My Couponing Journey, Part 1

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About a month ago, I heard about an “Extreme Couponing” seminar on the radio and decided to attend because it was FREE.  At the very least, it would be a good blog post topic, and at best I could save lots of money on groceries with what I learned!

The seminar was hosted by two women who had actually been featured on TLC’s Extreme Couponing show.  I had never watched it, but heard stories of people buying a thousand dollars worth of groceries for less than $100.  I didn’t understand why people needed so much stuff!  Well, right off the bat, these women told the audience that those huge register rings were only for dramatic effect on the show.  “Do you really think I only buy candy and cat treats?!” the woman asked.  They assured us that their grocery trips look a lot like ours, buying a few hundred dollars worth of the things regular families need.  Phew!

If you’re like me, you are wondering, “how can they offer this FREE seminar?  How are they making money?”  I quickly found out, and it’s quite ingenious and symbiotic.  The seminar was sponsored by one of the big newspapers in the area, and you need a newspaper to get coupons!  So they had some special offers to entice you to sign up for a newspaper subscription, but there was no pressure to buy.  I imagine the women leading the seminar get a kick-back of the sales, but they were imparting the lessons to others for free.  I could tell that they really cared about all of us and genuinely wanted us all to be as successful as them.  In the end, I subscribed to the Sunday paper online later (it was the same price, $1 per week, that they offered at the seminar) so I could get my coupons.  The seminar encouraged you to buy FIVE Sunday papers per week and I can see how for big families you’d want multiple coupons to stock up on things, but since I also mooch off my parents’ leftover newspaper coupons, I figured one set was enough.

I will include some links at the end of the article so you can get the info straight from the awesome women leading these seminars, but first, here’s a quick summary of what they taught:

  • With a few simple principles, you could be saving 50% on your grocery bills.
  • Never use a coupon on a full-priced item, combine coupons with sales!
  • When there is a sale, buy multiple items with multiple coupons (this is where the 5 papers would come in handy) and stock up!
  • You don’t have to go to a bunch of different stores to get great deals.  Everything will go on sale at least once every 3-4 months at every store.  Some items are on sale even more frequently.
  • Don’t shop for what you need in a given week, shop the sales.  Stock up when the items you use are on sale and keep a 3 month supply so you have them when you need them.
  • Keep a 3 month emergency fund of food.  As a financial blogger, I’m very aware of the importance of a FINANCIAL emergency fund, but I had never thought about an emergency fund of food.  I felt very blessed that I have never been food insecure, but I know so many folks are.  If you stock up on food when it’s on sale and have a 3 month supply, your family won’t feel the effect of financial hardship because there will be no change in the meals they eat.

I had a big aha moment about my current grocery routine.  I thought I was saving money and time by doing all my shopping at Walmart.  We’re lucky to have a Super Walmart nearby so we can get groceries and toiletries, etc all in one trip.  Walmart has very good prices on everything.  BUT they don’t have a ton of sales.  I was using coupons, but I was using them on full-priced items!  So I really could’ve been saving more by shopping at my local grocery store when things are on sale.  And oh by the way, grocery stores have a lot of the non-food items I buy at Walmart.  Toothepaste, diapers, etc.  I never thought they were cheap enough to buy at a grocery store, but they are when they’re on sale!

Couponing is super exciting.  The couponing ladies told us that we would need to find a buddy with whom to share our wins and play “Guess how much I saved!”  I’m glad I brought a friend to the seminar with me!  It IS super fun.  I now look forward to scouring the grocery store ad and comparing it to my envelope of coupons and planning my shopping trip.

But here are my watchouts:

  • Remember that you don’t have to go to multiple stores!  I’m having so much fun that I’ve started looking at drug store and Target ads to see what else I can save on.  But it’s really the same stuff that my grocery store offers. I just have to be patient and everything will go on sale.  I’m probably spending more time than I should in this first month, but like I said, it’s a fun hobby for now, so I’m going to let myself indulge.
  • Self check-out may not be ideal for extreme couponing.  Last week I had a great plan to combine store membership savings with coupons.  I try to use self check-out whenever I can, but I learned that it may be better to go through a lane with an actual person when you have complicated rings.  In this case, even though I scanned my membership fob, none of the sale prices were captured and I had to ask the self check-out attendant for help. It probably took longer than if I would’ve just gone through a regular lane with a person.
  • Pay attention to your register ring and your receipt.  When I got home from that shopping trip, I analyzed my receipt and found that I actually didn’t get the full amount of store sale savings I was expecting.  Since I actually should have gotten $10 more off, I decided to go back to Customer Service later that day to resolve the discrepancy (for a buck or two I might have let it go and chalked it up as a lesson learned the hard way).  Apparently the store has a policy that if the item doesn’t ring up correctly, you get it for free (up to $10).  So I actually got more back than just the price difference I was expecting, wow!

Since I was pretty impressed with these women and their teachings, I will take this opportunity to recommend them and include links to their various sites:

  • Like Living Almost Free on Facebook!
  • Go to one of their free couponing seminars all over the US!  The dates and locations are listed on the above Facebook page.  If you sign up for one of the seminars, they will follow up with a lot of super helpful and encouraging emails, including the material from the seminar (so you don’t have to worry about taking furious notes while you’re there)!
  • They really add value with their free coupon database.  I LOVE THIS THING for two reasons:
    1. They encourage you not to clip your coupons when you get them on Sunday, just file them and know the issuer (Red Plum, Smart Source, or P&G) and the date issued (printed in very small print on the fold of the coupon pamphlet).  When you’re shopping the weekly sales, you can look up the sale items on the free coupon database and they will tell you if there is a valid coupon for it, the date the coupon was issued, and from which source.  For example, you see a sale at your grocery store for Kellogg’s cereal.  Go to the website, search Kelloggs, and you may find a coupon and a note SS 10/22/17.  Then you go to your coupon file and find the Smart Source bundle of coupons from 10/22/17 and clip the Kelloggs coupon.  No more clipping coupons you won’t use!
    2. The website also includes a list of almost every grocery item you can think of and what their best sale prices are!  This is something I had wanted to research and create for myself but I knew it was a daunting task.  Little did I know these ladies had already done the work for me!  I reference it often when I see an item on sale and want to know if it’s a good price or not.  I highly recommend you download this list!

I entitled this post “Part 1” because my goal is to follow up in a couple months to share more thoughts and hopefully some savings numbers.  We already had pretty reasonable grocery bills because we eat out a lot and most of our food money is spent at restaurants, but I think they’re getting even lower with my couponing efforts.  I’m hoping the couponing will also get more food in the house and encourage us to cook at home more and eat out less.  Wishful thinking maybe??

I also just wanted to comment on how impressive these women are.  They started couponing because their families were strapped for money.  They developed this skill and saved money in their budget so it could help them achieve goals like buying a bigger house for a growing family.  I was inspired by how they wanted to share their passion and skills with as many folks as possible.  Then they found a way a creative way to deliver this information and these tools for FREE to the people who need it, while also making a living for themselves.  What an awesome business model that serves others!  It certainly spurred me on with this blog and I hope I can be successful in reaching more people to share financial education and motivation!  This is my passion and I want to use it to serve others.

Does this post inspire you to start couponing or do you already coupon?  I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

Check out more of what I learned (including how I get PAID to buy some items) in my one-year-later followup post, My Couponing Journey, Part 2.

Travel with me as I explore the world of couponing and learn how to save the most I can on groceries...Part 1

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