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Couponing Like a New Yorker

Couponing Like A New Yorker

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When I tell people that I coupon, I usually get the same responses:

  • “Don’t you always end up buying stuff you don’t need?”
  • “But you only save 75 cents, that’s not worth my time.”
  • “I don’t have room in my apartment to buy in bulk!”

As a New Yorker, I’m well aware that time is money, that apartments are tiny, and that our attention spans are the size of walnuts.  We live in a city where we can get any kind of food (or groceries, for that matter!) delivered to our apartment at any time of night, and the thought of planning and clipping and organizing and storing more than one bottle of shampoo at a time seems ridiculous.

All of these arguments were 100% mine as well, until I started, and now it’s difficult to imagine how I possibly got by WITHOUT couponing.

Getting Started…

 

TLC’s Extreme Couponing might have been the shameful reason why I gave it a try to begin with, as much as I’d hate to admit it.  I was home, bored, and feeling poor (as all New Yorkers, and especially, as all NY actors feel on a daily basis), when I turned on the TV to a bunch of housewives in the Midwest going absolutely insane over a .50 cent mustard discount.  I too thought they were nuts, but the more I watched, the more I realized that what they were accomplishing was sort of miraculous.

I also realized that there were habits I could pick and choose out of their craziness, to make couponing MY OWN- in an NYC apartment-sized space, with the limited amount of time and attention that I had to devote to it.

It was slow to start: I clipped some coupons, went to the store, got frustrated, and gave up.  The next week, I clipped more, went to the store… and actually used some of them.  My couponing grew and grew from there, until I finally accomplished my crowning achievement of bringing $70 worth of groceries and incidentals to the register, paying NOTHING, and having CVS pay me $7 to carry it all out of the store.

Is It Worth It?

 

As cool as that was, I started wondering what all this effort was for.  My friends and family thought I was nuts. I was living in a three-bedroom shared apartment with two roommates, and my allotted shelf in the kitchen was overflowing.  I had saved some money, and that was great, but in the end… was it all really worth it?

Then, out of the blue, came the day that I thanked my lucky stars that I had started couponing.  I had booked a seven-month performing job in China.  I was super excited to go, but there was a little hiccup with my work visa.  I was assured by the company that hired me that it was on its way, and encouraged to give up my NY survival job in preparation to fly out, and in my excitement to get going on this new adventure, I did.

Then… low and behold… the work visa didn’t come through. In fact, it didn’t come for a full month. Still wishing and hoping that it would show up each day, I resisted returning to work, thinking “tomorrow- it will definitely be here tomorrow!”  I had $700 in my checking account at the time, and it was definitely not a good moment to deal with a month of unexpected unemployment.  So what did I do?  I ate my couponed stockpile.

I had frozen veggies and couscous, pasta with different sauces, and the million different kinds of soup that I had accumulated over the course of my past few months of couponing.  I used my reserves of contact solution and toothpaste and face wash, and I resisted spending a penny during that month, not knowing when I was about to start working again.  At the end of the month, I had survived, and I had survived WELL.

Couponing Isn’t For Today, It’s For Tomorrow

 

It’s for when you find yourself out of work unexpectedly, or find yourself at 12:00 at night and your shampoo bottle runs out, or when you suddenly have houseguests and you can offer them one of 16 toothbrushes you have in your drawer for just that occasion.  The most important lesson that I learned from those sage crazies on TLC was “buy it now, when it’s cheap or free, so you don’t have to pay full price when you DO need it.”

Where Do Coupons Come From?

 

First, I had to figure out where coupons come from.  The answer: everywhere.

The obvious place would be the Sunday paper – here in NY, the NY Post and the Daily News tend to have the best coupon selections.  Also, in NYC, circulars for weekly sales at local stores tend to come out on Wednesdays, and those circulars are usually left in little plastic bags on doorsteps around the city.  The majority of them end up immediately in the trash- but check them for coupons first!

Coupons can also be printed online, using coupons.com, smartsource.com, etc… but because I’m cheap and don’t feel like paying for ink cartridges, I tend to skip those.  The next time you go into a store (take Duane Reade for example), keep an eye out.  Tiny boxes mounted on the shelves tend to have coupons in them.  Also, there are sometimes coupons called “peelies” stuck to products advertising “$1 off!” or something similar.

