Monday, April 6, 2009

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen Step #4

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen in 5 basic steps.

Step #4. Organizing. This is probably the most difficult aspect of couponing. But it's also the most critical. There are three main things to organize: your coupons, your deals, and what you just bought.

  • You'll need to be able to find the coupon you want when you want it. This is key. Some people just put all their coupons in a shoebox full of envelopes and go. Some keep all their flyers intact and then cut out the coupons as they need them. But for me, I've found that a 3 ring binder (a HUGE 3 ring binder) and lots and lots of baseball card organizers is the way to go. I have a small expanding folder for the coupons I plan to use this week. I keep the ones for sale items, rebate items, or coupons about to expire (the ones I really want to use even though there's not a sale) in this. And for coupons I might use in the future, but aren't for stuff on sale right now, I have a three ring binder decorated by Zoe with a picture of Quinn on the front and Zoe on the back. (Can you recognize them?) Everything is divided into main sections like Medical and then subdivided further (using a sticker on the page) into categories like allergys, pain killers, injuries, tummy meds, etc. It sounds complicated. It is complicated. But it makes it a lot easier in the store.

  • You'll need to organize your deals. By this I mean you'll need to not just have a shopping list of what you need, but also a shopping list of what's on special, what you need to meet the terms of a rebate, what coupons you can use, etc. Shopping will be a little harder and will require you to plan in advance much more than you're used to. Blogs and websites are a huge help, but they can't do it for you because no one else knows what products you hate, which ones you can't live without, which coupons you have, which stores are close to home, which items your store just doesn't carry, etc. So plan on spending a half hour making a shopping list instead of 5 minutes. And try to avoid shopping with a lot of distractions. Husbands and kids can theoretically be helpful, but mine mostly put stuff I don't want in my cart.

  • You'll need to organize the stuff you buy. I know, I know. You don't plan to buy so much stuff that it needs to be organized. But there is a reason. First off, sometimes you can't help it. No one wants to go out and buy 13 cans of tomato sauce when they just need one. But I did just that last week. Why? Because I could get all 13 for a total of 7 cent. Not 7 cents each. 7 cents for all 13. But if I bought just twelve, I would have had to have paid almost $5. No, it doesn't make sense. But that's how the sale and the coupon and the rebate combined. I had to have a before coupon sale of $10 to get a $5 rebate. The coupons brought it down from $10 to $5.07, then I get the rebate. 13 cans for 7 cents. So now I have all this tomato sauce and what can I do with it? Plus I can never turn down free shampoo or conditioner or free razors or free soap. And what about when there's overage (when I'm gettting back more than the cost of the sale item)? In other words, you end up with a lot of stuff and you'll need to deal with it. Here are the best options: #1 - make gifts of it. Buy a cheap basket at a yard sale and give a gift basket of hair care products or make up as Christmas gifts. #2 - donate to charity. God's food pantry might really like some of that tomato sauce. There's no need not to share at that price. #3 - stockpile it. Sure I have more tomato sauce than I can use right now. But it's not on sale that cheap every day now is it? I can buy when things are on sale and save them. When they're not on sale, I will still have plenty. Plus, if my husband loses his job (like he did last year) I will be able to cut our household expenses by living off the stuff I have in storage. I will still have to buy food. I don't have near enough space in my house to stockpile a year's worth of food. But I could easily go a year without buying soap or shampoo or hairspray or razors or toothbrushes or toothpaste or floss.... And almost all of it was bought for free.

  • You'll need to organize your budget. No, I'm not joking. And it's not as simple as just spending less money on shampoo and more on going to the movies. Initially you won't be saving much money. That's because you'll be buying things that have rebates and you'll need to wait for the rebates to come back. And you'll be buying more expensive brands so even though you're not paying full price you won't be saving tremendously off the price of the store brand. Don't panic. Here's how to handle it. First, you need to get a rough estimate of what you're spending now. If you don't already have a budget, just save a copy of all your bills for a month. Not your receipts, your bills like electric, water, insurance, internet, etc. Your income minus your monthly bills is your discretionary budget. That's the money that you have each month that you get to decide how to spend. You use it for gas and groceries and food and entertainment and emergency car repairs and whatever else comes up. If you know how much you spend on groceries and OTC medicines and personal care items, that's great. If not, take a rough estimate. Maybe half your discretionary budget? That's about what it is for us, but you may make more or less than I do or have bigger or lower bills. Whatever number you come up with, write it down. As you start the process of couponing, remember that number. You can't just go out and buy every item that's free after rebate if you don't have the money in the bank to pay for it, can you? And what about those newspapers you're buying? They have to come out of your budget, too. Over the course of the next two or three months, you'll start getting rebates back and then there's more math. I will do a post on this in a few weeks to help guide you through it. For now, it's enough to know that you still need to keep to a budget and that just because somethings a great deal doesn't mean you can afford it.

  • The drawbacks: This is not a fun hobby for those with poor organizational skills. It takes a lot of time and even a bit of money to set up a coupon organizer. And even if you plan to give away most of your free/dirt cheap products you'll still need to store them long enough to not be driving to God's Food Pantry daily. Plus you'll need some space for the things you want to keep. Don't be afraid to buy a few plastic storage boxes, but don't let it take over your home. Logistically figure out how much space you can afford, how much time you want to spend on this, and what your budget really is. Then stick to your limits.


Tara said...

I totally recognize them, lol. Saige wants to know why Zoe has a belly button and Quinn doesn't, LOL.

Karen said...

I think he was wearing PJ's when she drew him. What do you think of the advice so far? I'm trying to keep it to a minimum but still cover everything important.

She said...

I'm sure that I'm not going to be able to implement EVERY aspect of the couponing right at the beginning, but I really, really appreciate your advice. Looking forward to part 5!

Karen said...

LOL! You almost can't do it all at once. It's a lot to learn. But print it out and study it and remember that it gets easier as you get used to it.