First, let me make one thing clear: Although I am attempting to explain this simply, this post is not short. If you're truly interested, make sure you have time to read it!
Okay, I hope I can make this clear and concise enough for all aspiring couponers to follow- if not, email me and I will be happy to help! I am finally feeling like I am getting on top of things and may actually check my email and respond in a timely manner. For more details, here is the last post where I outlined a lot of coupon protocol. I hope this will show you how you can do as much or as little as you like and save some money along the way. You might find yourself getting hooked like I am and going all out!
First things first- Get as many papers as you think you will need. If you just want to give it a try, get one paper a week. (I get three.) The reasoning for more papers is this: when there is a great deal and you have a great coupon, you are going to want to get more than one of that item, but you will only be able to get as many as you have coupons. Make sense? You can either subscribe for a Sunday or weekend only subscription or buy the papers on Sundays. I buy them from the machines on Sunday mornings.
Next, decide what you are going to clip. You can either clip everything, or pick only what you normally buy. I clip almost everything, because you never know what you may get for free, or next to free. For instance, I never buy sausage, but Timm loves it. I clipped the coupons, and I can buy it for like .40. That's worth it to me. And to Timm. My friend Molly asks herself, 'Would I take this if someone gave it to me for free?' If so, clip it. When clipping more than one paper's worth at a time it is helpful to collate each insert, then cut them all at the same time. Incidentally, it usually only takes me an hour to collate, cut, and organize all my coupons for a week. Not bad while I'm watching tv at night!
Organize your coupons. Like I posted about here, I use baseball card holders in a large 3" 3-ring binder and it is perfect for me. I can see each coupon quickly and easily and it makes it simple, as well as portable. Some people simply keep all the inserts, filed by date. Then when there is a coupon they need, they go back and find that one and clip it as needed. If you're curious about my categories, email me. I won't bore the general public with the details.
Find the deals! This is where it really starts getting fun. As I mentioned before, you have to combine your coupons with store sales to get the maximum benefit. As far as I know, most areas (except Utah County!) automatically double coupons, up to 99 cents. That means that a .75 Q automatically doubles to $1.50 off. You don't' have to do anything-the store does it for you, so in your mind you always looks at your Qs (.99 cents and under) as double their face value. Anything $1 or over are taken at face value.
There are so many sites online devoted to getting you the best deals, but here are some of my favorites. First of all, I find The Grocery Game indispensable. It is a subscription service that you pay for, and it very clearly outlines per store, the item, regular price, sale price, coupon-including where and when it is from, and price after the coupon. It will also include any special instructions, like if you gave to buy a certain quantity. It is $15 every 10 weeks for 1 store, and $5 for each additional store. It may seem pricey as a way to save money, but it is SO worth it to me. I just factor the cost into my food budget, so the month that it gets charged it comes out of my food budget. I save so much money that the cost of my subscription is merely a pittance. Here's the best part- you can get a 4-week trial for only $1. No strings, just cancel before your next billing date. It's awesome because you can sign up to get the lists for every store in your area. When I signed up I had lists for Target, WalMart, Walgreen's, CVS, Food Lion, Bi-Lo, Lowes, Bloom, and Harris Teeter. You can use that 4 week subscription to see if it's really worth it to you. If you do sign up, please use me as your reference! (firstname.lastname@example.org) For every 3 people who sign up and use your email as the person that referred them, you get 12 free weeks! So sign up and then get people signing up under you!
There are other sites that give you basically the same information for free, but I don't like most of them as well. Between Molly and I we use the Grocery Game for 3 major grocery stores. Then we utilize other sites for other deals and stores. In my opinion, GG is the clearest, most complete list. For $1 you can't go wrong giving it a try to see for yourself.
Some other sites to check out are:
Money Saving Mom- daily posts on great deals, linking them with internet printable coupons- things you won't find on Grocery Game. Sometimes there are giveaways, tips on frugal living etc. A great all-around site.
Coupon Mom- I really don't like the interface of this site so I don't use it very often. However, if you click on 'Grocery deals by state' she has a few stores where she outlines the sales with coupon matchups as well.
I Heart CVS- If you are lucky enough to live by a CVS, this is the site to point out all the free stuff you can get each week, as well as nearly free and other good deals. You kind of have to learn all the lingo for the drugstores, so make sure you read the FAQs and the glossary of terms on the sidebars.
