I'm not going to re-invent the wheel here. There are a ton of how to's on couponing. What I am going to do is tell you what works for me and where you can find some of the best tutorials I have found online.
Step 1. Get Educated
Like I said above, there are a lot of resources on the web. Too many to sort through actually. That's one of the biggest problems newbies face, where to get your education. How do you know the source is the best source? Truth be known, it's all about trial and error, and about referrals. You'll want to see who has the largest following (see KLOUT scores) or just browse through the comments and see the quantity of responses the blogger receives. The more established bloggers will have a lot of content, customized websites and hundreds of followers. Now, that's not to say that new bloggers don't have something very important to add to the mix. I highly recommend finding a variety of bloggers to follow. It will ensure that you receive a well rounded view of the coupon/deals/freebies world. Let's just be honest here... lots of bloggers just re-post deals they have read somewhere else. That's totally fine so long as credit is given, but you don't want a site that's purely re-posts. So, be sure you are locating national, and local bloggers who don't share the same newswires.
Step 2. Get Plugged In
You can follow bloggers on Twitter or Facebook, or subscribe to RSS feeds, and text updates. There's probably as many ways to get plugged in as their are deals to be had. Almost every manufacturer has some kind of coupon savings program you can subscribe to via email, and most bloggers have multiple means of following their blogs and subscribing to their continual output of amazingly *HOT* deals. I am not disparaging word usage here, I use the *HOT* term too. But, beware, you needn't drop the baby and let the pasta boil over to go get that deal you were just texted about. If you can't get to it now, don't stress, another will come along. You may miss a few freebies here and there or super duper coupon printables, but it's not worth stressing yourself out over. As moms, we cannot be plugged into the "Deal Matrix" 24-7. Trust me, I've tried... it makes life miserable for everyone. Everyone.
What you can do is integrate deal finding into the media methods you already use. If you are a text-er, then subscribe to text deliveries of the best deals from your favorite bloggers. A tweeter? Then you're gonna love the wealth of information accessible to you on Twitter. Is Facebook your thing? Well, Facebook is just about the best news aggregator around. Find the blogs you want to keep up with, follow on Facebook, and you're done! All your deals are posted right into your recent posts feed and you can click through to the ones you are interested in.
Step 3. Experiment First!
I highly recommend experimenting with anything new before you dive in head first. By experimenting, I mean, don't try to come home with a TLC Extreme Couponing episode worth of freebies. It won't happen on your first try, you will feel like a failure, and you may just give up. What I do recommend is taking Step 2. seriously, and then trying one deal. It may be a Groupon, or a SaveMore, or you might get lucky and score a freebie. Write it down! Yes, keep a little "FRUGAL FINDS!" journal and write down the date, the item, the means, and the savings. (You'll appreciate the value of this in a week or two.) Start your savings lifestyle in a sustainable way... slowly.
Step 4. Begin Gathering Coupons
"Where do I get coupons?" I myself have asked that question. It's not a dumb question. You won't know unless someone tells you. The answer is, there are a lot of places you can find coupons. The most popular is the Sunday paper. It usually contains Red Plum & Smart Source inserts with multiple coupons. Every month Proctor & Gamble and General Mills put out a specialized flyer with coupons for their products.
Here's the cool part though, we don't all have time to clip or sort the Sunday coupons. In fact, I'm one of the moms who just does not have time to go through every flyer and cut out all the coupons. So, I use several methods that simplify the savings process for me. First of all, I use the Coupon Database to locate coupons for specific items that my family purchases every week. We are brand loyalists to an extent, so I make it my mission to hunt down coupons for products we are definitely going to purchase.
Secondly, if I don't have the Sunday insert the coupon I need is in, I can either, purchase one or more inserts from the local newspaper, an insert gathering service, or I can purchase the specific coupon I need from a clipping service or from Ebay. I have also found coupon trading forums extremely helpful. Coupon trading is free there, but you will have to invest time into searching out the coupons that your trading partner is looking for. You also have to pay for stamps. Honestly, sometimes, it's just easier to purchase in bulk the coupon(s) I need from a clipping service/ebay.
Regardless of how you obtain your coupons, you are going to need to sort, store, and carry them with you shopping. (SEE BELOW FOR COUPON RESOURCES)
Step 5. Organizing Your Coupons
Until you master this step, you will feel disorganized, unsettled, and unsure of what you have and probably will feel like you aren't succeeding at couponing. Getting coupons is easy, organizing and maintaining organization can be daunting. Even if you order your coupons cut and sorted, you will still need a method to keep them in that condition. You will have to spend some time working on organization every week. You decide how much time you want to spend. More time organizing at home means less time searching at the store and more savings.
