CVS, Week of 1-31

Good week for a few essentials. I bought:

  • 1 Colgate Max, $2.99 with one $1 All You Magazine coupon and $2 ECBs = free
  • 2 Dove Men care, $5.49 each with two $1 internet coupons and $5.49 ECBs each = profit of $2
  • 2 newspapers

Net cost: $2.22. I completely forgot that I had a $5 off a $30 purchase coupon, and I might have been able to use some free item coupons to get my total that high. Oh well! Maybe next time.

YTD OOP: $8.24
YTD Savings: $247.79
YTD eBay sales: $9.40

CVS, Week of 1-24

Slow week at CVS. I bought:

  • 1 6-pack Scott paper towels, $4.99 with one $1 internet coupon = $3.99
  • 1 Crest toothpaste, $1.99 with one $0.75 newspaper coupon and $1 ECB = $0.25
  • 2 newspapers

Net cost: $8.24. We’ve really reduced our paper towel usage recently, so I expect this pack to last us a long time. My out-of-pocket costs have still been staying really low, so I’m excited about that. There are some good freebies next week too!

YTD OOP: $4.04
YTD Savings: $233.49
YTD eBay sales: $0.00

There are many ways to increase your couponing skill set. In addition to the previously mentioned coupon sources, there are many other places to sign up and get coupons mailed to you. Here are a few of my favorites:

You can also sign up on various sites to earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards, or sometimes even cash! Here are the ones that I currently participate in.

Another money-saving technique is earning cash back through your internet purchases via sites like eBates (who send you a check in the mail). I also love Retail Me Not for online store coupon codes.

A few more ways to increase your CVS ECBs are through bag tags ($1 ECB for every 4 scans) and joining the CVS survey panel (ECBs for filling out surveys).

Thanks for following along with me in my Couponing for Beginners series! I hope you enjoyed it. Happy Couponing!

Shopping at CVS is a great way to stretch your dollar and build a stockpile of toiletries. Both The “Cent”sible Sawyer, I Heart CVS, and Money Saving Mom have good articles on the basics of getting started at CVS. If you don't already have a CVS card, you’ll need to get one. Register your card online to get emails with more coupons.

When you purchase certain items at CVS, you will earn Extra Care Bucks (ECBs) that count as cash, so we subtract those from our beginning price to get a "net" price. It will take a small amount of cash to get your deals started, but it’s easy to start small and build up slowly.

To illustrate how ECBs work, here is an example with a current sale at CVS. Through mid-February, Oust sanitizing spray is on sale for $3.99 with $3 ECBs. Two weeks ago there was a coupon in the paper for buy-one-get-one-free (B1G1F) Oust sprays. Your transaction would look like this:

  • Let the cashier scan your CVS card first.
  • Buy 2 Oust for 7.98 + tax
    - $3.99 coupon
    = 3.99 + tax.
  • Earn back $6 in ECBs = profit of $2!
  • Check your receipt to be sure the ECBs printed.

So not only do you get the Ousts for free, but you “earn” $2 in ECBs for your next purchase. Not bad! If you happen to not use Ousts, you can give them to a friend or even donate them to your local food pantry. (Don’t forget that you can deduct your donations on your taxes. It’s a win-win-win situation!)

You can also earn ECBs by filling your prescriptions at CVS. This month you earn $2 for every 2 prescriptions you fill (double the regular amount of $1). Always try to bring a pharmacy coupon or a competitor's pharmacy coupon for a free gift card with you as well. (Target or Walgreens often have them). Check my left sidebar for a link to a forum that posts internet pharmacy coupons, and remember to check the ads for competing pharmacies in the Sunday paper.

That’s all there is to it! Just like grocery ads, I check blogs for the coupon match-ups to decide what I would like to buy each week. There are similar programs at Walgreens and Rite Aid that you can do as well. We don’t have Rite Aids where I live, and the Walgreens program is a bit more finicky, so I currently only shop at CVS, but don’t let that stop you!

Next up will be the last installment of the series - advanced couponing.

I have a confession to make. I’m not very good at meal planning and maximizing my grocery savings. We’re going to get to work on this together!

One of the basic ideas of frugal grocery shopping is stockpiling. Here is a good stockpiling example using cereal.

Say that you buy one box of cereal every week at the regular or sale price your store has. Grocery sales tend to cycle with a 6 week period, so this means your cereal will be on sale somewhere around once every six weeks. Say that regularly your cereal is $3 per box, and it goes on sale for $2 per box once every six weeks. At shelf price, six weeks worth of cereal for you is $3 x 5 + $2 x 1 = $17.

Now that you know about coupons, let’s say you have access to one $0.50 coupon every week for your same box of cereal. Using one coupon a week, your six weeks worth of cereal would now cost $2.50 x 5 + $1.5 x 1 = $14. Not bad. But we can do even better.

