Extreme Couponing or Just Plain-Old Couponing?

My brother, future sister-in-law and a few friends decided to start a couponing club. They’ll be sharing coupons and trying to get the best deals on the necessities for their lives. By pooling their coupons, they can buy items in bulk, which is great for non-perishable items like toiletries and paper products.

But will it work? Only time will tell.

Extreme couponing takes a lot of time and energy. You have to match coupons to sales, which can eat up most of your free time. It usually requires a number of trips to different stores. And what’s on sale isn’t necessarily what you need.

I used to be an avid couponer — nowhere near “extreme” level, but I paid a lot of attention and would go to difference stores to get what I needed more cheaply, especially cat food and litter. But since the birth of our daughter three years ago, my couponing time has dwindled. Partly because I’m working more and partly because I’d rather spend my free time with our little girl. Another variable is that there were fewer and fewer sales on the items we regularly use.

I still collect the Sunday coupon flier, but I find that I’m not cutting out as many as I once did. It’s difficult to match up coupons with sales prices lately. I just try to make smart purchases and use coupons when I can. But I’ll admit there’s a pile of fliers on our dining room table that I haven’t touched in a month, and I’m sure half of the coupons expired two weeks ago.

Has anyone else been having trouble with couponing lately? Is it that the deals and the coupons don’t match up, or that you don’t have the time to expend on couponing?

Save1.com: Save Money, Feed the Hungry

As I’ve probably mentioned a billion times before on this blog (and in real life to all my friends and family), I love a deal. And to get a deal, you have to do some research before buying. I’ve never been a spontaneous Sally — I need to find the best price AND, hopefully, a coupon or promo code before making a purchase, whether it’s clothes or a major appliance or a cable/internet/phone bundle (see our new FIOS contract triumph).

You have to really search well to find promotional codes for online retailers. Not all stores offer online discounts, but it can’t hurt to look.

There are also a number of websites that “collect” promo codes for a number of retailers in one place. Some of the more common ones include CouponCabin.com, Coupons.com and RetailMeNot.com.

But the one that’s most impressed me is a newer site called Save1.com — for every coupon or discount code you use for one of their featured retailers, they donate a portion of their commission to feed hungry children. The company is family-owned and represents more than 5,000 merchants, and since October 2012, they’ve provided more than 95,000 meals to malnourished children through their nonprofit feeding partners.

I’ve found great coupons for discounts and free shipping for major department stores like Macy’s and Gap, and I’ve also come across other retailers we use, such as RadioShack and BestBuy.

So not only can you save money, you’re helping others. And I can get behind that.

Using Coupons for Grocery Shopping

I used to be a halfway-decent couponer. I dutifully clipped coupons from the Sunday newspaper, weeded out the expired ones from my coupon organizer, and flowed the new ones in. I’d match up the coupons to the weekly grocery store sales, and save about $10-$20 on my order — my local ShopRite doubles manufacturer coupons up to 99 cents, so that’s a big help.

But the past few trips, I haven’t used one coupon. Not a one. Except for a $8 off a total order coupon, which was on the front-page of the grocery store flier a few weeks ago.

I just cleaned out my coupon organizer, and I found coupons going back to late May. I suppose part of the reason is that I’ve been getting a lot of our nonperishable food items from our local Target, which has better prices than the grocery store, where not even a doubled coupon could get me Velveeta Mac & Cheese for $1.50 a box. Or my K-cups, or cereal. But there’s no way in hell I’m going to get fresh meat, dairy or produce at Target — and that’s the time of stuff that doesn’t get the coupon treatment.

So I’m committing myself to couponing for my next big grocery store shopping trip in two weeks or so. We’ll see what happens, because the sales (and the coupons) have been pretty awful lately.

Organizing Coupons: What’s Your System?

Not only do I have a ton of regular grocery coupons, but now I have to add my “baby” coupons to the mix — for diapers, formula, diaper cream, gas drops, infant acetaminophen, baby vitamins and the like. The result? I’m drowning in coupons.

Right now, my only ‘system’ is one I stole from my dad. It involves separating coupons into two piles, food and non-food items, and using a paper clip to secure each stack of money-saving paper. I arrange the coupons by expiration date when I have more than one coupon for a particular product. Then, I put both groups of coupons into a simple white #10 envelope.

Great system, huh?

It works for my father because his grocery shopping lists go something like this: steak, pork chops, canned vegetables and soups, air freshener refills, and butter, butter and more butter. Occasionally, he’ll mix it up with mayonnaise, hot dogs, tuna fish and olives.

Now that I have a ton of Similac checks and coupons (thank you, Similac, for putting coupons in the Sunday newspaper fliers), they get their own I arrange them by expiration date — those closest to expiring stay on top, obviously.

Not only do I clip out coupons for the items we use regularly, I sometimes stock up on coupons for other products that I think might go on sale in the near future, other brands of things we use regularly, or new items. For instance, French’s came out with a new product, Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce, which I tried and loved. (I hate mustard, but like this stuff — go figure.) At my local grocery store, it’s $2.19, and there’s always a $.75 coupon to be found in the Sunday paper. My store doubles coupons, so that $2.19 bottle only costs $.69. I now have 3 bottles sitting in our pantry that don’t expire until the end of the year, giving us plenty of time to use them.

