Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Couponing 101: Organizing your coupons without going crazy

When I first started couponing, I didn't get the newspaper.  I stuck entirely to printable coupons.  I will say that couponing is entirely doable just with printables -- more and more companies are going with it now, and sometimes the printable coupons are better than the ones you get in the paper!

Printable coupons are great because you don't really have to think about organization.  For the most part you can just print out what you need, when you need them.  You might miss out on a few good coupons this way -- there are often limits on how many people can print a coupon -- but you can score plenty of deals without bothering to try printing things out in advance.

When I got the opportunity to get a year-long, Sunday-only newspaper subscription for $26, I couldn't resist getting in on the paper coupons too.  I knew I'd be able to save well over $26 a year with the additonal coupons I'd receive.  But once I had them, I couldn't figure out how to keep them sorted and organized without losing my mind!

I've seen people in the store with these beautiful binders full of carefully cut and sorted coupons, like it's some sort of Pinterest-worthy craft project.  Good for them.  My idea of a good time isn't spending an entire evening with a stack of coupon inserts and a paper cutter.  I tried cutting them all and trying to roughly sort them, but it took forever.  I knew there had to be a better way.

You want to know my secret?

Until I need them, I don't cut them at all.

Most coupon sites -- my favorite being Living Rich With Coupons -- will help you find a coupon by giving you the date and the insert to look through.  On Living Rich With Coupons they mention the date/insert when referring to coupons on the weekly match-ups, and they also provide that information in their free coupon database, where you can search for coupons for items you need that might not "match up" with a store sale.

Here's my expanding file folder:

You can get one of your own for super cheap.  Mine is huge because I once used it to organize references for my bachelor's thesis.

Here's my routine:

  1. The paper shows up.
  2. If I have time, I'll flip through the inserts just to see what's in there.
    1. Optional: If there's a coupon I'm 100% sure I'm going to use soon, I might clip it.
    2. Optional: Look at the dates on the coupons and find the latest date.  If you make a note of that on your file label you'll know when those inserts are ready to be recycled.
  3. I throw the inserts in one section of my file folder.
  4. I write the date on a post-it.  
    1. If you looked at the coupon dates and know the latest date in those inserts, you could add this to your label for easy purging later.
  5. Some day, probably when my folder's full because I'm incredibly lazy, I'll purge the old stuff and maybe move the new stuff forward.  
And when it's time to shop?
  1. I look at the deal sites to figure out what date and what insert I need to look at
    1. Hint: They're usually abbreviated.  SS = SmartSource, RP = RedPlum, P&G = Proctor and Gamble.
  2. I pull out that insert and quickly flip through until I find the coupon (or sometimes don't find the coupon if it's regional and I'm not in that region -- but given that my search is focused on just that insert, I can usually figure that out quickly and move on).
  3. I cut the coupon I need then put the insert back for another day.
It's simple, yet gives me exactly what I need.  Even if it's some wacky product I'm only buying because I'm getting paid for it, I'll have the coupon and it'll be relatively easy to find.  It takes so much less time to not bother with all the clipping!

If you want to, clipping the coupons you know you'll use can be helpful.  To keep them organized I have this little coupon file, which fits in my bag and can come to the store with me, in case I stumble upon a good deal.  I also use it to hold the coupons I intend to use on my shopping trip -- I just put them all together in the front so they're ready to hand to the cashier in one big stack.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Sensibly Extreme Couponing: grocery trip for the week of 6/8/14

Sorry for what appeared to be a bit of a hiatus!  I was originally planning on skipping any major shopping this week -- we'd spent a little money at a festival over the weekend and I wanted to cut back on spending this week, especially given that we have a pretty good food stockpile at this point.

However, when I saw the latest offer at ShopRite -- a $25 gift card when you spend $60 on certain brands -- I knew I had to work out something.

The deal sounds good by itself, right?  40% off is pretty sweet!  But with a few months of experience under my belt, I knew that this was even better.

Deals like this are often considered before coupons, and in ShopRite's case they pretty much always are.  So coupons don't count toward the $60.  Also, a secret among the ShopRite faithful is that in most cases, when earning a gift card or a Catalina coupon, the minimum you have to spend is "pre-Price Plus" pricing.  That means, if the sale item requires your Price Plus card to get the deal, the amount used toward that dollar threshold is the "shelf price" -- the price you would pay if you didn't have the card.

Considering all of this, I had a feeling there was a big deal to be had here.  Typically I take advantage of the deals that other people come up with -- there are a lot of brilliant couponers out there, and it saves me a ton of time!  But this week, the deal that my favorite site, Living Rich With Coupons, suggested involved some printable coupons that were no longer available and multiple paper coupons I didn't have.

