Sunday, April 15, 2012

Getting Full on Less Dough: the Hungry Preacher's Guide to Savvy Shopping, PART 2

"A well-used coupon is as good as cash.  Treat it as such."
     -The Hungry Preacher, 2012

By the way, quoting yourself is a great way to broach a topic on a blog AND at a party (more on that in my series on social savviness).

So, coupons.  I'll try to remember that figuring out coupons for some people is like figuring out computers for people like me: very intimidating, and you'll always feel like what you DON'T know is more important than what you DO know.

A couple of differences, though:
-The "rules" of coupons are fairly stagnant.  It's not like new technology is always coming out, rendering your knowledge obsolete
-A little bit of knowledge of couponing can, in fact, provide you with a little bit of help.  In contrast, I have found that a little bit of knowledge with computers usually just means that I will spend an extra 10 minutes poking around before I end up calling an expert.

It also might help to attack head-on the scariest thing about coupons: Being "that guy" (or girl).  "That guy" is the one who is at the front of a long line to check out, holding a stack of coupons, while the cashier is trying to figure out why the machine won't scan one of them.  The cashier is squinting at the fine print, then digging through your bags trying to find an item that matches the coupon.  Your kids are squirming, the kids of the people behind you are squirming, kids all over the world are squirming, and their parents all know that it's your fault.  You just want to empty your wallet on the counter, cry "keep it" and run to your car, leaving behind your purchases or even your kids.

First off, I've been that guy, and you're right: it's no fun.

Second, I survived.  So can you.  If you do your homework, and something goes wrong at the checkout, that's fine.  It happens.  You don't need to act entitled, rude, or demanding.  But you DO have a right to know why your coupon isn't working.  The fault may be with you, but even if it is, you still have the right to have the cashier explain what the problem is.  Don't apologize for that, and don't feel bad about it.  Your job is to save money for your family.  Don't let the stinkeye from strangers or a grumpy cashier keep you from doing that.

Over that hump?  Good.  On to couponing proper.

Since I don't know exactly what might work for you, I'll tell you what works for me, and let your pick which of these bull's horns you want to take and run with.

We begin bright and early on Saturday morning.  I hop out of bed at 6:00, put on my robe, and fetch the morning paper.

A couple of those details are embellished, but the important thing is that I do, in fact, get the paper delivered to my home on weekends.  It only takes a couple of bucks worth of coupons for the paper to pay for itself.  Then, hey, free paper!

Each weekend, there are anywhere from zero (usually on holiday weekends) to three booklets of coupons.  I pull out the booklets and set them aside.  Then I wait for either a baseball game or a football game to be on television.  That is prime clipping time, since clipping is a pretty mindless task and I would be watching the games anyway.

Once a game is on, I flip through the pages and mentally categorize each coupon into one of three categories:
1.  I have a high chance of using this before it expires.
2.  I have a low chance of using this before it expires, but I might use it if this item goes on some ridiculous sale.
3.  I have virtually no chance of using this coupon.

If a coupon is in the first category, I cut it out--right along the dotted line--and put it in a pile.  This pile will get sorted into my coupon caddie that I carry with me when I shop.

a stack like this...

turns into piles like these...

to get filed into this

If a coupon is in the second category, I do a "quick cut".  Basically, I separate it from other coupons, but don't really care about cutting along the lines.  If it's the only coupon on the page, I don't cut it all.  If it's on the top half, I quickly cut the page across the middle.  These pages get filed into a plastic, portable filing case.  I don't carry this case into stores with me, but sometimes keep it in the car.

some "quick cut" pages to be filed

Later, if I'm going through ads and see something on some crazy sale--like, if they're literally giving something away (more on that later)--I'll circle the item in the ad, then look through my file box to see if I've got a coupon in there that may even allow me to make a profit on an item.

If a coupon is in the third category, I drop it in the recycling bag.

Once I've cut out all the category 1 coupons, I sort them into new piles by type in order to sort them into my coupon caddie.  My caddie has 12 slots.  Here are how I catagorize them:

FROZEN FOOD (this category trumps other categories; e.g., a frozen snack food goes in here)

That's it.  Every coupon fits into one of those categories.

My file box of category 2 "quick cut" coupons is a little more segregated.  I've got 15 files:
AIR CARE (things like Glade plug-ins, odor eaters, etc.)
MEDICINE (INGESTED) (this is for all ingested treatments that do not relate to digestion)

There are a few products that could make a case for dual-citizenship, like make up products that double as lotion.  But there really are only a few.

