Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Couponing

I've talked on and off about couponing here for years - I've always sort of been peripherally aware of couponing - mostly in the sense of, hey, use coupons when you can! I've been fascinated by the coupon games that some bloggers are able to play but I never managed to get them to work for me, and late last summer I declared that I'd "given up" the coupon game because it wasn't worth my time.

Since then, I've continued to use coupons when it makes sense (when they fall into my lap and happen to be for something I'd buy anyway, try to pair with a sale) and when shopping online (seriously, if you don't have time to google "site name + coupon code" before confirming your order, you need to stop reading this blog and do that instead!) and I've been trying to get hooked into my grocery store's loyalty/coupon program, but I haven't been doing anything else. I figured that's just sort of how I'd roll, even as I'm jealous of other people's ability to bring home the bacon for 60 and 70% off.

Then I got a chance to review The Complete Idiot's Guide to Couponing, and boy, did I have a good time. Turns out, what I thought I knew about couponing is not really all that much at all - and what I didn't know could, well, fill a book.

Look at all those sticky notes!
I had poked around a number of blogs and looked at their "Couponing 101" and "grocery game" posts, but I still had a lot of gaps in my knowledge. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Couponing filled those gaps and gave me a lot of practical tips besides - in some ways, I think, many blogs want to steer clear of offering specific advice and "how-tos", opting instead to detail how the blog author does it so that readers can copy them. But this book gives concrete, step-by-step instructions, backed up by a publisher known for providing practical, prescriptive guides. The book sort of reads like a blog though - a friendly, personable voice sprinkled with personal anecdotes and accessible writing. Sort of like a very long email from an older sister explaining how to do this.

Here are a few of the things that I learned:

* I'd always kind of discounted printable coupons as not as good as the ones in newspaper circulars. But guess what? They tend to be higher value! Since you're paying the production costs, manufacturers can feel a little more generous (also: about that. There are printer ink coupons. Who knew?!).

* Likewise cell phone coupons - I've always assumed that my store wouldn't accept them or they'd be hard to keep track of. But these are actually a really well-established technology!

* Buying a newspaper subscription seems like it might not be worth it for the coupons inside, much less buying a paper each week - but there are places that sell newspapers direct for cheaper. Places like Dollar General!

* Clipping coupons can be a waste of time. So - don't clip them! Just save the whole circular, clip the coupons you'll use right before the shopping trip when you'll use them, and use a site that tells you when all the coupons in that circular are expired to know when to recycle the whole thing.

* Coupons are only for highly processed, brand name stuff. Turns out - there are several blogs focused to finding natural, organic and vegan/vegetarian coupon deals, and there are even sites that collect manufacturer's coupons for such products.

* Never throw out or recycle expired coupons again - you can donate them to military personnel overseas. That's a worthy cause!

So. I consider myself newly educated, and I'm kicking off a coupon challenge. This summer, from now until Labor Day, I'm going to be more diligent about finding and using coupons for grocery and personal care purchases. I'm going to try some things I've never tried before, like Cellfire and catalinas. I'm going to try not to spend more than an hour per week finding deals (that's less than ten minutes per day!). I'm going to report my coupon savings here on the blog. With this actual action plan and test results, I'll be able to determine once and for all whether couponing is really "worth it" for me. Posts over the next week or so will detail the specific steps I'm taking to get started with couponing the right way.

Would you like to join me in my coupon challenge? If so, leave a comment on this post detailing what you'd do with the money you save during your coupon challenge - and one random commenter will win a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Couponing. (Not my copy - as you noticed, mine has been annotated - and I'll need it for the challenge. You'll get a new one!) Leave a comment here for the mandatory entry, and tweet about the challenge using the hashtag #couponchallenge for a second entry (please leave a second comment with a link to your tweet, for ease in tracking entries). I'll pick the winner a week from today.

I'd like to declare 2012 the summer of cheap groceries and free shampoo. Here's to it!


  1. I've always been intimidated by those crazy couponers...especially the ones on TV. I always feel guilty after watching it because they walked out with 4 carts of groceries for free while I paid almost $50 for a few items!

    I want to be more diligent with couponing, but like you - I don't go above and beyond what is already known to me. So this would be an awesome book to read!

    I'd like to save the money that I save during the coupon challenge LOL. I will definitely need it!

  2. I would like to coupon, but need help organizing everything and sustaining the organization!

  3. I have had pretty white ceramic latte bowls on my wish list for a while now, and so I'd like to save enough on grocery coupons (which pay for consumables) to buy a set of 6 bowls (which will last!). I already load online coupons to my Safeway Club card, but don't really do anything else, so it sounds like I could learn a lot from this book.

  4. I already coupon a lot and pick up freebies, but I'm always looking to save more. I always seem to wind up with a wad of expired coupons.

  5. U have energized me to restart couponing. So today I ordered the newspaper to get started again. thanks for all the work that u do for us..


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