Thursday, November 25, 2010

15 Minutes Of Fame

That's me, Leslie, then me again!

Leslie and I made the front page! BOTH 'front' pages! Holy cow! You can read the accompanying newspaper story here (where you can see a picture of my hands and Leslie's profile, heh).

A million thanks to Leslie for taking the initiative when she saw that the Southtown Star was looking for super shoppers, because this was a really fun experience. We had a great time going around with Joe (the photographer), snagging and sharing deals.

I hope everyone is enjoying a happy, healthy, safe Thanksgiving holiday with their loved ones today!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Build Your Stockpile Slowly

One of the things that new couponers seem to be most concerned about is the part where building a stockpile at the beginning can cost quite a bit of money, especially if you're like me and get carried away by all the Shiny Deals! What if you're on a limited budget and don't HAVE a larger initial output of money to spend? How can you become an Extreme Couponer then?

My advice would be to start small. You don't have to get $300 of groceries for $100 at first, and as a matter of fact, you're not likely to! What you CAN do easily though is start making small changes to your shopping habits and slowly build a stockpile. You may not save as high of a percentage on your total grocery bill at first, but you will begin seeing small savings as you make change after change, and soon you'll see a difference.

One of the first things you need to realize is that Extreme Couponing isn't solely about coupons. It's also largely (possibly primarily) based on SALES PRICES. Start changing your habits to shop based around the sales prices and you will start seeing differences. My advice would be to pick a coupon blog that posts the weekly 'best deals' in your area and see what they recommend, and then pick one or two deals that appeal to you each time you shop to start building your stockpile.

For example:

At Jewel-Osco this week, one of their deals is the "Instant Savings Spotlight: Save $5 when you buy any ten participating products in a single transaction!" (This is listed on the back of their current sales flier if you have it, OR you can simply shop the store and look for the little orange "save an additional 50 cents" tags hanging below products all throughout the store.) This week it covers items like Ragu pasta sauce, Green Giant frozen vegetables, and 3 General Mills cereals (Honey Nut Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, or Lucky Charms), amongst a variety of other things. All potential staple items for many people.

If one of those items is a staple item in your household, this would be a great time to stock up on it without spending a lot of extra money! You can mix and match in this deal (which is what I did), but I'm going to focus on building a stockpile one item at a time for our purposes here. This is what it would cost you if you picked one of the items listed above (prices and sale valid only through TOMORROW, November 25th 2010):

Ragu pasta sauce, 26 oz jars, select varieties:
Step one is to check the shelf in this section and see WHICH varieties have the little orange tags on them, then select ten Ragu jars from amongst those. These individual jars of sauce are on sale this week for $1.49 each. When you buy ten in one transaction, the price falls to $.99 each. A total cost of $9.99 added to your grocery bill (tax not included) to stock up on ten jars of Ragu.

This deal gets even better when you add coupons. In the 11/14 Red Plum coupon circulars, there was a coupon for "buy 2 Ragu, get 1 pasta (up to $1.25 value) FREE". It just so happens that Barilla pasta is on sale at Jewel this week ($1.29 a box), AND it counts in the "buy ten, save $5" deal (dropping the per-box price to $.79) at Jewel too. If you have multiple copies of this coupon (either by getting multiple Sunday newspapers, as some of us do, or by asking friends you know to give you their coupons (my Mom gives me her circulars, for instance)), you will do better and better!

With ONE coupon, you could:
a) Buy ten jars of Ragu for $9.99, get one box of pasta (Barilla or any under $1.25) for free!
b) Buy nine jars of Ragu for $8.91, get one box of Barilla pasta (MUST be Barilla in this scenario because you need it to be your tenth item to get the sale price) FREE!

With TWO coupons, you could:
a) buy ten jars of Ragu for $9.99, get two boxes of pasta (Barilla or any under $1.25) for free!
b) buy eight jars of Ragu for $7.92, get two boxes of Barilla pasta (MUST be Barilla in this scenario because you need it to be your ninth and tenth items to get the sale price) FREE!

And so on. Just keep couponing!

