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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Kroger Gift Card Giveaway

Kroger Gift Card giveaway:

Looks like Not So Average Mama is giving away a $25 Kroger gift card. If you follow my couponing tips, that could buy a whole lot of groceries! If you don't have a Kroger in your area, it's also good at any of the stores listed here.



PS. Come back Monday for more savings tips and tricks!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another great couponing tool

So, there's a great sale in your favorite store on one of your favorite products, and you want to stock up. But there's a problem. The list says there was a $1 off coupon in last week's paper, and that's great, but you only have one copy of last week's paper and you want to buy several of this item.

Enter CouponTom.

I absolutely love this site. On it you can search all of the coupon inserts, All You magazines and digital/printable coupon sites.

Looking for a good deal on coffee? Just type in coffee and see what pops up. Maybe you are a fan of Starbucks ground coffee? Type Starbucks.

Here's a fun one: type free.

Then there's the "Price Book" tab. Maybe there's a sale at your store, but you're not sure if it's really a good price or not. Look up the item here and you can see all of the past deals on that item as well. Now you know that yes, the $2 price is good, but if you wait a bit, it will probably be 99¢ again soon!

I love this site so much, I've even decided to feature it permanently here on BGSaves. If  you look to the right, you'll see the search box. Feel free to use it right from this site, or go to the CouponTom site for the full experience.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Is "Coupon Stacking" and How Does it Work?

So now that you've learned the basics, it's time to get into some of the more advanced methods. One of my favorites is "coupon stacking." I do this at Walgreens and Target regularly as they are the two stores I use that put out the most coupons.

If you look at a coupon, somewhere on it (probably at the top) you should see either "manufacturer's coupon" or "store coupon" (or "Target coupon," "Walgreens coupon," etc.). Why is this important? Because in most instances, you can use one store coupon and one manufacturer's coupon stacked on a single item.

Here's an example. On July 3rd this coupon was in the Proctor and Gamble Brandsaver insert for 50¢ off any Pepto product. Not great savings, but better than nothing, right? If you look closely, (again, sorry for the quality of the image. I really need to get a scanner) you'll see that at the top it says "Manufacturer's Coupon."

In the target ad from a different week was this coupon for $1 off Pepto. That's a better deal, right? So I should use the $1 off rather than the 50¢ off, right? Wrong. Why chose one or the other? This one says quite clearly, "Target Coupon." That means it's a store coupon. So, if Pepto goes on sale, I can use BOTH coupons together and get $1.50 off!

Another way to do this is digital coupons. We touched on this just briefly before, but there are sites where you can save digital coupons to your store discount card. Most often these are store coupons. If you stack them with manufacturer's coupons, you can get double the savings that way as well.

Monday, July 25, 2011

But Isn't That Like Stealing?

In the first post on this blog, I promised that nothing I taught here would be unethical. There are plenty of places on the web if you want to know how to cheat the system (any system really). This is not one of them.

But taking products from a store without paying for them is stealing. And I'm pretty sure that's a no-no.

Fortunately, that's not what we're talking about here. Just because you're not paying your money for the items you purchase, doesn't mean the store isn't getting paid.

Have you ever looked at the fine print on a coupon? Here's an example from a $5 off hair care coupon. I apologize for it being so small, but hopefully you can still read it. If not, here's what it says:
Consumer: Limit one coupon per purchase on specified product. You pay sales tax. Void where prohibited, produced or sold, altered or restricted. If submitted in compliance with our policy, available upon request, Kao Brands Company, CMS Dept. 19100, 1 Fawcett Drive, Del Rio, TX 78840, will reimburse the retailer face value plus 8¢.
Most coupons have similar wording. Recently there has been addition. Many coupons are also saying "Limit 4 like coupons per shopping trip."

So all of that sounds like a bunch of legalese, but the basic gist is that as long as you use this coupon within the parameters of the manufacturer's rules, the store still gets their $5, plus they get a small processing fee. And while 8¢ may not seem like much of an incentive to stores to mess with coupons, think about that 8¢ multiplied by the number of coupons being redeemed in each of their locations across a region or even nationwide.

