Couponing

A few friends have asked me recently to give them tips on saving money with coupons, so I thought it deserved its own post. So, here is my attempt to introduce you to couponing and sales, specific to the Arlington area and its stores (though I think everyone else can benefit from it, too).

First of all, I follow a few blogs and brands online. Here are a few I think you’ll love:

  • frugalcouponliving.com (also on Facebook – get deals in your newsfeed)
  • Totallytarget.com (also on Facebook)
  • CVS (on facebook – get coupons and notices on deals)

On that note, become a frequent shopper everywhere. The little savings passes are almost always free, and the deals can get great (and sometimes free!). For example, I am a member of the CVS Extra Care Rewards Program, the RiteAid Wellness Plus Program, the Giant Shoppers Program, and the corresponding programs for PetCo, Harris Teeter, Wegmans, Safeway, and various restaurants.

The second thing you need to know is: you must get the Sunday newspaper for your area. It’s the best way to get coupons. It pays for itself – trust me.

You can also get coupons online. Try googling specific coupons, or visit these sites:

  • coupons.com (requires an applet download. Very reliable and trustworthy. Also FREE)
  • slickdeals.net (great search feature; allows filtering by coupons, deals, etc)
  • couponbeat.com (I just discovered this one. I used it, and it worked. More on this later.)

The third thing you need to know is kind of obvious but needs to be said: hold your coupons until you can combine them with a sale. The more you review your local stores’ weekly ads (called “circulars”), the more familiar you will become with what goes on sale when, and what a good price is compared to trumped up marketing that makes something look like a good deal.

A few important rules:

  • You can usually only use one coupon per item. So, if I have a coupon for $1 off a salad dressing, and a coupon for $.75 off the same dressing, I cannot use both. I can only use both if I buy 2 salad dressings – one coupon per item. The exception to this rule is “stacking,” which I will explain later.
  • You can’t usually get money back if your coupons are worth more than the price of the item, but you can still “make a profit.” For example, if brownies are on sale for $1, and you have a $2 coupon, just buy something else (something that you NEED), and that extra $1 from the coupon will go toward that item. If ALL you buy are the brownies, you’ll pay $0 (plus tax) and won’t get the full savings. This is usually what people mean when they say they made a profit, or that a deal is a moneymaker. The only time you actually make a profit is when you use a coupon with a sale AND a rebate. Those are sweet.
  • Expiration dates are a joke. Most cashiers don’t pay attention to them, and the bar codes still scan.

Next: know your local stores’ coupon policies. Most coupon policies are corporate and can be found on the store’s website. Here are some highlights to get you started:

Giant Grocery (giantfood.com):

  • They double coupons worth $.99 or less, every day. If your coupon is for $.75, you’ll get $1.50 off your item(s). Every day. It’s awesome.
  • They accept competitor’s coupons. This is huge, because you can stack coupons (more on that later). If they give you a hard time at checkout, you may need to ask to see a manager or go to the service desk. I do this at least once a week, and by now they just ask me what to take off my bill, and they do it without questioning. I’m that customer.
  • They sometimes send out 4 doubler coupons with their weekly circular. These doubler coupons extend their doubler policy to coupons worth $1, so you can save up to $2 on one item. Doubler coupons usually start appearing in the summertime.

Target:

  • Target has store coupons online! Did you know that? Go to Target.com and scroll down (not all the way). In the middle of the page you’ll see coupon savings, daily deal, and Follow us in a row. Click on the coupon section, browse, and pick your coupons. To print them off, you will need to download an applet (just click “allow” when a popup appears).
  • This isn’t an official policy, but my experience is that they are very loosey-goosey with their acceptance of coupons. They accept expired coupons, multiple coupons for one item, etc. It largely depends on your cashier, but keep trying and you’ll learn who to go to and how to get the most savings.

Harris Teeter:

  • They double coupons every day, just like Giant.

Now, as promised, what is “stacking”? Stacking coupons simply means that you stack different types of coupons on top of each other for ONE item. Here is where the Target coupons get handy. All stores will take one manufacturer’s coupon (these are the ones you’re used to seeing in the newspaper) and one store coupon (e.g., Target) for one item. So, using my previous salad dressing analogy, if you had a $1 manufacturer’s coupon (e.g., Kraft), and a $.75 store coupon (e.g., Target), you can use them both. Bonus: if your manufacturer’s coupon is less than $1, it will be doubled at Harris Teeter and Giant.

Stacking also comes into play when the cashier is loosey-goosey, like at Target. For example, just this week I bought 2 Olay body lotions and 2 Olay face washes for FREE. How? Well, they were on sale for about $5 each. Target was running a deal where you got a $5 gift card when you bought 2 (so, it was kind of like Buy One Get One Free, or BOGO). I had 8 Olay coupons totaling over $10, which covered the cost of two of my purchases, and then the 2 $5 gift cards covered the rest. So… free. I should NOT have been allowed to use 8 coupons on 4 items, but it worked. 🙂 Target is the best place to try those stacks.

And my final tip: couponbeat.com. I don’t know how it works, but this lady has a million coupons from the newspaper inserts (the inserts are called “Smart Source” and “Red Plum,” among others) that she sells for around $.20 each, plus the cost of a postage stamp to snail mail them to you. This is only worth it if:

  • a) you figure out what coupons you need early in the week, because you need to give them time to reach you before that week’s sale is over. I ordered mine on Tuesday morning and got them on Friday, but she doesn’t guarantee that.
  • b) the deal is still good after the cost of your coupon/shipping. In my Olay coupon deal, it was. In many cases, the cost of the coupons/shipping negates the awesomeness of the deal. So use couponbeat.com wisely and sparingly.

So, to review: you need to get the newspaper, cut out coupons (cut ones out that you might not think you’ll use – you never know when a sale + coupon will make that item free), and compare your coupons to the weekly sales to get the best deals.

 

Here are a few deals to inspire you:

 

CVS:

  • Duncan Hines brownies are on sale for $1. Use the $1 coupons from this week’s newspaper to get it free.
  • Schick hydro 3 or 5 razors or cartridges are BOGO. Use a $3 coupon for additional savings. (Check couponbeat if you don’t have this coupon)
  • Aussie or Herbal Essences Shampoo or Conditioner is $2.77 each. Use a $1 coupon to make it $1.77.

 

Target:

  • Quaker cereal is $2.99. Use a $1 coupon to make it $1.99. I have had this coupon for months. It’s finally paying off!
  • Dove 2-pack body wash is $7.59. I’m going to try to use 3 coupons, totaling $3.50, which would make them $4.09, or $2.045 a piece.

 

I will post my Giant deals once I go through those, if y’all want. Let me know.

 

I can also do a follow-up post to address questions, so post comments to request more information, if you want!

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  1. #1 by Heather Farineau on April 10, 2011 - 7:28 pm

    I’ve actually been able to use multiple coupons on the same items as long as they are a different price! I mostly shop at Publix when I do that, so I’m not sure if that is a regional/store-specific policy.

  2. #2 by H on April 23, 2011 - 12:33 pm

    Wow! I’ve only been able to stack Target coupons with manufacturer’s coupons… but I haven’t done that in a long while. Soon, I won’t be able to do it at all, so I will have to get more creative overseas! I enjoy reading about your deals though. 🙂 Couponing is terribly addicting once you get into it, I fear. lol

  3. #3 by Adrienne on May 10, 2011 - 12:55 pm

    Laura thanks so much for penning this! I have been dying to have someone thoroughly explain the coupoun deal and not scream in a facebook status: “I just got $54 worth of stuff at CVS for $4.05.”

    Can you do a blog post on how you keep your coupons organized?

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