Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Thrifty Stay-At-Home Wife: How to Coupon Like a Pro

In my younger days, I viewed coupons as I viewed all motherly duties at the time - it was boring and for old ladies. Or so my prodigal 13-year-old brain supposed.

I came to value the expertise my mother had learned from her mother, who had in turn learned from her 100% authentic Irish Traveller (also commonly known as "gypsies") mother, around when I first moved out on my own. There is no quicker way to build appreciation for the value of a dollar than to move out into a rented apartment on a meager salary with no f#cking idea what you're doing.

Gypsies generally tend to possess inherent skills at making the most of what you have, especially when it comes to money. It is considered highly improper for Gypsies/Travellers to even speak about money, unless you're trying to use your innate ability to haggle like nobody's business - a trait which is strong in those who were brought up in gypsy culture.

Unfortunately, since my mother wasn't raised fully within the lifestyle, she had only her knowledge and habits of thrift left of her heritage. She did pretty well for herself, despite hardship. She spent ten years caring for her unemployed husband (and my now estranged father) that she pitied rather than loved, and I couldn't even stand to do it for a few months. Oh yeah, and she took care of two rambunctious and often troublesome girls - and let us not forget, no matter how badly we want to conceive a girl, they will always be more difficult than boys to raise.

Damn our wondrous yet wretched wombs and the games they play on our minds, up to and including the dreaded "baby fever"... because no one is ever really wanting to get pregnant so they can experience three months of non-stop vomiting that would make a seasoned drunk want to cry and wrenching, intolerable bone and muscle pain. At least I sure as f#ck do not.

Anyway, my mother's thrifty ways were good, especially in their time, but times change. Methods change, rules change, and how we do things change. If you rely on the same methods to get through life as you did thirty years prior, no matter your age, you are probably not going to be in a great situation. So I took what knowledge had been passed down to me and analyzed it, seeking out ways to improve things or find what brings the greatest yield and reward.

I may not be as skilled, or as endowed, as my forebears and fellow mothers, or even "extreme" couponers, but I'm not trying to build a warehouse full of bullshit drug store items. I'm simply trying to help my husband make his money stretch as far as it possibly can whilst keeping more of it in his pocket (not just to spend on me, but to invest in a savings and future fun things for our family).

Not long ago, I bought us two week's worth of groceries and a couple month's supply of cleaning items for fifty bucks, down from seventy-five - and the haul included a pack of Post-Its, pens, and hand sanitizer for free after coupons. Could have done a little better, but this was just my first foray back into "couponing" after a few years of not really giving a shit about it. The stigma that I had of coupons being for old ladies on Social Security quickly melted away, replaced by a rush of adrenaline and an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. "I just saved my husband $25," I thought to myself. "That's an extra week of groceries!"

Over time, if this keeps up, that statement will change into one with a higher number and the extra thing will be metal shows or international vacations. That little seventy-five cent coupon will be a lot of f#cking money back in your pocket in time, no matter how petty it may seem. Cut out all that extra ridiculous bullshit we're all pressured into buying every day (Red Bull, McDonalds, tiny two-dollar candy bars or f#cking sinister Starbucks abominations that are all really over f#cking priced and bought daily by the blights of society and others who were tricked into thinking they can't get this shit anywhere else or at the store for a fraction of the f#cking price... ahem, sorry, I get a little carried away with Starbucks) and you will be traveling the world drinking real lattes from f#cking France or having a real pizza in Rome, or buying real handmade sweaters for an insanely lower price in comparison to what big labels are selling them here in Ireland or some other beautiful place with equally-beautiful history. Perhaps instead you can start your own business, or finally finish that album you've wanted to work on. The choice is yours when all that money these places would normally take from you without qualm is put back into your possession.

Of course, most of these corporations make getting things for free either impossible or highly illegal, so they don't always never really advertise that they're there. They are there. All the time, always. They cycle through what item gets coupons in a way that is meant to throw you off from couponing altogether, making it so there's only one or two items you might really need available that week or month.

Lemme hear ya HOWL!So, the first rule is:

Be opportunistic, like the wolf in search of her supper.

When you have to get something, you have to get it. Let's just say, however, that you've got all the main essentials on hand, are running low only on a few things, and are missing entirely even fewer. Bend your shopping algorithm to that of the distributor or manufacturer offering the coupon goods and running promotions. Take advantage of buying a bathing suit immediately after summer ends and other like well-timed transactions (for example, a snow shovel or coat in summer, backpacks in winter, after holiday sales and such).

Always be hunting for coupons and try to stick to only things you use on the regular, but be open-minded about the brand, for it most certainly will vary depending on who's offering what and when.

