by Tawdra Kandle
Chapter One: The Class
Coupons are not new to me. I grew up with a mom who clipped them and used them. . .well, sporadically, at least. She was an enthusiastic clipper, but she frequently left them sitting on the counter instead of taking them to the grocery store.
In my life as a wife and mom, I’ve always clipped coupons, too. I always loved the little rush I got when I really saved money or when coupons allowed me to treat my family to some little treat that might otherwise be out of our reach. But I was far from a pro.
One of my homeschool groups started discussing coupons and shopping savings a few weeks ago, when one of our members did an interview with Coupon Queeny Tanya Senseney, a local mom who is a certified coupon pro. Tanya took our homeschooling friend shopping. She purchased over $400 of groceries. After coupons, she paid about $22. After hearing that (and seeing the pictures to prove it!), some of us decided to attend Tanya’s coupon 101 class.
I will admit, I was a little skeptical. When I’ve read about other coupon fanatics, they seemed to save money mainly on things like highly processed food or convenience items. I wondered if I could feed my family healthy food or buy my usual favorites while still using coupons.
Tanya’s class was organized into several sections: the first was an overview of coupon use, an explanation of terms that she uses throughout and how to plan your coupon use. (Note to reader: I hate to do it, but I have to really overuse the word ‘coupon’ in this article. There’s no way around it. Real pros sometimes substitute the letter Q for coupon, but that might be confusing. Bear with me!) After that, she went into the details of shopping in several specific stores.
What I’m sharing here is a gross oversimplification of the whole process, but I’m trying to cover the main points.
The first step is to obtain your coupons. There are more sources out there than you might guess! Of course, the prime source is the Sunday newspaper. Tanya suggests buying several newspapers in order to get duplicate sets of coupons, but she also gives some alternative ideas, such as visiting recycling bins to rescue coupons that have been tossed by those less motivated to save. (I myself recalled that frequently members of my online Freecycling group offer their coupon fliers for free each week. Hmmmm. . .)
As it turns out, many stores also put out free consumer magazines that contain coupons. And the weekly sales ads that arrive in the mailbox each week often have them, too.
Then there are the ‘blinkies’, peelies, tearpads and winetags—all found in store on or near various products. And we haven’t even touched on the Internet printable coupons.
Planning It Out
Now that we all had learned how to get our hands on these precious little pieces of paper, it was time to learn how to maximize them. The weekly ads are key to this process: checking what’s on sale and then matching that to the best coupons is really the heart of true couponing. There are plenty of websites that actually do this for you, and this is a huge relief to anyone who has tried to do it on her own.
Tanya gave us some excellent guidelines, too. She clued us in on which local stores do price matching—bring all the sales ads to the store, and the cashier will match the lowest price you can prove. She cautioned us to always, always bring a list to the store and stick to it! It’s also imperative to watch the cashier; few will purposely miss scanning a coupon, but it’s possible for those little slips to stick together sometimes. Keep your eyes open.
This brings to mind both an advantage and a disadvantage that we have in Florida. The disadvantage is that double couponing is almost non-existent. (For the uninitiated, double couponing is when stores double the face value of the coupon presented. For instance, a twenty five cent coupon doubles to give you fifty cents off.) The advantage is that nearly every grocery store bags the customers’ groceries, allowing that shopper to keep a closer eye on the cash register.
We also learned about the practice of stockpile shopping. It’s not a new idea, but few families are actually doing it. Instead of shopping for weekly or even monthly needs, stockpile shopping means buying what is on sale (and also has a good coupon, in the best of all worlds) in a large quantity. Ideally, after about a four week shopping cycle, you have built up enough inventory that you can shop the sales exclusively.
And What’s More. . .
We ended the evening by learning about two specific national chains and how to maximize the opportunities to save there. CVS and Walgreens both offer special incentives and reward programs. When combined with coupons and sales, these programs are even more amazing.
We left the class that night with a great deal of information about and enthusiasm for couponing and saving money at the grocery store. My girlfriend and I had bought along our daughters to the class, in the hopes that we could draft them into joining our couponing adventure. While the girls were impressed by the savings and ideas, they were slightly less excited than the moms were about putting it all into practice.
Could we do it? Can I do it? I was determined to try. Come along, won’t you, as I embark upon my great coupon adventure. . .
To Be Continued
Coming next issue: The First Steps: SO MANY COUPONS!!
Tawdra Kandle is stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of four children who range in age from 8 years to almost 20 years. She and her husband of nearly 22 years live in central Florida, where he is in seminary. Tawdra spends most of her precious free time writing and reading, and she loves to travel. She is also a staff writer for www.takingtimeformommy.com