12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing, Part 8: Matching coupons with sales

Finding, filing, cutting… there are so many things to do with coupons! Now, it’s time to use them!

Using coupons is easy! You clip it, buy the item it was intended for, and hand the coupon to the cashier when you check out. It’s simple! The next part is to decide when to best use it. You can run out as soon as you get a coupon and save the $.50 at Wal-Mart, who, if you’re lucky, may happen to have the best every-day price, but if you wait till it’s buy one get one free (or half price) at Publix, AND use the $.50 coupon, which doubles to $1.00 at Publix, then you’ll get it for next to nothing instead of just $.50 off the everyday price.

The first rule of using coupons is waiting for the right sale and/or the right store (one that may double your coupon to increase its value)! In the example I gave above, Wal-Mart happened to be the cheapest place to buy that item… on a normal day. When you wait for a sale, you’re knocking at least 25% off the ‘best’ price, but you should really try to wait for at least a 50% off sale. Unless it’s a specialty item, or something that doesn’t go on sale very often, you’ll find a half-off sale fairly often!

Let me use an example of something that I bought today… Go-Gurt! I want my kids to have yogurt every day, and the yogurt that they prefer is Go-Gurt, or really any squeezable tube of yogurt! Go-Gurt is a very bad deal in general because it has 8 tubes of slightly more than 2 ounces of actual yogurt in each tube. It generally sells for about $3, as a normal, every-day price. Now, $3 is ridiculous for 16 ounces of yogurt, so I wait for a sale, stock up, and stick them in the freezer! The Smart Source inserts frequently have coupons for Go-Gurt, usually $.75/2, which isn’t much, but it helps! That would make them about $2.63 for a box. Again, not a very good price, and Kroger has an in-house brand that’s usually about $2, so the Go-Gurt isn’t a deal! So… buy the Kroger brand for now and wait for a sale!

This week, Publix had them on BOGO sale for $2.89, which makes them $1.45 each (cheaper than Kroger’s brand!), BUT when I use the coupon now, it comes out to $1.07 a box, which is about 1/3 of the regular price. I don’t have to tell you that we’re stocking up! Waiting for a sale pays off, bigtime!

Something to mention about using coupons: don’t buy an item JUST because you have a coupon for it, or because the coupon’s expiring! That’s why people say that couponing doesn’t work, and they’re right in this example, because you end up buying something that’s more expensive in the first place just because you have a coupon and it’s STILL more expensive than buying the store-brand version. Couponing DOES work and it works WELL if you learn when, why and how to use the coupons.

Be sure to check out Weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 of 12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing to work on your couponing skills!

12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing, Part 7: Starting a stockpile

The 12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing series continues with Week 7. If you are just tuning in to the series, be sure to catch up with weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Starting a stockpile… how can I begin to explain how important this is.

I love my husband dearly, and I have asked him a million times (slight exaggeration) to tell me when he has only about two weeks left of his stuff. He uses different face wash, shampoo, deodorant (obviously), etc. He also consumes coffee, creamer, sweetener, and certain snacks that I don’t particularly like. With all of these items, I have no reason to glance at any of them in the course of my day, and so I need him to tell me when he’s running low. He doesn’t usually tell me until the day after he’s thrown it in the trash and is in need of more asap. I may even be forced to run to the store and pay $4 for one. Instead, I reach into the closet and hand him a new package of his favorite deodorant, which I got for free two months ago.

Now, balance is important in all aspects of life, especially when it comes to amassing a potentially large amount of stuff. Noone should allow their home to become like an episode of Hoarders, taking all you can get your hands on, or enough to last for the rest of your life. A good rule of thumb is to stock up on as much of an item as your family can consume until the next sale. For most items, this is 2-3 months, some less, some more.

In last week’s installment, I wrote about buying 22 bottles of Hershey’s syrup, a year’s worth for our family. This is much longer than the 2-3 months that I just gave as a guideline, but it’s exactly what I said. I bought enough for what our family will consume until the next time the deal comes, which is about a year’s time.