A little known fact is that (unless specified on the coupon) those coupons do not have to be used immediately, and taking them out of the store is totally legal.  You are more than welcome to grab a few of them and file them away.

Coupon Organization

 

The second thing I needed to discover for myself was that organization is key.  A pile of coupons doesn’t do you any good.  You need to know exactly what you have, and how to find it quickly.

The TLC ladies recommended using a binder, but that wasn’t really my style.  I experimented a bunch, and then settled with a small plastic coupon organizer booklet.  Over time, that booklet grew to 4 booklets- 2 for food, 1 for personal care items, and 1 for household items. Within each booklet I put little stickers on the tabs to specify sections for different products. That way “Spices and Sauces” stay separate from “Dairy and Eggs”- when you have 10 coupons this seems unnecessary, but when you have 400, you’ll be grateful.

Find your own way to organize that makes sense to you- but remember, a coupon is only good if you can actually find it to use it.

Store Cards

 

Another important thing to be aware of is store cards.  I cannot sing the praises of store cards enough.  How many times do you get to checkout and just not feel like dealing with a store card?  All the time.  But here’s a tip- a lot of stores only offer sale prices WITH STORE CARD.  These are not credit cards, but savings cards.  They are free at customer service counters, and they could mean the difference between paying $5 or $3.

Manufacturer Coupons (MQ’s) vs. Store Coupons (SQ’s)

 

Another thing to remember is that there are two different types of coupons.  There are MANUFACTURER coupons, which are usually the kind that come in the paper.  They are for the product, but do not list a store specifically.

These can be used pretty much everywhere, and the majority of what you’re dealing with should be manufacturer coupons (or MQ’s for short).  There are also STORE coupons- these are coupons that the store is putting out themselves (and are called SQ’s for short).  Target, Walgreens, and the like put these out pretty regularly.

Using Your Coupons

 

So, you’ve done the legwork- found the coupons, clipped, organized, now when do you know when the moment is right to use them?

Start by checking the circulars.  Find out what’s on sale, and if you’re in the area, take a quick walk around the store and see if anything exciting is on clearance (these sales tend to not be advertised).  Then, pull out your beautifully organized coupons, and compare.

While saving $1 off of a $3.50 can of soup is fine, you can do better.  You want to find a store that has the product on sale- in fact, as a rule, ONLY USE COUPONS ON PRODUCTS THAT ARE ALREADY ON SALE.  Perhaps they also have out an SQ which takes even more off.  You can generally use an SQ and an MQ together (this is called “stacking”)- so look for products that you have both for, if possible.

This is sort of the “perfect storm” of couponing.  It’s what you always look for, but won’t always find- don’t get frustrated, it’ll show up if you just keep looking!

 

  • Let’s say, for example, that you’re at CVS.   A can of, say, Progresso Soup, is normally $3.50, but this week it’s on sale for $1.99 (when you swipe your store card).  In the circular there’s a SQ (store coupon) this week for $1 off of two cans, and you have two $1 off of a single can MQ’s (manufacturer coupons) from coupons you’ve recently clipped.  So… here comes the math: get two cans.
  • $3.50 x 2 = $7 (normally).  Swipe your card, and they’re magically now $1.99 each.
  • $1.99 x 2 = $3.98
  • -$1 SQ and -2 $1 MQ’s = .98 cents, or .49 cents each.

 

That can of soup, which you might have purchased for $3.50 while on a lunch break, or on your way home from work and tired, now cost you .49 cents, and you got 2, so you saved $6.02 right there- an 86% savings.

So now, do you have more coupons??  Maybe get 4!  This is where NYC couponing begins to differ from the Midwest Extreme Couponing lunatics.  You don’t have room for 400 cans of soup, but you know what I bet you have room for?  Six, or maybe even eight cans.

Be smart, get only what you will use, or what you know people close to you will use, but do look beyond this week or this month.  Will you eat soup eight times in the next six months?  Great.  Get eight cans of soup.  A great deal is a great deal, but I’ll never be that person who buys diapers when I don’t have a baby, or pet food when I don’t have a dog – that’s when you know you’ve gone off the deep end.