Green Giant Frozen Boxed Vegetables, 7-10oz, select varieties:
Step one is to check the shelf in this section and see WHICH varieties have the little orange tags on them, then select ten from amongst those. These individual boxes of veggies are on sale this week for $1.00 each. When you buy ten in one transaction, the price falls to $.50 each. A total cost of $5.00 added to your grocery bill (tax not included) to stock up on ten boxes of frozen vegetables.

This deal gets even better when you add coupons. In both the 10/03 and 11/14 General Mills coupon circulars, there was a coupon for "save $.60 on 3 boxes of Green Giant frozen vegetables". Again, having multiple copies of this coupon will make this deal even better.

With ONE coupon, you could buy ten boxes of frozen vegetables for $4.40. 
With TWO coupons, you could buy ten boxes of frozen vegetables for $3.80.
With THREE coupons, you could buy ten boxes of frozen vegetables for $3.20. That's only $.32 a box!

At this point, you would either want to stop OR you would want to buy TWENTY boxes of frozen vegetables to save the extra money. Jewel does allow you to repeat this "buy ten, save $5" multiple times in the same transaction, so you could buy 20 of the applicable items in one trip and save $10. And, of course, keep couponing!

General Mills Cereals, select varieties:
Step one is to check the shelf in this section and see WHICH varieties have the little orange tags on them, then select ten from amongst those. These cereals are on sale this week for $2.49 each. When you buy ten in one transaction, the price falls to $1.99 each. A total cost of $19.99 added to your grocery bill (tax not included) to stock up on ten boxes of cereal.

This deal gets even better when you add coupons. You can find cereal coupons all over the internet (go some google searches, check some couponing blogs, or wait a bit, I'll talk more about coupon sources in the future), as well as in the weekly circulars. Let's say you have the "save $1.00 on 2 Honey Nut Cheerios" coupon from the 10/31 circular, and your family REALLY likes Cheerios.

With ONE coupon, you could buy ten boxes of HN Cheerios for 18.99.
With TWO coupons, you could buy ten boxes of HN Cheerios for $17.99.
With THREE coupons, you could buy ten boxes of HN Cheerios for $16.99.
With FOUR coupons, you could buy ten boxes of HN Cheerios for $15.99.
With FIVE coupons, you could buy ten boxes of HN Cheerios for $14.99. That's $1.49 a box!

At this point, you would either want to stop OR you would want to buy TWENTY boxes of HN Cheerios to save the extra money. Jewel does allow you to repeat this "buy ten, save $5" multiple times in the same transaction, so you could buy 20 of the applicable items in one trip and save $10. And, of course, keep couponing!

So there you have three examples of ways you could spend a mere (maximum, often less with coupons) of $20, $10 or $5 on your weekly shopping trip at Jewel and stock up on a bunch of cereal, pasta sauces (possibly with pasta), or frozen vegetables for your family.

Playing the sales is what will save you money; adding in the coupons is what will REALLY start making your savings spectacular!

Pick one deal like this per week and start building your stockpile that way. I'll try to post individual super deals like this each week to help you decide which ones might be a good buy for your family!

As a final note, if you're not already getting and saving the coupon circulars, I highly recommend you do it now! You don't have to clip ANY coupons, just save the circulars in a folder or bin somewhere. Write the date on the front of each circular when you get it and keep them in date order. Most coupon blogs will tell you where to find coupons each week and you only need to clip the ones you need. Saves a TON of time. There are even searchable coupon databases online (Coupon Mom has one). But to take advantage of it, YOU NEED TO HAVE THE COUPON CIRCULARS. And many of them have coupons that don't expire for up to a year. So start collecting and saving them now!

Welcome New Readers + A Speedy Stocking Stuffer!

Yesterday Leslie and I spent a very long day doing some Extreme Couponing. We had a BLAST! Not only did we snag some really great deals (which I will talk about in the near future), we also spent a lot of time in the morning with a photographer from the Southtown Star (rumor has it we will be in tomorrow's paper, so watch for us!) talking about our super shopping habits, we were able to share many coupons and tips with random shoppers we met along the way (welcome, if you're one of our new friends from yesterday!), we just about finished Christmas shopping for our kids, and we just had a lot of fun overall. It was great to save money and really see the results of couponing and planning, and it was truly rewarding and heartwarming to be able to share even just a small fraction of that with some of the people we met along the way.

