Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Coupon Crazy or Savvy Shopper?

The other week our local organizers group, NAPO-NC, had guest Faye Prosser of Smart Spending Resources speak to us about radical couponing (and how we can organize our own shopping for better savings and teach this to clients). This woman saves about 75% off retail on her household consumables bill (groceries, toiletries, necessary stuff). She feeds and cleans a family of four for $50/week. Yes, she's a homeschooling mom who made the choice to stay home and spends time saving money instead of bringing in income. That is, until she turned radical couponing into a business--double $$ whammy. Note: get her to come speak to your group--she's overflowing with good info and high-energy in a way that doesn't leave you exhausted.

You may have read an earlier blog entry that addresses my sister's tendencies toward disorganization which do not follow the family pattern. My sister has a family structure similar to Faye's and really has to watch her budget so I was curious if she used similar techniques.

What systems/tricks do you use to save money on your shopping?
I don't tell other local people how I get my coupons for free at the library because I don't want competition. Some of the local branches never put their "slickies", or what I call Sunday innards out at all because there have been fights (supposedly). The librarians divide that stuff up between themselves and the public never sees it in most branches. Thankfully mine see me several times a week and know that first thing when the doors open on Monday morning, I'm there for that stuff.

Walgreens is the best for free stuff. Every month they have an Easy Saver catalog in the store full of coupons and sales and free rebates and partial rebates. And the cool thing is, they'll accept two coupons per item, as long as it's one manufacturer's coupon and one store coupon. They also usually have a shelf or an aisle or a bin of stuff that has been discontinued. Like a few months back when Pantene changed their bottle type, everything on the shelves went into a shopping cart on clearance for $1-$1.50. If I had coupons on top of that price, it made them free or close. That wasn't just true at Walgreens, it was most of the local grocery and drug stores. Last month at Walgreens, they were offering some new kind of Pantene for free, one per household, by rebate. I had a $2 off coupon for that bottle so they paid me $2 to take it home, after the rebate. But it gets better. I also had a buy one get one free coupon, so I took two bottles home and they paid me $2 for it, after the rebate. The cool thing about their rebates, too, is that you don't have to cut any UPCs or send stuff to the manufacturer. It's one envelope per month, one stamp, one form, and your receipts. And one thing that's even better on this is that if you opt for a Walgreens card instead of a cash rebate, they'll add 10% to the card's balance when they send it to you, because it ensure you'll shop there with the money you get back. And that's fine with me because there will be toothpaste and toothbrushes and shampoo and stuff I'll want from there for free (after rebate) next month too. I have an entire drawer and two bins under my sinks full of deodorant and floss and toothpaste and toothbrushes and shampoo and conditioners... that I've gotten for free or almost free, and so I'm actually turning down chances to get free stuff sometimes because I don't have any more space to store it.
How do you organize your coupons? I'm interested to know more about your system. Did you see the binder system Faye has on her site? She had hers at the meeting and it was the kind where the binder rings are 3" in diameter, and when shut was about 5" thick. She practically needed a pack mule to carry it. Some of the organizers almost fainted.
I have a three ring binder with dividers in it. On the front cover is a zipper and that's where I stick all of the sales flyers when they come in the mail or that I take out of the Sunday paper. Each of the dividers inside has a pocket on each side of it, and I sort my coupons by what they are. There's one for food in general, one for dairy and meat products, one for pet stuff, one for health and beauty, one for misc (this is batteries and cleaners and "stuff" in general).

There are a few pockets that I use to keep store coupons too. I have old bookmarks with paperclips on them - one for each store. So when their system prints you out those coupons based on what you buy that day, which can only be used in THAT kind of grocery store, I clip them to that store's bookmark. Also, when I'm putting together my list for the week, what I'm getting where, I pull the appropriate coupons and clip them to the bookmark of the store I'm going to.

I go through the system once a month and pull expired coupons. Some expire during the month, but I'm not sorting the whole thing every week to catch just a few.

And when I clip them, I don't cut out the ones for Poligrip or Depends or Pampers, which I have NO use for. But if I like Pantene, but I wouldn't rule out buying some other brand of shampoo if the price was right, I clip those out too. If I have a drawer full of toothpaste I probably don't clip out any coupons for toothpaste for a while, either. That's how you keep the binder from being cluttered.

Also inside my binder I keep pens, a sharpie, scissors, paperclips... and in the binder rings I keep regular lined school paper and that's where I keep my shopping list. That way, when I leave the house, no matter where I might be going, I have absolutely everything I could possibly need to go to any store and buy anything. That way I'm not shooting myself when I wind up unexpectedly at the store, waiting for film developing or a pharmacy order, when I find something and wonder if it's on my shopping list. Or if its price is fabulous, I don't kick myself because my coupons are at home. If I'm going to the store, any store, I have it all with me, and there are no pack mules required. And yes, it's a fabulous system that works for me, but in the hands of someone a little less organized, it would turn into a disorganized mess, and utterly unusable. I'm sure you saw this coming. Like a cluttery person needs hundreds more little scraps of paper in their house or car, right?
I am surprised and not surprised. This is an example of how people can be hyper-crazy-organized in some areas of their lives while being less organized in other areas. My sister still claims to have organizing issues that she battles but my impression is that she's got a good grip on all of them and won't cut herself some slack for hanging on to some old magazines and some other stuff. I don't know because I haven't been to her house in a long time. But I'm really impressed when I hear about her shopping systems in detail.

Here's some of my own personal tips:
  • Know the difference between "buy one get one free" and "two for $x" at your store (definitions may vary).
  • Follow through on rebate offers.
  • Plan meals and shop from your list.
  • Buy cheese when it's on sale and freeze it (bags of shreds, not fine cheeses).
  • Same for meat.
  • Know what things cost at different stores so you'll know when there's a good deal (I keep this info, for maybe my top 25 most used items, in my head, or make a price book and store it on your PDA).

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