Now, space has to be an important consideration when starting a stockpile, because the stuff can begin to take over! We have a pretty small house for a family of 5 and I’ve had to adjust our stockpile over the years. I found space where there previously wasn’t any, and I’ve gotten a little creative, but I finally have a system that works well for us. We’re not sleeping on boxes of cereal, but we have a good stockpile and even areas for donations and for sharing with family and friends. Our needs are met, and we rarely have to be in the position of a last-minute run to the store to pay full-price for something.

If you’re early in the couponing game, most of your grocery money is going towards necessities, so you may not have much room to spend on stock-up items. Start with even one or two extra items to begin your stockpile with. It takes years to build a good stockpile, and with each extra item you buy, you’re saving money. The next time you need a tube of toothpaste, you can pull it out of the closet and spend the $3 you would have spent on the toothpaste on other stock-pile items. With each stockpile purchase, you’re freeing up money to buy more stockpile items and shortening your grocery bill.

Now, a few practical tips about stockpiles: When storing your items, try to be mindful of expiration dates, because nothing’s a bargain if you have to throw it out. Also store like-items in the same area. It’s harder to lose something in the shuffle if you don’t have to hunt through lots of other items. Look for unutilized spaces by adding shelves to the top of laundry rooms or closets. You don’t have to use up all the space you already have when you can create new space!

In conclusion, start somewhere, be prepared to adjust your stockpile many times over, and know that it takes time, but the savings are immediate and keep getting better and better!!!

12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing, Part 6: Learning Sales Cycles

I bought 22 bottles of Hershey’s syrup today (mostly the chocolate kind)! Now, let me be the first to say, “That’s nuts!” It’s absolutely crazy to buy 22 bottles of chocolate syrup at a time. Who in the world would need 22 bottles of chocolate syrup. Well, we do!

I have three little boys who love their chocolate milk and a mommy who doesn’t like to pay full-price.  We’ve tried the store-brand and it doesn’t mix well and just ends up at the bottom of the cup all gross and nasty, so, for this item, we’re pretty brand-loyal! I know that Hershey’s syrup goes on big sale (buy one get one free) only once or twice a year (usually only once!) and during the summer is the ONLY time that Hershey’s publishes coupons for it. The reason that I know this is that I’ve paid attention the past couple of years, especially since it’s something that we use on a daily basis!

The syrup is normally $2.39 at Publix. This week, it’s BOGO, plus there’s a $1/2 coupon that was in the paper a couple of weeks ago. The sale, combined with the coupon, makes the syrup $.70 a bottle (I challenge you to find any store-brand for $.70!), which is a 71% savings. I have a good idea of how much syrup we usually go through, and the expiration date is halfway through 2013, so I estimated, added a couple for good measure, and stocked up for the year. I know from experience that it won’t be this price again for about that amount of time. I saved $37.18 (regular price for all would be $52.58) by buying our year’s worth of chocolate syrup now, when the price is lowest. Now, again, buying 22 bottles of chocolate syrup is nuts, but how nuts is it really?

Today, I’m going to talk about sales cycles. Sales have cycles, like seasons; some are longer and some are shorter, but almost all are very predictable. For most items, sales come around again about every 6-8 weeks, so the need to stock up is minimal. You don’t need to think about much more than what you use in 2 months’ time. For some things, however, the sales cycles are much longer. Every season has its stock-up items. Right now, I’m stocking up on condiments! BBQ sauce, mustard, ketchup, salad dressing, worchester sauce, etc are all free or mere pennies right now, and, while you’ll find sales during the rest of the year, you likely won’t find the best sales AND coupons to make them free anytime except for the summer!

School supplies are another item that are practically free around now. The end of the summer is when I get enough stuff to last all of our artistic and scholastic whims for the entire year. Why would I pay $2 for a box of crayons in December, when they’re $.20 now?! I keep my own little stash and just pull from there all year. Scissors, tape, pens, pencils, erasers, glue, rulers, etc are all, again, free or just pennies! STOCK UP NOW!

You probably haven’t seen me buying much meat in the past few weeks (besides sausage!) because I get most of my meat around the holidays. I get turkeys in November, pork loins in December, brisket in March, ham in April and grilling meats in May. I also pick up the occasional random sale or mark-down here and there and in-between, but I plan my shopping around those sales and in the deep-freezer they go for our year-round enjoyment!

