I'm what you might call a serious couponer. I'm not the kind of woman who subscribes to one issue of the Sunday paper, cuts out four or five or ten coupons, and tosses the rest. That's too easy for people like me. Instead, I get my coupons out of recycling bins. Once a week, I haul my kids to my in-laws, then head to the local recycling center with a huge crate to store my newly-found inserts. I'm agile, athletic, and fairly young, so it's usually not a problem for me to scramble into those big metal recycling bins (by the way, they are NOT dumpsters, there is almost nothing in them but newspapers!). I used to carry a flashlight, but it was too hard to work efficiently.
For Christmas, my husband bought me a flashlight that straps to my head, freeing up my hands and enabling me to dig, dig, dig for coupons. I look like a misplaced miner, and tend to scare the bejeebers out of folks who plan to drop off their papers. For some reason, people don't expect to find someone sitting inside a huge metal bin filled with newspapers. Consequently, I have been smacked in the head by thrown papers on multiple occasions, usually scaring the thrower more than me. My husband says this only contributes to my mental problems.
Once I have obtained my coupons, I need to be certain I can find them as needed. No sissy envelope or 3×5 card holder for me! No sir, I have a large filing cabinet dedicated to my coupons. When I come home from my "dives", I file each insert uncut. Usually, I get 20-30 of the same insert, which translates to 20 or 30 of each coupon. When I need the coupon, I open my Excel spreadsheet, where I have typed up each individual coupon and its location, find the desired coupon, and pull the file of inserts from my drawer. That's when I cut them out. Believe it or not, this saves me time – otherwise, I would be cutting and filing about 200-300 coupons each week, and run the risk of losing them.
People (usually my mom) often wonder why I go to such extremes for my coupons. It's simple – coupons can be a major money-saver if used properly. There are many coupons that, when combined with sales, net me free or dirt-cheap items. I frequently go to the grocery store, fill up two carts, and pay less than $ 25 for the whole thing. And I never buy just one. Instead, I buy thirty of the same item (or however many I have coupons for), almost guaranteeing that I never have to pay full price again. This is called stockpiling. Right now, I have about 70 pounds of white rice, another 50+ pounds of flavored rice (yellow rice, Uncle Ben's, Rice-a-roni), around 45 pounds of pasta in various shapes, 20 packs of Keebler Fudge Shoppe Cookies, 100 packs of Gerber baby food, 18 gallons of apple juice ….. and on and on and on. All of these were free.
In fact, my biggest problem is storage. Right now, not only are my kitchen cabinets filled to the brim, I also have three bookshelves packed tightly, my entire laundry room occupied by shelves, half my linen closet stacked with personal items, and the underneath of both bathroom sinks chock full of other goodies. I used to keep my toilet paper (30 4 pks) under my living room credenza but then we got rid of that piece of furniture.
Many stores do promotions where they give out free movie tickets using totals before coupons. I have 40 boxes of Raisin Bran, all of which I paid about .50 a box for (and thanks to a site called Upromise, I will be making about .10 a box for my kids' college fund). Every 7 boxes or so netted me a free adult movie ticket. I hate to pay over a dollar for a box of cereal, but sometimes I do it – I recently paid $ 1.50 for Cocoa Puffs and got a free child's movie ticket with each box. I also participated in Walgreen's movie ticket special over the summer and got about 10 free movie tickets. So my grocery shopping frequently nets me free entertainment!
The big kicker is the coupons that say "any" or "any size". Believe it or not, these really do mean ANY size – including the trial size. Consequently, I have about 200 trial size toothpastes scattered around my house, and another 100 trial size shampoos. These are great for traveling, but honestly I tend to give them away. I keep a box for charitable donations, and usually throw at least a tenth of my freebies into it – and almost all of my trial size items (I do save a few for travel and "emergencies"). This means that not only am I helping myself, I am also able to help others, despite the fact that we are on a shoestring budget.
Most people – especially my mom – think I am nuts. My best friend tells me she just doesn't have the time or dedication to mess with coupons the way i do. To me, it's not about time, it's about money. With two kids in diapers (only one of which is on baby food, thank goodness), I have spent less than $ 1200 on groceries, cleaning supplies, and personal stuff (shampoo, soap, etc) this year (that's just over $ 100 / month ). My cupboards are bursting; if I had to, I could buy only milk and bread for the next three or four months at least. That gives me a feeling of security that more than makes up for the time and effort I have put into my coupons.