Couponing is way more profitable than I ever thought it would be.  I used to think using coupons was way too complicated and felt I really didn’t have the time to do it.  In fact, I rolled my eyes when my sister- in- law, Anne, first showed her massive coupon binder – bursting at the seams with little slips of paper.  My thoughts were, “This lady is way over the top – extreme.” and I told her so.  Thankfully for me, she just laughed and was nice enough to take the time to set me straight, that indeed it was worth the hour a week cutting and organizing her coupons.  In fact, she saved about $200 a month in groceries so she really was making $50 an hour.

You can too. Since she was nice enough to share this with me, I’ll share her tips and throw in a few of my own:

What doesn’t work – a coupon envelope or folder where you throw all your coupons.  With this system, all your coupons are stacked together, the outdated ones are hard to find, and since they are all in a pile, it’s easy to miss some then get discouraged and quit.

What works for Anne: She used a large 2” binder and purchased a pack of clear plastic baseball card holders from a card shop.  She then made dividers and labeled each section BY THE GROCERY AISLE.  Pretty smart, huh?  You are in the cereal aisle so you pull out the coupons for oatmeal, boxed cereal, coffee and tea.  Imagine how nice your trip to the grocery store would be, standing in an aisle and flipping to the corresponding page and low and behold all the coupons for the items surrounding you are all right there.  Wouldn’t that just make everything right with the universe?

Before she goes to the store is where she earns the $50 per hour however.  She was shopping anyway but the preparation is key.

Here is her routine: after pulling the coupon section from her Sunday paper, she sits down with her binder.  She does a quick scan and removes the outdated coupons.  Then she clips and adds the current week’s coupons to her binder including any that came in the mail or online.

The next step is where she pulls out the grocery circular (usually comes on Wednesday) or the pharmacy circular (usually comes on Sunday).  She then makes her list and pairs up items she needs that are on sale with ones she has a coupon for and looks for extra value bucks from the stores.  Often, she’ll go to “Southern Savers” website because they will spell it out for her and highlight the sales at her local grocery stores.  When she is ready, she clips them together to head to the store. The key to her success is the hour a week she spends researching and organizing.

What works for me: That sounds wonderful but the reality is, starting out, it can be overwhelming to try to coupon for everything.   At least it was for me, so I took it slow and built on my successes and learned from my mistakes.

  • Keep it simple: In my case, the grocery store and the fully stocked coupon book was too much for me, so I started smaller – the neighborhood pharmacy.  A friend of mine collects baseball cards so he gave me some card sheets, and I made a simple binder with 5 categories: household, beauty, cleaning supplies, pantry and pharmacy.  Aspirin goes under pharmacy and paper plates go under household; keeping it simple.  Except for leaving my first book in the cart in the parking lot so I had to start all over again, it has worked pretty well.
  • Get organized before you go into the store: On my second couponing trip, I had my cart full of dishwashing liquid, bleach, toothbrushes, toothpaste and a whole lot of other things and when I got to the check out, I proudly pulled out my coupons.  I was excited to get a toothbrush for 59 cents!  That was not to be as I messed up and forgot to check for the due date and my toothbrush coupon had expired.  I had the right one with me but it wasn’t handy; I didn’t want to hold up the line and I got flustered. I lamely nodded and acknowledged to myself, “Rookie mistake” vowing to always be more organized going forward and now I paper clip my coupons to my list or use an envelope specific to that trip.

What works for others: here is a link to ideas for coupon organizing systems.

Now when I go to the store, it is like I am preparing for an athletic event.  My goal is to get the lowest price possible and it has become a game to me!  It is energizing!  My husband asks me on Sundays, “When are you going to go do your thing?  We need (insert item he needs.)”  Even though I am nowhere near the coupon expert my mentor is, $50 an hour in savings is well within reach.

We’d love to hear your savings successes and learn from your rookie mistakes. Please share in the comments.