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Friday, October 8, 2010

beginner's guide to coupons (week 2)

***UPDATED 9-6-2011***

I know you've all been on pins and needles, anxiously awaiting this week's edition of my beginner's guide to coupons series. Well my friends, the wait is over.  Today's topic?  Your first shopping list.

(And if you are new to my blog and new to coupons, I strongly urge you to read part one: how to start before going any further.  It will all make a lot more sense that way!)

Trying to use coupons without a game plan is a little like taking a cross-country road trip without a map. You may get to your destination eventually, and you might even see a few interesting sites along the way, but you will certainly add a whole lot of time and excess frustration to your journey.

So it is with coupons. If you simply show up at the store with a pile of coupons and attempt to “wing it,” you may eventually find a few good deals, but the amount of time you spend and frustration you incur may make you never want to see another coupon again.

Granted, there are a few people who swear by their haphazard “go-with-the-flow” method of couponing. I am not that person, and you won’t find that advice here. Instead, I’ll let you know what works for me, and if you check out my shopping results, you will see it works consistently, week after week.

I explained in Part One that to save, really save, with coupons, you have to change your old way thinking. Instead of making a list for the things you need or want each week, and then buying them regardless of whether they are on sale or you have a coupon, you buy ONLY what’s on sale (and lots of it.)

Once again, Extreme Couponing is a cumulative process, not an instant magic formula.

This week you are going to work on your first coupon shopping list.  It is important to keep in mind that this list will be little more than a practice list intended to get your feet wet.

You will still end up with some great deals on food that you can either eat right away or use to start building your stockpile, but unless you already have a fridge and pantry full of groceries, you will still need to make a separate trip to the store. Remember, this is the non-overwhelming baby step program!

This is only week two, so unless you have been collecting newspaper inserts for some time, you won’t have a large coupon supply built up yet. That’s okay! If you followed last week’s assignment, you should have at least one computer available to print coupons from. (If not, go back and complete last week’s assignment before moving on!)

So grab yourself a glass of wine, have a seat, and let’s get started!

week two assignment: 

1.  Determine which stores are in your area to shop at.

Here in SW Florida, the main grocery stores are Publix and Winn-Dixie.  When I lived in the Seattle area, I did most of my coupon shopping at Safeway & Albertsons, and occasionally Fred Meyer. I have a couponing friend in upstate New York who swears by PriceChopper. There are SuperTarget & Super WalMart stores almost everywhere.

The thing to remember with coupon shopping is that the stores that have the lowest overall prices don’t usually have the best “loss leader” sales. They rely on their everyday low prices to entice shoppers.

The opposite is true of the stores with higher prices. They rely on their sales to entice shoppers, knowing that the vast majority will end up buying plenty of non-sale items as well.

Part of the trick to using coupons effectively is to beat the system by a.) stockpiling and b.) shopping at multiple stores.

2. Pick a coupon shopping website to help you make your list.

There are some amazing coupon resources available on the internet, and you will save yourself a lot of time and frustration by using them. 

If you can, I recommend using my sister matchup site, SavingWellSpendingLess.com, which covers some of the largest national and regional chains nationwide. It is a very user friendly site with a great bonus feature–printable shopping lists!

Once you figure out which of these websites matches the stores in your area, bookmark it and then spend some time exploring the site to see where everything is. (For help with acronyms, use the Coupon Lingo Guide)

3. Find this week’s post for your stores.

Once you’ve decided on your site, click on this week’s ad for the store you would like to shop at.

Read through it completely.  Make some mental notes:
  • Check the final price after coupons.
  • Are there any items that look like a great deal?
  • Are there any items that you or your family want/or need?
  • Which items require coupons from newspaper inserts?
  • Which ones match up with printable coupons?
  • Are there links to those printable coupons?
Repeat this exercise for one more store in your area. Which store has better deals this week? Which store has more items you would want to purchase?

4. Make your list.

Based on the exercise you just did, pick ONE of your two stores to make a list from. For the sake of this exercise, pick NO MORE than 3 items. Remember, this is the non- overwhelming baby-steps method of learning how to use coupons!

At some point you will easily head to the grocery store with a list of 30 items and 50 coupons in your hand. But for now, let’s take it slow. Trust me, you will thank me when you get to the checkout line!