So how do we stay within the rules?

The first thing to realize is that buying coupons from coupon clipping services is considered coupon fraud. Yes, it was a featured method on TLC's "Extreme Couponing" show. No, that does not make it ethical. If you look at that show closely, you'll find that there were several types of coupon fraud being committed. Clipping services were simply one of the most obvious.

The coupon says right on it that it is "void where…sold".

Another big thing that is taught on the internet is how to "decode" the bar code on your coupons so you can use them on other products. Yes, doing this might get you a better deal. No, that doesn't make it okay. It's still fraud and if the retailer gets caught taking the coupon this way they don't get paid, even though it was through no fault of their own.

It is important to read what the coupon actually says it is for. If you have a coupon for $1 off any two (2) 14 oz. or larger bottles of Kraft dressing, and the picture shows one Catalina, one Zesty Italian and one Balsamic Vinaigrette, that does not mean those are the only varieties you can use the coupon for. If there's a 14 oz. bottle of ranch at your store, that works too. However, you can not use it on a 12 oz. bottle of anything, or on some other Kraft product.

So what about where it says "Limit one coupon per purchase," but I said that I often buy more than one of an item? Isn't that against the rules?

No, it's not. If there is a coupon for $1 off 1 reach toothbrush, and the toothbrushes are on sale for 99¢, and I happened to buy three copies of the newspaper that week, you better believe I'll be taking home three of those toothbrushes. The key here is understanding the difference between a purchase and a transaction. When I get to the register and I place those three toothbrushes on the belt, those are three separate purchases. The three toothbrushes plus several other items I'm buying that day, which will all appear on the same receipt, are one transaction. That wording is there so you can't use two $1 off coupons on a $2 toothbrush and still get it free.

If your coupon includes the "Limit 4 like coupons…" wording, you can only use four of that specific coupon at a time, but if you have four of that coupon and one different coupon for the same product, you can use all five because that last one is not a like coupon.

Another thing that I've heard discussed is copying internet coupons. Some feel it's fine because they printed the coupon right from their own computer. This is still fraud. There is a reason the websites only will allow you to print two copies of most of these. You wouldn't copy a dollar bill and try to spend it, right? So don't copy a dollar coupon either.

So now we come to the less-well defined areas of coupon ethics. What about those things that are not technically fraud, but aren't very nice to do either?

We touched on this a little in the last post when talking about blinkies and peelies. My basic rule of thumb is not to do anything that I would be upset about others doing. For example, when I see a blinkie for one of my favorite products that makes that item free or super-cheap, I could grab 25 coupons and clear out all of the product on the shelf that day. However, if I was the next shopper down that aisle after someone had done so, I'd be a little ticked off.

In these situations, I will rarely buy more than three or four of the item in question on any given shopping trip. The exception is when the store has overstocked that item because of a good sale. If I see frozen veggies on a really good sale, and the regular shelf is full and there are more overflowing a separate showcase freezer, I may grab a dozen. But never when there are only a few left.

Like so many things in life, it all comes back to the golden rule. (That's the "do unto others…" one.)

I'm sure there will be other ethics questions that come up from time to time, and I'll address them as I hear about them. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment—I'd be happy to help!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Where Do You Get Those Other Coupons?"

If you've been following along with me this week, you know that today I'm going to talk about where I get the coupons that I file in this accordion file:

Of course, most of my coupons come from my Sunday paper, but there are several other sources I use to get others. Some you've probably run into yourself, others you may be hearing about for the first time.

While many of these are never listed in "the list," if you have at least a vague idea of what coupons you have, you can often match them to deals on your own.

Some of my sources are:

  • Catalinas
  • "Blinkies" and tear pads
  • "Peelies"
  • Printables
  • Free Samples
  • Inside Products
Have I lost you yet? Stick with me. This is worth learning.

Catalinas

I'm sure at some time when you've checked out at the grocery store, you've seen those coupons that print when your receipt prints. Most people don't even look at them. You'll often see them lying in carts, on the floor, or left in the receipt printer in the self-check lane. Here's some of the ones we've gotten recently from our trips to Kroger:



Not bad, huh. I've found that when I started couponing a lot, I started getting more and more of these when I shop.


