Not-So-Extreme Couponing: A Crash Course

Today I'm going to share with you a totally different kind of haul- a grocery haul! I've mentioned that I've found myself on a very tight budget lately and have really had to jump back on the couponing wagon. I've always been thrifty and have been into couponing and getting great deals, but I've really had to step up my game lately. I thought I might share some of my shopping experiences and tricks of the trade with you all. Whether you are dealing with a lay-off or other reduction in income, would rather filter some spending into other long-term goals or find yourself stretched thin by holiday obligations, your food budget is one thing that is negotiable and workable. It's not necessarily easy, and anybody who tries to tell you otherwise is selling something. But saving 40-50% regularly is totally doable, and occasionally even higher savings can be had. There are a lot more resources and helpful coupon databases online now, and your local store may have a fan site created for posting coupon/sale match-ups, which does a lot of the work for you and is a key to successful couponing. 

My first tip is to forget anything you've learned on that Extreme Couponing show. It's not realistic, standard coupon rules and limits are suspended for dramatic effect, and in some cases the shoppers on it committed coupon fraud, which is no joke and makes things harder on honest couponers. Watching that show and expecting 95% savings off every trip is going to do nothing but frustrate and disappoint you. 

For my first haul, I'm going to share a small-ish shopping trip on an off week, where I had a limited amount of money to spend, focusing on getting the absolute best deals I could find on some things I needed right away and other things I could stockpile for future use. I'm still getting in the swing of things again so I don't have much of an established stockpile and honestly, with limited apartment space I never will have a huge underground bunker. And that's OK. I can stockpile on a smaller scale and it's still useful and worth the effort to us.

 So, in this haul you won't see fresh meat and produce and paper products, since I already got them the week before. That's one of the things that makes the Extreme Couponing mega-savings so amazing-do you see a wide variety of fresh goods or staples that rarely go on sale represented? Nope. Those shoppers buy just a handful of shelf-stable or freezable products at absolute rock-bottom prices, and buy a ton of them, so of course their savings will be higher than people needing to shell out for milk, meat, fruits, other perishable items or specialty items they only need to make one meal. Those shopping trips do not represent a standard shopping trip! 

While even my haul below isn't a standard trip for me either, I still go by the same principles whether I'm buying fresh perishables or things I only need one of. I'm going to build my menus around what's on sale and what I have coupons for if at all possible. I've got a fairly wide variety of products here though, a few in sufficient quantities to last until the next awesome sale-which is another key to couponing. I spend on products at a rock-bottom price that I may not need at the moment but will definitely use in the future, rather than waiting until I really need it and having to spend full price. So once you have a decent stockpile of the basics you use regularly, you will find you have more money to spend on specialty ingredients or other ventures.

 The interweb is your friend. "Like" your favorite brands on Facebook, they often post high-value coupons. You can typically print two from each computer before they cut you off, so take advantage of that. If you have more than one computer you may be able to do more, but don't even think of photocopying them, as that is fraud.

 See if your store has an online coupon/perks program, and sign up for it. Doubling coupons seems to be going the way of the dinosaur, and these loyalty programs are their replacement. My regional store, Meijer, has Mperks, which has both store and manufacturer coupons you can clip (don't forget you can "stack" one manufacturer and one store coupon for any given item), as well as monthly rewards you can earn. For my particular situation, each month they give me a choice of several different rewards to earn, say "spend 40 dollars on frozen food, earn 8 dollars off your next purchase." These rewards track my purchase history throughout the month when I enter my Mperks number, and tells me how much more I have to spend to earn the reward. I've recently discovered Meijer Madness, a site that tracks all the best deals and breaks down the coupon/sale matchups for me and other shoppers can post their finds and experiences, and its been invaluable to me. Also, see if your store posts previews of weekly ads before they go live. Ever buy something at full price only to find it go on sale the next week? Weekly ad previews help me plan what to buy now, and what to buy later.

 I've also used The Grocery Game in the past, which does the same thing for many stores. They offer a free 4 week trial period to decide if it will work for you,  but after that the site isn't free if you want your local List. It does have a handy free Coupon Tracker, for those times when you are certain you had a coupon for something, but can't remember what insert it came from. A wide variety of printable coupons/tips/deals/couponing articles and videos can be found on The Krazy Coupon Lady and more printables can be found though Smartsource,  Red Plum, and Once you sign up for, try occasionally changing your zip code in your profile, as different regions often offer different coupon selections. 