My husband was kind enough to give me some extra time to do some number crunching this week, so I made myself a spreadsheet.  I listed out all the items in the deal I'd consider purchasing, their shelf prices, their sale prices, and the best coupon deal I could find on each.  Then I played around with items and quantities, keeping in mind that for printable coupons I'd only be able to print out 4, and eCoupons would only apply to one item, until I got myself over $60 for the shelf price and under $25 for the actual price paid.  The spreadsheet itself took a while but once everything was in there, it was pretty easy to figure it all out!

I will say I hit one snag at the store -- some of the sales did not require a Price Plus card, so that meant that the deal used the sale price toward the threshold.  So when I first checked out, I was unfortunately a few dollars short.  But thankfully I still had my spreadsheet, and was able to quickly and easily figure out exactly what I needed to get to reach the $60 and ran back to the store real quick after printing off one more coupon.  And it was still a money-making deal.  I was so happy!

The only thing I'm kicking myself for is not being more proactive last week when the Catalina machine didn't work at checkout.  I didn't worry about it because I wasn't planning on making a big trip this week, but had I gone to customer service, I likely could have had my $10 off $50 for this week.  I would have been able to use that store coupon as well, which would have made my whole trip a moneymaker!  Oh well.  The Catalina machine was broken at the first checkout I went to yesterday, but when I went back for my second quick purchase, I got all my coupons then.

Now that I have the $10 off $50 for next week, I'm determined to make a new spreadsheet for one of the other $25 back on $60 offers to try to get another deal.  They're good through next week.  The extra $10 should make it easier to make it into a moneymaker.  I can't say no to a cart of free stuff!

Here's what I got yesterday:
After rebates and gift cards, all of this cost me about $2!
And here's the breakdown:

For the $25 gift card on $60 of General Mills products:

  • 4x Honey Nut Cheerios on sale for $1.88 ($3.49 Pre-Price Plus)
    • 2x $1.10/2 printable MC
    • Total: $5.32 ($1.33 each)
  • 4x Cheerios on sale for $2.99
    • 4x $.75 printable MCs, doubled
    • Total: $5.96 ($1.49 each)
  • 3x Kix on sale for $1.88 ($3.69 PPP)
    • 3x $1 printable MCs
    • Total: $2.64 ($.88 each)
  • Cookie Crisp on sale for $1.88 ($3.79 PPP)
    • $1 printable MC
    • Total: $.88
  • Lucky Charms on sale for $3.99
    • $.60 printable MC, doubled
    • $.50 eCoupon
    • ($.50 SavingStar rebate pending)
    • Total: $1.79
  • Fiber One Brownies, on sale for $2.49 ($3.49 PPP)
    • $.50 printable MC, doubled
    • $.50 eCoupon
    • ($.50 SavingStar rebate pending)
    • Total: $.49
  • Nature Valley Granola Bars, on sale for $2.99
    • $.50 printable MC, doubled
    • $.50 eCoupon
    • ($.50 SavingStar rebate pending)
    • Total: $.99
  • 4x Green Giant Frozen Veggies, on sale 3 for $5
    • 4x $.40 printable MC, doubled
    • Total: $3.47 ($.87 each)
  • Toaster Strudel, on sale for $2.50
    • $.40 printable MC, doubled
    • Total: $1.70
Total "spent" toward this deal, using pre-Price Plus prices and sale prices before coupons: $60.42

Total actually spent out of pocket, after SavingStar rebates, to get the $25 gift card: $23.24
$1.76 moneymaker!

Other things I bought:
  • 2x Arm and Hammer detergent, on sale for $1.88
    • $3/2 coupon from the paper (6/8/14 SmartSource insert)
    • Total: $.76 ($.38 each)
  • Joy Ice Cream Cones, $.99
    • $.35 printable MC, doubled
    • $.35 eCoupon
    • Total: -$.06
  • Zatarain's Rice, on sale for $1.50
    • $.75 coupon from the paper (5/4/14 RedPlum insert)
    • Total: FREE
  • Horizon Mac and Cheese, $1.49
    • $.55 printable MC, doubled
    • $.55 eCoupon
    • Total: -$.16
  • Klondike Bars, on sale for $1.88
    • Store coupon to get one for $.99
    • $3/3 printable MC
    • Total: $1.75 ($.58/each)
  • Kandoo wipes, on sale for $.99
    • $1 printable MC
    • $.50 eCoupon
    • Total: -$.51
  • 4x Premier Protein bars, on sale for $1
    • $.50 printable MC, doubled
    • Total: FREE
  • Domino Sugar, store coupon for $.99
  • ShopRite Ketchup, store coupon for free
  • Yellow onions, store coupon for $.99
Total for everything, including tax and after SavingStar rebates: $27.02, plus $25 gift card!

I'm pretty proud of this deal because it's truly mine.  It took work to figure everything out (even though it didn't work out quite the way I thought it should have).  And once you factor in the gift card, the fact that everything here was just over $2 -- it was definitely worth my time!