Don’t Hesitate to Try New Things

 

That said- don’t be afraid to branch out.  Brand loyalty can be the death of a couponer.

Say you like Garnier shampoo, but you get to the store and discover that you can get L’Oreal shampoo for .75 cents cheaper.  TRY IT.  I have discovered some awesome products this way.  I recently ran out of milk and went to the store to buy more.  I usually like Hood Simply Smart milk, but I had coupons for So Delicious Coconut Milk… so I gave it a try… and guess what’s really good?  Coconut milk.

Remember- each store is different, and it’s the stores right to have whatever couponing policy it prefers (or not accept coupons all together).  Don’t expect your corner bodega to accept coupons- stick to the chain stores that have clear policies.  If you can, pay a visit to the website of the store in advance and print off a copy of their policy to familiarize yourself with it.

There are times you may feel like you’re robbing the store, but you always want to keep everything entirely legal, or it’s not truly a victory.  My favorite store to coupon at is Stop and Shop- (which are few and far between in NYC, but just happen to have huge location in Astoria, Queens, where I live) because their coupon policy actually allows them to DOUBLE COUPONS up to .99 cents.  That’s right… If I come in with a .75 cent coupon, they will take $1.50 off the product.  That has added up to some pretty remarkable savings in the past.

If you’re anywhere nearby, I highly recommend starting your couponing education there!

Should  You Try Couponing?

 

Yes, couponing takes a bit of leg work and effort to begin, but once you get it up and running it can turn into a well-oiled machine that’s easy to maintain.

Remember that coupons expire, usually in about a month, so go through your collection every once in a while and toss the old ones.  I could go on and on about the various ways you can arrange your coupons to get better deals.  There are infinite ways to find your way around paying full price for anything, if you set your mind to it.

Now, having done it for so long, I can’t fathom how I ever paid full price for things.  When in doubt, visit TheKrazyCouponLady for advice.  She is a couponing ninja, and has managed to stay fabulous through it all.

 

As a performer, my income is sporadic and usually small, and couponing has been my answer.  It’s been a way to keep my life orderly and in control, in the face of a city and business that’s never in my control.  I vow to never be the crazy that I saw on TV, but I’m proud to call myself a couponer!

 

Sarah Cooney is an NYC based-actor/singer/stilt walker/avid couponer! She likes puppies more than most people, loves to travel, and is a constant nomad. www.sarahbcooney.com

Have you ever tried couponing?  What strategies do you recommend?

 

 

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66 responses to “Couponing Like A New Yorker

  1. I love the idea of couponing and saving food for the future, but I’ve failed epically at attempting to do it several times for the reasons that you mentioned at the beginning of your post. Plus, I have the tendency to eat more junk food than I should and I’m afraid that I would end up buying too much of the unhealthy stuff.

    1. Definitely a good point Addison- a lot of coupons tend to be for carb-y sugar-y items, but I find that SQ (store coupons) tend to have some good deals on fresh fruits and vegis. I also have really gotten into frozen fruits and vegis (just make sure it’s not covered in butter!)

  2. I don’t coupon like crazy but occasionally I do use coupons if they are easily there. I especially like the coupons that are attached to the product at the grocery store. Doesn’t get much easier than that!

    1. Thanks for reading Michelle! I agree, there’s nothing better than coupons right on the product- in fact- keep an eye out for “coupon fairies”. When my coupons are getting close to expiring and I know I’m not going to use them, I like to leave them right next to the products on the shelves so others can share the wealth! I know of a lot of other couponers who do this too 🙂

  3. Great guide to couponing! I don’t go crazy with it, but I do so appreciate it when I run out of something, like soap, and all I have to do is reach into my little stockpile for more. It saves me from having to take trips to Target just to get this or that.

  4. Nice post Sarah. I’ve never been a big couponer myself because it just never seems to be worth all the effort. But the way you explain it, most of that work is upfront. Perhaps I just give up too soon and never get it working like the well-oiled machine you describe.

