How to start couponing the easy way is a guest post written as part of our Home Success Series by Jessica Ehrman @ thriftyindulgences.com
This week, we’re talking about couponing as we continue to highlight a few of our favorite success stories.
I’ve learned so much from other success stories during my own journey to financial freedom, that I wanted to make sure that this was a regular feature. Because, those success stories were the driving force behind Jon and I finding a way to reduce our spending by over $23,000 a year, paying off over $35,000 of debt, and making up my old salary from home.
Today’s success story from Jessica Ehrman is about couponing, but it’s also about hitting rock bottom, finding your way out and the “snowball effect” that happens when you see how much one successful change can make to your budget.
Suddenly, you find yourself making better financial decisions as you begin to realize that these tools actually work and before you know it you’ve embarked on a journey to financial freedom.
Learning to coupon was Jessica’s first step in that journey.
Budgeting is about getting the results you want with the personality you have (since you can’t exactly change that)…. And Jessica is a great example of how one small change can make a HUGE impact.
Here’s what Jessica had to say…
As clichéd as it sounds, learning how to start couponing changed my life. I went from a single mom who worried about putting food on the table to a homeowner! Okay, so obviously it wasn’t just coupons that helped me on my way to homeownership, but it was one of the many successful tools I implemented to get my budget and finances under control.
If you’re struggling with how to start a budget and you have no idea where to begin, we can help. The 90-day Budget Bootcamp will walk you step-by-step through the entire process (it’s free for a limited time) so you can take the first steps toward your own journey of financial freedom.
I remember the night I decided to take control of my life vividly. It was 2 am. I was stressed out and had just spent another night lying awake crying. I was working a job with a variable income and I hadn’t made more than $200 for the week.
How was I going to support my mini-me on $200? How was I going to feed her and pay bills? I had so many questions and very few answers.
I had had enough. Maybe you’re in a similar situation. Maybe you are stressed about money, or maybe you are simply sick of spending hundreds of dollars each week at the grocery store.
That fateful and tearful night is when I stumbled upon blogs, such as the Busy Budgeter. I absorbed all I could. I read as many of the articles as possible.
Finding Motivation to Control My Spending
I was reading all these personal stories and I thought to myself, if these people can do it, then so can I. I took the items that would work for me and decided to implement them. My biggest challenge would be to get my spending down with the help of coupons.
I had a goal. I was going to cut my grocery bill in half.
Couponing can be intimidating. Heck, I can barely get my money back into my wallet before the cashier is onto the next person-how was I going to learn how to start couponing?
I looked for pointers on blogs and from people, I knew who couponed. Here is my cheat sheet for those beginners or those who feel like they just don’t get it. Hopefully, this helps to take some of the “unknowns” out of how easy it can be to save some money at stores.
How to Start Couponing
When it comes to learning how to start couponing, one of the best things you can do is to start slowly. Pick just one store you feel the most comfortable at. I chose a grocery store that I knew allowed for my best chances of savings.
Once you pick a store, it’s important to look up their policies on coupons. Each store has its own rules, which is why I say to start with just one store.
Once you feel you have mastered one store, you can add another store to your list. It's taken me three years to gain the courage to try my hand at drugstore couponing.
I took my time and did my research, they have some of the more complex rules when it comes to coupons. I am now getting more comfortable at it and its made a world of difference in the way I am able to add value to my shopping list and keep my costs low.
Get those coupons
There are many ways you can find coupons. The traditional way which involves the Sunday paper or the modern way by using sources online like coupons.com or checking out the digital coupons each store offers.
You will more than likely have to join the store's loyalty or rewards program to do this. They are usually free and can be done within minutes online.
I make the choice to utilize all three methods to get the most bang for my buck. I first start my Sunday morning by checking out the newest grocery coupons on coupons.com.
For me personally, I select the ones I think I will utilize and hit print. Then I check out the digital coupons that are available to the stores I shop at and select the ones I may use. Many stores release coupons that you can use in addition to manufacturer coupons.
I then head to the store to pick up two Sunday papers. Yes, two. Why you ask? The answer is simple. The grocery stores in my state allow me to use two of the same coupons when I purchase items that are BOGO.
If an item is on BOGO for $3.00 and I have two $0.50 coupons for the same item, that means I am getting two items for the cost of $2.00. This is exactly why I coupon! Just remember that every penny adds up.
Word of advice; check the papers to ensure they have the coupon inserts in them. Nothing is worse than getting home and having no inserts. You can also search online for what coupons will be in each week's paper or if there simply aren’t any inserts that week (usually due to holidays).
Put those scissors to work
Now the hard part. This is going to be one of the most time-consuming parts of adding coupons to your routine.
