February 9, 2012

Sharing the Wealth: My couponing "secrets"

As I have mentioned previously, coupons are not entirely new to me. I have used coupons for several years now, but, up until about 9 months ago, it was just here and there on random purchases- diapers, laundry detergent, etc. I pretty much used them on the few items that I bought in name brand. However, since I have really gotten serious about using coupons I have discovered some little tricks here and there. These are the little tricks that have taken me from saving a few dollars here and there to making a significant impact on my grocery budget. Enjoy... but first:

All of these tips are 100% legal and allowed by store policies where they are used. I absolutely do not attempt to use coupons in any illegal or unallowed fashion- that is stealing. Some of these little tricks are things that I used to believe were coupon abuse, but I have sense learned otherwise. Because I have learned to consult stores' coupon policies and by researching on blogs whose writers I trust, I have learned that there are ways to use a coupon to its full potential while not abusing it.

Anyway... here are my "tricks":

-It's all about the timing: I have had many people tell me that coupons aren't for them because they find that, even with the coupon, the store brand is still cheaper. I used to have the same confusion about coupons. I didn't see where the value would come in unless it was an item for which you only bought the name brand. What I quickly learned is that it is all about the timing. Yes, when the item is regularly priced it doesn't take it lower than the store brand price. That is why you wait for the sale! By shopping the ads and following blogs that alert you to these sales, you can buy items for much cheaper than the store brand.

-Be flexible: To truly get coupons to work you have to be flexible. The way I have been able to create a decent stockpile is by being willing to use different brands. Now, as a person who was brought up on different store brands, this wasn't an adjustment for me. But, if you have particular item that you only buy in a certain brand, it is going to make it much harder to find enough to keep you from paying full price. But, if you are willing to try different brands, it is going to be much less often that your aren't able to find a good deal.

-BOGO coupons: Now, I was shocked to learn that this was allowed. You know those pesky buy one, get one free coupons? I call them pesky because, while they can be a great cost saver for some things, they don't allow me to get items for super cheap generally. HOWEVER, there is a little trick that you can use that is allowed in many stores (Dillons specifically indicates that this is allowed, but Target specifically indicates that it isn't)- you can use a coupon on the "buy one" item. So, this means that if you have a "Buy one deodorant, get one deodorant free" coupon, and you also have a coupon for $1.00 off one deodorant, and it is priced at $1.10 each, you are going to pay a total of $.10 for both sticks of deodorant. (Pay $.10 for the first one, get the second one for free). You do need to check your store policies (listed on most store websites) to determine if your store allows this. But, note that you can't use a BOGO coupon with a $$$ off of two items unless you are actually buying two in addition to the one made free by coupon (clear as mud?)

-Use coupons on clearance items: Again- didn't know this was allowed. This is an excellent way to score some items for super cheap, free, or even better than free. A great example of this would be a recent Dillons trip I had where I got a great shampoo stockup. They had Pantene shampoo on clearance for $1.59 a bottle. I had three coupons for $3.00 off 2 bottles of shampoo. Normally this wouldn't be an awesome coupon for this brand, but, by using it on the clearanced bottles, I was able to get 6 bottles at $.09 each! This is why I rarely go into the store without my entire coupon collection in hand and I always stop to take a peek at the clearance section.

-You can stack store and manufacturer coupons: Target and Walgreens are both very popular for their store coupons. On any one item, you can use up to one manufacturer coupon and one store coupon, as long as they are both for the same item. So, if a bottle of dish detergent is on sale for $3.00, and you have a manufacturer coupon for $1.50 off and a store coupon for $.50 off, you only pay a dollar! Something that is also really cool is that Walgreens will let you use multiple store coupons on the same item as long as they are "different" coupons. So, you can't hand them 4 coupons that came from their flier, but you can hand them a store coupon from their ad and another from an at home mailer. Now, you should beware that I have had awful experiences with this as many Walgreens employees don't seem to quite understand their very confusing policies. I don't do this all that often and only when it is an item I really want and deem to be worth the arguement. (Before you ever try to coupon at Walgreens, do your research. Here is a link to a great article about navigating their insane policies) Also, that BOGO rule that Target has? It does NOT prohibit using a BOGO manufacturers coupon and stacking it with a Target coupon.

-Catalina's are your friend: No, I am not talking about that tasty salad dressing. Catalina is the name couponer's give to coupons that print at the register. These coupons are printed when you purchase a designated number of items and are good on your next purchase. They are awesome because you generally don't have to purchase anything in particular to use them on the next purchase, so they are pretty much cash in your hand. They are also a way to make a deal into an awesome one for even a money maker. For example, let's say that there is a current Catalina for $2 off your next order when you buy 2 sticks of a certain toothpaste. The toothpaste goes on sale for $1.50 a piece, and you have two $1.00/1 coupons. You can buy two tubes of tooth paste with your coupons as $.50 each, totaling $1.00 and get back a $2.00 Catalina- a net profit of $1.00! Now, you aren't going to make rent with this method, but it is certainly a way to make a dent in your grocery budget. By the way, the same strategy holds true for Target (or other store's) gift card deals (buy so many of a certain item and get a gift card back). Just think of the gift card that you are getting as a Catalina!

-Remember that "free" items aren't always free: You often hear of those couponers that have a basement of free candy. This is downright ridiculous. I know that is harsh, but its true. The truth is, these are not really free. When you use manufactuer's coupons, you STILL HAVE TO PAY THE TAX OF THE FULL PRICE! Yes, just tax is cheaper than retail, but do you really need 250 candy bars? Umm... no. Now, most stores do count store coupons as sale, which means that if a store coupon brings an item to free, it really is totally free. But I am not talking about that. Remember that when you are using manufacturer's coupons that you are still having to pay tax. So, it isn't smart to buy something that you will never use just because it is free after the coupon, because it isn't really free.

-Double coupons: If you are lucky enough to have a store nearby that doubles coupons, take advantage! This is a great way to get items for free or almost free- often without waiting for a sale! Just be sure to understand any policies they may have toward how high they double to or if they limit the number of double coupons in a transaction.

-Get an overage from coupons: Some stores (not all) will allow you to use any overage you get from a coupon toward other items in your transaction. So, if an item is $2.50 and you have a coupon for $3.00 off, you have $.50 to use towards other items. Keep in mind that not all store allow this, and that most will only double a coupon up to the price of the item, not giving you overage. Walmart and Dollar General are two area stores that explicitly allow this in my area. Dillons doesn't have a particular policy and I have found that it tends to vary from store to store. Target and Walgreens policies state that they will adjust the coupon value down so that the item is free. However, I have received overage at Target before. And it would be to your benefit to have Walgreen's policy with you if you attempt to get an item free with a coupon over the value of the item as their policy specifically states that this is allowed. I have had many a bad experience where they tell me that I simply can't use the coupon.

There you have it- my little secrets I have gained. Happy couponing!

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