I’ve recently started to clip coupons in an effort to save money on our groceries and toiletries. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about tricks I’d gathered from other bloggers about how to be coupon savvy. Since then, I’ve learned a few more tips to maximize savings through coupons.
As a recap, here are the tips from the first post (where each is explained in detail):
- Coupon stack
- Give up brand loyalty
- Shop for bargains, not items
- Shop at multiple stores
- Make multiple purchases at the same store
Here are some more tips that I’ve recently learned, followed by their full explanation:
- Let others do the work for you
- Shop when other people don’t
- Shop the same store at the same time each week
A. Let others do the work for you. I’ve been getting coupons from the Sunday paper for several weeks now. I have amassed a lot of coupons and it’s hard for me to keep them straight (serious couponers have sophisticated sorting systems, but I’m not yet sophisticated — in many ways!). But it turns out that I don’t really have to be so organized because there are lots and lots of people who blog about coupon savings (for example, see here, here, and here). These people are the really serious couponers, and they do the work for me. They write posts each week about the best deals at the major drugstores and grocery stores. So, for example, CVS drugstore changes their weekly deals beginning on Sundays. By Friday or Saturday of each week, the serious coupon bloggers have learned what items CVS will be offering for sale for the coming week, and have posted about the best deals — the ways to stack coupons by combining manufacturers’ coupons with items on sale or items that offer ExtraCare Bucks. These bloggers detail the source of the coupon to use to get the deal, and if available, they’ll even link to a coupon you can print online. Here’s a small example of a CVS deal for this week as posted on Frugal Coupon Living:
Old Spice or Gillette Body Wash – 10 to 18 oz $4 (get $4 ECBs) Limit 2
B1G1 Gillette or Old Spice P&G 5/2
= $4 MONEYMAKER wyb 2 with B1G1 coupon
Here’s what the above deal means in non-experienced-couponers’ language: CVS has Old Spice and Gillette Body Wash on sale for $4. If you buy one of these, you’ll get $4 ExtraCare Bucks (ECBs) back; but you’re limited to purchasing two body washes. The next line details the coupon to use: a buy-one-get-one-free (B1G1) coupon on Gillette or Old Spice from the Proctor & Gamble (P&G) coupon insert from the May 2nd Sunday paper. The third line details the savings: you’ll essentially be up $4 (MONEYMAKER) when you buy (wyb) two with the buy-one-get-one-free (B1G1) coupon. (Frankly, even if you don’t have a B1G1 coupon, this is still a good deal — buy a body wash for $4 and get back $4 ECBs to use on another purchase).
Now that I know about these serious coupon bloggers, I search their sites for the biggest store deals each week. These are deals for things that I can get for free (or close to it) or for items that will pay me back (the “moneymakers” like the Gillette deal above).
On Saturday night, I reviewed the CVS deals posted by the bloggers and went looking for the corresponding coupons I had. Luckily for me, I had the Old Spice/Gillette Body Wash coupon. While we don’t normally use body wash, if it is free or if CVS is essentially going to pay me to buy it, then I’ll buy the body wash, water it down, and use it as hand soap (or I could always donate toiletries to a local homeless shelter). In my online search for CVS deals, I found that I also had another coupon for cereal that I could use in conjunction with a sale at CVS. Finally, I wrote down a list of the deals I was going to get at CVS the next morning so that I wouldn’t get confused once I got there.
Here’s the step-by-step of what I did yesterday at CVS so you can get a sense of how I maximized some deals:
1. Scanned my ExtraCare card when I entered the store. I received 5 coupons which, although I didn’t use them yesterday, I’ve put aside for another time.
2. Bought two Gillette Body Washes using my B1G1 coupon. The retail price for each was $4.99; CVS was offering the body wash on sale for $4 and offering $4 in ExtraCare Bucks for each. The cashier rang up the items and the pre-tax total came to $8. I gave her my B1G1 coupon which, it turned out, was based on the retail price ($4.99) rather than the $4 sale price. So $4.99 was taken off my bill, making my pre-tax total $3.01. The cashier gave me my receipt which had my $8 in ECBs coupon at the bottom.