It's a good idea to get multiples of coupons for stockpiling purposes, and rather than bug your friends and family or buy multiple newspapers, another option is coupon clipping services. I have used The Coupon Clippers with great success. It's technically illegal to sell actual coupons, but what they charge a minimal fee for is the work involved, the gathering, the sorting, the cutting, the shipping, etc. I've found it quite handy and it really saves time!

A method I've been using lately is writing a really detailed list, thinking of everything I could possibly come across in the store and wanting to drop into my cart. I know the layout so well I can virtually shop the store in my mind! I not only write down what I need, but also the budget I have for purchasing it. Then I try to find the sales and coupon matchups to achieve that goal. So, say I write down that I will spend no more than $3.00 on pasta sauce. I could buy just one jar of sauce full price for $3.00, or I could research the sales ads and coupons to find a 2/$3.00 sale that I can pair with a $1.00/2 coupon. Writing down my budget for each item has really helped me visualize exactly how much money I have to work with, and if my totals get too high, I know I have to start cutting and adjusting somewhere. It's just way too easy to make a list, thinking it's short and sweet and couldn't possibly be very expensive, only to be shocked at checkout as the total spirals way beyond what you'd hoped to spend. Prepare before, and it will be a lot less stressful during and after.

Whew! I know that's a lot to digest at first, so now let's just jump into my shopping trip and I can share a few more specific tips. So you don't have to strain to read the receipt, I will just go ahead and type out how each purchase worked out.

Here is my Meijer haul!

 I'm working sort of left to right with these.
Not pictured because it just wouldn't fit is a 24 pack of water, marked down to $3.00 from $3.77.

Tai Pei Frozen Meals: OP (Original price) $2.50= on sale 2/$4. I had a Buy One Get One Free coupon so I spent $2.00 total for both.
International Delight Creamer (the salted caramel mocha is really yummy!): OP $3.27= on sale 2/$5. I had a .55 cent off coupon=$1.95
Meijer garlic bread= Paid full price, $1.59. I actually had a coupon for Cole's brand Garlic bread which would have made it a little cheaper than the Meijer brand, but Cole's often goes on BOGO sale, so I wanted to save the coupon for that.
Febreze Air Effects: OP $2.99= on sale $2.49- $1.00 off coupon= $1.49
Purina Cat Chow (cause Maisy's gotta eat): OP $4.99=on sale $4.00-$1.00 off coupon=$3.00
Kraft shredded cheese: OP $3.09= on sale $1.88

Finish Dishwasher Detergent: OP $4.19= on sale $3.49- .75 cent off manufacturer coupon stacked with a $1.00 off any dish detergent Store Catalina = $1.74. Save those Catalinas (the coupons that print at checkout that you think aren't worth anything). Sometimes they are!

One of my best finds: 2 Lindt chocolate bars: OP $2.39= on sale $2.00- $2.00 off coupons =FREE!!!!! As of right now, you can still "Like" Lindt Chocolate on Facebook, watch a little video, and get $2.00 off coupons, which can equal a free bar depending on your store's prices. I have several more from other printers so I will have them on hand for stocking stuffers.

Maxwell House coffee: OP $3.71= on sale $2.50
Swanson Flavor Boost: OP $1.94=on sale $1.69-.50 MPerk coupon=$1.19
Meijer Eggs: OP $1.68= on sale $1.29
Colgate Toothpaste+ bonus mouthwash: OP $3.47= on sale $2.99-$1.00 manufacturer coupon=$1.99
General Mills Cereal (stockpiling 5 of them!): OP $3.29= on sale $2.99. Plus, the special promotion was if you buy 5, you get $5.00 off automatically. so, $2.99 x 5=$14.95-$5.00- {2}$1.00/2 coupons and {1} .75 coupon= $ $1.44 each!

Domino Sugar: OP $2.72= on sale $2.19-. 50 coupon=$ 1.69
Challenge Butter: OP $3.48= on sale 2/$5- $1.00 off MPerk= $1.50

Reach Floss {4}: OP $1.00- {2} $1.00/2 Reach Products= $2.00. But, I knew through the fine folks at MeijerMadness that there is a current Catalina promotion where, if you buy 4 Reach Flosses, you get a Catalina when you check out for $3.00 off your next purchase. So, I MADE $1.00 from this purchase! Most stores won't give you overage and will only honor a coupon up to the purchase price, but this is a case where a purchase can be a moneymaker!

