Tuesday Tips: So you want to be an extreme couponer?

Many of you have been watching Extreme Couponing on TLC and I’ve seen many people make comments such as “I want a stockpile like that” or “I want to be able to use coupons like that.  There are a few things that you need to keep in mind.  First, the people on these TV shows have been using coupons for awhile and so they have learned the “tricks of the trade.”  Plus, their stockpiles weren’t built overnight.

You CAN accumulate a stockpile over time if you follow these tips:

1.  Find good blogs that cover store match-ups for your area so you can get a “heads up” on the hottest deals.  I often get asked if it’s “worth it” to pay for subscriptions to services such as The Grocery Game.  I don’t really know if it’s “worth it” because I have never actually tried those services.  The way I look at it is – When your goal is to save money, why would you want to spend money on something you can get for free?

2.  Stock up on coupons for items that you know your family will use – you can do this by buying multiple papers, trading coupons, using a coupon clipping service, or … dumpster diving (I’ve never tried this personally, but I know there are lots of couponers out there who do)  Check out my post here on where to find coupons for more ideas.

3. Stock up on items that you need/use when they are at “rock bottom prices” (we’re going to talk more about “rock bottom prices” next week).  When you do this, you may be spending a chunk of money out of pocket initially, but this also means that you are not paying full price for these items later.  For example, Bird’s Eye Steamfresh veggies were $.67/bag at my Kroger stores this week.  Now that my stores no longer double/triple coupons, this is a stock up price for me, and we use these regularly.  So, I bought 20 bags.  I spent $8.40 (I had a $5 gift card), and those bags retail for $1.40, so I saved almost $20.  For ideas on the items that are at rock bottom/stockpile prices this week, check out my Couponing for a Cause post here.

4.  Organize, organize, organize. One of the BIGGEST keys to making it as a “couponer” is organization.  If your coupons aren’t organized, you will get frustrated and give up quickly.  We’ll talk more about methods for organization soon!  If your stockpile isn’t organized, things will expire or go to waste.  Find an organization system that works for you!

And…as a special treat, I was able to ask Nathan Engels (AKA “Mr. Coupon”) a few questions about his experiences in using coupons. Nathan Engels has appeared on two episodes of TLC’s Extreme Couponing (he donated all the items for care packages for the troops in the most recent episode).  He also runs We Use Coupons, which is a great resource for new (and “seasoned”) couponers.

Here’s my interview with Nathan:

How long have you been couponing?

I’ve been couponing for around 4 years.

(See….I told you this stuff doesn’t happen overnight!)

How did you get your start couponing?

My wife and I got married and realized we were deeply in debt.  So we cut up our credit cards and set a grocery budget.  In order to stretch our budget we looked to coupons to help us!

(I loved this because it is so similar to my own story!)

How much time do you spend organizing and planning for shopping trips each week?

I spend around 5-15 hours depending on the week!

(I asked this question because it’s a common one that I have people ask me…)

How much do you spend per month on coupons that you purchase from coupon clipping services and what’s your favorite service? (assuming you use a coupon clipping service?)  If you don’t use a coupon clipping service, how much do you spend on newspapers?

I actually try to keep my coupon costs as low as possible.  I generally get 3-4 newspapers and then dumpster dive!!  If you are curious about learning more about dumpster diving, watch this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CI5qLtZY8H0

What advice do you have for those who are new to using coupons?

I have really only have TWO tips for newbies!  I call them to two “O’s.  Online and Organization.  Both are super important.  Get online and get organized!

DISCLAIMER: The stockpile pictures is not mine.  It’s just one I found “swagging” online.  One of these days, I’ll take pictures of what I’ve got and how I organize.

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

Tuesday Tips: Ethical coupon usage

Tomorrow we’ll see another episode of TLC’s “Extreme Couponers.”  After the episode last week, there have been numerous allegations that one of the couponers that was featured on the episode has used thousands of coupons incorrectly.  As I’ve read comments on various Facebook pages, message boards, and blogs this week, there are two main “themes” that stood out the most to me.

