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Free Items from coupons.

Free items "scored" from couponing.

Okay, I will admit it. For two weeks after watching the famous TLC show, I was an extreme couponer. Now it seems that everywhere I look, “coupons” are a topic of discussion. My friends begged me to “show them the way” so they could be part of the “revolution.” As with anything, I can only tell you of my experiences. Every grocery chain is different. Some offer double manufacturer coupons while some do not. (My particular store has a promotion where all coupons are worth $1.00. Keep in mind that although it helps, it isn’t a necessity to score free goodies).

The first thing you will need is coupons. Pick up your local Sunday paper and take a look through the inserts. Next, find out what your local grocer’s coupon policies are. Get flyers from the store or browse through the aisles. Look for items that cost less than your coupon value. Simple huh? Sure is. Now for the tricky part. I found that in my local store, I received a greater discount if I bought in quantities of four. So, in order for these items to be free, I needed to have at least four coupons on hand (1 per item) so I could receive the sale price. Get it? Good. So, the issue arises: How to obtain a large quantity of newspaper inserts without having to pay $2.00 per paper? Of course, none of the products are actually free if you are paying $20.00 for a stack of newspapers. For starters, I would advise checking with neighbors, co-workers, local businesses or online. My local Dollar Tree sells Sunday papers for $1.00 throughout the week. Personally, I found a woman online who was selling the inserts at a fraction of the price for each paper. I also made friends with a local business who allowed me to pick through the leftover papers at the end of the night. In total, I spent $8.00 on 45 inserts (3 inserts per Sunday paper). In addition to all the items pictured above, I also received sixteen free tubes of toothpaste and six chapsticks. As you can notice in the photo, the $1.00 bill and the eggs in the picture were also free. Some stores will offer cash back in excess of any coupon, and some stores don’t. Check your local grocer’s policy. As of today, Walmart’s coupon policy states that it offers cash back, so you may want to start there.

Coupon Organizer

Coupon Organizer

The first week was spent scouring the weekly ads and flipping through pages of inserts. Eventually, instead of cutting the coupons I made a quick Excel document listing the manufacturer, expiration date and insert name and date. I organized my inserts by name and date, and kept the printable coupons filed alphabetically by manufacturer. Everything was logged into Excel and then filed away. If you are serious about couponing, I highly recommend that you take the extra time to do this. Creating an Excel file will make it easy to do a quick search when you see items at the store that may correspond with a coupon. There are websites that will do this work for you, but each local store has different sales. If I had depended on the websites alone, I would of missed out on a slew of free items. Definitely check the websites weekly, because they will include printable coupons for free items as well. Here are a few links to coupon match-up sites:

http://www.livingrichwithcoupons.com
http://www.savingcentswithsense.net
http://thekrazycouponlady.com/

At the end of two weeks, I amassed over $200.00 in products. I created the perfect system and then, I just stopped. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I think it was my brain acting in self defense. I can see how easily this hobby can become a compulsion. Who doesn’t love free stuff? Watching your total rise and drop at check-out creates a rush of adrenalin. Walking out of the store with a cart-full of free products leaves you on an endorphin high. Neurotransmitters firing frantically, all over some free groceries. Would I do it again? Yes, but I could not make extreme couponing into a regular hobby. I watch the people on television, and I feel that they are slaves to their coupons. As a single woman, with no kids I feel that it takes more time than I am willing to allot. I will choose to get my endorphine highs at the gym or hiking a mountain, thank you very much. As someone who chooses home-made beauty products over synthetic chemical-laden ones; I have no need for many of the products advertised. However, I recommend that everyone try “extreme couponing” at least once. The best day for it, is on your birthday.

Birthday coupons are by far my favorites in the world of discounts and bargains. Last year, my birthday month consisted of one delicious free meal after another. If you haven’t already signed up for the email clubs of all your favorite restaurants, do it now!! Some of the highlights from my birthday couponing last year were: a free $30 gift card to Benihana’s, a free meal at BD’S Mongolian barbeque, a free entree at Brio Tuscan, free breakfast at IHOP, free ice cream at Baskin Robbins, free sub at Jersey Mike’s and a free cheeseburger at Ruby Tuesday’s. I had so many free meal coupons, I could not even use them all. Many of the coupons are valid for the entire month, leaving you with plenty of time to take advantage of the savings. Just be sure to tip properly (on the total amount before discount). To make it easier, I created an email address that I use specifically for discount clubs. Here are a few links I found from a quick search for free birthday coupons:

http://www.heyitsfree.net/birthday-freebies
http://www.frugalliving.tv/free-stuff/birthday-freebies.html
http://www.joinemailclubs.com/

That’s my recap on the art of extreme couponing. Fellow couponers, feel free to share your stories, links or helpful tidpits. Novices, go ahead and spoil yourself; It’s free.

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