    1. Thanks Mike! Yes, most of the work is just getting started, which is why most give up so quickly, but now that it’s up and running for me, it takes about 30 minutes a week to clip and organize everything 🙂 Good luck!

  5. This post is funny, full of information and the process is explained in a reader friendly way. I absolutely love it! I hope to see more of Miss Cooney’s insights on life in the Big Apple. God knows we can use all the help we can get to make it in this city.

  6. Awesome post. I still can’t say I’d do the whole couponing thing…I do stockpile when things are on sale, and I guess that helps for tomorrow, but couponing for me is just too time consuming.

  7. I have definitely wanted to become more of a couponer; however, I realize that my biggest issue is in the organization factor. I am not good at tracking and keeping up with coupons, and I typically end up realizing I have them right after they have expired. I know people who spreadsheet them to stay organized, but it’s just an additional task in my life that I am not sure I can incorporate. Instead I just try to spend less as much as possible.

    1. There’s nothing worse than having a coupon for a product I’m really excited about, and having it expire on me. If I know it’s a product that I really want to buy, I tend to put the coupon not in it’s “section” in my organizer, but right in the front, so it’s the first thing I see every time I open the booklet. That way I keep being reminded to use it before it expires! Thanks for reading, Shannon!

  8. Thank you, Sarah. You have shared your couponing products with me and I was truly amazed at the savings and the quality of the products! I am on an extremely tight buget and I know that couponing will help me stick to it! Thank you for reminding me that the footwork will pay off big in the long run!

  9. Yep my wife and I coupon quite a bit. She does most of the work now and we usually save a decent amount each week. It really adds up when you start talking in terms of months and years. We organize our coupons in Excel in a coupon database that I created. It’s a pretty popular post over at my blog. If you can get fast at entering coupons it can be a great “electronic” way to manage your coupons.

    1. Wow! I applaud your work ethic, DC! I don’t have a electronic way of tracking my coupons, but I can 100% see how it help, and possibly cut down on forgetting about coupons until after they’ve expired. I too don’t mind the work that goes into clipping and organizing- it’s almost a zen process at this point 🙂 Keep up the awesome work!

  10. Wow, what a great couponing primer! I’ve always been pretty lazy about it. I just make my grocery list and search through some online couponing sites or manufacturer websites before hitting the store.

    I would be pretty excited about CVS paying me $7 for $70 worth of groceries too though!!

    1. Thanks Mel! The great CVS shopping trip was largely due to “extrabucks” promotions, where CVS gives you a gift card with cash rewards on it for purchasing a particular product, to be used on future CVS transactions (ex: get $5 extrabucks when you purchase 2 bottles of vitamins, or something similar…). These promotions change weekly, so keep an eye out for them! In that particular shopping trip, my coupons brought the total to $0, but I still qualified for the extrabucks! Win!
      Searching online for coupons before a shopping trip is a great start though! I wouldn’t consider that lazy in the slightest! Way to coupon!

  11. I love The Krazy Coupon Lady website, read her book and love it too. One time KCL said that there were two individual Starbucks coupons for $1.00 off at coupons.com and she told us (her readers) to get the coupons because next week Walgreens would have Starbucks Iced Coffee on sale and with the coupon & store card, you could get it free and get a Register Rewards on your transaction that you could use for another free Starbucks Iced Coffee.

    So I printed two coupons from coupons.com for the Iced Coffee, I never had it before so I just took one with me, I went down to Walgreens with my store loyalty card and my coupon and I got it free and a Register Rewards printed with my transaction.

    I liked it, I wanted to get one for my bf so he could try it, and got another iced coffee for free for my bf with my Register Rewards coupon. I still had one more coupon to use, went back to Walgreens and used the coupon, got it for free again, and it printed a register rewards. I used that register rewards on yet another iced coffee. So in all I got 4 free Starbucks Iced Coffee and it’s all legal.

    Coupons can be a good way save on products a household needs or to try new products for free or cheap. People think coupons are low finance but they become high finance when you use them correctly. A journalist for the Wall Street Journal said they are worthwhile.