"Blinkies" and Tear Pads

You've probably seen these in your local stores too. "Blinkies" are the coupons that come from the plastic dispensers attatched to the shelves in the store. They got their name because the dispensers often have a little blinking red light to attract attention. Tear pads are similar—in that they are also found attatched to the shelves in the store.

There is a debate in the couponing world about the ethics surrounding these coupons. Some couponers have been known to take all that the dispenser/tear pad holds, while others strictly say you should never take more than one. My rule of thumb is never to take the last one, unless there is only one. If there are a bunch of coupons there, I will usually take what I think I can reasonably use before they expire. (Most often I take about three.)

The important thing to remember about these is that you don't need to use them on that shopping trip. If the item happens to be on sale, and it's a good deal with the coupon, then great. Use it. If not, take it home, file it away, and use it when the product drops in price. Sometimes these don't expire for months!

"Peelies"

Another in-the-store find are called "peelies." These are the coupons you'll find stuck to the front of products. Again, there is some debate about the ethics of these. Some couponers see no issue with taking peelies off of products they have no intention to buy. Personally, I find that to be a bit shady. However, if I'm buying a product that has a peelie attatched, I'll often look through the others on the shelf to see if any of them have two.

For example, a few weeks ago, on my list was Betty Crocker brownie mix. It was on a great sale and I had a coupon. I was planning to buy two. When I got to the store, I was pleasantly surprised to see that certain varieties of the mix also had these peelies attached, for $1 off 2, which was a better deal than the 75¢ off 2 coupons I had with my list. Of course, I chose to purchase those varieties. My husband, who knows and understands my insanity where coupons are concerned, was the one to spot the one box on the shelf that had two peelies on it. I grabbed four boxes of mix, with five peelies attached. I used two of the peelies that day, but since you don't have to use them on the same day you get them the other three came home with me to be filed away and used next time there's a good sale. As you can see, they don't expire until May of next year.

Printables

The first thing to know about printables is you should check your store's coupon policy to see if they are accepted or not. Most stores do accept printables, but every now and then you'll find one that doesn't. Do not take the cashier's word for it. Check the official policy (which can generally be found on the store's website or obtained from the customer service booth).

Usually, you have to have coupon printing software installed on your computer to print these, which helps to assure that people don't simply print stacks of their favorite coupons. Most online coupons can be printed twice though, so after you print one, go ahead and print another and file it away for later if you don't plan on using it right away. Though you wouldn't necessarily realize it, there are a limited number of most of these coupons, so if you see one that you think you might use sometime before it expires, it's best to go ahead and print it and file it. Otherwise when you come back to find it, it may have already reached its limit and be gone.

Printables are a great way to save some extra money. Right now, lots of brands are offering printables directly on their websites or facebook pages. As I come across these, I may post some to this website, but you can find many, many more by simply searching for them.

Some stores also offer printable coupons on their websites. The one I use most is Target, which can be found here. These are a mix of store coupons and manufacturer's coupons, which is important to note if you plan on doing any stacking. (I'll explain stacking in another post later.)

The bulk of the printable coupons I find though, are from the big coupon websites. These include couponnetwork.com, coupons.com, redplum.com, and smartsource.com. There are also places to find digital coupons, which are electronically tied to your store savings card such as cellfire.com, pgesaver.com, shortcuts.com, and upromise.com. These digital coupons are "loaded" to your card rather than printed, and will automatically deduct from your bill when you use your savings card.

Free Samples

One of the things I love best is free stuff. I'm also a sucker for trying new things. When manufacturers come out with new products, they often offer free samples of their products to get people to try them. Coupons for your next purchase are often included along with the sample. Seldom a week goes by when I don't get some free item in the mail. I love these! 

But where to find such things?

Some manufacturers make it really easy. Kraft is a great example. They have a service you can subscribe to where they will email you when new samples are available. It's called Kraft First Taste and I highly recommend it. Vocal Point is another such service where I get a lot of samples.

