How to Start.
Starting anything new is hard. We’ve all heard the saying, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And so it is with coupons. Many people try to start saving with coupons. However, after putting in a lot of effort and only saving a few dollars they simply give up and say it’s not worth it. And I have to say, that kind of coupon shopping–clipping a few coupons here and there for things already on your list–probably isn’t worth the effort.
To save, really save, with coupons, you have to change your thinking. That’s step one. Instead of making a list for the things you need or want each week, and then buying them regardless of whether they are on sale or you have a coupon, you need to buy what’s on sale, and as much as possible, buy ONLY what’s on sale (and lots of it.) Extreme couponing is a cumulative process, not an instant magic formula. You have to commit and you have to have a little patience.
Instead, let’s worry about the beginning. This week our focus will be on just getting set up.
To save money with coupons, you have to have….coupons. (duh!) It is also pretty critical to have some way of organizing said coupons so that you can find them in order to use them. Thus, this week’s assignment is to start collecting coupons and to set up your coupon organizing system.
(“But how will that save me any money this week?” you ask, and that is also a valid question. The short answer is that it probably won’t. Remember, this is a cumulative process. Be patient, you’ll get there.)
week one assignment:
- Establish your coupon sources. There are 2 main sources of coupons: newspaper inserts and printable coupons. (There are also a few secondary sources of coupons, such as free coupon booklets (often found at the front of grocery stores or in the mail), store flyers, “peelies,” (coupons stuck to the product you are buying), and coupons that come inside a product.) It used to be that most coupons came from the Sunday paper, but that is no longer the case. I estimate that at least 75-80% of the coupons I use each week are printable coupons. However, the Sunday paper is also an important source of coupons. This week you should find out which of your local paper’s has the best coupon inserts. The easiest way to do this, if there is more than one option in your area, is buy one of each and then compare. For printable coupons, the main sources are Coupons.com, RedPlum.com, and SmartSource.com. There are also coupons available quite often on company websites and Facebook pages. For the most part, you will only print the coupons when you need them, but every once in a while there will be a “hot” high-value coupon come out that you will want to print right away. Most printable coupons have a limit of 2 per computer, so it helps to have more than one computer.
- Start a subscription to the Sunday paper. (Or figure out where you will get your paper from each week.) It may seem weird at first, but to save a lot of money with coupons you will probably want to get multiple copies of the same paper. To avoid paying for multiple papers each week you can try contacting your local paper and working out a deal to get extra inserts delivered with your subscription. Alternatively, you can try asking friends, family, neighbors, or local businesses for their unused inserts. BE SURE to subscribe to or buy the local paper that has the best coupons. Not all Sunday papers are equal!!
- Consider buying a laser printer (if you don’t already have one). You will be printing a LOT of coupons. An inexpensive laser printer can literally save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.
- Get organized. Your system need not be elaborate; on the contrary, the simpler it is, the easier it will be to maintain. (And trust me, it will need regular maintenance!) Ultimately you need to figure out what works for you when it comes to organizing your coupons. I will show you the method I went with:
The Binder Method
The binder method takes time to set up and maintain each week, but planning and gathering your coupons for a shopping trip is fast. Coupons are organized by category and it is portable, which means you can take all your coupons with you each time you go to the store.
This week your task is to set up your own system.
So that’s it for this week. Just to recap: Figure out where to get your coupons, set up a newspaper subscription, figure out how to print coupons more cheaply, and get organized. It might not seem like much, but this is the baby steps program, remember?