Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Superpwers 101: Coupons

I am in no way a coupon queen. For many years I thought it was more trouble than it was worth to clip, sort, file and use coupons in an effective way. My sister-in-law (I'll call her B) is practically an expert. I tried to follow her example for years. It just didn't work for me.

Part of the reason is because I do 90% of my grocery shopping at the military commissary. When we lived overseas, there was really no other option. Now that we are back in the US, I have compared prices and found that most of the time the commissary is cheaper than the local stores. That being the case, I don't see the point in going to 4 different stores to get every little thing that is on sale just to save a few dollars. Besides the hassle of making lists and sorting coupons and driving all over town, I have 3 small children who can barely make it through one store without a melt-down, let alone a different store every day!

In the past few months, my newest sister-in-law (aka J) has been posting all kinds of videos and websites she has found that teach couponing/cost-saving techniques. Her enthusiasm seems to gush off the screen as she talks about how much she saved and what she has learned. I decided to check them out.

One thing I learned is that there are multiple sources for coupons and not every coupon is on every site. This proved to be very helpful to me. I also have realized that I don't have to grab every coupon I see just because I might use it someday. I now make my list first, then see how many coupons I can find to match it.

Here are a few more tips that have proven to be useful for me.

1. Organizing

As I said, I hated all the clipping and sorting and filing. I tried a few different methods, all ending in frustration. I would go to the store with my handful of coupons, only to find that some had expired a few days before. (That was partly due to baby-brain. Some times I didn't have a clue what day it was!) The overseas commissaries usually only carried the basics so coupons for newer products were useless. I felt I was wasting my time.

One of the videos J shared showed how to use a 3-ring binder with baseball card protectors. It was a light-bulb moment. I had a binder that I knew would be perfect. A package of card protectors was only a few dollars. I made tabs for each page, wrote on the pockets with permanent marker, and Voila! Organization! I can easily flip though the pages to see what coupons I have. I make a list on an old envelope, put a star next to items with a coupon and take the whole binder with me. As I collect items from the list, I move the coupons to the envelope. At the register I can easily hand over my stack of coupons.

You might prefer a different method. This works for me. I have only been using this for a few months and I have already doubled my savings!

2. Use Your Brain

The whole point of using a coupon is to save money. But that isn't always the least expensive approach. For example; let's say you need sugar. You have a coupon for $1.00 off the name brand sugar which brings the price to $2.50. But the store brand sugar is only $1.75. What would you do?

Some people are brand loyal. Some foods are better, or at least different, from one brand to another. If you really want to save, be sure you are thinking about this when you shop.

As I mentioned, we do most of our shopping at the military commissary. The biggest drawback is that there is no "store brand" or generic foods there. So the cheapest sugar is still twice as much as the Wal-mart sugar. I try and buy many of the basics, like sugar, salt, spices, etc, at a local store that offers a generic store brand for almost nothing. I really can't tell the difference. (I tried peanut butter but it was really thick and the kids couldn't spread it so we are back to Skippy or Peter Pan. Sometimes you have to pay for a little self-sufficiency!)

3. Don't Stress Out

One problem I had in the past was going to the store and seeing an item was marked down, knowing I had a coupon at home. I found myself in a panic sometimes. I hated paying more than I had to. Finally, I adopted the "Who cares" attitude. Now, if I save a little, great. If I don't, WHO CARES!!!! This has magically made coupons fun again. It is like a game to see what you can get for a good price. I feel like I am in a friendly competition to find a good deal. If I don't feel like playing today, it's no big deal.

Don't buy stuff just because it is a good price. This is one of my pet peeves. If you buy 10 bottles of conditioner that you hate because it only cost $.25 each, that wasn't a bargain. It was wasteful. Same goes for cheap diapers. Sometimes they aren't worth the crap that's in them!

4. Know Thyself
Know your habits. Know your weaknesses. Know what works for you and what doesn't. Be honest when you make your lists. If you know you will buy cookies or ice cream, go ahead and put it on your list, especially if you have a coupon for it. Don't buy things you hate because they are cheaper. You will just resent it later...and so will your family!

Here are a few of the pages that I have found useful. I hope you do too!

Southern Savers This site is focused on the south-eastern US but has very clear-cut information and links that are useful anywhere. I found the information to be extremely useful.

Hip2Save This one is a little more cluttered to me but has lots of good information.

Smart Source A reliable source for online coupons.

Red Plum Another coupon site Another coupon site.

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