Then there are samples websites which track down free samples from all over the web and point you to them. All You magazine (click the pink "Daily Free Samples" button) has a new sample every day. Others I use are Free Stuff Times, Hey! It's Free!, and Start Sampling.

Inside Products

Finally, I love it when I open up a product and find coupons inside. Most often it's just a single coupon for the next purchase of the same item, but there have been times when I've found a treasure trove of coupons inside a product. Proctor and Gamble is probably the best brand out there for this type of thing. Last time we bought Charmin Toilet paper, it came with over $20 worth of coupons inside for other P&G items!

In the end, the more you look for them, the more coupons you will begin to find. They're all around you, if you know where to look!

Friday, July 22, 2011

How To: The Basics of Grocery Couponing, Part 2

So now that you have an idea of how to organize all of your coupons, you need to know how to actually use them, right?

The basic principal is this: Stores price things on a cycle. At the high point of any given product's cycle, that item will be about 2x (or more!) as expensive as it will be at the low point. The key is to NOT buy things at the higher prices, but stock up at the lower prices. When you add your coupons to the sale, you now have a great deal!

So, you probably need to start tracking prices on your favorite items and charting them against how your favorite store's cycle on those items goes, right? Wrong.

Enter THE LIST.

Let me start by saying that there are millions of ways to do this. I'm just going to share with you my way. It works for me. Hopefully it will work for you. The best thing you could do is take the principles I use and tweak them to meet your own family's needs.

When I first got into couponing, a friend told me about The Grocery Game (aka. Teri's List). It's a great service. very detailed, very organized, a little too much flash for my taste, but still usable. It costs $10 every two months for your first store, and $5 every two months for each additional store. As I said yesterday, I normally check five stores each week, so I would be spending $25 every two months to use this service. While I was certainly saving enough money to make that worthwhile, the idea here is to save money, not spend it. I knew I had to find something cheaper, preferably free.

So, I did some research.

There are a LOT of sites out there that do grocery lists.

Here's the (free) one that I found and love: CouponMom.com It's a simpler version of the Grocery Game, without the annoying flash. There are some drawbacks. For instance, the national stores will not have local lists on there. The only one I've found this matters on is CVS, so I simply check the store ad before I shop to make sure that the prices line up. Sometimes I've found that my region has slightly higher sale prices than on the list, and sometimes lower, but mostly it's about the same as the national pricing. This may vary in your region, and you may find differences in other stores, but really it only takes about 5 minutes to double check.

Okay, so what is this "list" and how do I use it? Here's my method, feel free to adapt it as seems appropriate.

Most of the sales for the stores I shop run Sunday to Saturday, so this means Sunday is the best day to go (before they start to sell out on the really good deals). Sunday morning, I get up, get showered and dressed, and then come down and start on my lists before church. It normally takes me about an hour to get everything ready for shopping.

I go to the site above, sign in, and open each of my stores in their own tab (with the exception of Kroger whose sales run Wednesday-Tuesday). I then sort each list by % saved (click the little arrows at the top of the column). Now I have all of my freebies right at the top. I then scan through each list and check the boxes for the items I think my family will use. I typically also buy all of the free items, because if we can't use it I'm pretty sure the local food pantry can. Some of these items may actually give you overage (when the coupon is worth more than the price of the item) to use toward other items. This is often how I wind up needing to add a candy bar just to be able to check out.

As I'm scanning my lists, I typically don't even look at anything that's less than 50% savings. The exception is when we actually need an item that I'm not finding a good sale on anywhere, then I'll look through that bottom half to see if I can at least get a mediocre deal on it.

Once I've gone through the list for one store, I click "display selected deals" at the top or bottom of the page, but I don't print the list until I go through all of the stores.This is because I've often found things on sale at multiple stores, and I can always go back and remove it from that list if I find a better sale elsewhere.

After I've gone through all of my lists and have only my selected items showing for each, I then click and print any needed coupons. I love that CouponMom puts the links right there on the list for any internet coupons you may need. (Some other services I've looked at don't.) Then, I print each of my lists.

