Thursday, June 30, 2011

Beginner's Guide to Couponing

Since I have started couponing, I have had many friends ask for pointers in how you get started. It's really pretty easy and it's alot of fun! Plus, you save money which is always a good thing!

To start off, any couponer should know 'The Coupon Lingo.' There is a bunch, but instead of overwhelm you with a whole list, I'll give you the most frequently used.

BOGO or B1G1- Buy one Get one Free
CAT- Short for Catalina coupon that prints at the register after your purchase
DND- Do not Double
IP- Internet Printable
MQ- Manufacturer's Coupon
MIR- Mail in Rebate
PG- Proctor and Gamble Insert
RC- Rain Check
RP- Red Plum
SS- Smart Source
STACKING- Using a store specific coupon with a manufacturer coupon. (For example a Target coupon with a manufacturer coupon.)

These are the coupon abbreviations that you will see the most, however if you would like the full list let me know and I'll be sure to post it!

When you're ready to start couponing, I suggest getting a zip up binder with baseball card or business card clear inserts. I started with a three ring binder that I quickly outgrew and I also ran the risk of if it was ever dropped, all my coupons falling out....not a encouraging thought! I am now using a five star zip up binder that I have separated into sections.

You can separate your coupon binder any way that works for you. Some have done it by food/product type, while others have their books organized by a specific store's aisle layout.

Personally, I separate mine by product type instead of a specific store layout. The downside of using a store aisle layout is that your coupon book will really only work at that one store. I can take my coupon book to any store, and find the coupon that I need quickly and efficiently. Efficiency is a good thing to have when there are plenty of other couponers at the same store, all going for the same sale items! There are also a few basic supplies you should keep in your binder. For starters, a pair of small scissors. You never know when you might find a coupon that needs clipping! Also, you should pack a calculator, pen/pencil, small notebook, and I like to keep one of the older small adjustable coupon packs with me.

The notebook is great for when I do my Farm Fresh shopping trips. One of the great thing about Farm Fresh is that they have no customer loyalty program. Many see this as a downside, but I have made it work to my advantage. Farm Fresh allows you to double up to twenty coupons each Wednesday per transaction. So when I find a really great deal, I split up my transactions so I can exceed the twenty doubling coupons without violating their store policy. When you have a basket (or two!) filled it can be very easy to lose track of what is supposed to go in each transaction with the right coupons. My notebook allows me to keep track of exactly what needs to go where and the adjustable coupon book helps me to organize my coupons for checkout. For example, as I am couponing, all my transaction one coupons will be in the first section, transaction two coupons in the second section, and so on. This has saved me so much of a headache in my checkout--and believe me, I learned this the hard way!

Now that you have your coupon binder and supplies, you need to get some coupons! There are plenty of places to find coupons! For starters, it is usually a great idea to get a subscription to your local paper. I have a Wednesday and Sunday subscription of two papers. This gives me double coupons on Sundays, and on Wednesdays my sale ads are in so gives me the morning to plan my trip. Other places you can find coupons are magazines. The 'All You' magazine has coupons in it each month, and although I don't have a subscription to it yet, I am looking to sign up soon! Many times you can find some coupons on actual products themselves that you can peel or cut out later. Also, you can ask your friends and family if they wouldn't mind sending you some coupons. There are coupon clipping services, but the downside is you have to pay for them, and if you're anything like me, I love what I can get for free! Coupon Groups are great in exchanging coupons with others. On Facebook, I have started The Coupon Corner where you can trade and exchange coupons, and there is even a few couponing trains showing up. Facebook has been great in finding coupons! Many companies are on Facebook and if you 'like' their page you will be in the first to know for coupons or promotions they are having. There are also many great 'deal' sites on Facebook that will let you know of free samples, coupons, and promotions. One of my favorites on Facebook is Freebies for Friends and The Coupon Consultant. Freebies for Friends is great at putting the word out for the latest freebies and occasionally takes parts in giveaways! The Coupon Consultant is my go to guide for my weekly Wednesday Farm Fresh Trips! I love that she is local so her prices are exact! She gives me a rundown on what's on sale, which coupons to use, and what my final price should be. The Coupon Consultant has made my shopping trips so much easier!! If you're not a Farm Fresh shopper like me, she does cover other grocery stores as well!

As you get into couponing, you may find some couponing phrases that are pretty confusing. The first is the DND or Do Not Double (or Triple.) When I first started couponing, I hated Do Not Double coupons until I learned a trick. If the UPC starts with a '5' the register doesn't know that it's not supposed to double so many times it will still double. However, if the UPC starts with a '9' the register will not double the coupon. Most times, when you hand your stack of coupons to the cashier they aren't checking ever single coupon, but still take it with a grain of salt--this might not always work!

The next phrase that can be confusing is One Coupon per Purchase. Many people think that this means they are allowed to use only one coupon per transaction. Not so! It means you are not allowed to use more than one manufacturer coupon per item. You can still stack your coupons with one store coupon and one manufacturer coupon, but you cannot use two manufacturer coupons on the same item.

Lastly, the next most common phrase that causes confusion is when dealing with 'like coupons' Many stores have restrictions on how many 'like coupons' you can use. This means how many duplicate coupons you can use. For example, let's say I have several coupons for French's mustard. I have four .50 off one bottle of French's mustard. I can use two of my .50 off coupons in one transaction. To use the other two French's mustard coupons I would have to start up a separate transaction.

When you begin couponing, I suggest picking out one to two stores at most to start off because it can be overwhelming. Many stores have different policies so in the beginning you will want to start small. Make sure you print out your coupon policies, and have them with you when you shop, that way if there's a problem, you have the policy at hand.

Next, make sure you have a list! When I first started couponing, I was not good with making lists, so I would spend way too much time in the grocery stores without a clear plan of what I was getting. I just knew I had coupons and I wanted to save! Now, thanks to The Coupon Consultant, I am able to get my match ups Wednesday mornings before I go to the store so I have a pretty good idea of what I'm getting. There will always be some things you find at a great deal that weren't on your list and that's ok, but it is very important to have a list to at least start.

As your shopping, you will occasionally come across products that are out of stock. If the item is listed in their sale paper and is out of stock, you are able to get a rain check. Rain check's can be a couponers saving grace! Rain checks allow you to lock in the price of the sale for you until they are back in stock. Check your store's policy as some stores rain checks expire while others do not. Farm Fresh rain checks are good for one month. I love rain checks because although I didn't get the product I wanted that day, I know I am most likely not going to have to rush to beat someone else out to get it as I have a whole month to get it. Rain checks can be obtained through the customer service desk---which by the way they will become your new best friends at your grocery store!

The more I couponed, the better I got at it! Remember, any savings is a WIN! Don't be discouraged if you are not pulling off great hauls like you have seen on Extreme Couponing, that is not reality. (See previous blog for more info on this)

Most importantly, have fun, be courtious to others, and if you happen to get a ton of an item, don't be afraid to be someones blessing!

Acts 20:35- In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

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