Note: I was uber productive last night and got my coupon system all hammered out -- my couponing enthusiasm spilled over to produce this post...
To begin being a Thriftie, for real and earnest, you've got to start gathering strategic coupons. We're not just talking snack items and frozen foods here -- medication, cleaning supplies, contact solution, and hygiene products are all regularly advertised through coupons as well... even organic foods and environmentally friendly cleaning and paper products. If you don't believe me, check out this great compilation posted by the blogger Afflunt Pauper... even I was impressed! (and promptly started printing...)
The most obvious way to begin coupon collecting is to buy a Sunday paper, pull out the inserts, and start snipping. The other two main methods for procuring coupons are both online, either printing them off of specific sites like coupons.com or getting them from individual manufacturers' websites and mailing lists. One thing to note is that many bloggers have the coupons.com sidebar on their sites, and get "commission" for clicks... an easy way to help out your favorite bloggers is to print your coupons from there rather than the site itself. If you know you like a certain type of cleaning product, or yogurt, or shampoo, you check out the manufacturer's website for promotions and join a mailing list if you can (I have a whole separate email address for these, but it pays off!) -- otherwise, you check coupon websites every few weeks or months for updated coupons and just see what's available. Usually online coupons will require you to download a special app, since it is printing a barcode that will need to be read on the machines at the grocery store. Its a quick download and no big deal -- I've never heard of anyone having any issues with spyware or anything with them.
People have plenty of different systems for storing their coupons -- after all, its a complete waste of time if you can't find 'em and use 'em when their time comes, and our whole goal is to avoid waste... My own system goes like this: On Sunday, I buy a double-stack of papers (early and late editions sold together for a discount) and immediately take out and file all the inserts from one of the papers into a clear plastic file-folder, and label them with the date. I thumb through the coupons from the other paper, and cut out any for items I regularly buy or will need soon for upcoming recipes. These I tuck away in a little dollar-store photo-album, using a different photo-pocket for each 'category' of coupon (the obvious ones -- dairy, meat, vegetables, snacks, etc). I'm analytical like that, so this is easy for me and I like the feeling of organization. My "coupon-album" is thus easily transportable and keeps the discounts for the products I'm most likely to use readily on hand(some people like a baseball card album for this, but I'm not quite brave enough to go lugging that through the store...). The inserts in my file-folder I let percolate, neatly organized for when The Grocery Game or other blog references a great coupon (now lined-up perfectly with a sale for an amazing deal...) by booklet and date, for example, "Red Plum, 2/8." I'm ready and waiting for sales with every available coupon... without having to hassle with clipping and categorizing the majority of them.
That's the scoop on collecting and storing coupons... once you've got that down, you're well on your way to being a Thriftie extraoirdinare. Happy clipping! And be sure to share your tips and ideas, so I can hone my own skills too. :)
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