I got my first ever high five from the cashier and jaw drop from the bagger yesterday. For a couponer, this is rumored to be a mythical, transformative moment. The point of no return.
And now there's no going back. My whole plan of being a crazy coupon lady for a week? Yeah, not happening.
So, back to the cashier. Why the high five? Because I had a purchase that totaled $.47, but included a bunch of stuff. Not quite to Extreme Couponing lengths, but I achieved my first 90-percent-plus off purchase. Woot woot!
Then I totally messed it up by adding in a block of tofu and a bag of salad. (If I hadn't added those, it would have been all junk and the toothpaste needed to clean that junk out of our teeth.) But it still came out to $2.11 (a 93 percent discount), which included:
3 full-size tubes of Colgate toothpaste
1 package of Lean Pockets
3 packages of Toaster Strudel (a pure and utter vice we NEVER ate before, but which couponing has brought into our lives)
A bag of mixed salad greens
A block of firm tofu
So how did I do it? Here goes:
The Colgate, regularly $3.79, was on sale for $.98. Last weekend, I did the other thing that sets a serious couponer apart from the mere hobbyist -- I bought multiple copies of the Sunday paper (but only two more than the one I already get delivered, and I only did this after discovering that last weekend's coupon selection was AWESOME) -- and so I had three $.75 off coupons for any Colgate product.
My friendly neighborhood Ralph's store (part of the Kroger family) automatically doubles coupons up to a $1 total discount (even some coupons, though not all, that explicitly say "do not double"... pretty sweet). So with a $1 discount off of a $.98 product, that's a free tube of toothpaste my friends! Times three. Total savings: $11.37. (And could have been much higher if I'd bought more copies of the paper and wanted to become a toothpaste hoarder, but I can't bear to waste all that paper! And three tubes is plenty for two people.)
The Toaster Strudel, regularly $3.49 each, were on sale for $1.99 each, or $1.49 each if you buy three. So starting with a sale price of $4.47 for three, I had three $.50 off coupons pre-loaded onto my club card via ShortCut$ and Cellfire, which the store automatically doubled, for a savings of $3. And I had a paper coupon, clipped from coupons.com, for $.55 off two, which the store doubled to a dollar. (Note: not very many stores let you stack e-coupons and paper coupons on the same item. I just got lucky.) Total price for three: $.47. Total saved: $10.00.
Mmm.... Toaster Strudel and coupons...
The Lean Pockets, usually $2.99 for a pack of two, were on sale for $2.49, but it didn't really matter because I had a coupon from Walgreen's that printed automatically after a recent purchase that gave me a free Lean Pockets item of my choice. Nice! (Tip: those coupons that print along with your receipt, called Catalinas, do NOT have to be used at the same store where they printed, unless it very specifically says "Only redeem at XX.") Total price: Free. Total saved: $2.99.
Another Catalina printed during a recent grocery that gave me $1 off a Dole salad mix bag. Ralph's had Dole salad on sale for $1.50 this week, (regularly $2.79), so my $1 off coupon netted me a final price of $.50 for the bag. Savings: $2.29.
My only non-coupon purchase. The tofu, regularly $1.59, was on sale for $.99 (for the Chinese New Year, they claimed... that feels sort of icky and jingoistic to me, but I will take the cheap tofu). Savings: $.60.
Soooo... that's the breakdown, but here's the real key: it's all about the advance planning. You will get the most impressive savings if you plan your trip out in advance, only buy things that meet both the criteria of 1) already being on sale, and 2) items for which you have a coupon, preferably in multiples. And of course it totally helps if your store doubles coupons. You can usually find their policy online and read up so you know the deal. But as I mentioned last time, not every outlet of the same store is guaranteed to have the same policy.
The other key: organization. I actually bought the Toaster Strudels on a whim (I'm weak like that) when I saw what a good deal they were and I knew I had the coupons at the ready. How did I know? My big, fat coupon binder.
Couponing can be HUGELY time consuming, but I have found that it takes much less time if you have a good system down. Just like any organization project, a good system that works for you totally saves time. My little accordion file just wasn't cutting it, so I upgraded to a binder, and I am loving it. (Hint, if you get a binder, go a lot thicker than you think you'll need. I've already had to upsize.)
It does make me look a little crazy at the store, but it lets me take advantage of crazy deals when I come across them.
Overall, though, the best way to save time is to make a list in advance, have all the coupons for that list ready before you set foot in the store (I can't stress this one enough... if you pull them at the checkout, you will have MANY cashiers and customers hating your guts), and go through the store with a laserlike focus.
I have seen couponing picking up steam across the blogosphere, including among real bloggers like Sherry at Young House Love. Have you tried it yourself? Are you finding it as bizarrely fun as I am? If you want to try it but haven't yet, what motivation do you need to do it? Share away! (And do you want to see more couponing posts, or are you over it? I can't believe the response the last couponing post got!)
Also, I owe HUMONGOUS shout out to Joanie and Heather over at Krazy Coupon Lady for giving so many super helpful tips and helping me feel like I know what I'm doing. Their beginners guide is totally worth a read.
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