I also buy most of my baking stuff around Thanksgiving and Christmas (flour, sugar, shortening), cleaning supplies in the spring, face products in December/January (doesn’t make sense, but that’s when the best deals seem to be!), sun and first-aid products in April/May, etc. These are all predictable sales cycles that are much longer than 6-8 weeks. I can’t always buy an entire year’s worth of all of these items, but I can recognize the cycles and try to stock-up accordingly.

The grocery stores aren’t the only ones focused on these cycles. Manufacturers use the same cycles when they publish certain coupons. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a BBQ sauce coupon in November, because noone’s thinking about grilling-out then! Spring means cleaning, summer means outdoors, fall means back-to-school and winter means comfort food and the manufacturers know this! They don’t want to waste their money promoting a product that’s out-of-season and not on our minds! It’s throwing money away! You’ll start to notice that coupons will also follow the same, predictable patterns for the most part.

When you’re putting together your list, keep these cycles in mind! I like to think of couponing as a game, and these sales cycles are just patterns on the board. You have to be observant and pay attention to figure out the pattern, and once you do, you’ll be able to maximize your saving by adjusting your purchases for the length of time till the next stock-up price. So, maybe 22 bottles of chocolate syrup isn’t too nuts after all!

12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing, Part 5: Grocery Stores

I apologize for being late in posting this, but, as I said earlier, I’ve been playing catch-up around here for the past week! So, you can check out the previous weeks’ here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

If you haven’t been reading this series so far, take a few minutes to do some catching up!

Week 5 of 12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing is Grocery Stores! Last week I covered drug stores and how to maximize savings at drugstores as a whole. As I said in that post, this isn’t about specific grocery stores, because each grocery store could have an entire post or more about all the ins and outs of their rules, but this is more about grocery stores in general and how to maximize savings there.

First, in general, health and beauty items are usually much cheaper (read: FREE) at drugstores, and the best deals on paper products are also usually to be had at drugstores. There are a few free (often plus overage) items at Publix available every few weeks and occasionally at other stores also. A couple of weeks ago, they had free plus overage asprin and flashlights. A month ago, they had free plus overage vitamins. These items are not only good if you need them, but they also help lower your cost on other items. More on using overage in a later week!

As with any store, you need to learn the perks and the policies. These grocery stores are competing with each other for your business, and so they offer various incentives to get you in their store. Doubling coupons, senior discounts, reusable bag credits, $ off of $ coupons, store coupons, accepting competitor’s coupons, rebates, and overage are all perks that stores offer. Using these perks with coupons and sales is how you save the most at grocery stores.

These perks are HUGE when you make them work to your advantage. A $.55/1 coupon may go further if you pair it with a sale at Bi-Lo, where they double up to $.60, than if you pair it with a sale at Publix, but only if the sale at Bi-Lo is almost as good as the sale at Publix. Publix has a penny item promotion where you can get a certain item for only $.01, so if you shop on Wednesday instead of Monday, you’re guaranteed one practically free item! If you buy your produce at a store that accepts overage in conjunction with items that generate overage, you’re basically getting money off of your produce! KNOW what the perks are at each store and weigh the benefits and the best way to use them.

Now, every store has something known to the upper management as loss-leaders. These are items that the stores offer for extremely cheap to get you in the store, hoping that you’ll buy all of the other items on your list that are big profit-makers for them. But, just because that’s what they hope to happen, doesn’t mean you have to do it! You can shop only the loss-leaders and buy the other items you need at the store that has them the cheapest. You can take it one step further and ONLY buy items when they’re loss-leaders (at the lowest), which means that your shopping list will contain mostly loss-leaders and only a few needs, as opposed to a few loss-leaders and mostly needs.

Now, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it many more times in the future, I’m sure, but when you’re buying loss-leaders or something that’s at its lowest, buy more than you need for the immediate future, in fact buy a few more than you need! If you buy more now, you won’t have to pay full-price later. Pick an amount of time that you want to stock up for, about 6-8 weeks to begin with, and get enough to last that long. If you save 88% on salad dressing this week, but pay full-price the next four times you need it, your overall savings is just 18%. Now, I’m not saying that you need to buy enough for your entire life, but anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months is a good goal to aim for and should minimize the times you need to pay full-price!