Each coupon booklet takes me about 20 minutes to go through.  Again, these are usually 20 minutes that I would have spent just sitting on the counch watching sports.

So if you put in an hour a week in this manner, in just a few weeks you'll have a pretty good stash of both "quick access" and "on file" coupons.  Around the end of each month, I take another hour and flip through all my coupons to pull out the expired ones.

Caddie and Boxy: I wouldn't exactly call them "friends," but there's a mutual respect

Friend, you are not a coupon geek.  Welcome to the club.  Now that you've got your foundation, you're ready for intermediate couponing, where I'll share some very specific tricks and tips to help you maximize your coupon's effectiveness.  Until then...



  1. Somehow I missed this post, and had to look back at it. I think we're coupon twins, as I have a similar coupon-ranking system in my head. Like you, I recycle category 3 coupons, but I tend to file both of the first 2 categories in my caddie. I like your idea of keeping the "maybe will use" coupons in a different place... Thanks for the tip.
    P.S. - I totally play the Register Rewards game at Walgreens, and am SO jealous of your access to other drugstores and supermarkets that double ANY (even cheap) coupons!

  2. You know, I've always had this nagging feeling that we were ACTUAL twins, but I think maybe you're right--that we're just coupon twins.

    Regarding having a separate "maybe will use" bin, I will say that sometimes the products for which I would use one of these coupons are products on sale that I happen to stumble upon while in a store. At that point, I need to decide if it's worth it to go back to my car to leaf through the bin. It's not such a big deal at Walgreens or CVS, but it seems like a long haul back to the parking lot when I'm at a grocery store. I have taken to filing fewer coupons as Category 2, and cutting out a few more than I used to as Category 1. It clogs up the caddie, of course. What I really need is a full time coupon monkey who can follow along with me and take care of all the sorting and retrieving and such. Do they make coupon monkeys?

    I know the pain of "drugstore envy." CVS only came to St. Louis a couple of years ago. When they did, they built their stores quickly, but took forever to actually open them. Admittedly, driving by these built-but-unopened buildings felt way more like a personal taunt than it should have, but me and CVS are good now. Even with access to "the big 2", I can't help thinking that if only a Rite Aid would open up in St. Louis, I could finally ride my "drugstore tricycle" that I was always meant to. (I have heard that "drugstore tricycles" are the best treatment for "drugstore envy".) The grass is always greener, I guess.

    Deep down, I am thankful for the doubling of even cheap coupons. My bigger beef is that they get to put big signs up in the windows that say, "DOUBLE COUPONS". It just seems like kind of a lie.

    Anyway, thanks for posting. It's fun to exchange perspectives and such. Feel free to post any tips of your own.

    Hey, I just wondered: Did you catch the post I did over Thanksgiving about hitting all the black Friday sales at Walgreens and CVS? You might appreciate that one. Maybe I'll link to it in the last post of these series. All right, better get writing on that one...

  3. I did not read the Black Friday post. I'll have to look that one up.

    I guess I think it's interesting to find another person still hanging on to the clipping method. I find that most of the couponing websites I read are really advocating filing whole flyers and using the internet to find coupon matchups before going to the store. They claim that you save time by clipping only those coupons you need after you've made your list and looked at locally-available deals.

    I just can't get past the fear that (like you said above) there will be a really great unadvertised deal and I won't have the coupon with me in the store to take advantage of it. No way am I running back home to get my file of coupon flyers...

    I do think, though, that if I had a tip it would be to subscribe by RSS to a few coupon blogs. I like to have one national and one (relatively) local person who posts a dozen or so times per day on current deals. I don't read every post, but find that they often have coupon matchups for my local stores with links to online coupons, or do alerts about online coupons that just came available and how those might be paired with a good sale online or in a chain store. I like a lot, because she's in KC and has some Missouri-specific information.

  4. Yeah, I've heard of the "only clip what you need" approach, but to me it really doesn't seem like it would save any time. With what you described, you'd have to go through the inserts looking for a specific coupon instead of just flipping page-by-page and cutting what you might use. By my estimate, I can make it through an insert in under 15 minutes and have cut and filed almost any coupon that I will likely use. After that, the time it takes to retrieve them--or even to check if there IS one for a particular product--is negligible.

    I'll check out that web site. If I ever write a "PART 7" I'll be sure to site you as a resource. :)

    Thanks for reading and for the comments.