For a long time, I assumed couponing was mainly for penny-pinchers who would only save a dollar on their bill. But when my husband was stationed in Washington, D.C., couponing took on a different meaning for me. We both had great jobs, but we seemed to have trouble making ends meet every month. So, after watching people save hundreds of dollars on couponing shows, I was inspired to try it myself.
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Here’s how I did it:
The first step
While watching couponing shows, I noticed that many of the couponers received about 20 inserts, or circulars, a week. I wanted to attempt this myself, but I quickly learned that buying inserts is illegal. The CIC (Coupon Information Center) prohibits buying coupons in any form. I learned quickly there are only two legal places where you can get coupons—newspapers and company websites. By going to a company site like Dove, I was able to print at least 10 dollars in coupons for items that my family uses every day, like soap and shampoo.
Supplies and starting out
My next step was getting organized. I picked up a binder, baseball card sleeves, and dividers and separated my binder into sixteen categories based on what I typically buy the most. Doing this helped me avoid confusion or the annoying task of hunting for my coupons unnecessarily. My categories look like this:
- Personal Hygiene
- Cleaning Supplies
- Packaged Food
- Canned Food
- Paper Products
- Feminine Products
After that, I clipped my coupons and organized them before printing out each store’s coupon policy. By doing this, I learned that certain aspects of what I saw on the couponing shows weren’t exactly real. Stores usually don’t let you do lengthy checkout transactions. The managers can determine that you have too many coupons and prevent you from using them. I have never personally had this happen, but friends that I have taught tried using upwards of 200 coupons and the manager refused to continue. Other stores only allow one transaction, and others still will only allow you to save no more than half of your bill.
So, what do you do? Start on a smaller scale and build up. When you go to the store, instead of trying to save $400 on a single trip, shop a smaller list. Most stores will let you use four coupons a day unless the coupon says otherwise. So, start with four and work your way up from there. This is particularly useful for items like laundry detergent and soap because of the products’ long shelf life. As you keep going, you will notice the savings rise.
Hitting the store
I always go to a store prepared and find it helpful to write out my shopping lists. One of my favorite places to shop is the Dollar Tree. When I go there, I take an envelope and I write out what I am going to buy, how much it will cost, and how much the coupon I am using is worth. That way, I am prepared and aware of how much I will pay. Writing out the details of what you are going to purchase, the cost, and coupons that you are going to use leaves little room for error.
Apps are your friend
Apps are a big part of couponing as well, and by using Ibotta, Receipt Hog, and Fetch, you can save big! Ibotta helps you save with rebates. I have personally received over $200 with this app, and I have only been using it for a short time. With Fetch, I get gift cards to Walmart, simply by earning points on everyday items like groceries. When I go to the store, I keep the receipt, take a picture with the app, and earn points for each transaction. Once I have enough, I can redeem them for gift cards. Receipt Hog is modeled similarly, but lets you earn money through Paypal instead.
How much have I saved?
I began couponing to help my family, and over the course of five years, I have saved thousands of dollars, and my stockpile of items is valued at thousands as well. I have everything in my stockpile from cereal, meat, candles, toilet paper, pasta, and more. The best part for me, though, was helping my family and others. Thanks to couponing, I’ve been able to donate to families in need and teach others to save money through creative methods.
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So what are you waiting for? It only takes one clip to get hooked!
Originally published on June 29, 2020.