Two years ago, after intense research, my husband decided to talk to me about the possibility of an economic collapse or terrorist attack. He also described to me in detail the steps that we would have to take in order to prepare for such events. We made lists prioritizing emergency preparedness goals, such as bug-out-bags, water and food storage, a medical supply kit, water purification methods and home defense, to name a few. I have to admit that at first I was confused, completely freaked out, and at times angry at the thought that the world as we know it could come to an abrupt end. After some research on my own and processing all that information, I decided that we would only be able to increase our chances of survival if we could become a united front and tackle this daunting task together.
At the time, I was working outside the home making a significant salary, which made investing in emergency preparedness not feel like a financial headache. Every month, after paying bills, putting some aside for savings and paying off debt, we would take a chunk and buy the things needed to check off those emergency prep goals. We also knew that we wanted to have another child and with the arrival of that precious bundle of joy, I would stop working and become a stay-at-home/home-schooling mom. That meant that once we became pregnant, the 9 month countdown began and we would soon lose my income and have to solely rely on my husband’s.
I heard about couponing from a friend, who referred me to the Krazy Coupon Lady , however at the time we had dual incomes and so I paid just enough attention to not be considered rude, but did not have any intention to start couponing. I have always seen it as a huge time consuming “hobby” and in the past I always ended up throwing away the few coupons that I would clip.
Once my precious bundle of joy joined my family of three, and I started my stay-at-home journey and adventure of homeschooling my six year old, the realization set in that we had to make my husband’s salary stretch as far as possible and still have enough to invest in our emergency prepping. That is when I started to research and find ways that I could contribute to the household’s economic situation without having to work outside the home. I still found that even with meal planning and cutting back on “luxury” food items, a huge chunk of our take home pay was going into buying groceries. After paying bills and the necessities, I found that we had very little to invest in emergency prep and that freaked me out even more than hearing about why we needed to emergency prep in the first place.
One night I was watching The Learning Channel (TLC) and the first show of “Extreme Couponing” happened to come on. At that point I still had not remembered the conversation I had with my friend about couponing and was completely intrigued and impressed at how these stay-at-home moms were saving their family so much money. Needless to say, I was sold! I couldn’t even go to bed that night, I knew I had to do some major research and find out what this couponing business was all about. The show mentioned the Krazy Coupon Lady and that is when I remembered the conversation I had with my friend. I was almost mad at myself for not paying her more attention and getting into couponing sooner. I thought about all the headway we could have made in our stockpile…but I digress.
So I did a web search on this phenomenon that is called “Extreme Couponing” and decided to try it out. In just the first month we saved over 40% in groceries, toiletries and household products. I started thinking differently about the way we shopped for our bi-monthly groceries and only buy what we will eat for those two weeks, cutting my grocery budget by half and using the rest of my grocery budget to “extreme coupon” and build our stockpile. Where we live we don’t have a lot of the grocery chains that they feature on the now weekly show, but I made do with stores like Wal-Mart and I take advantage of their ad price matching and coupon overage.
What is that foreign terminology, you may ask? Ad price matching is when you have Wal-Mart price match other stores’ weekly shopper ads. Coupon overages are when, for example, an item is listed at $3.49 and you have a coupon for $4.00 off, Wal-Mart will give you the difference, either in cash or to be applied to the rest of the basket. We have been able to stockpile on body soap, deodorant, toothpaste and other hygiene necessities by taking advantage of their awesome coupon policy, often times making the products free or almost free.
Here are some simples steps in order to get you started on extreme couponing:
1. Coupons, when and where. Coupons can be found in your local Sunday paper in the form of coupon inserts. In our household we have two Sunday papers delivered and depending on the deals, we pick up two to four more at the gas station down the street on the way to church. The three inserts that you can find throughout the year are: Smart Source, Proctor and Gamble and Red Plum. The paper will not have inserts on holidays. Throughout the week you can also find coupons online on the following sites: coupons.com, redplum.com and smartsource.com. Another way to get coupons is to write your favorite companies and tell them how much you like their products; often you will get coupons for a significant amount off or even for free. If you already subscribe to magazines, be on the lookout for coupons there too. In no time at all, you and the rest of your family will become experts in spotting coupons, everywhere. I also use www.sweetfreestuff.com, to receive samples of my favorite products and those products will usually arrive with a couple of coupons.