Since we know we’ll eat the cereal, what happens if we go ahead and buy 6 boxes when it's on sale with all six coupons? Then six weeks worth of cereal costs $1.5 x 6 = $9. We’ve almost halved our cost in just cereal alone. Now imagine doing this on multiple items that you buy regularly. That is how stockpiling works.

There are some things that you can’t really stockpile, like fresh produce and most dairy products. However, you can stockpile many nonperishable goods, along with anything that will freeze well. I buy meats when they are cheap and freeze them for later use.

Now we see that a key to grocery shopping is buying items when they are on sale and matching coupons to the sale. Most of us don’t have the time to sit down with the weekly grocery ad and see what items match the coupons that we have. Thankfully there are many bloggers out there that do have the time and share their results with the rest of us. BeCentsAble has a good listing of local bloggers for every state that share their coupon match-ups with their readers. With the coupon match-ups, you can plan your meals and shopping off the best deals and stockpile when able.

There are many good resources for meal planning and cooking on a budget online if you want to read more. I’ve used The Grocery Game in the past and was amazed at the amount of data they have for deciding if a sale is a good deal. (The sale information they had didn’t always match my local sales, but there are plenty of people that don’t have that problem.) I’ve always wanted to try once-a-month cooking (OAM) but haven’t quite gotten around to it. Look around the couponing community and blogs that you’re reading for more information and ideas.

Next up in the series will be my favorite, shopping at CVS. Stay tuned!

When it comes to storing your coupons, the main question is how much time you want to spend cutting out coupons. I don't know the regular prices of things in the store, so I cut out almost everything and take them all with me. Other people have learned prices over time, or just buy things on sale that are in the ad, so they can just store the coupons as they come in the paper and cut out as they need them. When I began couponing, I tried cutting out every single coupon (took way too much time). Next I tried cutting out coupons as I needed them, but I didn't like that either. I've come up with a method that is a little of both. Now I spend 1-2 hours each Sunday cutting coupons and very little prep time before I go to a store.

Here's how I do cutting and storing. First, I cut out almost everything. I always cut out toiletries, cleaning products, and medical supplies. When it comes to food coupons, I cut out anything I think I might use, and ignore the things I've never bought and probably wouldn't get even if it was on sale. I always cut out dairy, meat, frozen veggies, snack items, candy, most baking items, drinks, and dog products. The rest I store in a portable file box that I already owned.

Coupons in File Box

I have a hanging folder for each company (SS, RP, and All You Magazine; I cut out all P&G coupons), and then I use a manila folder for each company for each week. If I need a coupon that I didn't cut out, they're really easy to find.

Coupon Binder 5

I store the coupons I cut out in a 2.5” binder with baseball card sleeves so that I can see them all at once.

Coupon Binder 6

I take the whole binder with me when I go to the grocery store. (CVS is really easy to plan ahead of time, so I don't usually take it there.) Another option is a small expanding file, such as this. I actually wouldn't be able to even fit all of my coupons in an expanding file. They have these at many stores, such as Target and Walmart, and this would be a cheap option to start with, especially since it takes a while to build your coupon base.

Back when I did light couponing and had an expanding file, I sorted my coupons by their expiration date. Now, in my binder, I store by type. I can see all the paper towel coupons at once, for example, and pull out which one I want to use. I don't have dividers, but I have categories in a certain order that I've just memorized over time. At first my categories were the following:

  • Toiletries
  • Cleaning
  • Food
  • Dog products
  • Medical

I couldn't find just the paper towel coupons all next to each other, and it drove me nuts. Now my categories look like this:

  • Shampoo
  • Body Wash
  • Face Care
  • Lotion
  • Women's Health (tampons, etc)
  • Teeth Care
  • Razors/Shaving Gel
  • Deodorant
  • Makeup/Hair Dye
  • Laundry
  • Dish Care
  • Misc. Cleaning Supplies
  • Paper products (napkins, paper towels, toilet paper)
  • Home Fragrance (glade plugins, air wick, candles)
  • Misc. kitchen items (ziploc bags, tin foil, trash bags)
  • Grains/Carbohydrates
  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Canned foods (peanut butter, canned veggies)
  • Full meals (pizzas, stouffers, lean cuisines)
  • Side dishes (frozen veggies, mac & cheese)
  • Snacks (fruit, jello, nuts)
  • Candy
  • Baking
  • Oils & Seasonings
  • Drinks
  • Dog Products
  • Vitamins & Supplements
  • First Aid
  • Eye Care
  • Tummy Meds (pepto, zantac, prilosec)
  • Cold & Allergy Meds (tylenol cold, dimetapp, robitussin)
  • Painkillers
  • Miscellaneous (batteries, packaging tape, pens, whatever else is left)

I would recommend starting with just the first set of categories, and then moving to more specific ones if you choose. You can do these categories with a binder or an expanding file. Of course, the best thing will be whatever works best for you. My coupon storage matches my way of thinking, so yours could look quite different from mine.

