March 15, 2010

Stepping into the world of couponing

Standing in the checkout aisle at Sentry, I felt like the cashier had socked me in the gut.

"Oh, we don't take those," she said, barely concealing her disapproval.

I'd just handed her five coupons worth a total of $6.50. Four were $1 off coupons for McCormick's spices, one was a $1.50 off of Kashi bars and one was for a dollar off a box of Good Earth tea. It was my first serious attempt to enter the world of "couponing," and it'd taken a disastrous turn. Did I really need four types of grilling spices? Or coconut chocolate breakfast bars? Or even the six boxes of Rice Krispies I'd landed for $9?

Yes and no. It's all stuff my wife and I would eat, but it'd all taste better at a buck or two cheaper. The rejected coupons were all printed out from a reputable online website called Coupons.com and vouched for by two leading hardcore-couponing websites: AFullCup.com and thekrazycouponlady.com.

Alas, the first rule of couponing seems to be you're at the mercy of the local store. If they don't want to take legitimate coupons, it's really their call.

OK, before I go on, let me acknowledge this whole post is a diversion for RacinePost. We typically write about City Hall, community events, people ... all the traditional newsy topics. Couponing doesn't typically fall under investigative journalism. But it's a huge and growing activity for cash-strapped families looking to save a few bucks. (Think about it: Saving $20 a month in coupons - a pretty easy goal from what I can tell - pays for a nice dinner out every couple of months, a good start on a family trip or some padding for the savings
account.) So, commenters, be nice, OK?

Four things motivated me to look at couponing:

1. My mother-in-law. She's meticulous about going through the Sunday paper and spotting deals. She's setting aside the money she saves with coupons for an upcoming vacation. She saved $40 in recent months, enough to get my attention.

2. An article on a journalism website pointed to a number of online communities that exist around coupons. I visited the two above and was blown away by the dedication people have to saving money. Not only do they find good deals, they can actually make money using coupons, rebates and "cantalinas" offered by stores.

What's a catalina? It's any deal where a store pays you to buy certain items. For example, Pick N Save has a deal right now were if you buy $6 worth of Suave products you get $2 off your next shopping trip. Savvy couponers pair catalinas with manufacturer coupons to get products for pennies on the dollars. On the above example, there are coupons to save 50 cents on Suave products, which means you can save a dollar or two on shampoo and still get the $2 store credit. The result: $2 in coupons + $2 in store credit gets you a couple of containers of shampoo for $2. Not bad - and other catalina deals are even better. Some times you can get products for free, or even make money on the deal.

3. Food pantries are starving for, well, food. Couponing seems like a great way to find deals on items to donate while also covering personal needs. For example, this week there's a bunch of buy-one-get-one free (B1G1 in couponing code) in the local ads. Why not use them to buy one for your family and give the other to the Racine County Food Bank? It just makes sense.

4. I've been trying to figure out what to do with the RacinePost Facebook page. It doesn't seem like enough to just re-post stories there. Instead, I've been thinking of turning the page into a resource of good local deals through coupons and sales. Then "fans" of RacinePost may actually get something out of visiting the page instead of just a rehash of what's on RacinePost.com.

So that's my interest in couponing. As for my experience, well, I'm basically on day two of trying to navigate what's truly a foreign world. It's interesting to see my own stigmas with using a coupon, especially along gender lines. It feels a little odd to be a guy surfing websites for $1 off coupons on Grab-Its or wondering if B1G1 Purex for $5.99 is a good deal.

But then it's like, "So what?" Saving a few bucks on groceries frees up a few bucks to use somewhere else, like donating to a food pantry or giving to a spiritual community. Plus, to be honest, it's kind of fun reading about a coupon expert who got $400 worth of stuff for free or someone using a coupon to buy something on sale and getting a rebate where they come out ahead.

Is it hard-hitting, down-and-dirty journalism? Nope. Is it something I bet a few people would benefit from? Yeah, I think so.