If you haven't checked out Leslie's blog, One Year To Disney, yet, make sure you do because she's running a great contest featuring FREE Culver's custard! It ends today (at 11:59pm central time) so don't wait!

I'm working on a list of tips for new couponers, based on our recent experiences, and I will post it soon. If you're a coupon shopper who has some tips for new couponers, I'd love to hear them!

Finally, I am going to watch for stocking stuffer deals over the course of the next few weeks. I'd like to feature stocking stuffers that are a dollar or less, so as I come across them I will share them with you. Here's one I came across yesterday:

In the Walgreen's ad this week, there is a coupon for Speed Wheels (off-brand die-cast metal cars, Matchbox / Hot Wheels size). $.49 each, limit ten. My kids LOVE playing with cars and as long as they aren't terribly cheap looking, we're not picky about brand! That's a pretty good price on individual cars. My Walgreens had a great selection (lots of variety in types; they even had Hummers, race cars, school buses and ambulances). Grab the coupon out of the Walgreens paper and pick up a few this week! Sale ends Saturday.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jewel-Osco: A Very Time Consuming Lesson, Part One of Two

Boy, here it is the start of another week and I'm still blogging about my shopping experience from last week! Analyzing this is really helping me sort out how it all works though, so even if it isn't helping any of you (or worse, is boring you to tears), I'm going to keep at it because I do believe this will become easier as I learn more about it.

Using Jill Cataldo's great site again, I checked out the deals available at Jewel last week. Jill, by the way, recommends changing the way you shop: you don't shop based on what you 'need' for the week. You shop based around the best deals available and build a stockpile. Sometimes you'll even end up buying things you don't need (aforementioned moneymakers), which you can always donate to charity. My family is pretty malleable in terms of what we will eat (we like food), and I like to cook so I'm more than willing to change up my order. In the past I would look up recipes I liked for the week, make a list based on those ingredients, and then go shopping - and spend a ton of money buying everything I needed! Now I will go shopping based on deals and coupons, then see what I have in the house, and then make up the week's meal plan based on that stuff. Just a change in habits, that's all.

So I was most interested in the following deals:

JEWEL TURKEY DEAL - On page 9 of Section 1 of the 11/14 Chicago Tribune (the actual newspaper part) there's a coupon for $10 off any Jennie-O, Farm Fresh, Perdue or Butterball fresh OR frozen turkey with the coupon and a separate $20 purchase. This is a pretty good deal, particularly if you want a smaller bird. The ad shows sample prices with coupon:
16lb. frozen Jennie-O turkey - $6.24 after coupon (.39/lb.)

"Buy 10, Save $5" Instant-Savings sale
Buying any ten of these items, mix or match, will result in $5 worth of instant savings. Prices shown are AFTER "Buy 10" discount. Remember, you must buy ten items in the same transaction to receive the discount.
Jill lists all of the items in the sale on her site; I wrote down the ones I was most interested in on my list. There were a decent amount of baking supplies on there as well as some instant foods we would eat, and some of them were on sale and/or had coupons that could be applied to them as well.

Jewel is running a Catalina sale involving Kellogg's products. Buy any 10 participating Kellogg's, Keebler, and/or Sunshine products and get a Catalina for two free movie tickets plus $10 Concession Cash by mail (to be spent in the movie theater.)
Here are your products and matchups. (A UPC list is here.)Note that if you have the $50 Kellogg's Your Ultimate Holiday Guide coupon book, you'll do very well here. Also, has a link to $10 worth of Kellogg's coupons on their site, and here's another link to print $5 worth of Kellogg's coupons to use with this deal too.
Again, Jill lists the products on her site, and the provided UPC list is great too. Lots of cereals, crackers and snacks.

"No Coupon Needed" Deals:
Homelife toilet bowl cleaner is $1.69 for a 24oz. bottle
(remember where I said the other day that I have no memory at all for numbers and prices? Yeah, that applies to cleaners too. If she tells me this is a good deal, I'm all for it. We always seem to run out of toilet bowl cleaner for some reason.)

Coupon books currently found at Jewel:
Share Something Delicious - here's what's inside.
$50 Kellogg's "Your Ultimate Holiday Guide - here's what's inside.

