Just to summarize for anyone who might be joining us more recently... for the last year and a half I've been honing my Thriftie skills and have gotten them pretty decently sharp by now. My level of dedication makes it more or less qualify as a hobby for me, but one that meshes beautifully with necessity and a tight budget. Here are the four "wheels" that make the "Thriftie-shopping-mobile" navigate smoothly lol.
1. Utilizing coupons. This is the place to start. You can either procure coupons from newspaper coupon inserts or by printing them off of various sites... a subject I discussed pretty in depth in my post a while back, "Coupon Craze 101". One thing to note is that a lot of bloggers have a coupon.com sidebar on their sites, and get "commission" for clicks... I always make a point to print my coupons there rather than from the site itself, as an easy way of helping out some of my favorite folks. :)
A lot of people have elaborate systems for organizing their coupons (I personally clip out the ones that I'm especially likely to use and keep them categorized in a dollar store photo album) but you can just as easily save full inserts and then use sites like Taylortown Preview to search the insert listings to find coupons for specific brands/items when you see them on sale. You can also use that site, and many others, to buy specific coupons that you know will be valuable enough to justify it (I haven't had done that as of yet, but I can see how it could be worthwhile for some things). Some people will swear that if you hold on to one week's coupon inserts then the majority of the items therein will be on sale exactly a month later, but personally I haven't found this to be very true so take it with a grain of salt. Lastly on this topic... keep in mind that a coupon is worthless if the brand-name item still ends up being more expensive then the generic.
2. Matching coupons with sales... Your coupons become gold rather than pennies when you match them up with store sales. You can obviously do this yourself by looking through the ads in the paper, but let's be honest, that's just silly when other people are already doing it for you! For the most complete listings of store sales matched to coupons, The Grocery Game is definitely the way to go, mostly because they also track price fluctuation to identify whether an item is "rock bottom" or whether the sale just isn't actually that great and you should hold out. There is a small fee associated with access to the site's store lists, but you can try them all for a month for $1 (if you try it out and use me as your referral source -- misseliza123 at gmail dot com -- I'll get really excited! :P). I find it is especially worth the time I save for those certain stores with less decipherable ads (coughKrogercough). I gave a lot more tips and advice regarding The Grocery Game in my previous post "Thriftie Shortcut #1", so you might want to look at that too if you're still figuring the site out. A free resource for similar coupon/sales match-ups is Southern Savers, but there are plenty of other blogs that do the same thing... I mention that one specifically because they have a clean format and information on a wide range of stores rather than just one or two. If your preference is organic items, be sure to hit up Fiddledeedee! for those Publix match-ups as well.
3. Savvy shopping at CVS. This one is huge for affordable hygiene / personal care products... Each week CVS has new "Extracare buck" offers that basically give you store credit for purchasing certain items. Simple enough, right? The way to make this promotion system extra advantageous is to use ECBs to buy items that give you more ECBs, making a lot of your purchases free or close to it. (For more detail and/or tips, I posted about this previous in, "The Secret Life of the Savvy CVS Shopper.") If you buy ECB items with coupons, sometimes you'll even get back more credit then you actually spent. This system usually works best for items like toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, etc, and it helps if you don't care whether you're buying Crest or Colgate... there isn't much room for brand loyalty when you're bargain shopping.
4. Perks of online shopping. The most simple way of saving money on online shopping is to always check for coupon codes on sites like retailmenot and MSN shopping. Sometimes you'll get especially lucky, and the two seconds of typing involved will result in 20% off and free shipping! If you have school loans, or are saving for a child's education, sign up for Upromise and install their toolbar, which will automatically alert you if the site you are browsing offers money back for Upromise users. If it does, you will need to log in to your account and access the site via their links, but that's a small amount of effort for anything from 1-6% back on your total purchase. Similar (reputable) sites for money-back include ebates and cashbaq -- I used cashbaq to get a really great deal on an entertainment book for my area, but usually stick with Upromise myself (*ugh* school loans...). I love it when I can make an online purchase through a Upromise link, with a coupon code, and paying with a rewards-program credit card... stacking three nearly effortless methods of saving money.
That's an overview of the four ways to get your footing as a frugal guru... If you're reading this and are already a first-class Thriftie, then I want tips! I'm always looking for ways to refine my own tactics and gain strategic efficiency, so help me out here! ;P
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