Now I say "serious" couponing because I have always used coupons. Since childhood. However it wasn't until I found online help in the form of some fabulous blogs on January 01, 2011 that I figured out how to use more than one or two coupons a week. Since the first of the year, I have been up to my elbows in serious couponing. And have loved every penny saved!
So I thought I would reflect on my lessons learned this past year and share a few goals I will work towards in 2012 too.
Lessons Learned Through A Year Of Serious Couponing:
* A second freezer is your best friend. I actually purchased a second freezer about a year before I began couponing. However, if you do not have one already, you NEED one. When things such as bread, cheese, butter, yogurt and meat go on sale, I stockpile multiples. The extra freezer allows me to buy more expensive meats when they are on rock bottom sale prices and enjoy them over the coming months.
* Only buy what you actually like to use. Last winter, there was a deal at Rite Aid for free room sprays after coupons. So I bought them. But when you factored in tax before coupons, they were really about $0.25/each. Which isn't bad if this were a product I ever used. However, I think room sprays are super gross. I am not sure why I dislike them so much, I just do. So here I was, buying four products that were not totally free and I would never use them. Spending $0.25 on something I will never use is much more of a waste then spending $1 on something I will use frequently, in my opinion.
* Buy multiples of products I use regularly. Not only do many of our great coupon deals require us to buy more than one of an item, but it's just plain practical. I used to go to the store the evening I planned to make pasta and buy whatever sauce was on sale. Now, I go to my hall closet stockpile (I still loathe that word, by the way.) and pick out a jar that was purchased for under $1. No more (OK...well not many...no one is perfect.) last minute trips to buy something for $4 when I already have three in the pantry purchased weeks ago @ $0.50/each! This saves time, energy, gas and helps when you need a quick meal.
* Take stock of what you have in your stockpile. As in, actually write it down! I started out neat and organized in Jan. Adding one extra shelf for my stockpile coupon storage. Then a few months into this adventure, when I started scoring free body wash and toothpaste and lotion by the barrel, I would put a little of this and a little of that in every nook and cranny. So a few months later, I added a few more shelves. But then that just wasn't enough so my organization reverted back to the nook and cranny method. Eventually, this past fall, I turned a hall linen and coat closet into my stockpile. Well, the vacuum lives in there too but it's like 97% stockpile. In the process of pulling everything out of the closet, I grouped like items together and took a written tally of how much I had of each type of product. And realized that I should could easily go a year without buying lotion or body wash or toothpaste. But didn't actually have much food in there. So I not only organized but I now had a list of what I am not allowed to buy and what I should focus on. It's helped tremendously and I have since vowed to re-count twice a year. If you don't know what's in your stockpile, you are likely to keep buying multiples. But buying four bottles of body wash every week when you only use one bottle a month is a waste of space and money (even if it's free, you are still paying tax).
* You will throw away more coupons then you will use. And that's OK! Do not ever feel obligated to buy something just because you have a coupon. That's the point when a coupon becomes advertising (the company's goal) instead of a substitute for cash (a couponaholic's goal).
* Donate. I have long been a big volunteerer. I donate an obscene about of my time. But once I started couponing, I was able to donate pound after pound of food and drug store products. So I know I said not to buy things that you won't use. And I meant that. But I personally (and you can decide this for yourself) make a few exceptions. Room spray is not an exception as I do not think it's a life necessity. However, things like baby products (formula, diapers), medicines (headache, cold, flu), personal hygiene (deodorant, body wash), feminine products and food are, in my opinion, life necessities. So, if I can find any of these items free (or just tax), I will buy them. I keep a box in my front hall and when it gets full, I donate it to a local homeless shelter. It is THE BEST FEELING to share a big box of items that will truly help my community and I paid nearly nothing for them.
* Buy at least two Sunday newspapers each week. Two is the bare minimum. Because for at least 25% of the deals, you will need to purchase two items. Honestly though, I think four to six papers is the ideal. Don't be afraid to ask friends and neighbors for their inserts though to cut down or out your costs.
* Carry your binders with pride. I was so embarrassed to pull out my coupon binders when I first started. So I would spend twice the amount of time to find a coupon as I squeezed my hand in my binder while in a bag. Or I would miss deals altogether because I was ashamed to pull out my binder of coupons. But now, I imagine myself wearing those blinders they put on the horses in Central Park. I focus on my list, my cart, my giant Diet Coke if I am in Target (ha- sad but true tales of a Coke addict), on my binder and the sales. So much so, I often run into people I know who have to shout my name three times before I notice them. But I really work to tune out the onlookers. It helps me to feel less self-conscious. And then those times when a fellow couponer sees your binders and gets all excited...well that just reaffirms that you are the coolest coupon kid on the block!
* Be organized before you go to the check out counter. I cannot say this enough. ORGANIZE yourself. Before I go to check out, I find a quiet aisle. I tend to have my favorites in each store. Even if I have my coupons in envelopes and organized, I double check. I place like coupons together. I place tricky coupons (fill in a price) coupons either all at the beginning or end. If I know an item might beep (a trial size that does qualify for an "any" item coupon), I place those on the counter last so that the cashier can easily find them in the bag. You are already up against possible grumpy attitudes from cashiers and fellow customers when you pull out a stack of coupons. Don't make things more difficult by having to find coupons in a purse or binder too.
* Carry all store coupon policies with you at all times. I have whipped out the Walmart and Walgreens policies more times than I care to mention. Though you will notice I rarely if ever mention those stores these days. Ha.
* Warn the customer behind you in line that you will be using lots of coupons. My personal policy is this: I cheerfully tell the next person that I will be using lots of coupons and that they might want to pick another line if they are concerned with time. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. After that, I try not to look at them. Because those who did not pick another line but are unhappy about the three extra minutes it takes me to use coupons (because of store computers- not because I was unorganized), make me feel frazzled. I warned them. I was honest and polite. I must say though, I have met some really nice people lately who were nothing but sweet and encouraging about my coupon use.
* Expect to defend your bunker. The first question, without fail, I get asked when people learn I use coupons, is if I am a hoarder. Every. Single. Person. To the point that I often say, all in one sentence, "I use coupons but I'm not a hoarder." Be prepared to explain that you buy in bulk to last until the next sale cycle. I mean, it's honestly no different to buy four bottles of body wash at Rite Aid vs a 4-pack of body wash at Costco.
* There is always another sale. It's OK to miss a great sale. Sometimes you just can't get to a store or only really want one great deal that week. Don't stress over missing a great deal. In a few months, there will be an equally fantastic deal. It's not worth driving 30 miles to buy two boxes of pasta. Don't sweat a missed sale.
Goals for 2012, coming soon...