Sunday, January 23, 2011

Couponing Basics

Welcome to Fabulously Frugal Upstate!

I suppose that I should begin my very first blog post with a basic lesson on couponing [yes, "couponing" is absolutely a verb].  Below, you will find absolutely everything one must know before entering any store with a stack of coupons tall enough to make managers weep and cashiers curse:

1.  Sales Cycles
Realize that stores have sales cycles.  Yes, that's right.  Every. Single. Store.  Even that little convenient store on the corner.  They have sales cycles, you just don't realize that they do! So, what is a sales cycle?  It's a pattern in a store characterized by common sale items.  Most stores run various sales cycles for 6-8 weeks. They will advertise an item at their lowest price, usually for a week at a time.  The goal for us is to buy these products when they are at their lowest prices.  The whole idea leads us to couponing basic number two...

2.  Stockpiling!
 As stated above, most stores run sales in 6-8 week rotations.  When an item that your family loves is on sale, buy enough to last 6-8 weeks at the lowest price available.  Yes, this means that you will have to store a lot of product at your home.  Designate a small area of your house for your stockpile.  Don't go crazy and use an entire bedroom!  I have successfully converted our laundry room into a mini- drugstore/supermarket.  I have a [mental] list of "buy it now" prices that I will post soon, but just know that an item WILL be on sale again.  It is not, I repeat, NOT, the end of the world if you miss a sale one week, because the item will likely be on sale again over the next 6-8 weeks.  Don't beat yourself up if you miss a sale.  Big deal.  Play with your kids instead.  They deserve it!

3. Double Coupons
Ahhh, double coupons.  Like music to my ears.  Double coupons are a glorious and magnificent gift from above.  In the Upstate, Bi-Lo, Publix, Bloom, and Ingles double coupons.  Most Bi-Lo stores double up to 60 cents, but I have heard of some Bi-Los that double to 75 cents!  Publix doubles up to 50 cents.  Bloom stores vary greatly in the amounts that they will double, and not every Bloom store doubles.  Here in Anderson, Bloom doubles up to 99 cents.  Bloom, Publix and Bi-Lo feature unlimited double coupons. You may use as many as your sweet little heart desires, on as many items as you need.  Ingles.... oh, Ingles.... Ingles is much more difficult.  The coupon policy is a little tricky there, so let me attempt to walk you through it:
Ingles WILL double coupons [and occasionally triple them during certain weeks]. Their limit is 50 cents.  Just like the other stores, if you have a $0.50 coupon, they will double that amount to $1.  If you have a coupon for $0.35, Ingles, Publix, and Bi-Lo will double that to $0.70.  However, at Ingles, they will only double three coupons per $10 of items purchased.  For example, if you buy $10 worth of items, Ingles will double 3 coupons.  With $20 of product, you get 6 coupons.  $30 worth of product = 9 coupons doubled, and so on and so forth.  Ingles does NOT limit the amount of TOTAL coupons you may use per dollar amount, only the amount of DOUBLED coupons.  So, feel free to use as many of the $0.51+ coupons as you desire.  Also, the dollar amount comes BEFORE any coupons. So, the amount that you spend pre-coupons is the amount that they go by when figuring out how many that they can double.  Ingles is much harder to deal with than the other stores.  They have also recently started limited the number of Internet coupons that they will take with each order.  This amount seems to vary by store, manager, and even cashier sometimes.

4. Get Organized
There are several popular methods for organizing coupons.  When I started couponing about two years ago, I used the binder method.  The binder method requires lots and lots of time and patience.  Needless to say, I quickly ditched that method and started my very own filing method.  The filing method is MUCH more time efficient, in my opinion.  Feel free to choose the best method for yourself, but the filing method has saved LOTS of time and energy for me.  If I were a stay-at-home mom or somehow had more hours in a day, the binder method would not be a problem.  However, I live here in the real world of 40+ hours each week at work, a busy toddler & husband, pre-school activities, social obligations, and personal interests. There are much better things that I could be doing rather than clipping and sorting coupons.  My filing method works like this:  Each week, I purchase my newspapers and then come home, sort each INSERT by type, write the date on the front, and file them away in my accordion file.  When it is time to go to the store, I use a shopping list to figure out which coupons I need, find the appropriate insert, clip the coupons, throw them in an envelope, and I'm out the door.  This method is not for anyone that would just die if they found a surprise clearance item or unadvertised deal and they didn't have the appropriate coupon to stack with the deal. This very reason caused me to not switch to the filing method for a very long time.  After thinking about it, I decided to try it for fun, and realized that the time saved is more than worth the value of missing a clearanced item.  Most stores keep enough in stock for you to go home, get the coupon, and come back later.  If you're still not convinced, you can click here to read an excellent tutorial on several types of coupon organization, including a detailed binder idea.

See, I told you that would be easy.  It's quite simple.  Go out, get yourself an accordion file or a binder, grab a few newspapers, come back to this website to find the best deals, and start saving serious money!!

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