Not-So-Extreme Couponing 101

I LOVE a great deal! When I see the words Sale, Clearance and Coupon, my head fills with similar sounds that emanate from the winning Las Vegas slot machines. Words cannot express the joy I get when I see a clearance tag or see a clearance rack tucked away in the corner.

I wouldn't call myself an “extreme couponer” or an “extreme cheapskate”, like you see on the reality shows. Yes, I do have a small stockpile, but I don't pull apart my toilet paper and make it 1 ply, or buy 22 bottles of mouthwash, because I can get it for practically nothing. I coupon to help cut our grocery bill by at least 1/3, but my goal is always to cut it in 1/2. I buy products we'll actually use or think we would try if it's cheap enough.

Here is the method to my madness. I’m not saying it’s the right way or best way to save money on groceries, but it works for our family and isn’t a huge commitment. I probably spend about 3 hours a week searching, preparing and shopping. My last grocery run at Target I saved $72 after coupons, Cartwheel and REDcard savings, or $24 an hour in pay if you think of it as a part-time job.

10 Steps to Not-So-Extreme Couponing:

1. Subscribe to a newspaper or 2. I have found Groupon offers for my local papers giving 50% off. If you don't want to do a subscription, then I’d suggest you buy a Saturday paper. It's cheaper and still offers the coupon inserts.

2. Create a 3 ring coupon binder. There are many methods of organizing out there. This method allows me to easily see what I have. I sorted my binder by my most frequented store - Target. I sorted by how I would normally walk through the store going from department to department. I have a tab for each department and then bought baseball card inserts and currency inserts for the long coupons. Honestly I wish I would have bought just the currency inserts. The initial set up is a little time consuming, but once it’s done it will make life easier. My tabs include: Produce, Meat, Dairy, Frozen, Dry Goods, Beauty (cosmetics, etc), Body (body wash, shampoo, toothpaste, etc), Pet, Baby (diapers, food, etc), Apparel & Accessories, Beverages, Cleaning & Paper Products, and Other.

3. Find & Clip coupons. I clip coupons from my papers, print online coupons, find mobile coupon codes, etc. I Clip all items I know my family uses and anything I'd be up for trying if it was cheap enough or free. Coupon websites I check the most: (for printing manufacture coupons):
Target printable coupons: Target Coupons 
Target Cartwheel: Cartwheel offers

4. Know your inventory. What do you have on hand? What do you need? This is a big area you can save money, so you don't buy something you already have and you start looking for deals on things you are starting to run low on.

5. Sunday/Monday I check out my favorite couponing websites & look at the ads. See what deals I am interested in, note them, and what coupons are necessary. I suggest liking these websites on Facebook as well, so you can get updates when some really great offers come up.

The Krazy Coupon Lady:
All Things Target:
Pocket Your Dollars:

6. Load the appropriate mobile coupons on my phone. I find the newest codes usually on the couponing websites above or I do a Google search.

7. Make your shopping list. Check it twice! Do you NEED it? Have you checked your inventory? Is it on sale? How many will you need of every product to make the coupons work?

8. Organize coupons you'll bring to the store. Two suggestions I would have is to either use a coupon clutch, or recently I’ve been just making mini lists per department and paper clipping the coupons for that department. I suggest you bring an empty envelope to stash the coupons for the items already put in the cart. That way at the end you know which coupons you’ll actually use at the checkout and you have them in one stack.

9. Shop & get ready to check out. Before getting in line, I pull over. Grab all my coupons out of my "completed envelope" and get all the bar codes going in one direction. I also get my cartwheel and mobile coupons ready on my phone.

10. Check out & Enjoy your savings! Always double check your receipt before you leave the store too, that way you can run to Customer Service for an adjustment if needed.

Additional Tips to not-so-extreme coupon:
* Find out what your most frequented stores coupon policy is. For instance Target - You can use 1 manufactured coupon and 1 Target paper/mobile coupon per item, plus cartwheel, plus if you use a REDcard you get the 5% off as well.
* Sunday– Tuesday’s are the best days to go shopping. Stock is often out later in the week. 
* Clean out your binder about every 2 weeks of all the old coupons
* Avoid going with kids if possible. Random items end up in your cart and it's easy to lose focus/motivation. 
* Bring an ad with you. In case you need to double check sales or dispute a price that's ringing up. 
* Some stores offer a discount on reusable bags. Target offers a $.05 discount.
* Cartwheel - you can print off the bar-code at home and always keep it in your wallet. It's one less thing to pull up on your phone at the store. Reprinting the code isn't necessary as it's unique to your account and will always have the updated cartwheel offers on it.
* Target discounts must be taken off in this order: 1. Mobile & Paper coupons, 2. Cartwheel, 3. Target gift cards, 4. Target credit card
* It doesn't hurt to ask. I once got a display model kids leather chair 50% off  just because I asked "You only have a model chair left, would you discount this item?"
* One per purchase means 1 coupon per item in your cart, where one per transaction means only one coupon per receipt.  

Let the couponing begin! I’m always up for hearing more tricks and tips. Let me know if you have any.

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