I Heart Wags- Likewise, for Walgreen's. Wags typically does not have the same kind of deals as CVS, but still worth checking. You can still get free items quite frequently.
The Centsible Sawyer- She does match-ups for a lot of stores like Target, WalMart, CVS, Wags, Food Lion, and some other regional stores like Publix and Kroger. Also very easy to read and use.
Hot Coupon World- I use this one for the forums mostly. I go to the ones for grocery stores where all the geeks like me discuss deals and sales. They also will do coupon matchups for the weekly ads as well. I use this one when a store is having Triples (when they triple the face values!), because it's not usually on the other lists. Individuals do the matchups and basically do all the work for you. They'll figure out all the best deals, which are many when they are tripled.
Go Shopping! I pull all the Qs I am going to use, and file them by store in a small coupon organizer I keep in my purse. I also keep my store membership cards in the files by store. The various forums can give you the details for your store's coupon policies. In my area, most stores will allow you to use 20 Qs per day. Some restrict the amount of like coupons you can use, like 4 of any identical Qs. Most stores take internet printables.
Just for an example, here is my week in couponing each time. Sundays, I get my papers and I look up the lists on Grocery Game. They come out on Sunday mornings. At night I spend about an hour cutting and organizing. On Sunday or Monday nights I go through my stores and make my lists based on what I need, menu plans, and what are great stockpile prices. (This is the most fun part for me!)Tuesdays I go shopping to my 3 main grocery stores while Bella is at Joy School. I can go to all 3 stores in about 2 hours with Fiona in tow. Wednesdays the ads change over and I usually look them up online because I can't wait to see what the new sales are and if anything I've been waiting for has come up. Then I wait until Sunday to make my lists for the next week! Each one of these are things I look forward to each week.
My plan has been to spend our typical one month food budget ($300) for 6 months, and stockpile everything I can. (I am starting month5-) Then I hope to cut our budget by a full one-half if possible.
What do I do about meat and produce? I only buy both on sale. I am blessed enough to have a small chest freezer gifted to me by my in-laws, so I have stocked up on meat at sale prices. Consequently, I currently have roast, stew meat, ground beef, bacon, sausage, lunch meat, ground turkey, pork chops, chicken breasts, shrimp and tilapia in my freezer. I buy produce at the best prices and never do without. I combine them with frozen veggies I have gotten extremely cheap and even free, and we are never lacking.
Okay, so here's where I hope to convince you that it is easy, and can be as simple as you want it to be, despite this incredibly lengthy explanation.
Let's say you are really short on time, and only want to put in minimal effort.You don't want to,or are not yet ready to go full hilt. (Everyone could do this- NO excuses!) You could buy just one paper, and choose just one store to shop at. Using either the Grocery Game or one of the various free sites, make your list once a week. If you are doing this 'part-time' then you will obviously have a lot of other things on your list that you don't have coupons for. But is it still worth it? I think so! Imagine these scenarios: cereal always goes on sale for 2/$4. If you have a .75 Q, that doubles to $1.50, so you pay just .50 for the box. Say the cereal's usual price is $3 or more, and you've just saved at least $2.50, which is more than the cost of the one paper you bought that week. If that was the only deal you got, it would more than pay for itself, and of course this will not be the only deal you get! There are certain things I will never buy again- toothpaste, shampoo, toothbrushes, gum, razors, shave gel... you also get set prices you will not pay more than. For instance I will not pay more than $1 for any kind of cleaning product, and usually not more than .50. If you stock up while prices are this low, you will never run out and have to buy cleaner or anything else at a higher price. (This is when multiple papers and coupons come in handy!)
So you can obviously do as much as you want with couponing, and it is fun. But if you just want to get your toes wet, get yourself one paper, sign up for $1 trial of Grocery Game to see what kind of deals are available in your area, and go shopping to your usual store. This will hardly add any time your usual routine, but reward you by leaps and bounds, and you may quickly see yourself getting more and more drawn in.
I am happy to explain more or answer any individual questions. You can comment, or email me.
I'm sorry this is so incredibly lengthy and verbose, but in an effort to make it clear, it has become long.