If a coupon doesn’t “beep” or a cashier pushes it through, who CARES – it’s the stores fault or the manufacturer’s fault

Have you ever been on a coupon trip where your cashiers stood there and read through to fine print on every single coupon you’re using?  Have you ever been faced with having to dig through your bags to match up coupons with the products you’re buying?  This is both embarrassing and time consuming and this is the direction that we’re headed in if people continue to function under the mentality that the store or cashiers have the responsibility to make sure that coupons match up.  As a consumer, you have a responsibility to use your coupons correctly.  Just because it “can” go through doesn’t mean you should use it incorrectly and if you do use it correctly, this is coupon fraud.

Who cares if someone else does this?  Just leave them alone – it doesn’t affect you.

If you truly believe that other people using coupons incorrectly doesn’t affect you, you are sadly mistaken.  I’ve been using coupons for several years now, so I’ve seen the cycle of what happens when there is a wave of fraudulent coupons or when coupons are used incorrectly.  Several of my grocery stores stopped taking internet printables for awhile a few years ago when several fake, high dollar printable coupons were released.  When you use coupons incorrectly, stores will not be reimbursed, which means that they lose money.  Guess who foots the bill for this?  We do!  Prices will be higher, stores will tighten up their coupon policies, and manufacturer’s will stop putting out high dollar coupons.

If you think there aren’t legal consequences for improper coupon usage, you are also mistaken.   About a year ago, on a message board that I belong to, someone posted this video about a woman who had been arrested for using thousands of dollars in fraudulent coupons. As a “couponer” I know how exciting the “thrill of the bargain” can be, but improper coupon usage hurts us all in the end.  Through the years, I have also learned that just because you read about a deal online, that doesn’t mean that it is “legit.”

Here are some tips for proper coupon usage:

Read “the fine print” ~ Most coupons have specifications such as size limitations included on them.  If the coupon says “good on any” then it truly should be good on any product, including trial sizes.  If the coupon says “one per purchase” that means that you can use one coupon for each item that you are purchasing.  So, if you are purchasing 5 items and you have 5 coupons, you should be able to use all 5 items.  If the coupon says “one per transaction” that means that you can only use one of those coupons in your transaction.  So, if you have 5 coupons, you would have to do 5 separate transactions to use all of those coupons.  Also, pay attention to the terms of the coupon.  For example, if a coupon says $1 off 2, you would need to purchase two products to use that one coupon.

Do not copy coupons ~ One of the biggest “newbie” mistakes I hear about is people copying coupons and particularly printable coupons.  Many printable coupons have print limits, which can be frustrating and they all “look” the same, so what’s the harm, right?  What some people don’t realize is that the printable coupons have a unique code that prints in the upper right hand corner of each coupon.  In addition, some have a special background that will not show up if you copy them.  Many store employees have been trained to look for this, and if you have copied coupons, it will quickly become obvious.  A visit with your store’s loss prevention is not worth that extra bargain and will not even end up being a bargain in the long run.  Many manufacturer’s are now changing the code on printable coupons, which will make it more difficult to “decode” and more difficult to copy.

Beware of fake coupons ~ If it looks or sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Just because you found it online or got it in an e-mail doesn’t mean that it’s “real” and you don’t want to be caught using a fraudulent coupon.  Read more about How to Spot Fake Coupons.

Be courteous ~ Don’t clear the shelves in one store and don’t plan big trips during “prime” shopping hours.  Read more about The Rules of Coupon Etiquette.

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

Tip of the Day Tuesday: Where can I donate unused OTC medicines?

Are you finding that your stockpile over over the counter medications is a bit out of control lately thanks to deals where you got them for free or close to free?  Do you find yourself handing them out like candy to friends, family members, and even strangers on the street?

If you’ve accumulated a stash of over the counter medicine that will take care of your family far beyond its shelf life and you’re looking for places to donate your unused items, here are some suggestions:

Your child’s school – The clinic or nurse’s office at your child’s school is not just for students!  You’d be surprised at the number of teachers who visit the nurses office in search of relief from headaches, indigestion, cold and flu symptoms, or allergies.  I work in a school, so I’m not just making this up! Your school nurse would likely greatly appreciate any items that you have!  The school may also be able to use unused blood glucose monitors.

Shelters – Homeless shelters and battered women’s shelters will usually be grateful for any over the counter medications you can provide for their residents.  You can find a list of homeless shelters in your area hereYou can find a list of battered women’s shelters in your area here.

