Recently I was told that September is National Coupon Month. Who knew?! Evidently it is has been dreamed up by the Promotion Marketing Association Coupon Council. Never heard of that bunch, did you? September or not, every month is coupon month at our house. My mother ‘couponed’ back as far as I can remember, and I carry on the practice. I call it a practice, not a hobby. It is just part of my regular routine for preparing to shop: cutting coupons, checking the larder, reading the fliers, making the lists. The fun part is seeing what great deals I can get and totaling up the savings. Along about 1983 I began to keep track of my savings. I included savings on coupons, supermarket discounts, and refund checks. In that year my coupon savings amounted to just 3% of my supermarket bill. It gradually grew to be around 33 to 35% of the bill. That’s quite a savings. Just to impress you, I went back and totaled it all. (Yes, I still have the records!). I can tell you that to date, since 1983, I’ve saved $18,861 using coupons; $20,310 in supermarket discounts, and received $2,915 in refund checks, for a nice total of $42,086. Now that is a chunk of change to add up over almost thirty years.If you are unfamiliar with couponing you may think that number impressive. For a household of just two people it may be, but there are people out there who make me look like a piker. Right here in Sun City Carolina Lakes we have people who not only manage to save for themselves, but who amass shelves-full of food and other products for the various local pantries and drives. I can come up with many items to donate, but these folks are in it ‘big time’. They don’t just collect a bagful or two over the year, they collect bagsful in a month! They work the deals at CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, the by-one-get-one free deals (known as BOGO’s) at the supermarkets, and glean as many on-line free samples as they can. Wow! That can be an almost full time job.
To start the couponing practice you must first get the Sunday newspaper. Your yearly savings will more than cover the price of the paper. In with the various store fliers will be two, maybe three booklets of coupons. (Don’t look for them on holiday weekends. That’s when their publishers take a break.) Begin by searching for and cutting out coupons for the products you use regularly. The manufacturers will try to tempt you with a lot of convenience food coupons, but don’t give in! (unless it’s a Freebie, of course!). Once you’ve cut out a good number of coupons over the weeks you will want to begin organizing them. Save any Business Reply envelopes you get in the mail. Write your shopping lists on the back, and keep your matching cents-off coupons in the envelope. Use other envelopes, either those business-reply or new ones, to organize your coupons into the categories. Making categories of the various departments and aisles of your most-shopped supermarket is the best idea. If you really take to couponing there are many coupon files and binders available to help you.
Next you must get familiar with the fliers from the stores where you shop regularly. Walmart fliers can be hit or miss, but Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods, Food Lion, CVS, Walgreens, and the other locals have their fliers included in the Wednesday or Sunday newspapers. (These are the ‘locals’ for my Charlotte neck of the woods.)The alternative to the newspaper fliers is to go on line to the websites of your favorite stores. The complete fliers will be spread out for you there. It will be important for you to check these regularly so that you can know when the stores are running specials. Harris Teeter, as many of us at SCCL know, doubles coupons up to 99 cents every day, but will often triple those coupons, and sometimes double coupons from $1.00 to $2.00.
E-coupons from sites like SavingStar.com are coupons you select to be electronically loaded on to your account at participating stores. When you shop and purchase the matching item the price is deducted from your bill. There is nothing to print or clip, and many stores will take the e-coupon plus a clipped coupon for double the money off. Many supermarket chains have their own e-coupon programs too. One drawback to this is that the coupons are “out of sight, out of mind”, so you may forget to use them before they expire.
There are many hobby-couponer sites out there too. The best of that bunch, one to which I’ve subscribed to in print and on line for eons, is RefundCents.com. This is couponing and refunding’s bible, its vade mecum, its Wikipedia. Much of the site’s information can be accessed for free, but the ’good stuff’ requires a subscription. Some of the ‘good stuff’ includes weekly listings of the double plays and free items at, for example, CVS and Walgreens; news of free samples; store deal such as the Teeter Triples and Kroger specials; previews of the Sunday coupons; and great deals at on-line retailers, known as etailers. An on-line subscription is $12 a year, and that will repay itself many times over.
Once you have the couponing habit you’ll be on the lookout for good deals everywhere. Don’t throw out those newspaper fliers or mail box stuffers without checking them first. There’s a trove of savings to be had by coupons on restaurants, pizzerias, clothing, cleaners, hair cutters, home improvement centers, oil changes - savings all over the town. Sign up for emails from Wendy’s, Ruby Tuesdays, Outback and other places you visit regularly. Many emails contain printable coupons or news of good deals.
And finally, do keep track of those savings. There are those who ear-mark the savings for special nights out, special gifts, or an otherwise frivolous purchase. Part of my savings justifies my subscriptions to the shelter and cooking magazines I love, not to mention that subscription to RefundCents. Do look into couponing. You will be pleasantly surprised when the savings start to add up.