Some years ago, when the housing market tanked, our sole source of income evaporated. My husband owned a civil engineering firm, and he lost his business. Thus began our two and a half years of unemployment. I’m so thankful that I did not know then how long our ordeal would last! Even more importantly, I am thankful that we had the Lord to sustain us during those tough years.
We were in the middle of our two and a half year journey, muddling through somehow day by day, when my friend, Lisa, introduced me to the wonders of couponing. At that time, I knew we had to do something differently than what we had been. I was struggling to put anything on the table at all, much less good and healthy snacks for four growing kids (two of them teenagers). I was trying to purchase all of our food plus personal items on just $300 per month, but it wasn’t working.
The “Big” Find
I approached couponing with a lot of skepticism. I doubted that I could feed my family for less money and still keep us well stocked with toothpaste, deodorant, and shampoos by shopping at Publix and Kroger verses purchasing off-brand items at Walmart. I remember saying, “Publix? But they carry your groceries out for you! There’s no way I can afford to shop there!” Yet within a few short weeks, my family quickly experienced the benefits of couponing, and I enjoyed the luxury of having my groceries carried to my car while I saved money.
I won’t ever forget that first “big” find. It was so exciting that even to this day I remember the thrill I got from it. I was given some extra Gillette Body Wash coupons, so I had a total of eight two dollar-off coupons. The following week, Target put the Gillette Body Washes on sale for two dollars. So, I quickly made a run to Target and came home with eight FREE bottles of body washes! That excitement pushed me on to see what else I could score for free. As a result, couponing became my hobby.
Shopping Tips and Tricks
When I sit down with someone who is couponing for the very first time, there are some basic tips that I tell them. First, you have to have a good stockpile of coupons, so order the Sunday newspaper. In fact, order one newspaper per person in your home. The Sunday paper is your best source of coupons. I have people tell me all the time, “There aren’t any good food coupons in the paper because I only purchase fresh produce.” I then ask them, “Do you use shampoo, deodorant, body washes, toothpaste, toothbrushes, laundry detergent, cleaners, and other household items? If so, then you can at least stock up on those items for cheap and even free thereby allowing more grocery money for fruits, vegetables, and other items.” Your second-best source of coupons are printable coupons online. There are many sites that provide coupons for you to print for items that you like and use. You can go to www.shoppingtipsandtricks.com to find links to many of these sites. The trick with printable coupons is to only print coupons that you need, love, and use because you don’t want to waste the ink and paper for coupons that you have to throw away when they expire. Finally, I encourage others to write to manufacturers requesting coupons for their favorite items. I have done this with much success. Sometimes they will send me coupons and sometimes they won’t, but it’s always worth a try. Some manufacturers will also send you free samples.
Clipping for a Living or Not
If you don’t want to clip coupons, there are many options for loading coupons onto your shopper’s cards or smart phone. On Kroger’s website, you can download digital coupons onto your shopper’s card. On the Publix site, you can download coupons onto your smart phone. There are other sites like Cellfire, Ibotta, and Savingstar where you can also download coupons onto shopper cards or smart phones. So, if you don’t have the time to clip coupons then digital coupons are definitely the way to go.
One of the most important things that a new couponer should learn is to purchase items when they are on sale with a manufacturer and/or store coupon to maximize your savings. For example, if Publix puts Pace Salsa on sale BOGO (Buy One Get One Free) and you have four coupons, go ahead and stock-up on eight bottles of salsa, especially if your family uses as much salsa as my family does! Many grocery stores, especially in the south, put items on sale on a six to eight week cycle. When your favorite items go on sale, then you want to purchase enough of those items to last you for eight weeks, which is when they will go on sale again. This is the true definition of stockpiling: purchasing enough stock while on sale with a coupon in order to last you until the next sale.
Remember, even if you do minimal couponing and save $25 a week that equals to $100 per month or $1,200 per year! Make small, attainable goals when you are starting so that you can see and achieve them and feel the accomplishment of doing so. Build on that, and you will be well on your way to being an extreme couponer.
Though our family is now one and a half years past our unemployment journey, we still practice frugal living in everything we do. It is now a way of life for us. We raise our own vegetables and are trying our hand at growing grapes, blueberries, and strawberries. The life lessons my children learned from the tough times are priceless. They learned the value of a dollar and what it takes to earn it, as well as what is really important and necessary for living. My husband reminded us often during those years when we couldn’t have or do what others do that those are just “things.” God, family, and relationships are what matters most.