The Art of the Coupon

By Erika Enigk

Clair Boone has not paid for toiletries in eight years.

No, she’s not part of a shampoo and toothpaste theft ring. The founder of mummydeals.org is simply a smart shopper. On her site and through live workshops, she teaches others how to save – and even make – money, simply by buying necessities at the right times, from the right places.

The practice is commonly known as “couponing,” but there is so much more to it than clipping the 25 cent coupon for crescent rolls out of the Sunday paper.

Frugal is the new black

"They say frugal is the new black," Boone quips. By adopting a few simple rules for low-cost living, single gals can be fashionably frugal.

Know what things cost It seems so simple, but many people simply throw things into their grocery carts, rationalizing that they need the item no matter what the price tag says. Without the baseline knowledge, though, there’s no way to know whether a sale will save you money. “You’ve worked hard for it,” Boone says. “Know where it’s going.”

A coupon for 25 cents off a pack of name brand cookies may seem like a good deal. But if the store brand tastes just as good and is regularly priced at 50 cents below the name brand, it makes more sense to skip the coupon and buy the generic cookies.

Stack coupons The store brand cookies may be cheaper than the name brand, even with the 25 cent coupon. But when the name brand is on sale, throwing a coupon on top of that sale can take the price below the store brand’s.

Using this technique, Boone can actually make money when she buys everyday necessities such as toothpaste. For example, CVS recently offered $8.99 in Extra Care Bucks (a program through which customers receive rewards to be used like cash in CVS stores) on an $8.99 bottle of contact lens solution. This alone would make the item free, but combined with a newspaper coupon for $1 off, Boone came out $1 ahead!

Stock up Don’t go to five different stores every week, Boone says. Doing so is a surefire way to drive yourself crazy and give up quickly. “Nobody thinks on a Friday night, date night or grocery shopping?” she says.

Instead, find the deals at your local stores and choose your shopping destination based on which store has the best offerings that week. Boone only goes to more than one place if there are too-good-to-miss deals.

By stocking up, you’ll ensure that you get the best deal on an item and have it when you need it. Boone cautions people against joining warehouse clubs, however. Most of the time, a better price can be found in a local grocery store – without the annual fee. Buy what’s on sale, but only if you’ll use it Too many people get caught up in the idea of a deal that they don’t stop to consider if they actually need a product. Buy-one-get-one-free cans of Betty Crocker frosting is no deal for the baker who never uses canned frosting.

“Don’t clip every coupon,” Boone cautions. “If you don’t need it, don’t buy it.” The one time Boone makes an exception is when she can get something for free that someone else can use. Last year, she famously procured 10 boxes of Preparation H, making money thanks to rebates, and donated them to a local nursing home.

Start slowly, and use the internet Couponing is not as much work as it seems, Boone says, though she concedes that it can seem overwhelming at first. There are many ways to save, so she recommends starting with what seems the most manageable and go from there.

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