I love a good deal.
For years, I’ve seen all the grocery store coupon sites out there listing wonderful combo deals, how you can get free this and free that, but I never did it because I didn’t want to spend the time it takes to clip, sort, and manage coupons. I didn’t want to try to match them up with the sales circulars and double/triple coupon promotions to get the best deal possible.
I have nothing against people who do this, in fact I’m very envious of their organizational ability. I know that’s what it took to be a coupon ninja, I’d probably last a week or two, then it would fall by the wayside the first chance it could. That’s just how I am (I don’t bother with new year’s resolutions either!).
However, there’s a much easier way to be a coupon ninja and it involves the power of the internet.
Basics of Couponing
The key to the game and the most important idea to remember when being a coupon ninja is that you’re trying to minimize per unit costs and maximizing the effectiveness of a coupon. You do this by researching when sales and coupon promotions (where they double or triple manufacturer’s coupons) match.
Forget brand loyalty. It’s irrelevant. If you want to be an effective coupon ninja, you look for the best matches for the types of products you use.
Forget whether or not you “need” something, you’ll want to stock up on non-perishable products when they’re cheap, even if you don’t need them.
Coupons come in two major types – online printable coupons and offline coupons included in circulars. When you see people talk about buying three copies of the Sunday newspaper, it’s because they want three copies of the coupons that come with those newspapers.
There are three coupon “packages” that might come with your paper – Red Plum, P&G Brand Saver, and Smart Source. You might also hear of some places referring to “Catalinas,” those are the coupons that are printed at the register when you checkout, the company running it is Catalina Category Marketing.
How to Become a Coupon Ninja
This is how I do it:
- Take the coupon circulars out of the newspaper and write the date on it with a Sharpie.
- I take all the circulars and sort them by date and just leave them in a stack.
- Go to Coupon Mom  or AFullCup , or any other coupon site, and see what packages together for a good deal. Coupon Mom is probably one of the largest available but there are many blogs that do the matching for you (MoneySavingMom.com  is a good blog).
- Each one of the sites will have a slightly different interface but once you get used to the acronyms, it’s very quick to pop in each week to see if there are any good deals.
I don’t cut coupons, I don’t sort them, I just put them in a stack so I can reference them when I see a good deal. You’ll also start seeing some trends if you do this for a while. For example, coupons are most effective a few weeks after they’ve been sent out. The coupon will match in-store promotions and, if you get doubling or tripling, you can get things for very low cost.
What are ECBs?
If you watch enough of these sites, you’ll see them start referring to ECBs. ECB stands for Extra Care Bucks and it’s part of a program at CVS. Extra Care Bucks is their loyalty card program and they often give these “instant rebates” on products you buy. ECBs accrue on your account and are applied during your next purchase.
So, you may buy toothpaste that’s for sale for $2.49 with $1.99 in ECBs. You may have a 50 cent off coupon that you can use to make the toothpaste “free.” The $1.99 in ECBs can be used the next time you shop (or the next week, I forget the exact rules). So “Free after ECB” refers to that little game.
Just the beginning…
I’m only willing to devote a small amount of time to couponing but if you’re willing to do more, you can save a bundle on the things you buy. As you can see, my little system only takes a few minutes to do each week. You aren’t signing up for a huge endeavor, this is simple stuff.
Do you have any tips for a novice coupon ninja?
(Photo: eschipul )