Sunday, January 23, 2011
A Gal's Guide to Bargain Shopping
I've always been a big believer (and user) of coupons. My love of getting a great deal has just grown since I've started using blogs, Twitter and Facebook to figure out how to stretch my dollars even more.
My family, friends and coworkers all tease me that I may have a "problem" when it comes to my deal-seeking, but they have all benefited from my "free or better than free" philosophy when it comes to shopping.
It's taken me a while to come up with a system that works for me when it comes to my weekly shopping trips. I think that anyone can benefit from shopping with coupons and shopping the weekly sales, but I understand that there are a lot of factors that go into why people do or do not take advantage of the deals that are out there.
For example, my older sister has said that she feels guilty when she sees the deals that I get and that she probably should be doing more. Well, I say that is silly. She is a working mother of THREE boys who seldom has time to sit down and eat breakfast, lunch or supper so for her to sit down and scan the weekly ads, cut out coupons, go online to see what the best deals are, is just not realistic. And, she has me to bring her over a bag of toothpaste, deodorant, body wash and shampoo once a month!
So, here are a few tips that I have to offer for those who may be thinking that they want to start using coupons and shopping the weekly sales.
Find an organizational system that works for you. I've had discussions with friends who said that they adopted a fancy system for their coupons because of a blog post or magazine article only to get frustrated by it and quit using their coupons altogether.
I'm gonna show you my very sophisticated system right now...are you ready?
Yes, that's a coupon organizer and a recycled envelope from a credit card offer!
My coupon organizer is set up to follow the flow of my local Kroger store...where I do most of my grocery shopping. The envelope is for my Register Rewards (Walgreens), Extra Care Bucks (CVS) and the coupons that correlate with the weekly deals of both stores.
I try to go through the coupon organizer at the end of each month and throw away the expired coupons and move the "soon to expire" coupons to the front of each section.
In regards to the envelope, every Saturday morning I grab my local newspaper (it's not published on Sunday so I get the weekly circulars a day earlier than some) and go through the ad and coupons. I find it easier to cut out the deals from the circular and put them in the envelope with any matching coupons. I'm visual so it helps to have the picture with me when I'm in the store. It also helps if I need to show the price to the cashier if it doesn't ring up correctly.
Pick the stores you shop at the most and concentrate on those. If you don't have a Rite Aid near by, there's no need to look at the ad. I concentrate on Walgreens and CVS when it comes to really looking at their weekly ads and finding the deals. I've found that if I try to do more than those two, I get overwhelmed. I'm not saying that if I see a great deal at Target or Meijer or elsewhere, that I won't go for it, I do!
Learn the rules. Each store has their own rules on coupons, number of items purchased, etc. For example, at Walgreens you have to have the same or more number of items as you have coupons. So, while you can use a Walgreens coupon (from their weekly ad or in-store monthly coupon book) AND a manufacturer's coupon AND a Register Reward on the same item, you have to have two more items in your cart to use all three coupons. It's a bit confusing, but once you learn the rules you can totally play the game.
There are some great blogs that actually have "how to" guides for different stores. I learned a lot from In Good Cents through her "101" tutorials.
Also, don't be afraid to ask for help in the store. The gals at my local Walgreens are wonderful. If you go to the cosmetic counter at Walgreens, they often have a binder of coupons that they will whip out if you ask them.
Be aware of expiration dates. Coupons have expiration dates, as do Register Rewards at Walgreens and Extra Care Bucks at CVS. The expiration dates for Register Rewards are usually just a week after you get them so make sure you know when they expire so you don't lose out on the great deal you got the week before!
Check with the experts. I am in no way an EXPERT when it comes to finding the best deals. I totally rely on some great bloggers out there who have to spend lots of time scouring the ads and online coupon sites! I tend to check my Twitter feed on Saturday and Sunday for these ladies' recommendations:
I also subscribe to some blog feeds that come right to my email inbox. I tend to like these better than having to go to individual blogs to find the information. Saving Dollars and Sense (http://savingdollarsandsense.com/) is probably my favorite. She does a great job of breaking the deals down and showing you how to maximize your coupons.
Free or Better than Free. I had institute this rule after about a year of working with sales. I'm not really brand loyal on much of anything so if there is toothpaste, shampoo, razor or body wash on sale and I can get it for free or better than free, I'm buying it. This has led me to have stockpiles of all of these in my bathroom closet.
So in the interest of not being the subject of the show Hoarders, I don't buy any of the above items unless I can get them for free or better than free! Even if it will only cost me a quarter for a tube of Crest, I don't buy it.
This rule can also cause me to have items in my closet that I have absolutely NO use for, like men's body wash and men's razors. At one time, I had at least a half dozen bottles of men's body wash and a handful of men's razors in my bathroom closet because of some great deals at Walgreens/CVS (BETTER than free). Let's just say that my brothers-in-law all got some extra treats in the Chrismas gift bags that year!
If it gets too out-of-control, remember that your local food pantries and shelters are always in need of toiletry and food items. During a tour of a local food bank last year, I learned that folks on public assistance cannot use food stamps to buy toiletry items so they are in high demand at local food pantries.
Don't have the time? Ask a friend. I have a coworker who has four or five items (face wash, hair product, laundry detergent) that she is brand loyal to but she doesn't have a subscription to the local newspaper so she misses out on coupons. So, I told her to send me a list of those items and I keep an eye out for coupons or even really good deals at my fav stores. Then I let her know when there is a deal she should go for. She often finds coupons on her desk come Monday morning!
For me - and probably others like me - part of the draw of bargain shopping is the thrill of a good deal. And if I can help my friends and family get a deal, I'm all for it. So, don't be afraid to ask a deal-seeking friend to keep her eye out for deals that you might be interested in.
Savings Dollars and Sense often has links in her email about free codes, coupons and samples on stuff that I don't care about, but sometimes I know people who would be interested, so I forward the email with a note telling them why I'm sending it their way. For example, I don't collect the Disney Movie Rewards points, but a good friend does so I try and forward the emails with those codes to her when I see them.
Shop early. Lots of times the sale items are in limited quantity - especially at the drugstores - so if you really want the deal, go on Sunday. I waited until Saturday to head to Walgreens this week and couldn't find the mac 'n cheese I wanted because it was a great deal and they probably only had a few packages for the whole week!
Have fun. If clipping coupons, looking at circulars and shopping for deals becomes too stressful for you, then don't do it! Sometimes the money you save isn't enough to equal the time you put into it. If that is the case, forget it.
I hope these tips are helpful. I know that I appreciate reading about what others have learned as they navigate through the couponing and bargain shopping waters.
If you have other tips, let me know!