Senior centers -Senior citizens are often on fixed incomes and do not have extra money to spend on over the counter medications and they aren’t always able to get out and take advantage of all of the great deals.  Consider donating some of your unused medications to a local senior center.  This may also be a great resource for donating some of those other freebies such as Depends, Poise pads, and TENA pads.

Food banks – Food banks will sometimes take health and beauty items in addition to non-perishable food items.  To find a local food bank in your area, check out this list here.

As you’re getting ready to donate some of your excess over the counter medications, you might also want to check out this post on I Heart Organizing about how to organize (and dispose of) your medications.  There are some great tips!

Don’t forget to get a receipt for your donation so that you can keep track of it for tax purposes!

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

Tuesday Tips: CVS vs. Walgreens

I often have people, particularly those who are just getting started using coupons, ask me which is “better” – CVS or Walgreens?  The answer, at least for me, isn’t very easy or cut and dried, so I thought I’d share a comparison of the two!


CVS and Walgreens both offer “rewards” for purchasing specific items (these are highlighted in the weekly ads).  The rewards are CVS are called “Extra Care Bucks” (ECBs) and the rewards at Walgreens are called “Register Rewards” (RRs).

At CVS, the Extra Care Bucks are tied to your card and cannot be used by anyone else. They print off on the bottom of your receipt when you make qualifying purchases.  You also earn quarterly Extra Care Bucks for filling your prescriptions at CVS (you’ll receive 1 ECB for every 2 prescriptions you fill) and based on your out of pocket spending (you’ll receive a quarterly ECB for 2% of your purchases during that quarter).  The Extra Care Bucks typically have an expiration date that is one month from the date of your purchase.  These are also considered “store coupons” and you can use multiple ECBs in one transaction regardless of the number of items that you are purchasing.  This makes it easier to “roll” them into other deals (if you’re not familiar with the concept of “rolling” this basically means that you use your rewards to pay for other items that earn rewards so that you are not spending much, if any “real” money out of pocket)

At Walgreens, the Register Rewards are basically a catalina coupon that prints out after you make a qualifying purchase (similar to the coupons you receive at the grocery store).  These are considered manufacturer’s coupons, so they are not tied to any one person.  Because they are considered manufacturer’s coupons and you can only use one manufacturer’s coupon per item, it makes it more difficult to “roll” these into other deals if you also have a manufacturer’s coupon for the item you are buying.  For example, if there is a deal on Gillette razors and I have a Register Reward that I want to use, but I also have a manufacturer’s coupon that I want to use, I will have to add a “filler” item so that I can use both coupons.  The good news is that they have cheap “filler” items every week which typically include things that I need anyway such as spices, Hunt’s tomato sauce, canned mushrooms, and seasonal items.  Register Rewards also have additional restrictions.  For example, if you use a Register Reward from a promotion to buy that same item, another Register Reward will not print.  Also, if you use a Register Reward from a different promotion but the same manufacturer that is the same amount of a Register Reward you would earn, another Register Reward will not print.  For example, if you have a $2 RR from buying Crest toothpaste and there is also a $2 RR offer for Herbal Essences shampoo, a new RR will not print if you use the Crest RR to buy the shampoo because both products have the same manufacturer (P&G).

Both rewards coupons have some restrictions which typically exclude them from being used on items such as gift cards, postage stamps, prescriptions, and alcohol.



-Unlimited use of ECBs per transaction, which makes them easier to “roll” into other deals

-Longer expiration dates for ECBs

-Purchases are “tracked” on your card (so, if you are taking advantage of a promotion such as “Spend $25 on X item, get a $10 ECB” and one store doesn’t have enough, you will be able to go to another store and the purchases will also count toward your $25)

-ECBs can be used on almost anything in the store!  If the limit is more than one on an ECB-earning item, you can use the ECB from purchasing the first item to buy the second item.

-When you scan your card at the red scanners in the store, you get additional store coupons that can be combined with manufacturer’s coupons for greater savings!


-ECBs are tied to one specific card

-Household limits on ECB-earning items



-RRs are manufacturer’s coupons and can be used on almost anything in the store!