    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704820904575055392244583592

    I try not to use paper coupons. I signed up for store loyalty cards at stores I actually shop at, downloaded their apps on my smartphone and once you login to the apps, add coupons digitally to your store cards. In fact I recommend digital coupons for people who don’t want to worry about buying papers or printing coupons off the net, organizing your coupons and spending money on binders, file accordions, coupon sleeves, etc.

    And I’m not an extreme couponer. I’m just a casual couponer but it still has saved me a lot of money especially because I’m trying to finish my degree and college is not cheap. Coupons have afforded me not only necessities but the ability to do things I enjoy. I have even couponed at Whole Foods. Couponing can be whatever you want it to be, you can coupon as little or as much as you want.

    Sorry for writing a novel. I just feel passionate about this subject. 🙂

  12. I don’t spend too much time couponing, but it’s worth the 5 minutes or so going through the flyers to find the ones that will save me some money. Coupons can make the brand names cheaper than the generics, and who doesn’t like to feel like Warren Buffet with their brand name foods?

    1. You’re 100% correct, Ryan! In fact, since I started couponing, I’ve barely ever bought generic items. Only the best, living it up with my name brands and coupons!

  13. When I couponed in London in a small space, I stocked up on products I used on a regular basis. Cereals, frozen pizza, yogurts.. and non perishables like toothspaste or TP. I didn’t go try new products I didn’t know how to cook or how much I would like. There are also lots of coupons for arts and cultural events that can save you a lot of money. In Paris there was a booth for under 25 with free theatre vouchers for the same night so we often went when we had no plans and wanted to go out for free.

    1. Absolutely, Pauline! There are coupons for everything, if you know where to look! I know I would have lived at place like that Paris theatre ticket booth, if I had been anywhere near it!

  14. I don’t clip coupons often but I tend to use whatever I get from retailers on future purchases if the timing works out. My mother was a grocery flyer maven and always spent time each week clipping the coupons and saving money in the process. At 76 years of age, mom still looks at the flyers each week and cuts her coupons as needed.
    As you mentioned, it’s in the leaner times when you really see the effects of how your coupon stash helps you out. Thanks for this post Sarah!

  15. I feel like we talked about this a little bit, but I coupon at CVS for toiletries and stuff. But, you’ve got the math down! I imagine it would be really hard to coupon in New York, so kudos to you!

    1. I love couponing at CVS! Particularly because they have big red coupon machines in the front of every store that print off fresh SQ’s every time you go in! Thanks for the vote of confidence!

  16. Thanks for the great article, Sarah! As a recovering grad student, funds are still pretty tight and with the extra time I’ve got this is definitely something I’m going to try out. One question though: I don’t live in a place as densely populated as NYC and commute everywhere by bike, so transporting a lot of goods can be difficult. Do you have any suggestions for finding promo codes and the like for online shopping?

    1. Charlie- you are wonderful. Thank you for reading and commenting. Of course I understand the living in a city and carrying bags everywhere issue- I have had many a painful hand after trudging home 10 blocks from the grocery store with 40 lbs of groceries, but in the end it’s always seemed worth it to me. Not struggling with that stuff is totally great as well- and online shopping is a great resource for that. Retailmenot.com is my favorite coupon site for non-grocery items, but for incidentals/groceries, one that looks good is actually CVS.com which ships directly to your house- they have coupons specifically ON THE SITE to be used for items online, and if you sign up for their extracare card, they will send you extra “online only” coupons as well! Good luck Charlie!

  17. I don’t find tons of coupons in the paper insert that we use, but Kroger sends me tons every month based on what I buy, so I do love the value cards and could care less if they spy on what I buy. I haven’t paid for toothpaste in about 2 years. I wait until it’s .99 cents and use a $1 off coupon. Those seem to turn up all the time. I wish there were more coupons for fresh things, but whatever you can save is more money in your pocket. I don’t spend a ton of time on it, but I bet I save at least $5 every grocery trip.

  18. I’m not the primary grocery shopper in our home, but if I was, I might make more of an attempt at this. When I have clipped coupons in the past, I had forgotten about them and then they expired.

  19. I’m always amazed when you have double and triple coupon days, we don’t have that in Hawaii. I often get manufacturer coupons email to me due to some of the programs I’ve signed up for.

