"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!