I have a four part system. First, I have the pile of unsorted, unorganized inserts I just obtained. Generally, I am not able to sort and file the day I obtain my inserts. So, I have a small sanity pile that I allow myself to sort at a reasonable pace. Secondly, I have a filing system by Type (Smart Source, Red Plum, P&G, GM, Local, etc.) and Date Issued. Thirdly, I have a small stack of coupons that I found in cereal boxes, microwave meals, mailings, catalinas, or envelopes I received from trading online. This small stack gets put away every few days so as not to pile up to an unmanageable state. Finally, I have my coupon binder. It's filled with baseball card protector pages. I've found this size most helpful as most coupons will fit in without being folded. Inside my binder I keep my coupons organized by the areas of my favorite store - Target. I only cut coupons for items I know I am going to buy (i.e. favorite tp, diapers, *HOT* deals I can't pass up that week, etc.). I leave the rest of the coupons in their inserts filed away. I will go back as necessary and cut the coupons I need in bulk from those inserts.
Step 6. Using Your Coupons
How Do I Get Started?
- Buy a newspaper*
(NEWS FLASH! LAJ just started selling Sunday’s paper for $1 on Monday!).
- Pull ads for:
- Wal-Mart - WM
- Target - T
- Kmart - KM
- CVS - CVS
- Walgreens - WG
- Dollar Stores - DG/DT/FD
- United/Market Street - U/MS
- Lowe’s - L
- Sun Harvest/Sprouts - SH/S
- Circle all items in ads that interest you (needs, wants, eye catchers).
- Make a list of all the items you need right now.
- Write the initials of the store that featured a sale on that item next to your item (CVS/T/WM/DG).
- Go back to the flyers and price match which store has the cheapest quantity per piece.
- Write the price next to the store’s initials on your list.
- Finish out your list by price matching between the flyers to ensure you have located and recorded the best location and price.
- Add any additional items to your list from the weekly sale flyers that catch your eye.
- Do NOT stress if most of your needs are not on sale this week.
- Do NOT stress if you have marked all over your paper and it looks a mess.
- Do NOT stress if you are starting to feel overwhelmed. You can do this. J
- Subtotal what you think the list should cost you out of pocket.
- Pick a favorite store to do your shopping (I prefer Target, but Wal-Mart has a larger inventory. Both will price match with the flyers you provide.).**
- Stack all flyers whose initials are on your list next to your purse.
- Take your list to the computer, log on to www.hotpinknchocolate.com, click the Coupon Database tab, and type in the name of the item on your list.
- Print, cut, or otherwise locate the coupons you need following the web links given to you.
- Cut and paperclip multiple coupons of the same kind together.
- Sort coupons in order of your list, store in an envelope or coupon keeper.***
- Take your list, stack of store flyers and coupons to the store - ALONE.
- Collect your items as per your list (pay special attention to the size listed on the ad or coupon and the quantity required).
- Go to the checkout (Find a younger male or female if possible – yes, seriously!).
- Tell your cashier that you are using multiple coupons and price matching with flyers and you want to make sure everything rings up correctly, so you want to review each item as it rings up. (It is also courteous to notify those behind you or allow them to check out first if they have a small quantity of items.)
- S-l-o-w-l-y place one item with the coupon and the price matched flyer on the belt at a time. Now is NOT the time to rush. Do not get stressed right now, or you WILL lose money.
- Review the screen to confirm the items are ringing up at the price you planned for, listen to the beeping to confirm the coupons are being rung up, watch the cashier to make sure they are changing prices to match the flyers you brought.
- IMPORTANT! DO NOT BE AFRAID TO SPEAK UP IF SOMETHING DOESN’T RING UP AS ADVERTISED!
- Be prepared for the first month or two of couponing to not turn out like the Extreme Couponing Show on TLC. J
- Enjoy your victories by logging your savings into a journal with the date and store. At the end of the year you’ll have a wonderful little booklet of savings you can:
- Praise God for it!
- Use it to set a new savings goal for next year.
- Maybe use as leverage for a nice little mani-pedi from the hubs. ;)
WHERE TO FIND COUPONS
Below is a little list I've compiled for anyone who's looking for coupon resources.
Hopefully, you'll learn something new here!
- Local Sunday Paper
- Newspaper Recycle Bins (free & GREEN)
- Friends & Family (free again!)
- Grocery Store Websites
- Brand Websites (P&G, J&J, Nestle, etc.)
- Brand Facebook Pages
- In Store Flyers
- Product Packaging
- Local Coffee Shops
- Hair & Nail Salons
- Doctor's Offices
- Car Detail Shops
Some of these sources are not your run of the mill coupon distributors, so you'll need to take a little extra time to establish a relationship with the owners/proprietors and offer them something in return for the coupons out of their newspaper subscriptions. Sometimes offering to haul away their paper recyclables is worth the trade. Then it's a win, win!
If you have another coupon source, please let me know and I'll add it to the list!