Extreme couponing is a new word for something that many housewives have been doing for years. Combining coupons with sales in order to get items for free or cheap has been a shopping strategy used by many people for years.
With the recent recession, however, using this method to save on groceries has received a lot of attention. The drought affecting the eastern part of our state has made prices at the grocery store soar, making it even more critical to save money on the basics.
To become a pro at extreme couponing, start by getting an accordion file or an old baseball card style notebook. Organizing coupons so that you can find them easily is a must. Extreme couponers have collections of thousands of coupons, making good organization absolutely essential. Create sections for each type of coupon you have. Typically, organizing sections by the sections found in the local grocery store makes the most sense. For example, include sections for frozen food, dairy products, canned goods, condiments, and personal hygiene products. Within each section, sort coupons alphabetically by brand name. If using an accordion file, make each section correspond to a section at the grocery store then sort within each pocket. If using a notebook, use dividers for each product type, then place each product’s coupons in their own individual pouch.
After setting up your organizational system, set aside about an hour each week to collect, cut, and organize coupons. Start by finding coupons in your local newspaper, in magazines, and through websites. If you don’t like the selection you find, try joining a coupon exchange or writing to the manufacturers of products you use the most often. Do not try to steal coupons from your neighbors’ newspapers, take coupon inserts from newspapers in rack style kiosks, or swipe piles of them from store displays. You may get a few more free products, but is having your entire block mad at you really worth a case of free mustard?
Stores have recently started instituting policies to try to prevent people from following the examples set by people on television. Swiping stacks of coupons from stores will not result in getting great deals. When a store plans a promotion, they consider the final selling price of the item after the coupons they hand out (and store coupons are only good at that store). Most stores are also watching the coupons put out in their local newspapers and making sure customers cannot get items for free. For this reason, most extreme couponers get their coupons from the internet or through coupon exchanges.
Once you have a supply of coupons, start reading your store ads carefully. Look at each item on sale, check to see if you have coupons for it, and calculate what that item will cost you. Then consider how quickly you will use that item and how you will store it. This is where a lot of extreme couponers get into trouble. For example, a local store recently had a sale on frozen chicken pot pies. Each pie was marked down to 50 cents. With ten $1 off two pie coupons, an extreme couponer could get 20 free frozen chicken pot pies. Consider, however, that a chest freezer costs an average of $30 a month to run. If you’re storing the pies for two months while you eat through your stash, you’ve spent $60 on electricity, or $3 per pie. Good couponers realize this, and limit the amount of frozen food they buy so that they do not have to purchase and run extra refrigerators and freezers. Try to stockpile only shelf stable goods.
During tax-free weekends, try to shop for items such as basic school supplies and toiletries at grocery and discount stores. Many stores put out additional discounts over these weekends, and not having to pay sales tax on the item can save about 8%.