Monday, July 20, 2009

How do you do it?

Today some friends asked me how I do my coupon shopping. So, I decided to start a couponing 101 section.

My first advice is to start I didn't follow my own advice. I have days (today) where my stockpile can overwhelm me. I have a lot to do in the house and that has to take priority so my stockpile is not looking its best.

But to answer a few questions...

1. Where do you get all of your coupons?

I started out just buying a few copies of the Sunday Houston Chronicle each week. I also found several sites that allow you to print coupons. As I learned more I found chat rooms and websites devoted to trading coupons. (It is illegal to sell coupons, if you are paying someone to send you a coupon make sure that this is very clear. All EBay coupon transactions must state this. You are paying for their time and effort to locate, clip and sort the coupons for you).

I also learned that coupons can be found in so many other places. Of course on the grocery store aisle (blinkies), or attached to a product (peelies), but also a gas station can often have several great coupons, usually they are attached to the cooler doors.

2. What advice do you have for someone who is interested in trying extreme coupon shopping?

Stay under the radar. This is the key to your success. Try your hardest not to draw too much attention to yourself. Don't try to cram 100 identical items into one transaction, try two or three smaller ones. Take your stuff to the car and come back through, or if you live in an area with several of the same store move on to the next one.

I have a circuit I like to use for CVS and Walgreens in the area where I live, but I also have a circuit in the area near my office. This way I don't attract any undo attention. If you do find a clerk who is excited to help you and excited to see your great deals, learn her schedule. This can be a very valuable resource.

There is another piece of advice that will keep you from angering people, both in stores and chat rooms, never take the last one. It is a simple courtesy, sometimes it is very tempting to snag all of a great deal, but imagine being the harried mom who just needs one pack of size 3 diapers and having to go to several stores. We have all been there, or will be soon. It is no fun.

3. Is it worth it? What do you do with items that you don't need or near expiration?

Yes, it is absolutely worth it. But, that is my personal opinion. Many of my family and friends are in awe of what I do; others see it as a waste of time. For me it is several things a hobby, an escape and a third job. I am a mom and partner first and foremost, I have to focus on that at all times, and second I have to focus on my career. But, part of my role as parent and partner is keeping us fed, clothed, healthy and safe. If I can achieve all of those things and save money in the process, then why not?

As for the items I do not use or are close to expiration, I have several options. One, food items I will donate to a local charity. I have been through those rough patches and I told myself that if I can one day help some other mom keep her kids fed and still hold her head high I will always do so. I take a digital picture of the items I donate to any charity; I keep a list of how many, what size and the full retail value of the item. This will come in handy at tax time

A second option is to collect items for free and cheap for a stretch of time and have a yard sale a few times a year. Several sites will even give you a pricing list based on their previous yard sale experiences.

I hope that I have answered any questions you might have, if not please email me or leave me a comment. I will respond as quickly as possible.

Good luck and happy couponing.

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