Friday, May 2, 2014

Couponing 101

I've been asked by a handful of people to write about couponing. The ins and outs. So I'm going to do my best to break things down as easily as possible. To be really good at this, you're not going to perfect it overnight. I'm also not going to be able to put everything into one post. There is a ton of coupon vocab to learn, but this should be a great place to start. It's going to be more confusing than anything the first time you go through it. If it were easy then everyone would do it. As I think of more tips, I'll make more posts. But for now this is what I've come up with. Now of course anyone can turn in a handful of coupons at checkout and get maybe $10-$20 taken off of their total. Which is great, don't get me wrong. But for those who want to maximize their savings, keep reading. I've laid out some very basic steps for the beginning and an example at the end.

Step 1 - Open a Separate Coupon Instagram Account

You know how Instagram is full of fitspo? Half naked people showing off their bodies? What if I told you there was JUST as much couponing in there? Ok, maybe not the same amount...there's a lot of damn fitspo. I'm just trying to make the point that there are a LOT of couponing accounts. My account is couponingclara. Add me! Two of my personal favorites are emily_coupons & ch3rry_coupons. They are super informative and always answer questions for new people. There are also a bunch of good FB groups (i.e. Couponing at CVS). You can learn a lot from the IG & FB accounts. Another great thing about using Instagram for couponing is that you really don't even have to calculate out your own deal. Now I still do most of my own just because I don't want to wait around for someone to post about it. But, if there is a great deal that pops up at Walgreens, Rite Aid or Target I'll jump on it. Since I do 99% of my couponing at CVS that's where all of my energy goes. Some people keep up with everything at every store. I don't have time for that. I barely have time to do what I do. If you can keep up with all of those stores, more power to ya!

Step 2 - Gather All Coupons

Start asking family members or friends for their coupons if they don't use them. Print off online coupons. Since I don't have a lot of family members that get the paper I go to the Dollar Tree on Sunday morning and buy 5 papers. I've read that the general rule is to buy one paper per each family member in your household plus 1. You can see which coupons will be in the upcoming paper at You can also see the stores' ads before they come out. I primarily coupon at CVS and I use the website to check the deals before they come out in the paper (sometimes up to three weeks early!). If I know there is a good deal coming up I will buy 10 papers so that I can really stock up on that item. I keep all of my coupons in a binder, using baseball card holders. I couldn't do it any other way, I would go crazy....find what works for you.

Step 3 - Write Down Your Deals

Ok so at this point you have all of your coupons, your IG account set up and you're ready to go. Now since I do this at CVS that's what I'm going to focus on. Get yourself a CVS card. It's free and gives you all the coupons you'll need. Also, sign up for the emails. 20% and 25% emails get sent out all the time. Go to CVS' website and sign up for Beauty Rewards too. Write out your whole shopping trip on a piece of paper. I use a notebook so that I can go back and see what the price of something was last time it was on sale. It can affect my decision of whether to get it then or not. If you have each of your transactions broken down on paper, start with shopping for the last items first. That way when you get to the register your transaction one items are on the top of your cart. I learned this one the hard way. Digging through your cart to find that last bottle of shampoo when there are people behind you is annoying.

Optional Step

Now you CAN just clip the coupons you'll need. BUT it's really beneficial to cut them all out if you can. It will help you out later on Instagram (keep reading). You can also trade coupons with other couponers. This is one of the biggest reasons I love Instagram. People will post that they are ISO (In Search Of) a certain coupon. You can also post that you have some UFT (Up For Trade). It's awesome and a great way to get large amounts of the same coupon if you need it.

Putting It All Together - Example

At CVS you can stack Q's like this:
(1) Manufacturer's Coupon (Q's from the paper or online)
(1) Store Coupon (CVS Q's i.e. $2 off any Baby Care purchase of $10 or more)
(1) Percent-Off Coupon

Let's say your total is $20. The coupons you have are (1) $2/1 Covergirl Mascara  (1) CVS $1 off $6 beauty purchase  (1) CVS $2 off $15 beauty purchase (1) 25% off CVS Q

You can't use both of the $ off $ CVS Q's. Personally, I would use the $2 off $15 because you have met that limit. It's better to save the Q's where you have a lower dollar amount you have to hit for when you really need them. You might be able to add a second transaction where your total would only be $7. If you still had that $1 off $6 you could use it. If you had the $2 off $15 you would have to add something else to your transaction, which wouldn't give you the best results. Your savings would break down like this:

Store Coupon $2 off $15................New total would be $18.00
25% Off ($4.50)..............................................................$13.50
Manufacturer's Coupon $2/1...........................................$11.50

You've almost hit a 50% savings, which is a great start. Now your first few transactions are going to be your most expensive. Because the best way to do this is to roll your ExtraCare Bucks. In the CVS ad, you'll see things like "Spend $20 on these items get $10ECB's." Those are your money makers. Let's say in the example you get that deal. So you would pay $11.50 and get back $10 in CVS ECB's. If you have another 25% off coupon and another manufacturer's coupon you could do this:

Store Coupon (Use your other $1 off $6)........New total $19.00
25% Off ($4.75)...............................................................$14.25
Manufacturer's Coupon $2/1............................................$12.25
CVS Extra Care Bucks (The $10 you got from the last transaction)........$2.25

After the two transactions, you got $40.00 worth of product for $13.75 plus tax and you walk out with $10 CVS ECB's to use at your next transaction! Now there are some things to keep in mind.

- A Percent-Off coupon will not work on Sale items, only regular priced items. So if in the ad you see something that looks like this, it won't work:

- There are limits as to how many of the same transaction you can do per card. In the ad it will state Offer Limit of 1 per household. Or two or whatever. If that were the case here, then you would not have been able to do the same transaction twice. BUT you could still do another transaction full of beauty items (which includes shampoo/conditioner, lotions, etc.) and use the same Q's.

All of this is going to work out best when you can use EVERY coupon you're allowed to. I usually do anywhere from 3-8 transactions each trip. One transaction can be for just one or two items. If that's how my coupons lay out, I have no problem doing more than one. Now cashiers typically aren't the biggest fans of couponers. Why, I don't know. They get paid hourly and they're going to be there anyway, so I don't see what the big deal is. Be a GOOD couponer. Don't try to work a deal that you know isn't allowed (i.e. don't argue to use a percent-off coupon on a sale item).

I'll admit that I tend to coupon EVERYTHING for maybe a month of two. Then I'll take a few months off. I just took a few months off and now my stock is running low. I've actually run out of paper towels, toilet paper and baby wipes. The horror! So I'll be getting all of my coupons together this weekend. I like to go to CVS Sunday morning so that I get what I need and get out. You might find that there are other couponers in your area. If you go late in the week, the items that have the best deals will be gone.

I have also found that one CVS will be different from the next. For instance, I live in Virginia Beach but I work in Norfolk. One day I decided to coupon on my lunch break in Norfolk. The prices for stuff was lower by like $.50-$.75! Never thought that was an option. You can compare the prices online at CVS' website by changing your store and opening in two tabs.

I know this is a lot of information! Don't say I didn't warn you! I'll post my breakdowns of my transactions as I do them. I know for me examples helped more than anything. But this should help you get started and get those ECB's rolling!