    1. Stop and Shop is literally the only store in the NYC area that I know of that doubles coupons, and the notion of a triple coupon day sounds like the most magical thing in the world. In a place where doubling/tripling isn’t an option, I’d recommend stacking coupons (SQ’s and MQ’s) as much as possible (if the store puts out SQ’s… that is!). Good luck!

  20. We don’t get the Sunday paper but the Rite-Aid flyer comes free in the mail. The flyer has noted when the sale item also has a coupon in the Sunday paper. If it’s an item I want, I have asked friends for the inserts.
    Another storage option is under the bed. The tops of the boxes that reams of paper come in, or similar sized shallow boxes, make good trays for stock ups on sale items and they can slide under the bed.
    Great article, thanks!

  21. I use coupons every now and then but don’t have too much time to put into it! I just try to shop sales instead for the most part.

  22. Anyone can save dollars with coupons, the only thing is to weed out only the things you will use or eat. I saw an extreme couponer get 80 boxes of brownie mix and 121 momentos candy, seriously who would eat all that stuff. By the time you get to the 5th box you might get diabetes, let’s not mention the dental bill you will get by eating all that candy. Keep it simple and don’t go insane is my motto. I used a $2 coupon on Digorno pizza recently and it totaled about 4 bucks for the pizza. (Pretty Sweet)

  23. Love these tips! And also like the idea of couponing for later, not now. I often find myself in a crunch for things when I run out (shampoo! toothpaste! toilet paper!…those are the usual suspects), and it would be great if I had a cheap little stock pile waiting!

    1. My boyfriend calls my closet “Cooney’s General Store”, because any time we run out of anything, he goes shopping in there! I love having a small stockpile, because getting caught without toilet paper is just about the worst thing in the world. Thanks for reading, Jess!

  24. Great post and very detailed. I actually do not buy anything without first checking to see if a coupon applies. I also make sure I partake in the savings program/store cards. I’m usually able to combine manufacturer coupon I’ve printed online along with my drug store card and save. I can probably do more but as Jersey bred guy who also lived in Manhattan once – time is money.

    1. That’s an awesome way to start Jason! I get it- New Yorkers who coupon seem to be an oxymoron sometimes, but now I don’t see how anyone can afford to be a New Yorker WITHOUT couponing!

  25. Couponing is quite different in Canada than it is in the States, and we are fairly limited with what we can do, but I don’t coupon because the quality of food that coupons can buy you (certainly around here) is crap. I don’t want dried box food or .. well, anything from a box. My diet is mainly whole, plant based foods and we aren’t really able to get coupons on fresh fruits, veggies and legumes.

    1. Hi Daisy- I can’t speak for couponing in Canada, but I’ve found that store coupons tend to be where I get the most fresh products (IE- yesterday I used a Stop and Shop coupon in their weekly circular which made fresh peaches 78 cents per lb, as opposed to 1.99 per lb!)… but if you’re intent on not couponing for food, personal care and household products are definitely still couponable! Good luck!

  26. This is great couponing advice. As with most things in my financial life, I try to make things simple but try to get the most bang for my buck. So I will just look for things that I normally buy and see if they’re on sale. There are some great sites that do the legwork for you and check if there are any sunday coupons for the stuff on sale at CVS for example. So I just cut the coupon, and get the sale. Once you start a system it doesn’t take much time at all.

  27. Great story! This is similar to what happened to me and my wife. We had accumulated a stockpile of free or almost free food. We went through a period where we were really tight on money, so we didn’t get groceries for a month and decided to eat our stockpile food. It was awesome to be able to do that.

    1. I’m not sure what I would have done in that month if it weren’t for my stockpile- it would have been pretty bad. I sure appreciate couponing even more now, having come out on the other side of leaner times! Keep up the good couponing Kalen!

  28. Great article Sarah! I have a friend who is also good at couponing. I wish I had the time to try it! God knows I need the extra money now that Brianna is going to college!!!

  29. Thank you Sarah for this great article. As a New Yorker holding down two jobs I definitely need to start couponing so maybe I won’t have to work so hard and save $$.

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