Jewel meat deals:
Jewel chicken drumsticks or thighs are $1.49/lb.
Jewel Stockman and Dakota roasts are on sale B1G1F this week (these are pricey at $25.) This Sunday's Chicago Tribune has a coupon for $5 off the roast on page 9, near the $10 turkey coupon. If you buy two roasts, use the $5 coupon on one and get the second free with the B1G1F, paying $20 for both, or $10 each.

Jewel produce deals:
1lb. bags of Jewel frozen vegetables or 12oz. Steamy vegetables are .69 each
Red seedless grapes are $1.28/lb.
Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc or Red pears are $1.29/lb.
Farm Stand baby-cut carrots are $1.29 for a 1lb. bag

Jill says: Anytime meat is under $1.99 a pound (no matter what it is -- beef, pork, poultry) it's a buy in my book, because $1.99 is a cycle low and a good benchmark for meat prices -- ditto for most produce. Seafood, by its nature, is more expensive per pound, but a good "buy" benchmark is $4 per pound or less for fish or shrimp.

Wow. A lot of deals at Jewel already, some of them pretty complicated for a newbie (the two "buy ten of the listed products" deals were making me quite nervous, because the PLAN was to try to find the best deals for me within those listed items, AND match my coupons to all of them. It was definitely in the 'intermediate-to-advanced' coupon category, heh, but I was determined to give it a try!), and I hadn't even checked Coupon Mom or Avenu yet. (I'll get to the Avenu thing in my next post!)

However, I have promised my son I would play some video games with him today and it is time, so I will continue this post a bit later!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Target: Things Were A Little More Complicated

After CVS, I headed to our local Target. Target's a dangerous store for me because I LOVE IT SO MUCH. I walk in and I just want to spend money.

Thanks to Jill Cataldo once again, I was on the alert that Target's coupon accepting was all kinds of screwed up, but after reading the post on it I'm still a bit confused so I just vowed to be careful and make sure everything rang up as it was supposed to. Yes, I decided I'd be one of those slow old ladies who watches the register and double-checks everything. Annoying, I know. It sucks double for me because I am not used to doing it, and it's hard! Things ring up really fast. Luckily I had a really friendly checker, so that all went pretty easily (couponers suggest going for the younger cashiers, they seem to be more tolerant of our couponing ways).

Using Jill's deals of the week, I had my eyes on:

"No Coupon Needed" Deals: One-dozen Grade A large eggs are .99 a carton.

Deals continuing from previous weeks: Buy any 5 Glade Holiday items and get a free $5 Target gift card. This sale runs through December 26th, and many Glade items will go on and off sale prices during that time. UPDATE: This deal got more interesting this week, as aerosols, candles, candle tins, candle refills, and plugins oil refills are all on sale for $2.50. DEAL SCENARIO: Buy any 5 products priced at $2.50 each ($12.50 total) that you have $1 coupons for. Use a $1 coupon on each item ($7.50.) Pay $7.50 and get $5 back, which knocks the price of each to .50 each!
There were a variety of coupons available for the Glade items as well; I didn't list them all here, but they're on Jill's site.

Target meat deals: Archer Farms spiral-cut honey hams are $1.99/lb.
Target produce deals: 5lb. bags of russet potatoes are $1.99.

I have to take a moment here to confess that I have a TERRIBLE head for numbers. TERRIBLE. They just don't stick in my brain. Which means that I have pretty much no concept of whether or not something is at the high end of its price range or the low end. This is why I was tracking all my spending on my own grocery spreadsheet when I tried to do this myself - because despite the fact that I'm 32 years old now and have been an adult for quite a few years (no matter how often I don't FEEL it), and despite the fact that I have been a grocery shopper on my own for more than a decade now, I STILL just can't remember how much groceries cost. The odd item will stay with me for a while, but mostly I couldn't look at a loaf of bread and tell you if it's a good price or not. Even milk, and we go through 2-4 gallons a week in my house! It just doesn't STICK in my brain. So if these websites are going to tell me that meat or produce or eggs are at a great price this week, I'm probably just going to listen to them without question. I'm not doing any better on my own!