Now it's time to go cut my coupons. On each list you'll see a code to the left that will say something like "07-03 PG" or "06-19 RP." These tell you which of your inserts you need to go to to find that coupon. For instance, that first code is the Proctor and Gamble insert from the July 3rd paper. The second one is Red Plum, June 19th. When you first start out, you'll quickly see that you don't have all of the coupons you need. Don't worry, you'll get there! Just work with what you've got, keep filing away all of those inserts as they come, and soon enough you'll find that you have all of the coupons on your list. Other abbreviations you'll see are S, for Smart Source, and AY for All You magazine.

As a side note, I do recommend getting All You. It's a great magazine, and always includes a fair number of coupons along with great money saving tips, recipes, etc.


Once I've cut all of my coupons, I then file them away in my small accordion file to take with me. Each list, along with its coupons, goes in its slot in my file. Then, I just throw it in the car, and after church I'm ready to do my shopping!

When I get to the store, I pull out my list and start putting items in my cart. Each time I pull something from the shelf, I take its coupons and put them in that blank front tab along with my savings or club card from that store. This way, when I get to the check out, I don't have to sort the coupons I'm using from the ones that the item was sold out or I changed my mind on. Do pay attention at check out though. Make sure each coupon rings up properly. Some clerks don't pay as much attention as maybe they should and if a coupon doesn't work they may not realize it.

My favorite part of the trip is when the clerk hands back my receipt. Many stores they have to look at the bottom and tell you how much you saved in their store that day. I love to hear "Thank you for shopping at _____, today you've saved 90%!" which is often followed by a double-take or a "Wow" or "That's pretty good!"

So, that's the very basics of how to put together a shopping trip. And if you follow that plan, you'll save quite a bit. But there's much more that we haven't covered that can help you squeeze every last drop of savings out of your grocery budget. Come back tomorrow for "where do you get those other coupons?"

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How To: The Basics of Grocery Couponing, Part 1.

Okay, so now comes the fun stuff. The "How To" part.

The first thing to wrap your head around is that if you've ever done couponing before, and not done it with a system similar to this one, you probably did it wrong.

Here's what I used to do:

  1. Get the Sunday paper. 
  2. Find the coupon inserts.
  3. Look through and cut out everything we might buy that week.
  4. Throw away the rest.
  5. Go to the store and shop.
Seems reasonable, right? Maybe that's even how you do it. I would come away with about 20-30% savings most weeks doing it this way. That's good, right? Not when you compare it with the way I do things now!

See, the problem is that the prices in the store aren't the same from one week to the next. You know this. You've seen the sale prices and the ads. The way to get your groceries at the cheapest price possible is to stock up on them when they're already on sale.

For example, lets look at Colgate Toothpaste. Toothpaste makes a great example because if you follow this system, it's one of the items you'll almost never have to actually pay money for. Normally it runs around $3 a tube in my area. So, if I got my Sunday paper a few weeks ago and found a $1 off coupon and ran out to the store and used it, I'd only save 33%. HOWEVER... if I had held on to that coupon until this week when it's on sale at my local Kroger store for 99¢, I would get that tube of toothpaste free. (That's 100% savings for those who are math challenged.)

But that would take a tremendous amount of time to keep track of all the sales and coupons, right? Wrong. It's already done for you. But we'll get to that shortly. For now, lets discuss those Sunday paper inserts.

The first thing to do is make sure you are buying the paper in your area with the largest distribution. Even if the smaller papers have coupon inserts, you'll find that the coupons won't be as good as the big paper's coupons.

Then, DON'T CUT ANYTHING OUT! I mean it! There is no point in wasting your time cutting all those coupons each week. Instead, get yourself an accordion file or another filing system and simply file your inserts by month, just as they are. Here's what I use:


I opt for the filing crate because sometimes I get multiple Sunday papers if I want extras of the coupons, so I need more space than the typical accordion file offers. Of course, I started out with just a stack of inserts on the desk, until I was sure I wanted to do this long enough to mess with organizing it.