After you understand the concepts of perks and loss-leaders, the next thing you need to learn to do is to wait for sales. On most items, you can usually count on a 50% sale in any given sales cycle. This is usually a good target for what you should wait for. A 50% sale can come in the form of a BOGO (buy one get one free) sale or a purely half-price sale. Even without coupons, if you only buy items when they’re at half price, you’re averaging a 50% savings on your grocery bill; add coupons to that and you’re well on your way to a 75% average savings.

In keeping with the topic of this post, I’ll be posting the specific perks for each of our local grocery stores, as well as links to the corporate coupon policies, if available. I’ve found that, with some stores, it’s helpful to carry the printed policies to avoid problems at the check-out!

Well, that’s Part 5 to 12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing! Stay tuned for part six next week!

12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing, Part 4: Drugstores

Shopping at drugstores is how I get most of my free health and beauty items. I can’t tell you the last time I paid anything for toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, mouthwash, deodorant, body wash, throat lozenges, etc. Did you know that you can use these ‘free’ items to help you get other items for free as well? Basically you can make your own ‘sale’ and get things that don’t normally go on sale or don’t have coupons for next to nothing! First you have to know how to play the game.

Drugstores are an entirely different game than grocery stores. First of all, each drugstore has its own rewards program, with its own rules. You have to have a very good understanding of each store and the rules, or you’ll end up frustrated and wasting a lot of money. This post isn’t about the exact rules of each store, because that would take FOREVER to write it all out! It is about how to make the most out of the drugstores.

In our area, we have three main drugstores: CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid. Each store’s program has it’s pluses and minuses, but each store has great deals on a weekly basis to those who want to get them! Now, once you get the hang of each store and it’s program, you can start to add to it.

First of all, most of the stores, most of the weeks have items that are ‘free’ after rewards (of some kind). Sometimes, they’ll even have items that are free plus profit when you use a coupon. You can get all the toothpaste and bodywash you could possibly ever use, but there are also other ways to use these free/profit items to your advantage!

The first way is that some stores (like CVS, Rite Aid, and even occasionally Walgreens) offer $ off of $ coupons (ie $5 off of a $20 purchase coupon). These coupons work the best when you put together ‘free’ items to get non-sale items for free. This is usually how I get my diapers for almost free, but you can use it to get any item that you need!

For example, once you give CVS your email, you’ll start getting messages, many with coupons attached. If you had one of these coupons for $5 off of a $20 purchase that you could use with this week’s ad, you could get almost free diapers! Here’s how:

First, find the free items in this week’s ad. That’s the G-U-M lozenges (free after extra care bucks) and Hershey’s Bliss (free plus $1 profit after ecbs). Huggies diapers are on sale this week for $8.99, and you get a $1 ECB back. Buy and use the following:

G-U-M lozenges $15.99
 – $15.99 ECB
Hershey’s Bliss $5.99
 – $1/1 coupon
 – $5.99 ECB
Huggies diapers $8.99
 – $1 ECB
 – $2.50/1 coupon

 – $5/$25 coupon
 = FREE plus $.49 overage!

Now, you may not need and/or care about the lozenges or the chocolate (you’d be crazy!), but buying those two items gave you $1 in overage AND $5 from the $5/$25 coupon to apply towards the diapers. In theory, you’re taking them and making each coupon a ‘coupon’ towards the diapers. This works for anything you need. If you need toilet paper, pain medicine, ANYTHING, you will basically have $6 in free money to go towards it when you count the $1 overage from the chocolate and the $5 coupon since you already hit your $20 requirement to use the coupon. It’s free money and you get to choose what it pays for!

Second, even if you don’t have one of these $ off of $ coupons to use (sometimes they’re hard to come by!), you can still use the overage items to pay for other things in the long-run. That $1 in overage on the Bliss candy can be used to offset costs in the future. Next week, Walgreens has a couple of items that are money-makers after a mail-in rebate. That money you ‘made’ can be used, again, to buy other things that you need.

My rule of thumb is to not pass up a money-maker, even if it’s something I don’t use! You can always donate it! Food banks are desperately in need of donations of all kinds right now, so, chances are, someone will be extremely blessed by something that you don’t need, but made you money!