I also knew that I would be perusing the dollar section for holiday gifts for my kids. Christmas is looking like it'll be pretty lean this year, and I'd like to make the most of whatever I can. The Target dollar section is always enticing and gives me a few great stocking stuffers. I was not disappointed, and left with 12 $1 stocking stuffers.

Per my friend Leslie's suggestion, I also used the free website Coupon Mom to check Target's deals for the week, and was informed that I could take advantage of:

click to enlarge

I was most interested in the Suave deodorant as well as the Friskies treats and the Beggin' Strips.

I cut out the required coupons from my 11/14 papers, and I checked Target's website for the recommended printable coupons. (It's under the 'see more' section at, in case that link is personalized. I'm not sure if they do it based on IP's/areas or if they're all the same for everyone.) I could not find the russet potatoes coupon mentioned by Coupon Mom, but I did get Target coupons for Friskies, Beggin' Strips and Suave.

In case you didn't know it already, it is important to have both the Target coupon AND a manufacturer's coupon for every item you're getting because you can use one of each on EVERY purchase. Meaning if you have a Target coupon for $1 off X ITEM and a manufacturer's coupon for $1 off X item, you can use both those coupons on ONE package of X ITEM and get $2 off. That's called stacking in Extreme Couponing. Most stores will accept their coupon AND a manufacturer's coupon on every item.

So I got my potatoes, my ham (which we cooked last night and IT IS DELICIOUS, we love ham so much, I'm so happy about it), my eggs, and I threw in a thing of madeleines for good measure, because they're delicious and also because it was getting late, I'm diabetic, and for some reason I always get low blood sugar when I'm grocery shopping. The excitement of it all, I guess (har). I was starting to feel a little shaky and decided to head that off at the pass. MMM, cookies.

Oh, and the Glade deal? I didn't end up with any Glade products. I brought coupons and picked five out, but while it is true that they WERE on sale for $2.50 a piece, the "buy 5, get a $5 Target gift card" deal was no longer going on, and I decided it wasn't worth it. And honestly, I thought most of the scents smelled pretty fakey and not all that delicious. So the Glade stuff went back. (I would have lived with the fakey candle smells if I had gotten the $5 back though, lol!)

At my Target, the Beggin' Strips, Friskies and Suave were not on sale. I hadn't brought a copy of Coupon Mom's list though, so I just remembered that I had coupons and the deals were supposed to be good, and I forged ahead anyway.

The Beggin' Strips were $2.49 a bag. My coupon was $1.50 off 2, and I had a Target coupon for $1 off 1. I picked up two bags for $2.48. Not 66% like Coupon Mom proposed but not bad either.

The Friskies cat treats were $1.42 each. I had a $1 off 2 Target coupon and a newspaper coupon for $2 off, I think, if I'm reading my receipt correctly. So I spent $2.48 and got $3 off; that's what's known as a MONEYMAKER item in Extreme Coupon lingo. You have to have other stuff to get the 'extra' money off your total though, which I did, so this one worked well for me. I actually did better here than Coupon Mom's suggestion of FREE! I think I got a better coupon somehow though.

The Suave deodorants were .99 each. I had a Target coupon for $1.00 off 2 and a manufacturer's coupon for .75 off one. I spent 1.98 and saved 1.75, so my two deodorants cost .23. Not free as Coupon Mom suggested, but I think I can handle two deodorants for less than a quarter.

THEN, and this was awesome, I brought my own bag into Target for my purchases. Why was this awesome? Well, not only am I helping the environment by reusing bags, but also Target gives you 5 cents off your total for EVERY REUSABLE BAG YOU BRING IN.

My percentage savings at Target was considerably weaker than my CVS savings. For one thing, Target doesn't list the 'regular' price of sales item on their receipts like many other places do, so I can't calculate how much I saved by picking up the potatoes, ham and eggs on sale. For another, some of the things that were said to be on sale actually weren't (though I don't think I did too badly on them with coupons anyway). My pre-coupon total was $48.99; I actually spent $40.49. A savings of only 17.4% off the total.

Here's why you can't always go by just the numbers though:
1) I bought a ham for $18.71, almost HALF my total spent. That ham will feed my family of four for 3-4 days. That's $1.50 a person or less for those meals.
2) I got 12 stocking stuffers knocked off my list for a very minimal price.