Next up in the series will be meal planning and grocery shopping!

The two biggest sources of coupons are the Sunday newspaper and the internet. I actually buy two papers every week to get twice the coupons. It's useful when there's a buy-one-get-one-free sale on something and your store allows you to use a coupon on each item. If you buy more than one paper a week, check to see if your paper sells a double edition. In Dallas, the Sunday paper is $3, but they have a double pack for $5. Also, some dollar stores carry the paper for $1. If you buy the paper and it doesn't have the coupons in it, don't be afraid to take it back. I always check for the coupons before I totally take apart the paper. Sometimes I'll even check in the store before I buy them to be sure.

The coupon inserts in the paper are printed by three different companies – Smartsource (SS), Redplum (RP), and P&G (PG). Bloggers usually refer to where a coupon was found by the insert company and the date; for example, SS 1/17. There won't be coupons in the paper every single week; typically holiday weekends get skipped. Look on my left sidebar for the coupon schedule for this year. The coupons in the paper are typically good for 2-3 months, so it will take you around that long to build up a "coupon base" and be able to match most of the coupons that long-time couponers have. There isn’t any catch-up time for internet coupons, though, since you can print them anytime.

Figure out what you buy most often and search for coupons for it. There is a link to printable internet coupons on my left sidebar as well, which is a good place to start. Another location to check is the manufacturer's webpage. Sometimes they have coupons online, or if you sign up for their newsletter you can get coupons. (I recommend setting up a junk email account for the newsletters and coupons that you need to register for. I check mine about once a week for emails with coupons.) Google is your friend when you're looking for a specific brand. I generally only print internet coupons when I know that I will use them since they take ink and paper. To get a general idea of what’s available, a few good places to browse are Smartsource and Coupons.com.

Most coupons that you get from the newspaper and the internet are manufacturer's coupons. That means that the manufacturer of the product will refund the store the amount of the coupon (plus a small handling fee). For most large chain stores, the coupons get sent to a central location where someone assembles and mails them to the address on the bottom of the coupon to be refunded. Knowing this helps me not feel bad if I buy something close to or at zero dollars; both the store and the manufacturer are still making money from the sale.

You'll notice in the small writing that coupons say "Limit one coupon per purchase" or "Limit one coupon per item purchased." This means you can use one coupon for each item you are purchasing; if you purchase two items, you can use two coupons. Per purchase is not the same as per transaction, i.e. you don't have to split up your purchases. You might have to teach cashiers the difference.

Some grocery stores will double or triple coupons. This means that they take off double or triple the amount stated on the coupon. Some stores state their coupon policy in their weekly ad or online; if you can’t find it there, just ask an employee in the store. That would mean if, for example, a box of oatmeal is on sale for $1.50 and you have a $0.50 coupon that doubles, you would only pay $0.50. If you had a $0.75 coupon that doubles, you would get it for free. In Texas, tax is calculated after coupons, so you wouldn't even pay tax - the item would be totally free. Some states calculate tax before coupons, so you'd just pay tax.

Some stores will only double or triple one of each like coupon. This means if you want two boxes of oatmeal and have two $0.50 coupons, if you buy everything at once, only one of the coupons would double to $1, and the other one would stay $0.50. (It's really dumb.) The only way to get both of them to double is to pay for them separately (separate transactions). I do this when I really want the items, but it's a pain, both for the consumer and the cashier. Some stores will double an unlimited number of like coupons. This means you could do the above scenario in one transaction and both would double automatically.

Some cashiers, and even managers, aren’t trained properly on the coupon policy for their store. I've had to deal with the “one coupon per purchase is not the same as per transaction” problem multiple times, along with some other strange reasons why a cashier didn’t want to take my coupon. I haven't had a ton of trouble, but you might run into some places that aren't trained or try to make your life difficult when you use coupons. I’ve learned from experience which locations to avoid. A store doesn’t have to take your coupon, so I try to be really nice and explain why I should be able to use my coupon. Worst case, they won't take it, and I don't buy that product. If there's another close location, I take my coupon there and see if they'll take it. There's a really hilarious thread on Slickdeals that has all kinds of stories on why cashiers have refused coupons. I spent a few days reading through it once and laughed out loud multiple times.

Some stores also have store coupons. Depending on the store, they may accept only one coupon of any kind per item, or they may accept one manufacturer's and one store coupon per item. Target, CVS, and Walgreens will take one of each coupon per item. Using a manufacturer's coupon and a store coupon on one item is called "stacking." It can save you a lot of money! An example is a recent sale on Quaker oatmeal at Walgreens. With the in-ad (Walgreen's) coupon, the oatmeal is $1.50 each. Then you use a printable manufacturer's coupon for $1 off to get it for $0.50.

