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?