Those two points also make up the bulk of my receipt, at $30.71. Given what they were, I still feel that my Target experience was an overall success and provided me with savings. (Especially since I saw some hams at Jewel later that were over $3.50 per pound!)

After checking out, I also received a Catalina (one of those coupons that prints at the checkout) - $1.50 off Pup-Peroni. I may or may not use that in the future, depending on how the deals go, so we'll see if that ends up being useful or not!

Lesson from this time: I will write down or print a copy of the supposed sales prices (from Jill's site or Coupon Mom or anywhere else I may come across them) and bring that with me next time so I can compare the actual price at my store to what was listed on the internet. That way I can decide on the spot if the deal is still good for me or not!

Even though my couponing percentage was much lower here, I left my second store still feeling like I was getting pretty good deals AND getting things my family would use.

Experienced couponers, how do you think I did? Would you have done anything differently? Have any other lessons to impart for me?

CVS: I Got Things For Free!

The first store I went to on my Extreme Couponing trip was CVS. I'd personally never shopped at a CVS before; the one in our neighborhood isn't particularly close (there are at least three Walgreens in between us and CVS), but it's not terribly far away either, and I keep reading about all these great free things people get at CVS using their Extra Care Bucks (ECB) program.

Jill Cataldo posts what she considers to be the best deals of the week on her blog every Monday. She recommends shopping on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday because the deals overlap at your typical stores - grocery store sales cycles typically run Thursday - Wednesday, and pharmacy type stores typically run Sunday - Saturday. So if you go on one of those days, you can do all your shopping at once and hit both kinds of stores during the cycle. These were the CVS deals she recommended for this week.

I only had coupons from the 11/14 Sunday paper since I just started this journey, so that's primarily what I focused on. The two that applied to me were:

Herbal Essences shampoo, conditioner or stylers is on sale for $2.99. Buy one bottle and get $2 back in Extra Care Bucks! Use the .50 coupon from 11/14 RP, pay $2.49 and get $2 back... making this .49!

Oral B Rechargeable Vitality toothbrushes are on sale for $23. When you buy one, you'll get $13 back in ECBs. Use the $10 coupon from 11/14 RP1, pay $13 and get $13 back! It's FREE!

Now, $.49 name brand shampoo is pretty awesome, but I wouldn't have driven out to CVS just for that. However, FREE fancy toothbrush that typically retails for over $25? I was SOLD!
As a bonus, when I went through my coupons to find the one I needed for the toothbrush, I had TWO OF THEM. Which just so happened to be the limit at CVS. One for me, one for my husband!

Having never been to a CVS, I first needed to get an ECB card (you only get the bucks if you have their membership card), so I went to the counter right away and signed up for my card. Then (also thanks to Jill Cataldo), I had learned that CVS has coupon scanners that will print out extra coupons for you if you scan your ECB card. So that was stop number two. I got three coupons, all for candy that was already pretty expensive, so I ignored them this trip. (Does anyone know if these coupons become more tailored to you after you've shopped there for a while? Or are they just random?)

I picked up my Herbal Essences easily, but they were out of the toothbrushes. BUT! CVS does rain checks, AND you will get the promised ECB bucks from the deal. So I got a rain check for two of the toothbrushes, and my coupons for them are good for a month or so.

As you can see from my receipt, I also picked up a pair of fuzzy socks. Impulse buys are NOT the way to save money, but I'm a huge sucker for fuzzy socks. I always buy a pair or two every winter.

Since this was my first trip to CVS, I had no previous ECBs to redeem, so I did have to pay $2.49 for my Aussie (and will have to pay $26 for my two toothbrushes, minus the $2 ECB I now have from the Aussie), but I got the $2 back and I will get $26 back from the toothbrushes. Moving forward, now that I have ECB bucks accumulating, I will be able to take advantage of more super CVS deals without paying anything, because I'll be using the ECB's I get back.

Counting my socks, my total pre-sales and coupons at CVS would have been $7.62. I saved $1.30 by taking advantage of the sale, used a .50 coupon, and got $2.00 ECB bucks, making my post-deals total 4.26. A savings of 56%. (It would have been even better without the impulse-buy socks!) AND I got the raincheck for the two free toothbrushes.

I left CVS feeling pretty good about this whole couponing thing.

