Bargaining in Baby Steps: A Busy Mom’s Guide to Basic Couponing
Kids are expensive, and if you’re like most money-stretched moms, your wallet doesn’t add much heft to the diaper bag. Holding onto your hard-earned cash should be top priority, but the truth is, your day is spent juggling backseat brawls, housework, school, naptimes, doctor visits, laundry, and meal prep, leaving little space for corralling and clipping hundreds of coupons.
Finding time to be frugal can be a daunting to-do, especially if your voucher vision has been colored by the “extreme couponing” craze. But saving your family mega bucks at the mega mart doesn’t require hours sorting through penny-savers or sacrificing your playroom to storing hoards of toothpaste and tomato paste. Here’s how any busy mom can gather her shopping list and coupons, grab generous deals at the register, and exit the store before her patience is spent.
- Get the coupons.Slowly begin building a coupon reserve with these 4 major resources:
- The Sunday newspaperusually contains two to three manufacturer coupon inserts (RedPlum, SmartSource, and P&G Brand Saver are most popular).
- Store couponsare found on emails, weekly ads, mailers, and receipts. Sign up for any customer reward programs and email opt-ins that your grocery offers.
- Online couponsappear on store and manufacturer websites, as well as printable coupon sites such as smartsource.com and coupons.com.
- In-store coupons can be found at blinking dispensers among the aisles, as well as in pamphlets and brochures scattered throughout the store. At checkout, you’ll often receive “Catalina coupons,” additional printouts that the cashier hands over.
*EXPERT TIP* In order to make couponing as efficient as possible, you will need a logical filing system. One option is to maintain an accordion folder with intact inserts arranged by date; another is to organize clipped coupons in a categorized wallet (baked goods, meats, dairy, etc.) Collecting both inserts and loose coupons? Try combining these methods.
- Learn the Lingo. If you can talk toddler, you can speak a couponer’s language. Here are the most important terms:
- Doublingis when a store gives you twice the face value of a manufacturer coupon. For example, you have a coupon for 40 cents off one box of cereal, but the grocery deducts 80 cents from your bill. Most retailers only do so up to a certain dollar amount.
- Stackingmeans combining one manufacturer coupon with one store coupon for a single item.
- An overageoccurs when your coupon savings exceeds the total price of that item (for instance, you have a $3 off coupon for shampoo that costs $2.50). Some stores, such as Walmart, will give you the cash back (in this example, 50 cents), but most will just apply the savings to the rest of your bill.
- Combining coupons with buy one, get one free promotions often allows you to save the most. Depending on the store’s system, each item may ring up half off (so you’ll save even if buying just one), or the first may ring up full price and the second free. In case of the latter, you can apply one manufacturer coupon to each item, even if you didn’t pay for the second.
*EXPERT TIP* You have to understand the rules in order to play the game. Ask about your store’s policies in regards to the above actions and pay attention to the exact wording on a coupon so you know its restrictions.
- Enlist help. Just as you would hire a babysitter every now and then, getting help is essential for quickly pairing your coupons with store deals to maximize savings. Use blogs and coupon match-up websites (mscouponista.com or southernsavers.com, for instance) to do the work for you. Most of these sites reference specific coupons by insert name and date, so you can pull the exact insert from your accordion file and clip only the coupons you need. Just be sure to utilize on an online source that accounts for coupons in your area, since newspaper inserts and weekly grocery deals vary by region.
- Shop with a plan. Rather than furiously flipping through a coupon wallet as your child suffers a mid-aisle meltdown, create your list ahead of time and paperclip to it only the coupons you will use on that trip. (While you might miss a savings opportunity here and there by leaving your entire coupon collection at home, you will save your sanity).
- *EXPERT TIP* Try to shop on the day your store’s new weekly deals roll out — if you wait until the end of the deal cycle, the shelves may have already been cleared of the best bargains.
Kenneth McCall loves boats, bikes, and waterskis.. When not engaged in outdoor activities he is a managing partner for storage.com, building systems and tools for homeowners and businesses needing self storage in many Texas cities, including listings for storage units in Dallas.