Advanced Couponing for Savings Pros

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coupons, saving money, frugal living, financial planning, food and groceries

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Kelly Gurnett. Kelly runs the blog, Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do.


You may already know the basics of Couponing 101:
  • Clip any coupon you think you might use.
  • Keep them organized (by product type, by expiration date, etc.)
  • Let go of brand loyalty.
  • Stock up when things are on sale.
  • Combine coupons with on-sale items for extra savings.
  • Join every free store rewards program out there.

You can rake in some decent savings with just these strategies. But if you’re anything like me, you want more. Maybe your budget has gotten tighter recently due a job loss, a new baby, or (in my case) a leap into the world of self-employment. Maybe you’ve been watching Extreme Couponing and have dreams of building a stockpile big enough to feed your whole neighborhood for a month. (I can relate. I’ve had those fantasies.)

Whatever your reasons, Couponing 101 just doesn’t cut it for you anymore. Fair enough. Then it’s time to take the advanced course.

So get out your pen and notebook, buy a bigger coupon binder (you’re gonna need it!), and let’s get started.

Couponing 101 – Level 2            

Say “Bye Bye” to Self-Consciousness. Without this essential ability, you will have a hard time pulling off some of these advanced plays. You need to get comfortable with the idea of being the “crazy coupon lady” (or guy) and occasionally making the people in line behind you mutter over how long your checkout is taking.

Learn to let it roll off you and diffuse the tension with an apologetic smile and an olive branch statement like, “Each penny counts in this economy, huh?” Yes, you’re going to annoy some fellow shoppers (and some cashiers) when you play the advanced coupon game, but it’s worth it when you see your savings. They’re about to be horribly jealous as they watch your total plummet from $60 to $30 to $5.25.
            
Duplicate Coupons. The key to stocking up on sale items is to have as many coupons for each item as possible. While I do not advocate Extreme Couponing strategies like getting your whole family inside a dumpster to rummage for thrown-away inserts, there are plenty of easier (and more hygienic) ways to get your hands on multiple inserts.


Ask your neighbors and relatives if they use their inserts, and if they don’t, ask if they’d mind putting them aside for you. You can make the rounds each week to collect them or just get them the next time you see the person. Don’t overlook “used” inserts, either—if your friends and family are willing to give you their inserts after they’ve clipped out the coupons they want, chances are you can still get a good amount of coupons from the leftovers. (Especially since casual couponers usually only clip the name-brand items they use—whereas you, as a couponing pro, know how to use whatever you can get.)

Online coupons. Even easier than clipping, with additional deals you won’t find in the weekly inserts. Just check off the coupons you want, hit “print,” and you’re ready to go. Often you can print a coupon more than once. Popular sites include Coupons.com, SmartSource, and Red Plum.


Rebates. Add rebates to your couponing arsenal and you can really make off like a bandit. Rebates usually require purchasing an item, then mailing in the receipt and proof of purchase to get a check in the mail several weeks later. If the item was already on sale, this just means you’re making more money from it.

How do you find these rebates?  Check out the rebates section of sites like Couponaholic and Fabulously Frugal.

Couponing sites. There are hundreds of sites out there that make advanced couponing easier by doing things like matching up current store sales with existing coupons to save you the work of doing it yourself. Some of the top sites (in addition to those listed in the previous section) include Refund Cents, Coupon Mom, and Coupon Cabin.


The Trifecta (CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid). If you have yet to discover the wonders that are these drug store’s weekly deals, you’re in for a treat. I refuse to buy anything full-price at a drug store because the prices are usually inflated. But by mastering these stores’ weekly circulars, I’m usually able to get half my monthly grocery and household needs fulfilled at deep discounts.

You’ll want to sign up each store’s frequent shopper programs in order to get these deals, plus sign up for their e-mail lists for special promotions. Here are the basics you need to know to rock the trifecta:

CVS Extra Care Bucks. Each week, CVS offers Extra Care Bucks (or ECBs) on particular items. For instance, if you buy a certain brand of shampoo, you get $2 in ECBs, which print out as a coupon at the end of your receipt that you can use on your next shopping trip. (These print-with-your-receipt coupons, in couponing lingo, are known as “catalinas.”) The next time you go shopping, bring all your ECBs from previous trips and you can knock your total bill down even further.


Percent-off coupons. CVS in particular regularly offers 20-25% off coupons through e-mail, which you can either print or send directly to your frequent shopper card. Always use these coupons before any other coupons, because the larger your starting total is, the larger the amount you’ll shave off. I usually hand my percent-off coupon to the cashier first, then hand him the rest of my coupons, just to make extra certain he scans the percent-off coupon first.


Freebie / Money-Making Items. Every once in a while, a trifecta circular will feature a “free” item. If you purchase a particular brand of contact solution at $7.99, you’ll get a $7.99 catalina with your receipt, so you’ve essentially gotten the product for free. If you have a coupon for that item (for, say, $2 off), the store will actually be paying you $2 to take that product off its hands. Not too shabby!


The BOGO/BOGO Double Play.  Using coupons on items that are “Buy One, Get One” (or BOGO) can net you some great deals. Using BOGO coupons on BOGO items nets you the mecca of couponing, lots of free stuff.


Rite Aid’s policy has since changed (probably because they caught on to those of savvy enough to play this game)—but not so long ago, they accepted BOGO coupons on BOGO items. I happened to have multiple sets of BOGO Cover Girl coupons thanks to my generous friends and family, and Cover Girl foundation was BOGO that week. It was one of my proudest couponing moments when the cashier rang up $64 worth of makeup and I walked out of the store with it without having paid a cent.


You can find each store’s coupon policy on its website or by stopping by its Customer Service desk. I would highly recommend having a physical copy of the policy with you when you check out, as you may need to show it to an uninitiated cashier to prove you really can do what you’re trying to do. (Sometimes you may even need to prove it to the manager they call over to double-check it with.)


Selling Your Stockpile. Hardcore couponers believe that if you can get a product for free or at profit, you’d be silly not to get it—even if it’s something you’d never use. Which makes monetary sense, but then what do you with all that un-needed stuff?


If you are truly hardcore, you can save it all up till garage sale season and then sell it to make even more profit. Since you’ve gotten these products for free, you can mark them at a low enough price that customers will be eager to grab them up. I’ve run several garage sales, and the stockpile items are usually the first to sell out.

Especially popular items? Toothpaste and toothbrushes, over-the-counter medicine (especially pain killers and cold remedies), makeup, and hair color. Just make sure any expiration dates are well in the future, and you’re good.

How about you all? Do you have any other advanced couponing techniques you use?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

    ***Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/24218656@N03/6932081205/lightbox/

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