Lessons in Couponing

I have recently become a couponer. I attended an Enrichment a Relief Society meeting a few months ago where a member of the Savvy Shopper's brigade was teaching a class about saving money by using coupons. Since I am no longer the breadwinner (or even really a bread contributor), I figured that I could contribute to the family budget by saving money, which is just as good as bringing it in in my book. :)

I'm no Savvy Shopper (who reports that she spends about $100/month feeding her family of 6!) but I've saved us enough on diapers alone that I think it is at least worth my time. In the last 6+ weeks of using coupons, I've learned these 3 P's about becoming a couponer:

You must be patient. This means waiting for the best sales (the really really good ones, not just a sale on the item you have a coupon for). When I first started couponing, I would use whatever coupons I had for whatever happened to be for sale (not even on sale) anywhere... I have since learned the error of my ways.

For example, last week I could have paid $6 for 4 boxes of Chex at Macey's. I was already at my budget, so I had to leave the Chex on the shelf. I was really disappointed and even tried to come up with a really good argument for needing the Chex, to no avail. It was all for the best when this week Fresh Market (formerly Albertson's) had Chex on sale 4 boxes for $5. Plus, in the extra time, I had found a printable coupon for $1/2 boxes of Chex, which I printed the maximum 2 times. That made it $3 for the 4 boxes. 75 cents each! Plus, I got a free 5 lb bag of sugar for turning in my Albertson's Preferred card, so I paid $3 (plus tax) for 4 boxes of Chex and 5 lbs of sugar.

You must be persistent. After just a couple of weeks, I was disappointed because I wasn't seeing myself saving very much money. If anything, (due to my impulsively buying something just because I had a coupon), couponing was costing us more money. Before I gave up, I decided to redouble my efforts. I started getting all the coupon booklets from my parents' newspaper (since they weren't using them anyway) and keeping all the coupons, even for products I wouldn't normally be buying often, like lightbulbs and cough syrup. I haven't gone so far as to subscribe to multiple copies of the newspaper (yet?), but I've built up a pretty mean arsenal of coupons (that are still waiting to be properly organized...) that means that I can take advantage of the fantastic sales (like when things are FREE!) when the come around.

Being persistent also means taking advantage of a wonderful store policy: the rain check. Especially at stores that have great sales but not such great stock rooms (such as my not-so-friendly neighborhood Walgreens), the sale items are gone whiz-bang fast. Two weeks ago I was there to get Hunts tomato sauce for FREE (on sale 3/$1 and with save $1/3 coupons). I planned to get 6 since I had 2 coupons (and that was the limit), but there were only 3 left on the shelf. I asked an employee if they had more in stock, and when the manager told me they were all out, she also offered me a rain check (which is great customer service but doesn't happen very often!). So now, once they restock, I have another 6 cans of tomato sauce. FREE. (Luckily I was able to get another $1/3 coupon, as well from playing the ConAgra Recession Payback game. :P )

You must be persnickety (but not in a snobby way).
per-snick-e-ty (pur sni kuh tee) -- adj -- 1 a : fussy about small details : fastidious b : having the characteristics of a snob 2 : requiring great precision
The phrases "It's not worth the fuss," "Oh, just let it slide," and "I didn't notice what it rang up at" cannot be in a successful couponer's lexicon. To  make sure you're getting the right price, you have to watch and make sure that all of the coupons register correctly, which sometimes means handing them to the checker in a certain order or otherwise requiring something of the checker beyond the norm for a transaction.
[Editor's note: Most checkers are nice people, and any checker worth his/her salt knows that of all the people you shouldn't make mad, couponers are top on the list. Not only are most couponers brave enough to just walk out and/or talk to the management, couponers revel in the beauties of the internet. One couponer is treated badly (for coupon-related reasons) at a store, and, before you know it, hoards of couponers are NOT showing up at that store any more, both at that location and otherwise. That said, be nice to the checker, not snobby, as is the other definition of persnickety.]
For example, anytime you "roll" purchases (split up your purchases into multiple transactions to use gift cards, register rewards, $$ off next purchase coupons in the same trip), that requires something of the checker. Be sure you know what you're doing before you attempt to roll. Start with a simple roll, two transactions, and work up. I am still quite a novice at rolling, myself.

When using multiple coupons, such as a combination of manufacturer and store coupons, for one item and/or transaction, I figure that it's my responsibility to make sure that they are all valid to use in that way. Some coupons will automatically double if you're buying multiple items; some don't. Sometimes the checker will have to scan them in in a certain order.

For example, I got a great deal on Huggies diapers at Walgreens this week -- $22 for 4 jumbo packs! To get the great deal, though, I used 4 manufacturer's coupons and 2 store coupons, plus I had to purchase a small filler item so that my $5/$25 store coupon was usable. The checker had to scan the 4 diaper packages (plus filler item), the first store coupon ($1/1 pkg of Huggies, which quadrupled because I was buying 4), then the 4 manufacturer's coupons (one for each pkg), and then the last store coupon (save $5/25 purchase). She was nice enough and experienced enough to re-scan the first store coupon when I had given the coupons to her in the wrong order and remind me about the filler item (which I had placed on the counter but she hadn't seen), but some checkers aren't. That means you either have to make a bit of a fuss or, like my father, end up paying WAY too much for your Pepsi fridge packs.

Here's to getting more great deals!

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