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Monday, July 11, 2011

Financial Baby Steps: Step 3 Use Coupons and save BIG $$!

The financial baby steps series on Talented Generation is a way for young professionals to get their finances in order, one step at a time. We all want to get to a land of financial freedom but it is a long and, often frustrating, process. As a newly minted graduate, I want to get my finances in order, get out of debt (don't be pretentious and act like you don't have any) and achieve financial freedom. I'm no financial guru and I wouldn't dare pretend to be. I am still learning but I am making progress by following the steps I share in the Financial Baby Steps series. 

In case you missed step 1, you can check it out here
For step 2, click here. 
After watching the TLC show "Extreme Couponing," I thought I  was losing at grocery shopping. For you Charlie Sheen fans, losing is the opposite of winning. I wondered how they could walk away with $800 worth of groceries and only spend $5?! The people managed to get their groceries for almost FREE! I watched in awe as one guy walked away with 1100 boxes of Total for FREE. I was mad as hell. Why? Because on the previous day I spent $15 dollars on 4 boxes of cereal without a second thought. I quickly realized WHY the people TLC featured in its new hit series were call extreme couponers. They spent hours locating and organizing their coupons. They got their family involved and some even resorted to digging in dumpsters for unused coupons. More than one extreme couponer confessed to treating couponing like a second job. 

I tried my hand at extreme couponing only to hit a few hitches. I didn't know much about the store's coupon policy and I ended up spending twice as much as I planned to spend. I realized I didn't have the time or ambition to become an extreme couponer. I have since bought into the concept of reality couponing, which involves a more realistic view of shopping with coupons. Although I am a beginning couponer, I have resolved to NEVER pay full price for an item. Regardless of whether you are a new couponer, like me, or if you have been using coupons for years it is helpful to understand coupon lingo. Here are a few key terms every couponer must understand: 

1. Stockpiling. It is the concept of buying more than you need right now and then back-stocking extras so you can use the supply over time. This is beneficial when buying nonperishable items that don't go on sale often. You can purchase enough to last you until the next time the item goes on sale. 

2. Coupon stacking. It is the concept of combining store discounts with manufacturer coupons. For example, your grocery store has a coupon for buy 1 get 1free nail polish. Per jar, the nail polish is $1.79. You also have a coupon for $1 off that particular brand of nail polish so you end up paying .79 for 2 jars. Before you go off looking for stackable coupons you must also take time to understand your store's coupon policy. Not all stores will allow you to combine a store promo and a manufacturers coupon. I haven't found any grocery stores that double coupons like the ones featured in TLC's show but I trust they exist somewhere. 

3. Money Makers. When coupons save more than the price at the store, so shoppers actually walk away with a profit. Consider the nail polish example above, if you had a coupon for $2 off the brand instead of $1 off you would actually make 11 cents if your store allows you to stack the coupons. 

4. BOGO. It is an abbreviation for Buy One, Get One for (insert terms here). BOGO can be a buy one get one FREE item which means you purchase one item and you receive a second item at no charge. BOGO also applies to an offer to buy one get one 1/2 off  which means if you purchase one item you will 1/2 off of the other item. 

I started my coupon journey by signing up for a CVS extra care rewards card.  My experience was pretty similar to the woman in the video below.

Your savings don't have to stop at the grocery store. Here are 5 ways to save money on everything else. 

1. Check out sites like which offer Web discount codes that include everything from free shipping to 20 percent off an entire order for more than 65,000 stores. Shopping online helps you save gas and you won't have the surprise at the checkout because you can see your total before you check out. If you go over budget, you don't have the shame of having to put stuff back. The internet also makes it easier to comparison shop. 

2. Merchants often tout savings and discount codes on Facebook and Twitter, so "liking" and "following" these companies can bring you closer to deals, make you eligible for free giveaway contests and allow you to get exclusive deals. 

3. Check out daily deal sites, such as Groupon, Daily Deals, Living Social, Mamapedia and No More Rack. Not only do they offer 50 percent off deals on a variety of restaurants, apparel and services, most of these sites offer a $5 to $10 credit just for joining the site. They also offer credit incentives for referring friends. Sometimes if you refer 3 friends who also purchase the deal you can get the deal for free. If you have a group of 4 dedicated friends you could take turns getting the deals for free. 
4. When buying airline tickets, check out because it searches multiple discount sites simultaneously. You can compare the prices of popular sites like Priceline, Orbitz and Expedia. Airlines like Southwest are excluded so you should visit their site directly. Keep in mind that the best time to book a flight is on a Tuesday and its best to book a flight months in advance for off peak times. Consider searching with flexible dates as well. 
5. Pay attention to seasonal sales. Right now since it is hot, buying winter clothes is cheaper. Later this month it will be cheaper to get warm weather clothing because retailers will be making room for new merchandise. As they usher in the new merchandise, they will make room by putting the older merchandise on sale. 

I used to pay full price for things but now I ask for discounts everywhere I go. I carry my student ID with me just in case an establishment offers a student discount. Don't judge me, I will never stop being a student!  

Happy Couponing! 

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