I can say that eventually, it does get faster and easier once you figure out what works best for you. One word of advice I can give you at first as you figure out how to start couponing that I thought was silly–get a good pair of scissors that you only use for coupons.
Once you have your coupon inserts in front of you its time to cut. Some people cut out every single coupon while others just cut out what they know they may use. When I first started out I cut every coupon.
I didn’t want to miss a deal after all! As my technique and understanding of coupons has evolved I now only cut out the ones I know I may potentially use.
The coupons are cut, now what? Time to organize. This is where you can get creative.
Some people have massive binders while others have ones you can easily find at the dollar store. I use the one pictured below. It has five individual pockets, easily keeps my scissors safe, and doesn’t take up much space.
Keeping your coupons organized will make things easier in the long run. You can organize your binder in a way that makes the most sense to you.
I keep mine simple and have mine as follows;
I know some people break the coupon categories down even farther. Like I said, use a method that makes the most sense to you. What works for one person may not work for another.
Making the list
Store ads can be found in the paper or online. I look over the ads and write down the sale items I think my family will use. I then refine my list and add items that are needed to complete the meals for the week.
Then, I go through my coupons to see if any of the sale items have correlating coupons. I pull aside those coupons to take to the store with me. Some people don’t make a list. They simply head to the store with their coupon binders and shop the aisles.
This doesn’t work for me personally.
I usually end up with items I won’t ever use and it takes up too much of my time. With a list, I can get in and out of the stores quickly and not come home with unneeded groceries.
Making a shopping list is probably the “worst” thing when it comes to couponing and why most people don’t even try. I can tell you that it wasn’t easy at first and I had to learn the ins and outs. However, once I started to do it more and more the easier and quicker it became.
Let’s go shopping
Now the true test. You’ve done your research, you’ve made your list, and you have your coupons ready. Its time to head to the store! Once at the store ensure that the items that are on sale match the items on the coupon. It's really a bummer when you get to the checkout and a coupon doesn’t work because of size or some other restriction.
How To Start Couponing Words of Wisdom
These are my “words of wisdom” when it comes to how to start couponing. Are they profound and going to change your life? Nope, not a chance. But they are things that have helped me be able to successfully coupon.
- Be nice. This should apply to all areas of your life, however, be nice to your cashier. Say hello with a smile! Remember that they are in control of your coupons. If one doesn’t seem to work they can either hand it back to you or help you get credit for it.
- Stick to the list. This is so important if you are trying to get your grocery budget down. Sticking to your list helps to keep you from buying those impulse items. Impulse items can do some serious damage to your budget. Why do you think the candy bars are in the checkout aisle. Resist the urges!
- Don’t just buy to buy. Just because an item is on sale and you have coupons doesn’t necessarily mean you need it. If baby diapers are a great deal at your store, but you don’t have a baby, then you are just wasting money. Be honest about what you need to buy. I sadly threw away more food than I care to admit when I first learned how to start couponing. The deals were great, but my family and I didn’t eat that food before, and we still never ate it after I bought it.
- Don’t go hungry. Never grocery shop on an empty stomach. This advice is good whether you plan to coupon or not. You will surely pick up items you don’t need just because you are hungry.
- Set a goal. Having a goal makes it easy to see the outcomes. When I first started out, I wanted to cut my grocery bills in half (I did it, see how here). Make your goal something realistic so its easier to achieve. Once I saw my grocery bills go down it made it easier to want to do the tedious work couponing required.
So, life post coupons?
It’s great! It’s not all rainbows and butterfly’s all the time, but I won’t be worrying about how to put food on the table each week. I was motivated and found a better job. While I still have a job with a variable income, it is much more stable.
I was able to not only learn to become frugal and thrifty, but I learned a new relationship with money –and most importantly with myself. If you’re ready to start heading in the same direction the 90-Day Budget Bootcamp and the corresponding budget workbook can get you started.
While life has thrown me some curveballs, I am excited to see what the future holds.
If you bring up the word couponing in conversation, most people assume you must be one of those extreme couponers, like what they have seen on reality shows.
The reality is most of us are just trying to better our financial situation one coupon at a time. One of the better life lessons I have learned was how to start couponing. It changed my life, and maybe it can change yours.
Give it a try, I’d love to hear how it works out for you!
If you’re ready to get started building a budget you can get started here with the 90-Day Budget Bootcamp (free for a limited time)….
P.S. If couponing feels too overwhelming from where you are now and you want to start smaller, start with Ibotta and work your way up to couponing.
Oh Hey! I’m Jessica and creator of Thrifty Indulgences. I’m just a northern girl living my best life in the southern world. Besides an addiction to sweets, I love to save money! Thrifty Indulgences lets me share with you the ways I have learned to take charge of my financial journey. I hope to inspire others and make a difference, even if its just for one person. Check out my blog! thriftyindulgences.com