next store purchase coupon at checkout. I paid $29.50, received $5 back (which I used right then on the other products in my cart in a separate order) and then went home to upload my receipt to two rebate apps: ibotta and Checkout 51. Walgreens had an offer in ibotta for $5 cash back if you buy 3 (any combination) of Kleenex, Viva, or Cottonelle. There was also an additional $0.50 rebate for Cottonelle (which I could use twice). The Checkout 51 rebate was for  $1.00 cash back if you buy 2 Kleenex packages and $1.00 cash back if you buy 2 Cottonelle packages. So after getting an already great deal at Walgreens (plus every purchase earns rewards points), I received $8 in cash back!

Whew! Not so simple right?! But totally worth it for products that we need and brands that we normally buy anyway.

3. Shoot for 50% savings. 

When I was first researching couponing, I remember one gal on YouTube saying that she only bought groceries if she could get them for 50% off the retail value using coupons or sales. Yikes! How is that possible?! Oh…it’s possible. Now, I can’t say that I get all of our groceries for 50% off because I’m lazy and don’t want to be that meticulous, but when I consider taking the time and effort for a planned coupon trip, I make sure I’m going to be saving around 50%. (Otherwise, I just go for off-brand wherever I am normally shopping.)

Did you know that if you look closely on most receipts there is a section that explains your savings? I like that section. The best I’ve achieved was a savings of 92% at Walgreens by stacking a sale price, with a store coupon, and a manufacturers coupon. The best part was that at the end of my shopping experience, the computer-operated cash register spit out a $3 off coupon off of my next store purchase and I only spent $2.64 on that total purchase that day. Tee-hee. Worth it. Did I mention that I am a fan of Walgreens?

4. Know each store’s coupon policy.

In order to be successful and protect yourself from undue embarrassment and stress, you need to do your research. Each store has a coupon policy listed on their website if you have any question as to what is or isn’t acceptable. I have found that if you keep it simple there is no stress: One store and one manufacturers coupon per product. Later, at home, you can upload receipts and UPCs to digital couponing apps if applicable. The End.

What are the dangers in couponing? 

*Here is where I want you to PAY ATTENTION. You might be excited about reading some of my successes above but heed this warning: couponing can hurt the budget and draw you further from contentment. The following is a list of dangers accompanied with couponing.

1. Chasing a good deal.

After viewing all of the flyers and reading about great deals, it can take over your mind and heart. You can start to fear that you will “miss out” on the great deals that you spend away the minutes searching for the good deal. When you do find the deals, you can spend countless hours driving to and from multiple stores, searching the shelves, and standing in line. I used to do a number of trips on several weeknights after the kids go to bed and the hubby is home. It was lonely and eventually became stressful when I’d get home late and have to unpack the bags and unwind. I was missing out on time to read and be with my husband. Now, I keep my eyes and ears out for a few deals a month and plan ahead and either take kids with me on a weekday or use it as a fun once-a-month “me time.” Because come on, finding a good deal can be VERY fun!

2. Obsession with savings, products, and sales flyers. 

How do you find out about great couponing deals? You need to have coupon inserts in your hand, coupon apps uploaded, and sales flyers in front of you to try to match the good deals to your grocery/ home needs. This can be very fun and challenging or it can be an unhealthy obsession. I have found that by subscribing to the website The Krazy Coupon Lady, much of my researching time has been cut. This is a blog made up of women who have made it their job to find good deals. I get an e-mail once a day that highlights the deals at  big name stores and drug stores using current coupons and sales. It’s amazing. When it comes to making my own grocery list, however, I need to open up those flyers to try to find deals on what we’ll use. This is where I get distracted. All of a sudden, I’m bombarded with STUFF and prices and more STUFF. Too many decisions to make. Too much pretty stuff. Not enough money. Wow, that’s a great deal. I don’t need it. Yes, I do. Aaaahhh!

3. Forgetting health. 

I mentioned earlier that many coupons are for name-brand, non-essential products. Food coupons are typically for processed foods such as cereal, candy, chips, pasta sauce, frozen appetizers, etc. Besides candy around the holidays, I typically skip right past these because no matter how “good” the deal is, that food simply isn’t good for our health. Please be wary of buying those food products simply because there is a coupon. You can, however, occasionally redeem low-value rebates for fresh apples, bananas, red peppers, carrots, cheese, milk, and eggs from the ibotta app.

4. Budget Killer

How can money saving pieces of paper kill the budget? When a legitimate good deal comes along, sometimes it requires buying mutiple products to get the best value per unit. Remember my toilet paper/ tissue paper deal mentioned before? I had to be prepared to spend nearly $30 of my grocery budget at one time for product that won’t be used up within this budget time-frame. Now I will have to move money around to ensure that we have enough in the budget for the rest of the week/two weeks/month for necessities. I could just NOT take advantage of the good deal and instead buy one box of Kleenex for $1.50 and one 4-pack of Cottonelle to get us through the week. Although it pains me to pass it up, that is OK. There have been many times where I get excited about a stock-up deal, make the purchase, then return it all because I needed that extra $40 for a pair of shoes or meat that month. Carefully consider the big picture before making any large purchases.

How to simply begin…

You may be wondering: Where do I start? How do I stay focused?

This is how I started based on the research I came across and it has worked very well:

  1. Make your grocery list like normal.
  2. Check your list for any name-brand products.
  3. Go to Coupons.com or the name-brand websites and print coupons for those items.
  4. Decide which store you’d like to shop at with this list.
  5. See if that local store has any store coupons or promotions for the items on your list. (Target often has gift card promotions for name-brand toiletries & household products. You can also checkout the Cartwheel App for more savings on your smart phone!!)
  6. Go shopping.
  7. If the store has offers on the ibotta App, upload any matching receipts.
  8. Ponder whether or not any of this was worth it for your budget, your regular purchases, and your sanity. 😀

I hope, after reading this, you don’t think I’m crazy. I like to shop. I like to find a good deal. Trust me, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but have had quite a few successes too. Successes that have allowed me to buy some higher quality products for my family when we really don’t have much to spend. I hope, that if you are in the same place, you can find relief, ideas, and maybe a little fun out of following some tips in this post.

Happy (and safe!) deal hunting!

*Disclaimer: I am not receiving any compensation for any of the companies/stores/websites that I have promoted in this post. This is currently not a monetized blog. I simply want to share what I’ve learned and the resources that help us.

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