Experienced couponers, would you have done anything differently? Were there some deals I missed? Please share your tips with me!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Extreme Couponing! EXTREME!!

I've always been fascinated by stories you'll hear about extreme couponers; you know, the moms who go shopping armed with coupons and knowledge of great sales, and come home with a carful of name-brand groceries for negative dollars? It's the soccer mom's 'get rich quick' scheme, a suburban myth that keeps getting passed around in hushed tones of awe and wonder; can it really be done? Can WE do this too? Well, this year I decided to find out.

Before you get excited, I don't know if it can be done yet. I have just begun to venture into this intimidating and sometimes time-consuming world. The internet has made this grocery game so much more accessible, with website after website devoted to the art. However, that massive influx of information also creates entry barriers for people like me who are just trying to figure out how to start. The couponers are deadly serious about their business. They all have their own methods, they've developed their own lingo, and they're throwing out a TON of information. It's overwhelming. I started looking into it a few months ago, couldn't get a handle on a good website or two to just guide me in the right direction, and tried to do it  myself instead - by cutting out every coupon I could get my hands on and then trying to match them all up to the sales in my area, and creating a spreadsheet to track prices of all the items I purchased at different stores so that I could figure out when prices were GOOD. It was, quite frankly, a TON of work. After I spent a few hours at it, I was too overwhelmed and frustrated to continue, and I went back to couponing the old way - the way most of you probably do it, if you do it at all. Clipping coupons for products I decided, somewhat arbitrarily, that I 'needed' for that week, and redeeming them, saving a few bucks here and there. Ultimately I decided that my best bet was to just make a list, shop at Aldi first for everything I could get, and then pick up the few things Aldi didn't have at my local 'cheaper' grocery store (Strack and Van Til, for those of you in the area). That's been my strategy for a few months, but I'm still spending more than I'd like. My grocery budget continues to get out of hand, and the hordes of happy and successful couponers still taunt me with whispered stories of their mythical savings. I WANT TO JOIN THEM, BUT I DON'T KNOW HOW.

Well, the other day my friend Leslie (who is also dedicated to saving her family money, and writes about the many ways she finds to save / get free stuff at her blog One Year To Disney) took a Jill Cataldo couponing class. By sheer happenstance, we ran into her and her husband at our local Jewel-Osco the day after her class, where they were piling a cart high with groceries while studiously checking their list and comparing prices. It looked like SERIOUS BUSINESS. She told me the coupon class was amazing and she was trying out some of the strategies right then and there to see how well she could do. We had run into Jewel to pick up a few things we 'needed' that night.

After getting the stuff we needed, plus throwing in a few more impulse buys, we left Jewel with maybe half a cart's worth of stuff and spent $107 (confirming my belief that Jewel is the 'expensive' grocery store, and that there's no good reason for me to shop there).

I talked to Leslie the next day to find out how she did that same night. Leslie and her husband left Jewel with two grocery carts full to the brim with name brand items... and paid $105. They paid two dollars less than we did for quadruple the stuff. I believe her total, pre-couponing, was over $200, so she basically cut her bill in half. 50% savings her first time out of the gate after Jill's class.

So I went over to Leslie's house the very next day, while our kids were at school, to pick her brain about this amazing class she took. We talked for about an hour, and then watched some youtube videos, and then I went home and scoured Jill's website and a few others and watched a few more videos.

This is a preview of Jill's Super Coupon class, with some tips to get started.

Then I spent a few hours going over lists of the best deals for the week, trying to find all the coupons I've been collecting and tossing haphazardly around my dining room, and went out to four stores last night armed with my new knowledge and a determination to succeed at this extreme sport.

How did I do? Overall, I felt it was a success; enough so that I plan on continuing and trying to do better and better at this couponing thing. I will write about it along the way. I think each store deserves its own post because there's SO MUCH to learn, so I'll catalog it all separately. Consider this post my entry story; I'm becoming an extreme couponer.

If you're like me and are new to coupons and want to learn more, I highly recommend Jill Cataldo's website and blog, even if you're not local. If couponing is old hat to you and you have any tips you'd like to share with a newbie, I'd love to hear them. What do you wish you had known when you first started playing the grocery game?


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