Then I ran over to Stop & Shop and bought 4 Breyers Ice Cream for $5 (on sale 2/$6, $4 off instantly when you buy 4, plus a $3/3 coupon), because I have an ice cream problem.  I needed something to put in those free cones, right?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Sensibly Extreme Couponing: grocery trip for the week of 6/1/14

I decided to go shopping yesterday -- a Sunday -- to get it out of the way for the coming week.  Never again!  The good sale items were entirely wiped out.  I had everything carefully calculated to get over $50 before coupons so I could use my $10 off deal, and had to do all kinds of reconfiguration in the store to make sure I'd still be able to use it.

Then, just to make things even worse, the Catalina coupon machine at the register I chose was broken!  I didn't realize it until the cashier was handing me my receipt.  Thankfully I hadn't redeemed any deals that earned me a Catalina, but that means I didn't get next week's $10 off $50 coupon.  I probably could have asked them at customer service but I just wanted to get home.  I may stop by mid-week to see if I can grab the couple of freebie deals I wanted but couldn't get and see if the coupon prints then.  If not, I may be cutting back on shopping for a couple of weeks and living off of our stockpile.

So this week didn't save quite as much as I was hoping, but I made the most of it.  I ended up getting more ground beef than I was planning, and grabbed a couple of items I was going to hold off on but will be useful in a few weeks.  I needed less than $10 of extra items to reach $50 so it was worth the hassle.

My tip of the week: if you're planning to try to spend a certain amount to take advantage of a deal, come prepared with backup deals (and corresponding coupons)!  I ended up getting more ground beef than I was planning, and grabbed a couple of items I was going to hold off on but will use eventually (Coffee-Mate and Silk Almond Milk -- the expiration dates on both aren't for several months so they'll just hang out in my fridge for a bit!).

$75 worth of groceries for around $15 after rebates!
Here's the breakdown:

  • 6x Red Pack Diced Tomatoes, large cans, on sale for $1 each
    • 2x $.55/3 printable MCs, doubled
    • Total: $3.80 ($.63 each)
  • Mott's for Tots juice, on sale for $2.79
    • $1 eCoupon loaded to card
    • $1 printable MC
    • Total: $.79
  • 4x Horizon Macaroni and Cheese, $1.49 each
    • 4x $.55 printable MCs, doubled
    • Total: $1.56 ($.39/each)
  • 2x ShopRite Organic Pasta, on sale for $1.19 each
    • $1 eCoupon loaded to card
    • Total: $1.38 ($.69/each)
  • Tabasco Sauce, on sale for $.99
    • $.50 eCoupon loaded to card
    • $.55 printable MC, doubled to $.99
    • Total: -$.50
  • Haribo Gummy Bears, $1
    • $.30 eCoupon loaded to card
    • $.30 printable MC, doubled
    • Total: $.10
  • Hunt Tomato Paste, $.75
  • 6x Vintage Seltzer, $.50 each
    • $2/6 printable MC
    • Total: $1 ($.17 each)
  • 2x Green Giant Veggie Chips, on sale for $2.50 each
    • $.50/2 eCoupon loaded to card
    • 2x $.50 printable MCs, doubled
    • Total: $2.50 ($1.25 each)
  • Nature's Own Honey Wheat Bread, on sale for $2
    • $.55 MC from paper (5/4/14 SmartSource insert), doubled
    • Total: $.90
  • Ground beef, 4 pounds, on sale for $3.49/lb: $14.90
    • $1/lb store coupon
    • Total: $10.63
  • Russet Potatoes, 5 pounds, on sale for $1.99
    • $1 store coupon
    • Total: $.99
  • Silk Almond Milk, on sale for $2.99
    • $1 printable MC
    • Total: $1.99
  • Coffee-Mate, on sale for $1.66
    • $.50 printable MC, doubled
    • Total: $.66
  • ShopRite 18-pack large eggs, on sale for $1.99
    • $1 store coupon
    • Total: $.99
  • Blue Bunny Strawberry Crunch bars, on sale for $1.88
    • $1 printable MC
    • Total: $.88
Other deals:
  • $10 off $50+ that printed at checkout last week
  • $2 Catalina coupon from last week
Total Out of Pocket: $16.66 (including tax, deposits)

Cash Back:
  • $.25 Checkout 51 rebate on sliced bread
    • (Total cost of bread after rebate: $.65)
  • $.50 SavingStar rebate on Green Giant Veggie Chips
    • (Total cost after rebate: $1 each)
  • Friday Freebie SavingStar rebate on Hunts Tomato Paste ($.75)
Total After Cash Back: $15.16

It's not as great as what I was hoping for, but it's still right around $15, so I'm happy.  

I also went to Aldi to pick up some whole milk, mushrooms, and a watermelon.  They have watermelon for $3.99 right now -- ShopRite wanted nearly twice that much!  It definitely pays to shop around when it's not too inconvenient.