Thursday, December 6, 2012

I'm Learning To Coupon And It Has Been Great

I'm going back to school in January. I am very excited but the cost is a bit overwhelming. I have saved up a good chunk of change over the last few years but with tuition at $20,000 per year for four years not including books and medical equipment, I am a little short. So I have taken up couponing and it has been going surprisingly well.

For the month of November I have saved a total of $77 by using coupons. I have also signed up for a whole pile of freebies which are starting to trickle in. Since I have started couponing I am more aware of prices and what deals are actually honest deals so I have been saving money in that respect too, though I have not tallied how much.

This new hobby is forcing me to be a bit more organized than I accustomed to being. I have a few hundred coupons now so I have to sort them so I can find what I need quickly in the store. I have always made a grocery list and planned out my meals but now I will consider the flyers, coupon match-up sites and the coupons that I have. I go to a few different stores so my lists have to be organized a bit differently. I have even made a spread sheet on Google Drive that allows me to track my savings and my mail in rebates.  I would hate to send in a rebate and never see a return. I systematically check the coupon sites everyday for new offers.

Couponing is causing me to be more thrifty in general. I have a greater restraint when it comes to purchases. I don't want to go to all the trouble to save a few bucks then blow it on something. I feel better about cooking a meal every night because I know it is a fraction of a meal out. I've been reading the nutrition information more as I am looking for more nutrition for my dollar as opposed to more mass. This is especially the case with baby food.

So how did I save so much last month?
1. Check the websites everyday. Here are the sites I frequent. Some just have coupons or freebies but others have a wealth (ha ha pun) of information. I have a thrifty folder on my bookmarks bar for extra convenience.

2. Ink and paper cost money so I try to only print the coupons that I intend to use or give away. Once I have my coupons I organize them by category so I can find them quickly in the store and compare easily to other coupons in the same category. I don't have a coupon binder yet but I suspect my organization will change when I do. I check the flyers and match-ups (found in many of the above websites) to find what is on sale. The best case scenario in Canada is to use your coupon on something already on sale to get it for free. Most places in Canada will not give you overage (money back when your coupon exceeds the price) except maybe Walmart. Doubling, like on Extreme Couponers, also does not happen here. Maybe someday, a girl can dream.

3. I separate the coupons I plan to use and put them in the front of my coupon case for easy access in the store.

4. As I shop I place the coupon with the items in my cart so I can place everything together on the belt at the cash.

5. As the coupons are being applied I watch the display at the cash to ensure they turn out correctly. I have almost been burned by this. I once bought something for $5 with a completely free coupon and the cashier didn't apply it. I called her on it before I left the store and it was corrected.

6. I keep the receipt and enter the savings on my spreadsheet when I get home. It is very satisfying to keep track of how much you have saved.

This process has been time consuming but it is getting easier and faster with experience, and not much experience. I have some rules to protect myself which I will share here. Coupons are released by corporations with the intention to have you spend your money on their products. If you do, they win. If you purchase something you don't really need, they win and you lose. Couponing if done improperly,
can cause you to lose money.

My rules that hold me accountable.

1. Never buy what I don't need, unless it is completely free and I could find a use for it (like the food bank, shelter etc.).

2. Don't overbuy goods that will expire unless there is a realistic plan to preserve them.

3. If an offer sounds to good to be true, it is. Couponing requires you put your contact info out there so you my receive unsolicited offers. Be firm and say no. I received a call offering me a ticket in a sweep-stake for $25000, in addition to a diamond watch, in addition to 3 free magazine subscriptions for two years, etc. No company would offer all this out of the blue as they have nothing to gain. This means there was a catch and one can be sure the catch will cover the expense of all these "gifts".

4. Always be on the look out for scams. Stores can be slimy at times. I have seen tickets that will say something along the lines of "50% off, now $1.50" then I look behind the ticket and the regular price is $1.50. Sometimes they don't even cover the regular price when they do this so it is easy to see they are lying.    It is a good idea to get a sense of what the regular price is. Stores will increase their regular price a week or so before posting a deal that in reality is hardly a deal at all.

5. I always read the coupon fully and carefully. Check expiration dates.

6. Be aware that some stores are more expensive than others. The sale price at a Loblaws or a Metro is often more than the regular price at a No Frills or a Food Basics.

I'm still learning the ropes with couponing but it is quickly becoming a hobby I love. I get so much satisfaction  from saving money. Now I must go and work on some very substantial money saving opportunities, scholarships, the ultimate coupon :)