-You can use more than one RR per transaction

-You can combine store and manufacturer’s coupons and there are usually store coupons in the weekly ads, monthly coupon books with store coupons (found at the front of the store) and special coupon booklets with store coupons.  Combining the store coupons and manufacturer’s coupons results in greater savings!


-RRs are manufacturer’s coupons so you sometimes have to add “filler items” which makes it harder to “roll” your RRs and typically results in more out of pocket expenses

-Expiration dates are shorter (usually about 2 weeks)

-Promotional restrictions make it difficult to “roll” RR because you cannot use a RR from a promotion to buy another and still earn RRs and sometimes cannot use RR from the same manufacturer

Overall, I think CVS is easier to learn if you are a newbie, but I prefer Walgreens because my Walgreens stores tend to have more items in stock and because there are not household limits (as long as I can figure out how to “roll” the RRs between different items)

If you are new to shopping at CVS or Walgreens, make sure you check out my store guides here:

CVS Newbie Store guide

Walgreens Newbie store guide

Tip of the Day Tuesday: Deal or No Deal – Finding Legitimate Online Deals

You may have noticed that I don’t jump to post every deal that hits other sites on my blog. This is because I like to take time to make sure that a deal is “legit” before posting it. This is tricky sometimes because hot deals are often time sensitive and so in waiting, I run the risk of missing out on a deal. I guess my philosophy is that I’d rather miss out on posting a hot deal than post a deal that ends up not being legit and even worse, compromises people’s personal information!  Sometimes I have “jumped” on a hot deal that seems “legit” only to have it canceled later due to “pricing errors” (does anyone remember the Target Britax deal?!) and other times I have jumped on a deal assuming it might not work out and been pleasantly surprised when it actually did ($5 Eclipse Blu Ray/DVD from Target).  PLEASE NOTE:  I’m not criticizing others for posting deals right when they pop up – I’m just explaining why you typically won’t see that here.  I certainly have posted deals that ended up not being deals or being legit in the past.  It’s a fine line that’s hard to navigate sometimes!

Through the years, I’ve learned a few things about finding real bargains, and I have gotten a number of free items, but I have also encountered some bogus deals along the way. For some people, just one bad deal can lead them to give up bargain hunting forever. I decided to stick it out, and along the way, I have learned some things about how to separate the deals from the scams.

Do your research

If you see a deal posted that you are interested in, but you are not familiar with the company, make sure that you do your research first. Visit their website and look for contact information. If phone numbers or e-mail addresses are posted, try contacting the company. If you can’t locate a working phone number, that is usually a sign that the company is not legitimate or reputable. If the company is not located in the United States, you may also want to be cautious.

Try using a search engine to search for the company. See what others have posted about their experiences with the company. “No news is good news” is not a good rule of thumb when dealing with online deals. If you are unable to find any information about the company, then you probably want to wait before jumping on the deal.

Visit message boards to see what others are saying about their experiences with the company. Sometimes it pays to wait awhile so that you see if the deal really works out.

Look for the “catch” 

I have gotten some great deals through the years, but more often than not, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is, especially if you are dealing with a company that is not well known. Be sure to read the fine print on offers. If you are trying to take advantage of a deal that is supposedly free, you should not have to give any payment information. If you are asked to provide payment information, then there is probably a “catch.” For example, you may get a free trial for a specific time period and then you will be charged a fee once the free trial is over. These offers are not necessarily bad, but you need to make sure that you are fully aware of the terms when you sign up for the offer. Do not give payment information unless you are accessing the site via a secure connection and have researched the company to ensure that they are legitimate.

Comparison shop

Sometimes companies will advertise a deal that in reality is not much of a deal. You may think you’re getting a good deal because the company advertises that the prices are 50-70% off, but if you comparison shop, you may find out that their discounted prices are comparable with regular prices that other stores are offering.

Keep records

When you take advantage of an online deal, keep a record of it. I keep a file that includes the date of my transaction, the terms of the deal, and contact information for the company. When I receive the offer, I update my file so that it includes the date that I received the item.

It is also helpful to take a screen shot of the page that lists the terms and conditions of the offer. Some companies, even ones that are relatively reputable, have been known to change the terms of an offer after the fact.

If you are the victim of an online scam, report the company to the Better Business Bureau. If you have an address or other contact information, you can also try contacting the Attorney General’s Office in the state where they are located. 

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