Q-pons, Cooopons, Coupons–whatever, it’s all free money.

6:41:00 PM

About 8 years ago I joined up with this coupon group – which was all the rage at the time (and I suspect still is) which allowed me to save ooooodles of money on my groceries using coupons.  The service was $15.00 per month and with it I was able to log in to their database, check what products were on sale, and then the group would match up all the manufactureres coupons (you know, the ones you get in the Sunday paper) with the ads – making sure that you got the best bang for your buck.  I loved it, I used it, it was totally worth it (and I suspect it still is).  Only problem was that I went through these long dry spells of not using the service – coupons piling up in the corner, going expired…Let’s just chalk it up to my short attention span and leave it at that, K?
Well, after years of spending money on this service that I used sporadically at best, I decided there had to be another way out there for people like me to still save ooodles of money on my groceries without the $15.00 a month price tag that came with the aforementioned group.
Here’s the deal – When I use coupons and use them correctly I do not ever waste money.  Well, on groceries anyway.  I have not paid for toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo or conditioner in I don’t know how long because of coupons.
That’s right, they’ve all been free.  Why?  Say that Suave shampoo goes on sale for $0.97 a bottle at Fry’s  (which it does, quite often).  Say you have a coupon for $0.50 off a bottle of Suave.  Take that handy little coupon to a store like Fry’s (Kroger) who honors every coupon up to $1.00 at $1.00 – and now you have a $0.97 bottle of shampoo, a coupon worth $1.00 – and voila…free shampoo.
I gave up my subscription (which  was hard…really, really hard.)  And decided to go it alone.  It’s been a rough go – but here’s what I learned.
1) There are other places out there that will categorize the coupons from the circulars, for free.  That’s right – they still match up the ads with the coupons and give you nifty tools like printable shopping lists and apps for your smartphone.  My most recent favorite is GrocerySmarts – mostly because it allows me to pick any state, any store.  The issue with this is that not every state has a friendly volunteer that matches up the circulars.  I live in Arizona, where Frys, Safeway, Bashas, Albertsons, Walmart, Walgreens and Target are all covered.  In other states I don’t know what the limitations are – but I do know that there are additions being added all the time.
2) With a little legwork and organization, you don’t need someone else to put together that database for you.  What I use is a 3 ring binder notebook filled with baseball card holders and separator tabs.  Each tab is labeled by category – Dairy, Cereal, Snacks, Frozen, Produce, Medical…etc.  I only cut out the coupons of the products I actually buy and then put them into my binder.  (this is where having a 12 year old daughter REALLY comes in handy).  When the ads come out – it’s a bit more work (because nobody else is doing it for me) but I make my shopping list based on the sale items, and match those up to the coupons in my book.  Using this method – this also ensures that all my printed coupons are accounted for – you know, the ones that print at the grocery store and come out with your receipt, the ones you find online at places like smartsource and coupons.com – and the ones that you find in boxes of cereal and other products.
3) No matter what, couponing takes time.  In some cases – a lot of time (especially if you let your newspaper build up for like – oh I don’t know, two months – not that I would do that of course….)  It is always time well spent, however.  My last trip – in manufacturers coupons alone I saved $55.00.  That’s before the store doubled them.  I don’t know about you, but I can think of a lot of things I can spend $55.00 on, and they aren’t toilet paper.
4) In the age of technology that we now live in – there are lots of other applications that help you save more.  For example, if you register your Fry’s savings card online with Frysfood.com – there are digital coupons that don’t need clipping that can be applied directly to your savings card.  When you purchase the item, the coupon is applied directly – no clipping, no scanning.  The only downside is that Frys doesn’t double those  (yet…)
5) It does help to get more than one copy of the newspaper.  I don’t personally because of my previously mentioned very short attention span.  If I get more than one copy – well – I kind of end up with piles and piles of extreme fire hazards.  You don’t need a special group to get a discount on multiple copies of the paper either.  Our hometown paper is pretty desperate to get subscriptions – so they’ll do almost anything for you – just ask.
6) There are a ton of places out there where you can find coupons for free – you simply need a printer.  And if you subscribe to services like SwagBucks (a place where you can earn points for searching on the internet and then redeem those points for money … there’s a whole post about that here) you can print coupons from them and when they are redeemed you get SwagBucks too.  I’ll put a whole list of links at the bottom of this post.  Bottom line is though, printing coupons from your home printer is as close as you are going to get to legally printing your own money.
7) Using coupons is a bit of a disease…at some point you are going to find yourself in desperate need of something vital like toilet paper – and be standing in the aisle at the store thinking … “well, I could buy it now, but I’m pretty sure in a week there will be a coupon that will make it cheaper….”  Trust me, it happens.  In this case, and only this case, I suggest you spend the extra money and buy the toilet paper – you’ll make up for it with some free toothpaste later.
So that’s it – for my mother, my sister, and a few of the friends that have asked.  This might be all old news to a lot of you – and if it is, maybe you can share with us in the comments some of your favorite coupon hunting grounds...
Helpful Links:
Grocerysmarts – and these guys have a handy android app too – super cool.
Coupons.com  - printable coupons
Couponmom.com – printable coupons and other great offers
Smartsource.com – printable coupons
Frysfood.com – if you are a Frys Food customer – add digital coupons to your Fry’s card.
Swagbucks – Reward community with other coupons and offers

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