Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Starting to coupon

I've had several e-mails from some wonderful people all across the world (Hello Canada and Great Brittan)...asking me many questions about how to go about using coupons so I decided maybe I need to start chatting a little about this. What I am about to write about is what I personally have done...the system you work out for yourself could be totally different. The key is to set up your program the way that is most convenient for you. For me, it was trial and error until I got down a system that works for me. You'll figure yours out along the way.

O.K. you want to start using coupons, now what do you do? To really save money using coupons, there are a few base things you need to start doing....

1) Know what you use......

When I first started using coupons, I kept a spiral notebook and pencil in the kitchen. Every time I used anything, I wrote it down in that notebook. After 3 months, I had a great idea of what we used on a regular basis and at the same time, I saw how fast we went through things (read my post in Back To Basics about napkins, paper towels, etc.). Keep in mind that there will be things you use that are seasonal...paper plates for the summer cookouts, chocolate baking chips for cookies at the holidays, etc. So, in the winter months, I kept the list again for 3 months. You would be surprised at the difference in your list based on the seasons. Now you have your yearly grocery list. You need this to be able to stockpile which brings us to point number 2.

2. Find Your Stockpile area.......

To get the biggest bang for your buck so to speak, you need to start a stockpile. What's a stockpile...of course it is an abundance of the things you use. You will start adding to it slowly and eventually you will walk into your area and realize you have what I commonly refer to as a "store" of your very own. You think I'm kidding....read my post on my stockpile pictures....

Where you have your stock pile is totally up to you. Maybe you don't have a lot of space. Maybe you have a spare room in the basement or a closet in the spare bedroom. Anywhere that you can store the items so that they will be protected from critters is your best best. I do not have a garage but I have a basement with an old "coal room". My hubby and I built shelves on two walls of the room and that's our "store". Having somewhere to stockpile is a necessity. You will begin to purchase things you use on a regular basis, in monster quantities. You need somewhere to store all of these items so start checking out your house to see where you can create this. It doesn't have to be a whole room, a few shelves here or there will do to get your started. Pretty soon you will want to invest in a freezer, but we will talk about that later.

3. Create your coupon set up.

When I first started using coupons, I had a letter size envelope that I would put my coupons into. Then I would stand in the aisles at the store and thumb through my coupons until I found the one I was looking for, then I would put the coupon in the side pocket of my purse. That became a pain in the butt and very time consuming.

Next I developed my "shoebox" method. I had numerous envelopes, all labeled (laundry detergent, toothpaste, crackers, etc.) in a shoebox that I carted in and out of the stores with me. I can tell you that every single time I walked into a Wal-Mart they stopped me to give me a "returns" sticker. I always had to take the lid off to show them that I wasn't returning a pair of shoes. This system did work pretty well for a while. At least I had all of the coupons organized in a fashion and I didn't spend as much time thumbing through the coupons in the aisles.

Then I went to the method of not cutting out the coupons at all and just watching what was on sale and cutting out the coupons I was going to use. I kept the coupon flyers in an accordion file and just cut out what I needed when I needed them. In order to know what I had, I started an Excel spreadsheet (sad but true and still use it today to do the matchups). While this system worked great for a shopping trip of only going in to purchase specific items, it was worthless for the great Super Double Coupon sales and Triple coupon sales that pop up every so often.

It was at one of the those Triple coupon sales that I saw the system of my dreams. Wish I could say it was mine, but I can't. I was walking down the isle and passed a lady who had the now infamous "Coupon Binder". What a genius idea. It works perfect and you don't leave home without it.

Go out and invest in a 3 ring binder and some baseball card holders. Wal-Mart usually carries the baseball card holders on the cashier isles so you may have to ask a clerk where they are. Meijer actually carries binder setup for about $20 (you'll make that back easily). You get a big black binder and about 100 baseball card holder pages. I already had the 3-ring binder so I just purchased the baseball card holders along with an alphabetical index set. My binder is set up on the K-I-S-S method (keep it simple stupid). For example you would put laundry detergent and fabric softeners together (personally I make my own but that's yet another story). At first, as you build your coupon base, you can keep it simple by putting all dairy products together, canned goods together, etc. As you accumulate more coupons, you will want to break it down further so that it is easier to find the coupon you are looking for. The great thing about the holders is that you can see the coupon immediately and grab the one you want.

These are the three steps to get your started......tomorrow night we'll talk about the coupons.

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