So if you're into couponing, and you have some local tips, I'm all ears. Post any coupon secrets you're willing to share in the comments and maybe we can all save a few bucks this week.

And, to end on a happy couponing note, I went to Target after Sentry and walked straight to the Customer Service counter to ask if they take Internet coupons. "Yup, we do," the girl said to my relief. I was able to use the 4 for $10 coupon to buy cereal and Pop Tarts and get a $5 Target gift card. 

With a $1.50 off two boxes of Frosted Miniwheats I got everything less than a buck a box ... not bad!

10 comments:

  1. Go for it. Since I've been cooking daily in retirement, I find coupons, store brands and store cards a great way to save money. Swapping info and experiences would help this relative novice, too.

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  2. My wife is a wiz with the deals an coupons. We once got around 7 or 8 bottles of irish spring body for .50 each using internet coupons at Kmart not to mention gaming the coupons, double coupon days, and store sales walking out with a bunch of boxes of cereal, crackers, cookies, etc. I also like the meat sales and other which you can save a ton of money. Going to the checkout and hacing a bill over $125 and then watching it tick down to around $75 is a nice feeling when you are trying to feed a family on a very low income.

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  3. I'm no expert either but my wife really impresses me when she comes home with a little slip of paper that says she now can get gas at 54 cents per gallon off or even more sometimes.

    She gets this at Piggly Wiggly. I think they call them Pig Points. Each time she buys something that is promoted with those points they get added up. Sure there is a maximum of 15 gallons per fill up for the discount but hey, she seems to have got it down to a science. This program must be working cuz it sure seems to be bringing in the people.

    I just tell my wife to keep on doing that. She loves it when she can get gas that is selling at $2.77 a gallon and drives away having only spent $2.10 like she did once. Only draw back is you have to get the gas at one of a couple of stations in town. Ask me if either of us care?

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  4. Sentry is not the place for couponing. That was your first mistake. All the other places take coupons. If you play your cards right, get to PicknSave on Wednesdays and get double coupon, p to 5 coupons and spending 25.00. My daughter is a whiz at this and astonishes me when she has Walgreen's ads and coupons all coordinated by 10 on Sunday!

    Go for it Dustin, it's fun, it's helpful and oh, it's so cool!

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  5. Thanks for the Pick N Save tip! I'll give it a try. And we use the Piggly Wiggly points, too, though we haven't go out of our way to buy specific items. We'll have to start ... just heard gas was heading to $3 a gallon in May.

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  6. Heather in Caledonia3/16/2010 5:22 PM

    Here's something I discovered when I became a Stay At Home. If you don't need something right away, save the coupon until the week before it expires. Items are usually on sale because the companies are trying to move products off of the shelves. Doesn't work all of the time, but it's great when I can double a coupon off of a sale price.

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  7. That's a great tip, Heather. I'll look for sales!

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  8. If I need something name brand, I'll use a coupon if I can find it. I don't bother with the $0.25 coupons, they are more work to remember, and to check the date, than they are worth. Often times you have to buy a specific flavor, size or combination to get it to work. It is usually too frustrating.

    Coupons and special offer sales (pig points) are a way to get you to buy high markup products you wouldn't buy otherwise. You have to be very careful of impulse buying.

    If you really want to save money, shop stores like Aldi's (they don't take coupons) that offer every day low prices. You can buy a box of cereal, jar of peanut butter or frozen pizza that would be two to four times the cost somewhere else.

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  9. I love couponing. I have to say it is a little work but well worth the effort. THis week I spent 87.00 at Pick N Save, Target and Walgreens.~ I saved 89.00. That was more than half. It is totally worth it, even the .25 coupons add up, especially when paired with a store coupon. Keep up the good work.

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  10. I agree on the Piggly Wiggly pig points, IF you are going to buy the item anyway or have a money off coupon on it.

    Aldi's is great for most products,especially their canned goods, bread, buns and fresh fruit and veggies. Their plastic bags are high quality and almost half the price of name brand in other stores.

    And for soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc Target is the best around and they take coupons.

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