The third thing that I want to point out about drugstores (and pharmacies in general) is that most pharmacies publish prescription coupons. These are coupons for gift cards when you transfer or bring in a new prescription. They have exclusions and they usually only accept one per person in a certain frame of time, but if you or someone in your family has any monthly prescriptions, this can be a GREAT way to make an extra $25 per month.

CVS and Publix pharmacies also take competitor’s prescription coupons, so you can take them there, and if you plan it right, you may be able to play the prescription transfer game every month. Last year, I transferred some prescriptions to Kmart when they published a coupon for up to 5 prescriptions at a time and I got $100 in gift cards that I was able to use to buy a few Christmas presents and, now, school uniforms (at Sears! They’re good at either store!) for my oldest son!

A word of warning: transferring prescriptions takes a lot of work for you and for the pharmacies, so be aware of that fact when you’re asking the staff to do it and be sure to thank them for the extra effort. Also, having your prescriptions at different pharmacies can be dangerous if there’s a possible drug interaction. The pharmacies don’t know about the other prescriptions, so be sure to only do this if you only have one prescription, or if you have had all the prescriptions at the same pharmacy before and therefore would know if any drug interactions were possible.

Drugstores are a GREAT way to save a ton of money out of your household budget, no matter your food preferences. I’ve talked with a lot of people who have allergies, health problems, or just very specific (read: picky) needs with food. So, even if you can’t save 75% or more on your grocery budget, drugstores are a great way to cut your overall spending way down by saving on household and personal items!

12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing, Part 3: Cutting Coupons

Week 1 was Starting a price list
Week 2 was Determine your ‘save’-ability

Week 3 of 12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing is Cutting Coupons. Now, this is not a how-to on the actual cutting of coupons, because every Kindergarten graduate knows that you take the scissors in your hand and try your best to cut along the dotted lines. It’s not a difficult concept. What I want to talk about is not the actual cutting of the coupons, but which ones, why, and how to store them.

First, the biggest mistake most beginning couponers make is cutting a few coupons that they know they’ll use and throwing the rest away. Don’t throw any away. For example, I may never see the need to clip a Hunt’s ketchup coupon, because the off-brand is much cheaper, but earlier this week, Publix had a buy one get one free sale on Hunt’s, plus Publix coupons, plus a rebate, plus the manufacturer’s coupons that I wouldn’t normally think I’d use. All those combined equaled free plus profit ketchup! That’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the off-brand ketchup!

Another ‘good’ reason that I can readily think of for someone to throw away a coupon is that it’s for something that we just don’t use! Last year, every few weeks the Sunday inserts had coupons for Bayer glucose monitors. At the time, I didn’t know anyone who was diabetic, so I had absolutely NO need for that coupon. The coming weeks brought drugstore sales, over and over, that made me $10 in profit per coupon. I also was able to donate the monitors to a clinic that really needed them! So, not only was I able to give them to someone who really needed them, but I ended up making over $150 over the course of a couple of months. That’s 150 reasons right there not to throw a coupon away!

So, don’t throw any coupons away! You never know what’s going to come up in the sales cycle.

Now, once you have all the coupons, you’ll need a place to put them. You can store your coupons in a variety of ways. Each way has pluses and minuses.

One way that has surged in popularity recently is the binder method. Basically you cut every coupon, buy a huge binder with baseball sleeves, and file them all in the sleeves. This is a great way to travel with all of your coupons. You can also take advantage of unadvertised deals because you can have all your coupons with you on your trips. However, it takes a lot of time, and has some expense built into it. You have to buy the binder(s) and all the sleeves. You also have to spend the time to cut all the coupons out, to file them in some sort of order, and to take out expired coupons. This isn’t the method I choose, because I just don’t have the time to do all of that.

I used to clip them all out and put them in a little box with category tabs. This is a little easier than the binder method, because you’re not separating each different coupon, and it’s cheaper because you can just repurpose a little box, but it still takes a lot of time to cut them all out and after about the 15th time my kids knocked my box over, I threw in the towel.

