Couponing A to Z: Budgeting for Bargains!

For the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring a few posts each week as a part of a series called “Couponing A to Z” which will hopefully give you tips to get started with couponing!  Last week, we talked about using the ads to your advantage (you can check out that post here if you missed it).

This week, we’re going to talk about “Budgeting for Bargains.” Since the debut of TLC’s Extreme Couponing, I get several e-mails and comments each week where people want to know how they can walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of groceries for free.  Or, they are feeling discouraged because they’re only saving 30-50% on their grocery trips and they feel like they’re doing something wrong!

Have you ever looked at what most of those people on Extreme Couponing are actually buying?  I don’t know about you, but I can’t feed my family of four on candy bars, pasta, Maalox, mustard, BBQ sauce, and soda alone.  Where’s the milk and the meat and the fresh fruit and vegetables?

The bottom line is this:  If you’re wanting to feed your family a balanced diet, typically you’re not going to be able to walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of groceries that you got for free. The reality is that if you stick with couponing, you CAN cut your grocery budget significantly and still manage to feed your family decently.  For three years, I managed to feed my family on a grocery budget of $40 per week.  This year, I had to increase this due to increased grocery prices, the ending of double/triple coupons at my grocery store, and the fact that my kids are growing and eating more.  My disclaimer is that I have a stockpile to work with.  I didn’t accumulate my stockpile overnight.  The key to being able to cut your grocery budget significantly is to develop a stockpile so that you are only buying the items that you use regularly when they’re on sale.  You can find out about what’s in my stockpile in my “What’s in My Pantry?” post here.

Creating a Budget

If you’ve been reading my blog for long, then you know that I’m a huge advocate of budgeting!  I firmly believe that you should have a budget for grocery shopping period.  I’ve been doing this for awhile, so when there is a great sale, I am able to figure out how to fit that into various categories in our current budget.  But, if you’re just starting using coupons and your goals is to build your stockpile, it would be great if you could set aside $5-$10 extra each week to build your stockpile.  The logic is this:  you can get 10 items you need for $5 this week while they’re on sale or you can pay full price (which may be close to $5 for just one item) when you need the item next.

If you are new to budgeting and you’re not sure how to get started, make sure you check out this post here.

What if you run out of money?

I personally use a cash envelope system for budgeting.  If I don’t have enough money in one of my envelopes to do a deal, sometimes that means that I sit that deal out. When you’re just getting started with bargain hunting, this can be a tough thing to do because you get so excited about all of the deals. Since we’re really trying to stick to our budget right now, a deal isn’t a deal if I don’t have the money to get it.

Having said that, I have to add a few disclaimers. First of all, I have a good stockpile of things that we “need” already, so I can sit out a deal knowing that I will probably have enough of a certain item to get by until the next deal comes along. Over time, I have also developed an understanding of the “sales cycles” to know about how long it will be before the next deal like that comes along. I’ve also gotten a good idea over time about what’s a really HOT deal that probably won’t come around again for awhile.

Sometimes, if the deal is really a “hot” deal and it’s for something we really NEED or I know we will need soon (most likely before the next deal comes along), then I will re-evaluate my budget categories and if we have enough money to cover it in another envelope and I feel like we’re pretty “set” in that category, I will borrow from another envelope. The bottom line for me is that I won’t spend money that I don’t actually have for any bargain shopping.  This is why it’s a good idea to set aside a separate budget just for establishing your stockpile when you’re first getting started.

How do you budget for bargains?  Please share any additional tips you have!

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please refer to my disclosure policy for more information

Couponing A to Z: The ads!

For the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring a few posts each week as a part of a series called “Couponing A to Z” which will hopefully give you tips to get started with couponing!

Today, we’re starting with the letter “A” and we’ll be talking about the ads. I have to admit that getting the grocery ads on Tuesdays and Wednesdays is sometimes a “high” for me and leaves me thinking “So many deals, so little time.”

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your grocery ads:

1.  Look for the “loss leaders” – A loss leader is basically an item that the store is willing to take a loss on by marking the price down in an effort to draw more business to their store.  Their hope is that once you’re “in” to buy that item, you’ll buy other items, too, and they’ll come out ahead in the end.  The loss leaders are typically located on the first and last page of your ad.  If you can have coupons to match up with these items, it means that it’s time to stock up!

2.  Mix & Match Sales – Mix and match sales usually carry a tag that says “10/$10” or “5/$5” and many shoppers mistakenly assume that you have to purchase five or ten items to get those price.  The reality is that, in most cases, even if you buy just one item, you’ll still only pay $1.  Keep in mind that some stores require some sort of store loyalty card in order to get the sale prices.  If there is a mix & match sale, you can also buy a mixture of items – you don’t need to buy 10 of the same item.