If you are using SavingWellSpendingLess.com, simply click on the 3 items that you choose and then print your list. If you are writing out your list by hand, be sure to include the exact brand and size of the item, the sale price, and the coupon you will be using.

Finally, choose items that fit ALL of the following criteria:
  1. After coupons, it is more than a 60% savings off the regular price?
(For example, if Hamburger Helper is normally $1.99 a box, and they are on sale for Buy 1, Get 1 Free, that will make them 50% off. That’s not good enough. However, if there is also a $1 off 2 boxes coupon available, your final price will be $0.50 a box, a savings of 75%. That is good enough to make the list!)

     2.  The coupon required for the savings is a printable coupon that is still available.

(To find out if the printable coupon is still available just click the link and try to print. If you get a message that says “no more prints available” or “you have already printed this coupon the max amount of times,” there are no prints left.)

      3.  The item is something you or your family would use.

(It doesn’t have to be something you always buy, just something that you might like to try or something that you think your family might like if they tried it. Part of the fun of coupon shopping is that you get to expand your horizons and try new things!)

4. Gather your coupons.

Using the links provided on the site you are using, print as many coupons as allowed. (Usually 2 per computer.)  If the coupon happens to be a PDF file (rare, but it does happen occasionally), it is helpful to save the coupon on your computer rather than print immediately to use again at a future date.
  • If you have more than one computer, use it to print additional copies of your coupons.
  • Once you have printed (then trimmed) all the coupons for the 3 items on your list, determine how many of each item you will be able to buy.
  • Remember, if an item is on sale for Buy 1, Get 1 Free, you will be able to use 2 coupons, one for the paid item and one for the free item.
  • On your list, note how many of each item you will buy based on how many coupons you have.
5. Go shopping!

Isn’t this exciting? Your first trip to the store. Be sure to buy ONLY what is on your list. (Make a separate trip for other items–the goal is to focus and learn without getting overwhelmed or distracted.)
  • Before you get to the checkout, double check your coupons to make sure the quantities are correct.
  • When you get to the checkout line, be sure to tell the cashier that you have several coupons, and ask whether he/she would prefer them ahead of time or with the items.
  • Be friendly and courteous and confident, and pay close attention to the coupons as they are scanned to make sure that none get skipped or forgotten (easier to do when you are only purchasing a few items.) I promise any apprehension you may feel will disappear the moment you see your receipt!
And that’s it for this week. Just to review: Decide which stores are available in your area, go to www.SavingWellSpendingLess.com (or other coupon matchup site) to help you make your list, then review the weekly ad posts for your top 2 stores. Pick one store and choose no more than 3 items to put on your list, based on the criteria above.

Once you’ve gathered your coupons, head to the store for your first extreme couponing adventure. Once again, it might not seem like much, and after your first trip to the store, you might be eager to grab some more bargains. If so feel free to repeat the list-making process for another store (or even the same store), but be sure to keep your list down to only a few items.

If you are not too overwhelmed at this point, (and if you are using a B&W laser printer), it is also a good idea to begin checking www.printhotcoupons.com daily in order to build up a good coupon supply. The more coupons you have, the easier you will be able to match them to a great sale!


  1. I went to CVS and by only getting what I had coupons for, spent $0! I got the $5 off Halloween decor coupon, so I ended up getting some for free. And with my $4 in ECBs and several coupons, I got a few other small things and spent nothing!! It wasn't a big shopping trip, but was more for fun to see what it was like to spend nothing and leave with a bag of goodies! :) (The grocery store shopping is taking a little more time...I like your idea of going a separate time only for items I have coupons for. That will make it a lot less overwhelming.) This is definitely a process, but I'm committed to the cause! Thanks!!

  2. Stupid question... what is the advantage of having more than one coupon (you mentioned getting 6-8 copies of weekly newspaper inserts)? I assume this is b/c you are making several shopping trips to your store?

    I've tried to use 2 Folgers coupons before at HT and they wouldn't allow 2 manufacturer coupons.

    PS- I'm brand spanking new to "couponing" and I love the tutorial :) Thanks for doing this!

