Couponing, Anyone?

Believe it or not, it’s FOUND MONEY!!

So this has been my hobby (and one of our financial lifelines) for the past two months.  Many of you have already had a taste of my endeavors (watching me cut coupons or my reports of savings via Facebook).  It’s something that has kept me sane for several reasons…

1) it keeps me occupied
2) it has reduced our food/grocery expenses
3) it’s just FUN!!

So how in the world does it all work?  How does one manage savings of an average of 60% off retail prices (Note: 60% may sound impressive to some, but the REAL gurus of couponing snag 80 to 100% savings on MASSIVE HAULS worth hundreds, even THOUSANDS of dollars…I’m nowhere near that yet)?  It takes time, organization, careful planning, and, yes, that pesky subject called MATH that you never thought you’d ever use again in your lifetime.  While I cannot give you the finer points and tips of extreme savings (you can go to “MY FAVORITE COUPONING SITES” links at the end of this post for advice from people with REAL experience), I can tell you how I got started and my weekly routine…

…one day at a time…

Sunday: Retrieval & Organization

Couponing starts on Sundays…when that wonderfully heavy, thick SUNDAY EDITION of our local paper hits stands.  Most people buy one newspaper and throw out all the inserts (and if YOU’RE one of these said people, please consider sending those inserts along to me…I’ll pay for postage, even).  I buy TWO to FIVE newspapers and focus only on the inserts (saving one newspaper for InChul to read when he gets a chance…the rest goes to recycling).  The number of papers I buy depends on the inserts and coupons they have…and I get previews of each week’s coupon inserts from “THE 2011 SUNDAY COUPON PREVIEW” who sends me an email during the week, alerting me to what coupons are coming out that following Sunday.  If there are a lot, and if the coupons are for products I especially like (or are of great value), I will buy more papers.  If there aren’t many (or none, like on national holidays), I don’t buy any or only a couple.

Once I have the papers at home, I will pull out the inserts and begin cutting (bundling like pages together and cutting like coupons out at once makes for MUCH more efficient work).  As I’m cutting these multiple coupons out, I sort them into general categories (i.e. food, cleaning, health & beauty, etc) so that I can find them more easily for specified sorting into the coupon binder…

…ah yes…the binder…
The binder is a key component of my coupon organization.  Without it, I would not know where my coupons were or which ones I have.  As you can tell by the above picture, I’m meticulous about sorting them and making sure that each one is visible (obviously, like ones go in common pockets).  I prefer the binder/collector card insert method…others use accordion files, box files, etc…whatever system makes most sense to you, go with it.  My coupons are organized by category (i.e. baking, cereals, cleaning, haircare, office supplies, etc) and then by expiration dates.  This way, I know which ones I should try to use first in order to get maximum usage out of the coupons (before they expire).  
The organization is probably what takes up the bulk of my Sunday couponing sessions.  It takes around two to four hours (my record is five and a half hours…and that was Sunday, August 7th, which was the first Sunday of the month…beginning of the month, you should also look online for free printable coupons as well!!…more on that later).  I usually take my time with it and use to time to watch many of my shows on our DVR that I didn’t get  to watch during the week (favorite being NCIS episodes and “Extreme Couponing” episodes when they air).  It helps pass the time and makes it more fun.
The final step of my Sunday Coupon Retrieval/Organization is starting to meander through the Sunday weekly store circulars (here in East Lansing, that would be for Kroger, Meijer, Walmart, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Target).  The reason for this step is that the power of coupons are amplified when used in conjunction with store deals!!  For example, when Kroger is having their 10 for $10 sale on many of the items in their stores, it is likely many of your coupons (current ones and older ones saved along the way that are still valid) will match up with these sale items and give you even GREATER discounts than coupons or sales alone can.  This is where you find the gem deals!!  
Next Time on Letters to Lydia…
Monday: Grocery List Assembly!!


For information on Sunday Inserts to Come
For information on Store Deals by State/Store
For free printable online coupons (two printouts per computer)

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