3.  Mega sales – When a store has a mega sale, it typically means that you will receive a deduction instantly if you buy a set amount of items (for example, buy 10 participating items, get an instant $5 off).  Check the fine print in the ad to make sure that you understand how the sale works.  A few things to look for:  Can you do the promotion more than one time per transaction?  Can you buy a combination of items to get the promotional discount?  Do you need a customer loyalty card to take advantage of the discount?  When you are purchasing items in the store, make sure that you are buying the correct items and make sure you check your receipt to ensure that the discounts were applied.  If you didn’t buy enough items to get the promotional discount or you purchased the wrong item, take your receipt to customer service.  They will usually allow you to make the exchange or buy the additional items to take advantage of the sale.

4.  Buy One, Get One Free – Buy one, get one free sales can be a good time to stock up on items, especially if you can use coupons in addition to the sale!  Some stores will allow you to use a Buy One, Get One free manufacturer’s coupon in combination with a BOGO free store promotion to get two items for free.  Some stores will also let you use two “dollar off” coupons (one for each item) with a BOGO free sale.  Even if you can only use one coupon, it’s still a great way to save money in most cases.  It’s always good to have a feel for pricing because at times, they will raise the price of items so the BOGO free prices really aren’t that great of a deal.

5.  Raincheck – Remember, if your store is sold out of items, it never hurts to ask for a raincheck!  I usually cut out the item from the ad, write the ad date on it with a marker, and attach it to the raincheck.

6.  Price match – If your store is sold out of items, you can also go to Target or Walmart to price match the items!

Do you have any other tips for making the most of your grocery ads?

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please refer to my disclosure policy for more information.


Tuesday Tips: What is “stacking” and “overage”?

If you’re new to using coupons, you may be confused by terms such as “stacking” and “overage” that more seasoned couponers throw out!

Stacking refers to using a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon together for greater savings! Although you can only use one manufacturer’s coupon per item, some stores also have special store coupons and they will allow you to use their store coupons with a manufacturer’s coupon!

The stores that come to mind that offer special store coupons include:  Publix, Safeway, Target, and Walgreens.  You can find the Target coupons online (visit their website and scroll down to the bottom of the page where there is a link that says “Coupon”) and they also sometimes send out special mailers.  Safeway has “super coupons” that are considered store coupons in their weekly ads.  Walgreens typically has store coupons in their weekly ad.  They also have a monthly coupon book that is usually found at the front of the store in the same area where the weekly ads are kept.  In addition, they often have additional specialized coupon books.  An example is the Infant Care booklet that is out currently.

PLEASE NOTE: There may be other stores that provide store coupons and allow stacking.  These are just the stores that I am familiar with!

Overage means that your coupon (or combination of store and manufacturer’s coupons) is more than the amount of the items that you are purchasing. Some stores will allow you to get cash back in these situations!  Walmart is the store that I can think of off the top of my head.  This is rare right now.  Most stores will adjust the amount of the coupon down to the amount of the item being purchased.  For example, if you are purchasing an item that is $.97 and you use a $1 coupon, they would adjust the amount of the coupon down to $.97.

In some cases, stores will not give you cash back, but you can apply the “overage” to other items in your cart.  This is especially true if you are combining store and manufacturer’s coupons.  If you are combining store and manufacturer’s coupons in a situation that would result in overage, make sure you are purchasing other items to “cover” the overage.  Also, always make sure that you give the manufacturer’s coupon first and the store coupon last.

For example, let’s say that Walgreens has Colgate toothpaste on sale for $1.97 and they have a $1 store coupon in their monthly coupon book and you also have a $1 manufacturer’s coupon.

Here’s the breakdown of how this would work:

Buy Colgate toothpaste – $1.97

Use $1 manufacturer’s coupon (give this first!)
Use $1 Walgreens coupon (give this last!)

Final Price = $.03 overage (This will only “work” if you have other items you are purchasing to “cover” the overage!  If you aren’t buying other items, the coupons would beep and they would adjust the price down)

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please refer to my disclosure policy for more information.


Tuesday Tips: The Power of a Raincheck!

Last week, I wrote a post and asked the question:  Is TLC’s Extreme Couponing ruining it for legit couponers?  Many people responded that their stores were cracking down on coupon usage, but the next biggest complaint was that people are having a hard time finding products because the shelves in their stores are always cleared.

When there’s a hot promotion in my area and I’m unable to find what I’m looking for, I will typically first try to price match at Walmart.  Sometimes I don’t have time to make an extra trip, though, and sometimes my Walmart is out of the items I’m looking for.  \

A raincheck is a great resource if an item you’re looking for is out of stock!  It allows you to “save the price” so to speak when hot sale items are out of stock.