2. Organization, binder and whole insert option. There are two ways to organize the coupons. Both ways work well, it just depends on what would work for you and your family. The first way is the binder organizational system. This is where you cut out all the coupons and using a large binder and baseball card holders you organize your coupons by categories. Some even go as far as to have two binders, one for consumable products and another one for non-consumable products. The other way of organizing your coupons is to keep your inserts whole. Every Sunday when you get your inserts, make sure you write the date and insert initials, for example: P&G (Proctor and Gamble), SS (Smart Source) and RP (Red Plum). This will be very helpful when looking for deals and knowing exactly what insert has which coupons. Which brings me to the next step…
3. How to find the deals. This way of couponing is not your “grandma’s way” of couponing. We have access to the World Wide Web and can find deals and coupon match-ups with web sites and blogs online. A simple web search will render more than plenty of resources. Although the web sites and blogs differ a little bit, there are some things that you can find consistent in most of them. You will find that they tell you where to find the deals, the sale price, the coupon to use and the amount off and the final price. This is a God-send for those individuals who don’t like doing math and find themselves intimated by all that calculating. The following are some web sites that we use to help us find the deals:
- Krazy Coupon Lady This web site is what started it all for me. Her team gives out a step-by-step guide on how to get started and endless useful tips and suggestions. You can also find weekly deals to many of the nationwide grocery and pharmacy chains.
- Pocket Your Dollars This web site is slightly similar to the Krazy Coupon Lady web site and I found a really neat feature which is the printable grocery list. You can pick your list by store and then click on the items for which you have coupons for and when you are done you can print the list and take that with you to the store.
- I Heart the Mart This site has been useful to me because I do the majority of my shopping at Wal-Mart. On the right side of the page you can find a link for all deals under $1.
4. Store coupon policies and , rules, rules, rules. It is very important that you know your store’s coupon policy. Most times you can find your particular stores coupon policy online through their web site. If you can’t find it online, write the corporate office and ask them for a written copy of their policy. You can also call and talk to the general manager and find out how you can get a copy. For stores that don’t have a web site, it is recommended that you check with them every couple of months to verify any changes to the policy. Sometimes cashiers don’t know their store policies and it is much easier for you to have a copy of the store policy with you and show them the policy than to get in a unnecessary confrontation. Print these policies and have them handy when you go shopping.
5. Coupon lingo can seem like Chinese. Here are some of the coupon lingo to help you navigate the web sites and blogs:
- Q: Coupon
- MQ: Manufacturer coupon
- OOP: Out of Pocket (what you will spend after coupon savings)
- RP: Red Plum insert
- SS: Smart Source insert
- P&G: Proctor and Gamble insert
The KCL Coupon Lingo page (from the Krazy Coupon Lady web site) goes further explaining some of the coupon lingo. There, click on Step #4.
Coupons also have restrictions on them and it is important to understand what those means. One coupon per purchase, this means that you can only use one coupon per item purchased. The only time there is an exception to this rule is when you combine that coupon (MQ, manufacturer coupon) with a store coupon. These are coupons that individual stores print on their shopper. One coupon per transaction or Limit of # like coupons per shopping trip, this means that there is a limit of how many coupons you can use for that particular time that the cashier closes out the register. It is also a good idea to read the coupons for description of the item. Sometimes it will have a number of ounces the coupon is good for or a particular item in the product family. Failure to follow these rules is coupon fraud and the manufacturer will not honor these coupons resulting in the store not getting reimbursed for those coupons that were illegally used.
6. The List, don’t leave home without it. If your family is already a frugal shopper than you know that it is a bad idea to do grocery shopping without a list. The same principle applies to “extreme couponing.” It is a good idea to know what the item is selling for, how much you will be saving, the quantity of the particular item you will be buying and the out of pocket cost. It will help you stay in budget. I have seen many ways that people write out their list. Some make a list the “old fashion way” with a pen and paper. Some use their netbooks, iPads or laptops. I was an office manager and did a lot of database entry and have developed a simple Excel spread sheet, which will do the math for me, in order to minimize calculating mistakes.
7. Be Realistic! If you have ever watched those TLC “extreme couponing” shows, you will see spectacular results from couponing. You might recall seeing those individuals buying hundreds and even thousands of dollars worth of products and only paying pennies or getting it all for free. The reality is that not everyone lives in a town or city where grocery stores double coupons or offer overage. So for the rest of us, rather than it being “extreme couponing” it can be more like “realistic couponing.” Know the limits of where you live and be okay with the results that you will get. In our household, if we can save over 40%, we have ourselves a mini-celebration.
Couponing not only has saved us a significant amount of money and allowed us to stockpile necessary items for long term survival, but has also enabled us to use that saved money to increase our emergency preparedness traditionally, and little by little giving us a greater peace of mind about the future. As a stay-at-home mom it also gives me the satisfaction that I am contributing to our household in a great way. In the few short months that we have been couponing we have seen our stockpile grow and I pray that we never find ourselves in a situation where we rely on it to survive but if we do we are prepared. My husband always says: “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”