So I now have two sets of envelopes for coupons: baby stuff & grocery items. And the ‘might use in the future’ coupons are all mixed together. I like Land O’Lakes butter, but if there’s a sale on Hotel Bar brand and I have a coupon, guess which one I’ll buy? That’s why I like to clip coupons for competing brands — I’ll use just about anything if I can get it for a good price. Except coffee creamer. I cheated on Coffeemate with International Delights once — ick.

I’d like to get the coupons out of the envelopes so I can view and sort them better. I know there are small accordion coupon organizers you can buy, while some people use binders with clear pages so they can see each coupon separately.

I don’t know which system I’m going to choose, but I have to do something. I’m tired of flipping through stacks of coupons every week! I don’t want anything too time-consuming, but I need to change my ways.

Any suggestions?

Discussion: TLC’s Extreme Couponing

I wrote a post on Rainy-Day Saver that’s suddenly seen a major uptick in page views. I think it’s because people are Googling the name of TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” a new show that’s been getting a lot of attention over the holiday break. Searching for the show brings up the Rainy-Day Saver post on Google’s first search page.

One of the women profiled on Extreme Couponing picked up 20 liters of soda on one trip to the store. In another example, a man purchased 2,000 items in ONE SHOPPING TRIP, whittling down the bill from $5,743 retail to $241. This same guy has “10,000 items stockpiled in his garage” (TLC’s wording, not mine). And yet another saver has 3,000 rolls of toilet paper!

So I’d like to revisit the idea of extreme couponing — is it frugality at its best, or hoarding?

I’ll readily admit that I envy those who can whittle down a $300 shopping order to 20 bucks by stacking coupons, rebates and sales. But I think most people are hard-pressed to find the time and coupons required to get such fantastic “deals.”

That’s another thing — are they really “deals” if you’re buying 20 products that you won’t use before their expiration dates? Things like laundry detergent will last, but even toiletries like toothpaste are only good for so long. Same goes for grocery items such as canned and packaged goods. They have longer shelf lives, but they’ll still become unusable. I’ve seen it happen even when I “overstock” our pantry — sometimes, we just don’t get to that extra bottle of ranch dressing.

There are folks who donate much of their hauls to the less fortunate and organizations that help those in need. Some people dedicate tens of hours a week to finding these savings. Me, I try to save us money where I can, but I don’t always want to use the deodorant I can get for free, due to skin allergies. Or maybe I don’t like the taste of the pasta sauce that would only cost me $.10. But honestly, most of the time, I don’t discover these type of deals.

I’m just happy to clip my coupons and pair them with circular sales. If I happen to qualify for cash back toward a future order, that’s a bonus. But it’s hard for me to live and breathe extreme couponing, like some folks do.

Different strokes for different folks, as they say.

Free Formula and Diaper Coupons on the Brain

Baby Frugalista still has 8 weeks or so to arrive, yet I’m on the prowl for diaper coupons. Maybe she’ll arrive a few weeks before schedule, maybe she’ll be a week or two late (I’m thinking late — anyone want to start a Pregnancy Pool?). But either way, we’re gonna need diapers.

Lots of diapers.

I’m not “green” enough to use cloth diapers, so I already know we’ll be going with disposables. Every week, when I get the grocery coupon circulars in the Sunday newspaper, I now keep my eyes peeled for diaper coupons. And it’s still annoying to find that these coupons will expire before I give birth. So much for stocking up on coupons.

However, I don’t want to stock up on the diapers themselves, since we don’t know how big Baby Frugalista will wind up being when she gets here. At our last ultrasound at 29 weeks, she was measuring on the smaller end of the scale — but not too small — with her weight putting her into the 34th percentile for babies of the same gestational age. And her head? A petite 22nd percentile. Although at first the ultrasound tech measured wrongly (5th percentile? Eeek!), and the perinatologist was ready to give us a talk about microencephaly (small head). For a good 3 minutes, we were having visions of horror-movie characters who had their heads shrunken by evil voodoo doctors. But when the perinatologist re-measured, everything was fine. He called us into his office anyway to apologize, and then asked us what size hats we wear. I’m an XS, and Mr. NSF is a S/M, so it’s not surprising the baby would also have a small noggin. But I digress.

We’ll probably get a box or two of diapers in the newborn and 1 sizes. But moving forward, I’ll really be on the lookout for diaper coupons. Luckily, friends and family know my of my predilection for saving money and will gladly pass their coupon finds over to us. The coupons, paired with vigilant research to find the best diaper deals, will hopefully keep us in diapers with as little pain to our bank account as possible.

Free Formula

I also came across a post on a pregnancy message board that told how Enfamil was offering a free “case” of 24 bottles of its Premium Newborn Nursette 2-ounce formula. While I’m going to try to nurse at first, I’m sure I’ll have a need for supplemental formula at some point, and hopefully this stuff will keep for a few months.

It took 17 minutes on hold — thank you, speakerphone — but I got through to and requested the promotional offer. They happily obliged, and in two to three weeks, I should receive the baby formula. That was pretty easy.

Now, to sign up for every formula/diaper brand “club” known to man. Thank heavens for my ‘junk’ email address!