Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thrifty Thursday: Couponing for Newbies--Getting Started

If you're a total newbie to the world of couponing and grocery stockpiling, then this post is for you.  Totally basic and honestly, just kind of broken down to the bare bones so that you can build onto your skills (because it is a learned skill!) as you go. 

When I started with couponing and stockpiling, I was like a sponge.  I went out and soaked up everything I could possibly find on how to buy groceries for less.  Unfortunately, there are about a million (or more--no joke!) resources out there on this very topic.  It didn't take long before I got completely overwhelmed.  So, what I've tried to do is take what I've learned over the last six years and break it down to try to make it less intimidating to someone who is totally new to the world of using coupons and building a stockpile.  What follows are my tips and tricks to start out.  We'll build on your skills as we go!  For those of you who are NOT new to this, then please jump right in with your own tips and tricks.  Share with the rest of us what you've learned.  Don't be shy, you can also share with us what mistakes you've made along the way (I've made a ton of them!) so that we don't make the same mistakes ourselves!

  • Make a basic list of the items that your family uses on a regular basis--this will help to serve as a very rough guide on what items you'll use and what items to pass on.  Trust me, it's easy to end up with an entire linen closet worth of products that your family will never use (hmm. . .diabetic testing strips for a family full of non-diabetics?  Anyone?  Maybe it's just me.) just because they were free or extremely cheap.  I told you I've made mistakes in the past.  This is one of them.  I got sucked into the "but it's only .10" or "it's totally free!" trap.  Even if it says it's free, nothing is ever totally free.  Just hang with me here, you'll soon come to see what I mean by that statement.  Additionally, it would help you to know upfront what items (or brand names) your family is totally loyal to and what items you could negotiate on.  To avoid overwhelming yourself, just walk around your house and take a peek at what items you already have.  What things do you HAVE to have in order to make your household run.  Take this example from my bathroom list (and this is just a peek at part of my list): toilet paper, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, razor, shaving cream, soap bars, toothpaste, toothbrush, hair spray, etc.  Once you have this basic list of what items you need, you can then analyze what brand names you can't live without or what brand names you CANNOT buy.  For instance, if your son is allergic to Wisk laundry detergent, then you probably shouldn't buy it for your home. . unless of course you or your son enjoy dealing with full body rashes and painful itching.  I told you, I've made mistakes.  Or, if your husband REFUSES to drink brand of orange juice other than Tropicana, then its possible that the (normally) really great Minute Maid sale this week might just be a big waste of money for your household.  It seems basic, but it's important to know these things upfront.  Once you have your list nailed down, along with the brand names or items that you must have/cannot have you can get started on building your stockpile.  Well, almost.
  • Clear an area to store your stockpile--Read my lips (or my blog?) when I say this: IT NEED NOT BE A HUGE AREA!!!!  I've had friends and acquaintances tell me that they could never stockpile because they don't have the room.  Guess what?  It really doesn't take much room.  NO ONE here is expecting you to convert your garage into a stockpile room.  No one is asking you to dig a cellar beneath your house to store 5,000 packages of toilet paper or anything like that.  Honestly, you can start your stockpile with a very small area.  Afterall, your stockpile takes time to grow.  And it only grows as big as you want it to or as big as your space will allow.  It's also amazing how much room you'll find to store the hot deals along the way!  I started off my stockpile with exactly ONE shelf cleared in my linen closet (that stuff needed to go anyways!) and ONE shelf cleared in my pantry.  That's it!  Just those two shelves!  Of course, I found more space as my stockpile grew but I was one of those people who said I'd never be able to stockpile because I "didn't have the room".  Amazing how wrong I ended up being! 
  • Make a "normal price" price list--Before you even begin couponing, you need to be able to tell what's a good price for something and what's not.  Therefore, make a trip to your local grocery store or big box store and jot down a few prices.  Take your basics list of the things that you buy on a regular basis and write down what you normally pay for that item.  In order to know whether you should buy something, you will need to reference this "normal price" list to see how good that sale really is. 
  • Make a list of the meals that your family enjoys or normally eats-- This list will become your "watch list". You will start off being successful with couponing if you already have a clear picture of the meals that your family enjoys and eats on a regular basis.  Doesn't mean that you have to only eat those things but if you have some recipes that you find yourself making regularly because they are quick, easy, cheap or enjoyed by your family, write down the ingredients to that recipe.  For example, if your family really enjoys spaghetti bake, you may want to add pasta sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, and pasta noodles to your watch list.
  • Gather some recipes for some "cheap" meals--For the first little bit that you are stockpiling, you may actually notice your grocery bill going UP.  Yes, I know it seems counterproductive but bear with me.  See, until you get a little bit of a stockpile built up, you'll be buying your normal grocery items while still spending that little bit extra to buy the things that are on super sale.  Making a little bit more sense now?  My friends look at me like I've sprouted an extra head when I tell them that their grocery bill may actually increase for a little while.  It does take some explaining!  However, you can counterbalance this by cutting back a little bit on your meals.  NO, I'm not suggesting that you feed your family less food, I'm suggesting that you find some cheaper alternatives to make while you make the transition over to building a stockpile.  If you don't have any cheap meals ideas, just google "cheap meal ideas" and you'll soon be rolling in the dough cheap meal recipes.  If you need some personal guidance (ala. . .your wonderful Living on a Dime or Less goddess. . .ME!), I will put up a post soon with the recipes to the cheap meals that I used when I first started out.  And I still use these recipes.  Cuz they're cheap.  And easy.  And I like cheap and easy.  Get your mind out of the gutter!  I'm talking food here, people!  Basically, your "cheap" meals recipes should include ingredients that are cheap even when you have to pay full price for them.  But they should still be nutritious too! 
  • Design a coupon organizing system--Don't pick up your scissors yet!  You can't start cutting out those coupons until you have a solid system in place of where you're going to put them!  There are a variety of systems that work for different people.  I can only share with you the one that works for me.  I have two coupon organizers. . .they look like this. . .