My method, one that my friend Rebecca started doing and got me hooked on, is the insert method. I keep all of my coupons in the full inserts. I write the date at the top and keep them in one place at home. All the match-ups online show in which insert the coupon can be found, so it’s easy for me to find the coupons I need when I’m putting together my shopping list, clip them out, and add them to my envelope with my detailed list. I usually only clip the coupons that I’m going to use on that trip. I do miss a few deals by not transporting all my coupons with me, but it’s not worth the extra time for a couple of missed deals once every few months. I also know that I just cannot fumble through coupons or a binder of coupons in the middle of the store with my kids in the cart, so taking all my coupons with me in any form isn’t something that I can do.

When it comes to storing coupons, everyone has a method that they swear by. Find what works for you, but DO NOT throw any of them away until they’re expired. You never know what kind of a deal you’ll find.

Next week, I’ll be talking about drugstores, so check back next Thursday for the next installment!

12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing, Part 2: Determine your ‘save’-ability

View Week 1 HERE.

I have a confession to make… I am a peanut butter snob. I will only eat Jif creamy peanut butter. Seriously. I hide my Jif and let everyone else eat whatever else is on sale because they are not as snobbish as I in the peanut butter department! If I’m making all of us peanut butter sandwiches, I will switch brands mid-process to make mine with Jif and everyone else’s with Peter Pan. It’s more than a little crazy, but it’s a non-negotiable for me!

Everyone has something, or many somethings, that are not negotiable. It can be a brand name item or an affinity for the freshest produce. Some can’t do without a glass of a favorite wine every night or a certain kind of coffee. Usually, when you’re in a family, every member will have at least one thing!

Our family certainly has our share! My husband needs Equal and non-dairy powdered creamer for his coffee. He’s also a meat kind of a guy, so a beans and rice meal is not going to cut it for us. My kids LOVE tubes of yogurt (much more expensive than the kind in cups) and chocolate milk. I’m pretty flexible in that I can adjust my non-negotiables as the sales come. I’m not brand-loyal on more than a couple of items, but I do desire a steady supply of my ‘needs’ category. I love bubble baths, certain New York wines, good chocolate, and homemade desserts. I try not to indulge in the chocolate or desserts too frequently, but I don’t know how I would function without keeping at least one of those things that I love ready to be used as the need arises.

Week 2 of ’12 Weeks To Extreme Couponing’ is determining your ‘save’-ability. Find out what the non-negotiables are for your family, and try to keep them to a minimum. Having a few non-negotiables is completely fine, but when your list gets in the double-digits, you may think about cutting back.

Brands aren’t the only non-negotiables. There are many ways to save money that don’t consist of clipping coupons, many things that we out-source that we don’t have to. I know women who use clotheslines to dry clothes, make their own laundry detergent, grow vegetables, raise chickens, make their own clothes, puree their own baby food, process their own meat, the list goes on and on!!!!!

What works for one family doesn’t work for others. Not everyone can be peaceful with cloth-diapering, home-made cleaners, and growing your own produce. We all have ways that we can handle saving, and ways we can’t!

I don’t do most of those things. I do what I can handle, and I don’t do what I can’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about cloth-diapering. I stood at consignment sales, diapers in hand, ready to jump on the green wagon, but then I’d remember the already overwhelming pile of laundry that we generate each week, my struggles to keep the house picked-up, and the last bout of stomach bug that went through the house. I dropped those diapers and ran in the other direction. NOT FOR ME! My sanity is worth more than that, so I combine coupons and deals to get my disposable diapers for pennies. For me, it’s money well-spent!

Noone can do everything, but everyone can do something, and usually a lot! I do extreme-couponing(ish). I repurpose containers for crayons and toys. I make my own sugar scrub and most of our cleaning supplies. I have a small garden. I get paper bags at the grocery store to shred and use in the guinea pig’s cage. We use daily deals for date nights. We’re not brand-loyal on most things. We get our clothes in like-new condition at yard sales, Goodwill, or new with big sales and coupons. We don’t have a home phone, or subscribe to any kind of cable tv. We don’t vacation except to visit family. We buy gifts when they’re on clearance. We do without when we need to. We find ways to save in as many areas as we can.