In addition to this, I also have two small accordion files, like so:



In the first one I have all of my other coupons organized by type of product (more on where these come from in another post). The bottom one is the one I take with me to the grocery store. I have a blank tab at the front, followed by a tab for each store I visit, though I may not visit each store each week. The stores I go to are: CVS, Kroger, Target, Walgreens and Walmart.

So, now that you know how to organize your coupons, the question is how to USE them, right? Stay tuned!

Tomorrow I'll tell you all you need to know about... THE LIST.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Welcome to BunGirl Saves

Oh no! Not another BunGirl blog!

Yes, I know. I've started how many blogs now? I tend to write for a little while and then eventually it gets pushed to the back burner and I forget all about it. I'd like to say this time will be different, but who knows! What I will say is that I've been wanting to start this blog for some time, but have put it off because I didn't want to start yet another short-lived blog.

But this is a topic I think I can stick with.

So, no promises, but we'll see.

So what's this "BunGirl Saves" thing about anyway?

Over the past few years, as the economy here in the USofA has pretty well tanked, my husband and I have had to learn new ways of doing some things. Since he's been laid off several times and there have been pay cuts and very little commission coming in, we've had to cut back on our spending. I've sought out ways to save a dime here or there and learned quite a bit. We've gone from spending over $100 pretty much every week, just for groceries, to spending $50 (or much less sometimes) for the same things and even adding in things we thought we could not afford before!

Several friends/family members/etc. have asked me how I'm doing it, and I'm more than happy to share my secrets. Of course, there are plenty of money-saving blogs out there, and I realize that you could just go learn from them like I did. Here though, you can trust that all the tips I give you are 100% ethical. You will not learn how to cheat the system, but how to work within it to stretch your dollars as far as possible.

Also, please understand, I do not in any way claim to be an expert on any of this. But I have been doing it for several months now, and my results speak for themselves. From time to time, I'll show you those results. Whenever I have a particularly good shopping trip, you can look forward to seeing my receipts right here on this blog.

To start us off, and give you an idea of the kind of savings I'm talking about, here's one from CVS from a few weeks back. If you look, you'll see that I paid only 40¢ that day. What you may not realize at first glance, is that I actually had to ADD that Hershey's Almond candy bar to my order to make the total positive!

So, lets break down this order.

We have the candy bar at the top, which was on sale 4/$3, making its cost a mere 75¢. Not bad, but again, this was just filler so I could actually check out.

Then we have Ragu. I love pasta. I love pasta sauce. I have a tendency to doctor up my pasta sauces so they don't taste anything like what I started with. Therefore, I love buying super cheap pasta sauce when I can. This one was on sale, 3/$5 ($1.67 ea.), and I had a $1 off coupon, making it 67¢.

Next is three "OEP TS" items. What on earth is that?!? It stands for Old El Paso Taco Stuffers. These are microwaveable pouches with beans, rice and meat, for making some very yummy tacos. Each one was a full meal for the hubby and I (we added tortillas, some diced tomatoes and onions, and sour cream), with a little left over for his lunch the next day. They were on sale for $1.99, and I had three $1 off coupons, so I bought 3 for 99¢ ea.

Then we have two Edy's Slow Churned Ice Creams. These are really, really good. They're a little pricier than we normally used to pay, so this is certainly one of the items I would not have been buying if I hadn't learned about couponing. However, this particular week, CVS had them on sale, buy one get one free (bogo). Since one costs $5.99, this made them roughly $3 each.

So now if we add up all of those items above, we get $10.38. How on earth did I get out of there for 40¢???

I had $10 Extra Care Bucks from a previous shopping trip. Extra Care Bucks are CVS's customer rewards program. Most people don't pay attention to them, but as you can see, they're as good as cash in any CVS.

So, when you take the $10 off, and add in the 2¢ tax, we come to 40¢ for the entire bill!

Is this typical savings? No, it's not. But I do wind up having to add a candybar just to bring my total positive about once a month. A more typical trip nets me about 60-75% savings. And I get LOTS of freebies!

So how do I do this? I must spend hours combing sales flyers and clipping coupons, right? Not really. I spend about an hour a week, if that. The great thing is that most of the work is done for me, I just have to know where to look! For the "how to" lesson, stay tuned!


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