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Coupon Lady: Here's what you need to start couponing

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If you are new to my column, you might not know that I offer coupon classes when my schedule allows.

Or maybe you wanted to attend my coupon class in the past but couldn’t make it. I understand that it is very easy for life to get in the way. Kids get sick; husbands run late; or the boss needs you to work over. It happens. Right now I have kids home for summer vacation; I’m planning for my husband’s visit home from Afghanistan; and I’m trying to help my father as much as possible.

So this week I’d like to share the basic information you need to start building your coupon system and save money.

First of all, you need coupons – one set for each member of your family.

Sometimes people will tell me: “I already get one paper. I don’t need any more.” Or: “I am going to get two papers, but we have five members in our household.” Saving big with couponing requires more than one newspaper. It is impossible to get big discounts without access to multiple coupons. The number of newspapers you need depends on your household size. The average family needs four.

The more sources of coupons you have, the better chance you have of finding the most deals, and the newspaper is the largest source of coupons.

Other coupon sources include magazines, Web sites, coupon machines and product packaging.

If you collect coupons online, you might want to consider opening a second e-mail account for your coupon efforts to keep from clogging up your personal e-mail. You can also gather coupons by checking out manufacturers’ Web sites and Facebook pages for special offers, free samples and high-value coupons.

Once you start collecting your coupons, then you have to choose an organizing system. If you gather a lot of coupons, a pocket-size organizer simply won’t do the job. I use a coupon binder, which consists of a 3-inch binder, baseball card pages and index dividers. I divide my coupons into 16 sections for manufacturers and 10 for store coupons.

Once I cut my coupons, I put them in the binder. The binder allows me to quickly match coupons to sale items and keeps the coupons visible for surprise savings from clearance or manager specials.

A coupon by itself is not enough. You have to match coupons with sales. Start checking ads and matching coupons to the sale items. I try to focus on just one drugstore and one grocery store each week. Bi-Lo doubles coupons to 60 cents with its loyalty card, and Publix and Kroger will double coupons up to 50 cents.

Some coupons are excluded from doubling. These coupons will have the words “Do Not Double” written across the top.

When most people shop, they make a list of the items that they are out of and go shopping just for those. They are at the mercy of the price of the item that week. If the item isn’t on sale when you need it, then you are forced to buy it at full price. However, if you buy things at their lowest price points and stock up, then you pick the price you are willing to pay for the item. That puts you in charge of your food budget.


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