  3. There are no stupid questions! This whole coupon thing can be very confusing.

    The purpose of more than one coupon is so that you can stock up on a particular item. For instance, if x brand pasta normally costs $1.50 a box and is on BOGO (Buy 1, Get 1 Free) sale, you can use 2 coupons because technically you are "buying" 2 boxes. If your 2 coupons are for $0.50 off each, you will end up paying $0.50 for 2 boxes, or $0.25 a box. That is some really cheap pasta! So it makes sense that you would want to buy as many boxes as you can when it is that cheap (hence buying 6-8 papers).

    Even if you don't want to buy 6-8 papers (yet) I would recommend at least 2.

    As far as the 2 Folgers coupons go, I'm not sure why they wouldn't take them. Generally you should be able to use 1 coupon per item you are buying, unless it is a $ off 2 (or more) items coupon. I am not familiar with HT, but if it is a store that has a scannable savings card, try giving the cashier your coupons first and then having them scan the card at the very end. I have to do this at Winn-Dixie to make it work. The store gets reimbursed for all Manufacturer's coupons, even if the item is on BOGO sale.

    I hope that helps. Please feel free to post any more questions you may have!

  4. Good to know! Thanks. Dummy me tried to use 2 (different) coupons on 1 container of coffee, so that must be why.

    I kind of just answered my own question this morning while looking through my CVS ad. I need another $3 Purex coupon to get 2 bottles at .99/ea. In my paper today I only clipped the one, so I'll ask my neighbor for her inserts. I'm slowly catching on :) Thanks!

  5. I haven't done my "coupon" shopping this week yet but last night I was feeling miserable (I have a sinus cold) so I grabbed my Rite Aid ad and went to the store at 9pm to get some cold medicine. When I got there I saw they had an entire display of "FREE after rebate" items and my cold medicine and many other items we will use were there. I also had $5 worth of UP rewards so I spent $20 out of pocket and will be receiving a rebate for $25 so I made money!!! I also had to grab the Free dishsoap that was on sale for $ .89 but after my $1/1 coupon I made .11cents profit. (i think they were only supposed to give me $ .89 off but the coupon rang up as $1.00 off.

  6. well i just got back from Safeway... i spent $15.92 on $50.00 worth of groceries! whoot whoot! This is fun... and addicting! :)

  7. one quick question... if I have a Catalina (i think that is what its called) from Safeway does it count as a Mfr coupon or a store coupon?

  8. It should say on the coupon whether it is a store coupon or manufacturer's coupon. If it doesn't say, it is most likely a store coupon, in which case you can "stack" it with a manufacturer's coupon (use both). Hope that helps!

    Great job on your Safeway trip!

  9. Thanks, that does help. I am semi-obsessed with seeing how much I can save I was TOTALLY ticked when my regular Tuesday ads (Safeway, Albertsons, etc...) were not in my mailbox yesterday!!! They ALWAYS come on Tuesday's! I went to the store this morning just to get a copy (or 4). I just couldn't wait til 1pm when the mail comes. LOL

  10. I'm a virgin to couponing, and I need help! I live in AZ and out here they tax coupons 1.5% also, they don't allow doubling. Can anyone explain to me how to get around this? Thanks!

  11. Hello! I just recently started couponing and have really enjoyed your website. I have a question, I do not understand the using the buy 1 and get 1 free, and using a coupon for the free item. Could you explain this more? Thanks!

  12. Hi I love your site I have done my first few weeks and was wondering about a possible deals. At a local grocery store they have a sale 2/$7 crest toothpaste and mouthwash. I have a MQ $2 off crest mouthwash and another MQ $1 off a buy olay bar or body wash get $1 off crest toothpast. Could I use those two coupons together? I hope that made sense!

  13. triple "J" momJuly 25, 2011 at 1:31 AM

    Okay....I'm very excited to start this coupon thing...But I think I wasted a lot of time my first attempt...I clipped every coupon from 5 Sunday papers and have them in Zip Lock bags according to exp. dates! So, now I have a box full of random coupons in bags. What a waste of time! So now I need to take them all out, and put them in folders labeled under things like "razors" or "tooth paste"? What about the dates!
    Some of the damn things have already gotten old!!! Help me quick!!!

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