How to request a raincheck:

Talk to the cashier or visit the customer service desk and let them know that you would like a raincheck (at my drug stores, the cashiers can typically issue the rainchecks, but at my grocery stores, I typically have to go to customer service).  Not all stores offer rainchecks, but most of them do, and it never hurts to ask!


-If you are asked about the quantity, always get a raincheck for the greatest quantity!

-Once you have your raincheck, cut out the portion of the ad that refers to the item and attach it to your raincheck for future reference.

-Check expiration dates.  Some rainchecks have an expiration date.  Others do not.  If your raincheck has an expiration, date, make sure you use it before it expires!

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please refer to my disclosure policy for more information


Tuesday Tips: What is a catalina coupon?

I often refer to ‘catalina coupons’ in my weekly grocery match-ups.  If you’re new to couponing (or even if you’ve been around for awhile) you may be wondering what in the world I’m talking about!

Catalina coupons are the coupon strips that print off at the register when you check-out.

There are two different types of catalina coupons:

Product-specific catalinas are essentially manufacturer’s coupons.  They typically have a logo for the store where you received them and will say “redeem at X store” and are for use on a specific product only.  Even though they have a store logo on them, these typically are not store coupons, so they cannot be combined with other coupons (at the top it should specify manufacturer’s coupon or store coupon).

Some stores will accept catalina coupons from other stores.  Two that come to mind are Safeway affiliate stores and Walmart.

Safeway’s coupon policy says: (you can access the full policy here)

Safeway will not accept manufacturer coupons (including, but not limited to, coupons issued through a Catalina or other in-store coupon dispenser) that display another retailer’s logo or name unless such coupon is for a specific item with the same product identifiers as the product included in our customer’s purchase transaction.

Walmart’s coupon policy says: (you can access the full policy here)

We gladly accept the following types of coupons:

Checkout coupons (“Catalinas”)

  • Printed at our competitors’ registers for dollar/cents off on a specific item
  • Must have “Manufacturer Coupon” with specific item requirements printed on them
  • Must have a valid remit address for the manufacturer
  • Must have a valid expiration date
  • Must have a scannable bar code
  • Are acceptable in black and white
  • May not be duplicated

On Your Next Purchase (OYNP) catalinas are typically store-specific coupons that can be used like cash toward your next purchase of any items (sometimes, there are exclusions).  Even though they sometimes say “manufacturer’s coupon” at the top, they typically cannot be used at other stores (Note how the two coupon policies referenced above state that you can only use catalina coupons from other stores if they are for a specific product).  The Register Rewards you receive when you purchase specific qualifying items at Walgreens are typically OYNP catalinas.

OYNP catalina coupons are a great way to build your stockpile! Companies run promotions where you get an OYNO catalina for buying specific products.  When there are sale prices and coupons plus a catalina offer, it’s a great time to stock up because you can typically “roll” your catalina coupon into buying more of that item.

Let’s say that there’s a catalina coupon for General Mills cereal that works like this: (keep in mind, I’m just using this as an example)

Buy 2 GM cereals, get $1 OYNO

Buy 3 GM cereals, get $2 OYNO

Buy 4 GM cereals, get $3 OYNO

Let’s say General Mills cereals are on sale for $1.99 and I have $.50/1 coupons that will double at my grocery store.  Here’s how I can make this deal work for me:

Buy 3 GM cereals – $1.99

Use 3 $.50/1 GM cereals coupons (that double to $1 each)

Spend $2.97 OOP, get a $2 OYNO catalina

Then, on the second round, it would look like this:

Buy 3 GM cereals – $1.99

Use 3 $.50/1 GM cereal coupons (that double to $1 each)

Use $2 OYNO catalina (sometimes you have to add a filler if you aren’t buying anything else)

Spend $.97 OOP, get a $2 OYNO catalina

So, I just got 6 boxes of cereal for $3.94 OOP ($.66/each)

OYNP catalina coupons are a great way to reduce your out of pocket spending on fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meat! I often am asked how to save money on these types of products because typically, there are not coupons.  I will often use my OYNP catalinas to reduce my out of pocket spending on these products!

Typically, you have to buy certain products to “trigger” both types of catalina coupons to print.  When there are OYNO catalina deals coming, many times a “heads up” catalina will print that outlines the details of the promotion (qualifying items, dates, etc.).

What if my catalina coupon doesn’t print?

Before checking out, make sure the green light on the catalina machine is on!

If the light is “on” and you bought the correct participating products, visit the customer service desk at your store and let them know what happened.  Sometimes, they will ring the purchase up again at a different register to see if the catalina will print or they will just give you cash.

If your customer service desk does not remedy things, contact Catalina.  You will need to provide your store name, address and phone number, date and time of purchase and reference number from your store receipt.  You may contact Catalina via email or via phone by calling (877) 210-1917, option 1.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please refer to my disclosure policy for more information