Whatever you do, don't lose heart just because this sounds like a tricky beginning. You'll find it starts becoming second nature after the first two trips. You get into a routine, and that routine will likely (and should) consist of these things:

1. Prior to big shopping trips, map out the things you need now, the things you'll need soon, and keep in mind things you might want. It's good to keep track because coupons are essentially advertisements, and sometimes they'll put out crappy ones just to induce you to buy things you don't necessarily need or even want. Be mindful of that as you travel the coupon path.

2. Hop on the main coupon websites -, RedPlum, SmartSource, RetailMeNot (though this one is primarily good only for online shopping and department stores), Pillsbury, and Target - and print any coupon you think you might use. Start picking up your Sunday paper and scour them for coupons; they will have some good ones, and you may get lucky and come across a few with no expiration dates.

3. Understand the rules of the game for each store and shop at the ones where you can get the most bang for your buck. Example: For Target coupons, they can usually be doubled with manufacturer coupons from or any of the other sites mentioned (Target will let you use 1 Target store coupon and 1 manufacturer coupon per item) so you can stack them up and get the savings. Some grocery chain locations have policies or promotions where they will double single coupons under a certain amount, like, say, for coupons under fifty cents. Use it at one of those chains and they'll turn fifty cents off into a dollar off.
Alternatively, you can seek out stores with good reward programs (CVS, Martin's, Food Lion, et cetera et cetera) or ones that are running good promotions (which you can typically check for online or in store via a "circular", otherwise known as that newspaper-looking thingy that is usually posted by the front entrances of Walmarts and drug stores and such).

4. Get to the store, try to get what you need keeping it as cheap as possible (by either going with store brand or sticking to sale items) and using coupons where you can, take advantage of the things that might not have been on your list but have worthy deals running on them (preferably on things that are not only on sale, but that you have coupons for as well), and keep your eyes peeled for coupons attached to items in the store.
If you find a great deal, stock up as much as possible! Better to have gotten a few months worth of hand soap and pay half or less for it now than spend twice as much over those few months and wonder where your money has gone.

There are sites out there to help you. Take advantage of them!

As I mentioned earlier, there are six major coupon websites where the majority of coupons can be found. There are lots of websites claiming to have coupons, but most of the smaller ones just embeds the search results from one of these six into their own web page. Best to go straight to the source(s):

On top of these, there are a number of sites aimed to help you find the worthiest deals as well as free samples and coupons. Blogs like FreeFlys, Thrifty Momma Ramblings and Yes We Coupon post updates whenever there's something of note. For example, say CVS is running a promotion where you buy two of something and you get half off one item or an Extrabucks reward in return - but you also have coupons available for said item. These sites will let you know when those things pop up, as well as when there are try-it-free rebates, when there are samples available or something is scheduled to be on sale for a low price. Like their Facebook pages to stay on top of things as they come.
Coupon file - available at Walmart (click to see product page)

Invest in a good coupon file.

Chances are you'll print more coupons than you'll really need, even though it's good to have them in case something becomes available at a steal before they expire. The easiest way to keep track of all your coupons is a small index card or coupon file, and let me tell you... nothing is more frustrating than trying to rifle through a fat stack of coupons in a busy store when they're all disorganized and everywhere. It's awful. It's slightly embarrassing. Spare yourself the anguish and invest in a good file. It'll pay for itself eventually!

If a place has a rewards program, and you're doing business with them - ever - sign up for it and use it.

Restaurants, drug stores, department stores, grocery chains and gas stations all have rewards/loyalty programs and bonus cards or things of that nature. Sign up for them. The rewards can range from gift certificates to free meals on your birthday to points toward cheaper gas. Try to stick with certain stores to rack up your points with. For example, I try to do all my shopping at Target, CVS, Kohls, and Martin's for groceries. That way, when I'm lacking in Target coupons, or there just aren't any for what I'm trying to get, I can go to a CVS or Martin's and pay full price while still earning points toward bonuses or extra coupons.

Additionally, there are now websites like Ebates out there that do a cash back program when you use them to order online from major retailers like Target, Walmart, Sephora, Best Buy and many, many more. I made one seven dollar purchase and got about 30 cents back, so if you do a lot of shopping online, this is a great tool to help make sure you still get a kickback even without coupons. You can sign up here.

Above all - don't stress!

It can be tricky navigating the couponing world, and I don't have it 100% figured out - nobody does. Just do the best you can, save when you can, and enjoy that thrill of keeping more money in your pocket after all is said and done.

Also, don't let the stigma of coupons being just for elderlies or fifties-style housewives. The wonderful feeling of saving money to have more for what you really want to do is universal. I daresay couponing can be quite metal.

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