and it I got two of them out of the dollar bin at Target.  However, you should be able to find them in the office supply section but they might be more expensive.  I also know alot of people who use a system of just a binder and those inserts that hold baseball cards.  That seems to work very well for them.  What I do is seperate my coupons into the two "envelopes": one is for edible (i.e. food) items and the other is for non-edible items.  Within each organizer, I break each section down further.  Here's how my system is organized:

* refrigerated items
* frozen items
*baking items (spices, flour, sugar, etc)
*breakfast items
*snack items
*canned goods
*breads & pastas

Non-edibles* bathroom items (toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, etc)
* haircare items
*face items (pretty much anything that would be used on my face)
*body items (soap, bodywash, lotions)
*ladies personal care items (tampons, sanitary pads, you know. . .anything for the girl downstairs!)
* cleaning products
* laundry products
* air freshener products
* medicines
* shaving and deoderants (there are so many coupons for each of these that these two products specifically get their own section but combined together--does that make sense?)
* pet
* random--this includes pretty much anything that doesn't directly fall into one of the above categories

Over the last six years, this system has worked really well for me.  I usually cut out my coupons on a Sunday and just sort them according to the sections in my organizers.  I have some fellow couponer friends who sort their coupons based on the layout of their store but I just can't see that working for me.  I don't know my store that well!  Think about your habits and decide what you think will work best for you.  You may have to try out a few different ways and tweak it as you go.  The one rule is that it needs to be simple enough that you can not only maintain it but you can also easily find the coupons that you'll be looking for on a regular basis. 
  • Start buying/clipping coupons each week--now starts to exciting part. . .but don't get too excited.  You will need to start buying the weekly paper that has all of the coupon inserts (usually that's the Sunday paper) and clipping out the coupons.  I will warn you, before you will really start seeing a major difference in your shopping bill, you've got to gather a decent inventory of coupons.  This may take up to three months.  Yes, you heard read that right.  Three months.  There's actually a science to couponing.  Most products are on a twelve week cycle meaning that a coupon will be issued or a  sale on a specific item will usually happen every twelve weeks.  Therefore, it might take you that long to actually gather every coupon that you'll need in order to start taking part in the deals.  To get a little more complicated, the art of couponing is to be able to find a specific item on sale WITH a valid coupon out.  That's the tricky part.  You could start using the coupons that you'll be clipping each week immediately, but unless you are combining the coupon with the product while it's at a good sales price, then you are not really taking full advantage of the savings. Sure, some deals will come along for you immediately but others you may not have the coupons for yet simply because you haven't been clipping them for that long.  There are blogs and services out there that will do all of the hard work for you.  They'll track the sales, match up the coupons, and issue lists which will tell you what stores to shop, what products to buy, what coupons to use (including which inserts to get them out of!), the final price you'd pay and the amount you're saving/percentage off regular price.  I will highlight these blogs and services in a future post (coming soon, I promise!) and until you really get the hang of matching up the sales and the coupons, I strongly suggest you follow this easy lead that others are giving you.  I promise that I'll post some good blogs/websites soon for those of you who are just itching to get started.  In the meantime, take the advice that I've laid out for you above and start prepping to save.  Trust me, there is something to be said about good prep work! 


  1. AHHH! It all gives me a headache. I am trying to use coupons but I forget them, or go to different stores or they expire. I will start focusing more.

  2. SingleMama, hang in there love! Couponing does take time, a little patience, and some (not a lot!) skill. Trust me, once you've had a great savings at the grocery store, you'll suddenly remember to take your coupons with you EVER-Y-WHERE! I mean, I've never been caught in really strange places (like the Dr's office? McDonalds? My son's kindergarten class' Thanksgiving Feast?) with my coupon bag hanging from my shoulder instead of my purse. No. . .not me. Must be someone else. MmmmHmmm.


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