Couponing and living a frugal lifestyle in general is about making concessions. If you didn’t make some concessions, you’d buy whatever you wanted, when you wanted. You wouldn’t wait for a sale and a coupon. You wouldn’t buy more of a deal than you need right NOW in anticipation of next week or next month’s needs.

You can save a TON of money by couponing and thinking frugally. You can cut your grocery bill at least in half (seriously)! You don’t even have to live off of mustard and rice (I swear)! The next step is to determine your ‘save’-ability and decide what’s negotiable and what’s not for your family!

12 Weeks to Extreme Couponing, Week 1: Starting a Price List

Extreme couponers know how to save money, on practically anything, but how do you know that you’re saving money if you don’t know how much something normaly costs? You can’t.

The first step to becoming an extreme couponer is to develop a knowledge of prices for products that you buy. You can’t possibly know if you’re getting a good deal if you don’t know what the going price is for an item. So…

Week #1 is starting a price list. You can do this on paper or in your head. Your price list should include items that you and your family buy on a regular basis. Prices vary from store to store, season to season, and sale to sale and a price list will give you a point of comparison. Start by looking at your receipts, or taking note (mentally or physically) of prices as you shop. If you are making a physical price list, I’d suggest getting a little notebook to take with you to the store and at home in front of your receipts.

You can do it many ways, but the simplest is to put one or two like items per page and write the date, the item, the size, and the price, then make note at the end of the line of the price per unit (ounces, count, etc), because often items from different manufacturer’s are slightly different in size. When you know the price per ounce, you can better compare. It may take a few minutes of extra work at first, but this will help you get a better understanding of what you generally spend on any one item. This is especially helpful when you’re looking at an item like diapers, where the number in a package can vary greatly from brand to brand and store to store.

You don’t have to write down every single item that you ever buy, and you don’t have to have each brand on a new page.

I’d start with writing a category, like ‘shampoo’, and then, if you went to CVS and bought Pantene shampoo, write this:

‘CVS – Pantene $3.48 for 12.6 ounces or $.28 an ounce’.

Now, if you used a coupon for it, like the $3/2 coupon that was in the last P&G insert (and bought two of course, to use the $3/2 coupon), then your entry would look like this:

‘CVS – Pantene $1.98 (after $3/2 coupon) for 12.6 ounces or $.16 per ounce’

BUT, if you also used your Extra Care card and got ECBs back like they were offering this week, you’d write this:

‘CVS – Pantene $.98 (after $3/2 coupon and $2 ECB wyb 2) for 12.6 ounces or $.08 per ounce’

Now you know that you can get quality shampoo for $.08 per ounce or about $1 for an average-sized bottle (or better, sometimes). If you like to use a higher quality of hair products, now you know that this is a good goal to shoot for. If you don’t care what kind of shampoo you use, and you can get 16 ounces of Suave for $.88 or $.06 per ounce WITHOUT a coupon, this Pantene deal wasn’t a great deal for you! But you don’t really know that unless you have a price list.
Starting a price list will also help you see which store really is cheaper in general. You’ll come to see that good old wally world isn’t usually cheapest, especially if the item’s on sale. On the rare occasion that I’m not in full couponing mode, and I need to make a quick run to the store for 1-2 last-minute, extremely necessary items, I know that store-brand brown sugar is cheaper at Kroger than Wal-Mart, and Kroger’s closer anyway, so I’ll go there!

Another reason having a price list is helpful is that you’ll realize that not everything that’s ‘on sale’ is a good deal. Just because an item is in the store’s ‘sale’ ad, doesn’t mean it’s being sold for a good price. Stores will often advertise items in their ads that aren’t on sale at all, just to promote that item or to promote another item. They can publish items that may also go with some of the items that actually are on sale (ie, pasta is on sale, but they’ll publish the price of sauce and garlic bread next to it, when, in reality, the sauce and garlic bread are not on sale and their non-sale price is much more expensive than most other stores!).

Having a price list can be helpful for many reasons, but most of all, it’s a good way of knowing where you are right now. It’s much easier to get somewhere if you know where, exactly, you’re starting at.

One more thing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re starting out, so feel free to start slow. Also, you don’t HAVE to have a price list to coupon, but it’s VERY helpful when you’re starting out and it doesn’t have to take much time at all.