A few stores also do price matching, which every once in a while can get you a good deal. Target and Walmart both do price matching from any competitor's ad. For an example, a few months ago Chex Mix was on sale at Walgreens for $1.50. I brought the ad to Target because Target had an internet store coupon for $0.50 off Chex mix, and there was an internet manufacturer’s coupon for $1 off, so each bag was free.

Sometimes you'll have a coupon whose value is higher than the price of the item. Last week I bought a box of Puffs for $0.96 and I had a $1 coupon. Usually the register will beep when this happens. Sometimes the cashier will override it and give you the entire $1 off, but usually they will adjust the coupon down to the price of the item so that it takes off $0.96. They also might refuse to take the coupon, but I haven’t had that happen to me.

You can print up to 2 of most internet coupons. Most sites have you install a browser add-on in order to print coupons; some internet coupons are pdfs. Some stores will accept expired coupons (the reimbursement centers accept them up to 2 or 3 months past their date), but I haven't found any that do. It varies per store. I do my best to stick to the rules and follow what coupons say. People who bend the rules end up making it more difficult for the rest of us because stores begin to take fewer types of coupons. HEB, a local grocery store, won't take any internet coupons that “beep” at the register because they had too much coupon fraud.

Lastly, don't worry about couponing perfectly; there is no such thing. We all make mistakes, especially at the beginning, and get better with time. I still sometimes accidentally try to use an expired coupon, forget a coupon at home, lose one in the store, or something else that makes my trip not go perfectly. And that’s ok! Relax and enjoy your shopping trips. Couponing can be so much fun!

Next up in the series will be storing your coupons. Stay tuned!

Welcome to my Couponing for Beginners series! If you want to learn how to use coupons but aren’t sure where to start, you’re in the right place.

Growing up I remember my mom cutting out coupons from the Sunday paper to use at the grocery store. I followed her example when I moved away for college, but I only used a few coupons every week on items I already wanted. I didn’t shop the sales, and I knew that drugstores were more expensive than grocery stores, so I avoided them like the plague.

A short while after getting married, my husband, who had no idea what he was getting himself into, showed me an article where a woman paid only $0.02 for around $380 worth of groceries at Target. Now, for those of you who know me, you know that (a) I can be quite competitive, and (b) I am as stubborn as a mule. After reading this article, I thought matching her savings would be a piece of cake. (I wish.) I’m definitely not as good as she is, but I can tell you from experience that a little bit of work and time will save you a great amount on your groceries and toiletries. It’s also a lot of fun.

Before I even walked out the door to go shopping, I started scouring the internet for articles on couponing and finding deals. There are a great number of amazing blogs that gave me all kinds of ideas and helped me shape the way I coupon today. So before you do anything else, skim through the following list of articles. You don’t need to memorize anything in them, so don’t worry about remembering everything you read. Just get a general view of the world of couponing and the great community you’re about to join.

I read all of my blogs through Google Reader. If you’re not already using one, set up an RSS reader and add blogs that you come across that interest you. It's pretty easy to end up with a bazillion blogs and too much to read, but after some time you'll figure out which ones are helping you and which ones you aren't really reading. I have a small sampling of the couponing blogs I read regularly on my left sidebar. You’ll see that I don't do most of the research for what sales match the coupons; instead, I read the blogs of some amazing women who share their match-ups with their readers, and choose what I buy from their lists. Have fun reading the amazing deals these ladies get; next up in the series will be the basics of coupons.

CVS, Week of 1-17

I still haven’t found the Oust sprays, but today I bought:

  • 6 Mountain Dew 12-packs, 3 for $10 with $10 ECBs for buying $20 worth = $10
  • 1 Glade Soy candle, $6 with one $3 CVS CRT coupon
  • 2 newspapers
  • 1 $5 off a $30 purchase email coupon

Net cost: $12.00. I earned $20 in ECBs for filling out surveys this week (more information on joining the CVS survey panel here), and I’ve never seen soft drinks this cheap before, so it definitely was a good time to stock up. It comes out to just under $0.14 per can. Amazing! At first I didn’t think I could use my $5 coupon, but the coupon machine printed me out a coupon for a Glade soy candle, so I threw that in at the last minute. (I loooove those candles. Yummy.) And to top it all off, my out-of-pocket cost today was nothing. Zero. Nada. I’d say that’s a good shopping trip!

YTD OOP: $3.41
YTD Savings: $209.77
YTD eBay sales: $0.00

For a limited time, Deekins is having a sale on six different health and fitness magazines:

To get the sale price, add the magazine to your shopping cart and then enter the code at checkout. Thanks, Ellie!