3. I went shopping for several items. First, I picked up some dental floss that was selling for $1.99 with $2 back in ECBs. Second, I had a coupon for $2.50 off $12 worth of CVS brand items, so I picked up the following:
- 2 CVS pantiliners on sale from 2 for $1.49 to 2 for $.99
- 1 package of CVS wet wipes (which, by the way, are the best wet wipes around) for $4.99 (on sale from $6.99)
- 2 bars of CVS bar soap (knock-off of Cetaphil bar soap) for $3.79 each
I took my items to the cashier and the total came to $15.55. Then I handed the cashier the $2.50 coupon as well as the $8 ECBs I earned from the Gillette body wash. The final pre-tax total was $5.05. But, the dental floss gave me an additional $2 ECBs.
4. Then I completed a third transaction. Kellogg’s cereal was on sale from $4.49 to $1.66 a box. I had a coupon for $1 off 2 boxes of Kellogg’s cereal, which brought my pre-tax total down to $2.32 for both boxes of cereal. I then gave the cashier my $2 ECBs I had just earned from the dental floss, so I ended up paying $.32 for the cereal (before tax). (I hadn’t gone in to CVS knowing about the dental floss deal; I just found it while I was there. Had I known about the deal, I would have bought the dental floss with the Gillette body wash, received my $10 ECBs in one transaction, and then just bought the rest of my items in a second transaction rather than having to complete three transactions.)
Here are the items that earned me money:
I paid $5 for these three items and earned $10 in ECBs
My $10 in ECBs (plus CVS sales and my two additional coupons) got me these seven items for $3.38:
Had I bought all of these items at their original retail price, I would have paid $35.02. Instead, my entire visit to CVS cost me $8.38 plus tax (which represents a 76% savings).
In addition to the weekly deals that coupon bloggers post, CVS also does the work for me to find special deals. Their weekly flier, which is included in the Sunday paper, not only lists their sale items for the week, but also lists which of their sale items have corresponding coupons in that Sunday’s paper. For these items, there’s a little black icon next to the sale item in the flier which depicts a pair of scissors and says “coupons in Sunday’s paper.” Couldn’t be simpler.
I’ve been consulting the coupon bloggers for weekly CVS deals for several weeks now, but I only just realized that there are also coupon bloggers who post the best coupon deals for my local grocery store. I found them yesterday by googling, “Harris Teeter coupon 5/19” (Harris Teeter changes their weekly specials on Wednesday of each week, so I knew the latest deals began on May 19th). Google returned several hits of coupon blog posts for current Harris Teeter deals (like this and this; if you’re near a Harris Teeter, both of these sites show some items you can get for free along with a link to printable coupons for those items). To find deals at the stores where you normally shop, just do a similar Google search for bloggers writing about those stores. I’ve routinely seen posts about weekly specials at Target, Rite-Aid, and Walgreens, just to name a few.
B. Shop when other people don’t. As a novice coupon user, at times I get confused by deals, especially when I’m trying to stack store coupons with manufacturer coupons. Store salespeople are very knowledgeable about coupons and, in my experience, are happy to help clear up confusion. I shop at odd times rather than during busy periods so that if I have a question or if I want to make multiple purchase transactions during a single visit, they will help me and not get annoyed.
C. Shop the same store at the same time each week. This tip goes hand-in-hand with shopping when other people don’t. I try to go to CVS first thing Sunday mornings. I’ve been doing this for several weeks now. I started going on Sunday mornings because it was convenient for me and I knew the store wouldn’t be crowded. An unexpected benefit of shopping on the same day and time each week is that the same salesperson is always working. She now knows me and we’ve developed a friendly relationship. She knows I’m trying to save money with coupons and has started pointing out deals to me or offering tips on how best to maximize the coupons issued by CVS. Frankly, who better to offer tips about the CVS deals than the cashiers? They see people successfully saving money all the time. Also, cashiers have the ability to override the register; that is, if a coupon doesn’t scan properly, the cashier has the ability to enter the discount manually. This happened to me twice yesterday and both times the cashier pleasantly gave me the discount herself. Though I’m sure she would have done this for any customer, she seemed particularly nice about it because we now have this friendly relationship. I, in turn, helped her out because she was trying to train a new cashier and needed someone to act as a “guinea pig” customer. I was more than happy to oblige because I got to hear her explain coupon stacking to the cashier trainee, which was certainly beneficial to me.
So that’s it for my newest tips on how to be coupon-smart. But what about you — are any of you experienced coupon users? Are any of you just starting out like me? Or, do some of you completely hate coupons (in which case, thanks for reading this crazy long blog post — you must really be Yikes Money fans!)?
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