Idahoan Potatoes: OP $2.17=on sale $2.00- .69 MPerk= $1.31
Ben and Jerry's Greek Yogurt {PB and Banana=NOM}: OP $4.09= on sale $3.00- $1.00 off Ben and Jerry's Catalina Coupon= $2.00

When I checked out, I found that my $46.04 total, while pretty commendable, I must say, seemed a little high. I read through it and realized that the $5.00 from the General Mills cereal promo had not been taken off. I did the deal just for that, so I wasn't going to write it off as a loss. I went to the service desk and very sweetly asked the desk clerk to check for me. I recommend, if something is amiss or a discount doesn't credit properly, not approaching the service person with an antagonistic and "I am 100% right" attitude. Nothing puts a retail or customer service worker on the defensive faster and makes them less willing to help you. At least entertain the possibility that you made a mistake before flipping out. I offered up that I may have done something wrong (but I was pretty sure I hadn't). It turned out that there was a very limited variety of cereals included in the promo and one I picked up hadn't been part of it. I had misjudged one of the tags because it was partially obscured by one of those hanging shelf displays you sometimes see in the aisles. I apologized for not having checked more closely, and she said she had made the same mistake when she did the same transaction earlier in the week. She returned the cereals, I went and found the right one to swap, then she checked them back out and gave me a $5.01 cash refund. So my total was actually $41.03 and I saved $37.51, or 48%! This may not be on par with Extreme Couponing, but Not-So-Extreme Couponing is still pretty awesome and a lot less crazy-making!

Plus, I still have that $3.00 off my next purchase Catalina. It doesn't seem like much, does it? So what will I do with it? Well, Meijer is having a 2 day super sale this weekend and Quilted Northern tp and Brawny paper towels are 50% off. I have 2 printed coupons for .75 cents off the QN, and 2 coupons for .55 cents off Brawny. Brawny's OP is $3.99, so after the 50% off and the coupon they are $1.45 each. The QN's OP is $4.69, with the 50% off and the coupons they will be $1.60 each. This would be a very respectable deal at $6.10 for 4 packs total. But with that 3 dollars off I will pay only $3.10 for $17.36 of paper goods, and I will be stocked up for a while!

I'm definitely no couponing guru, but I'm willing to answer any questions I can! Or If anybody has some tips they've picked up, I'd love to know! So, any veteran couponers or young couponing grasshoppers out there? Come on now, don't be shy!

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  1. This is awesome, LV! The cost of food where I live is higher than the national average in the US, so my boyfriend and I are always struggling with our food budget. We have learned how to cut down in other areas of expenses. One thing we do is buy most of our clothes from Savers, which is a thrift store (I'm not sure if it's nation wide or not). They have tons of different clothes, a lot of which are great. I've found a lot of my work and holiday outfits there for incredibly cheap. Once you get good deals on something, it seems so unreasonable to pay full price! Haha! Thanks for these tips, I will definitely be able to benefit from this! <3

    1. Thanks, I'm glad you liked it, it's definitely a different subject for my blog, but it's near and dear to my heart! I will probably do some more grocery hauls soon. It's true my area probably has lower everyday prices than some regions, I can imagine Las Vegas is awful for that, but hopefully you will be able to use some of my tips for a little off here and there :)

      Yes, thrift stores are great! I have found brand new, tags-on items at mine before, and when we went to the Shawshank Reunion thingy a few months ago we found G's pinstripe suit (jacket and pants) for 10 bucks, and it's nice enough that he can easily wear it again. Sometimes you just have to sift through a lot of junk and gaudy disasters to get to the good stuff, but it's totally worth it. I like nice stuff, I just hate paying full price for it! My dad (classy man that he is) likes to say I have champagne taste on a beer can budget, and the ever-tactful, I can squeeze a nickel till the buffalo poops. Yep, pretty much ;)


Please leave me comments if anything strikes your fancy or if you have any helpful suggestions. Remember, I'm no expert and am just sharing my truth. Hopefully you will find something useful to take with you!

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