I have a few simple coupon guidelines I live by. You may or may not agree/abide by them, but you may find them helpful! I will probably be going into some of these in a little more depth later on, but here is a quick run down of how I plan to go about my coupon adventures.
1. You can print or clip coupons that you do not need/are not sure that you will need; once you are sure that you will not use them (and are not expired!) Common courtesy says that you should put them into the coupon swap bin in front of your local grocery store. My Wal-Mart just started doing this, and twice a month I plan to dump a handful of coupons in! It is also a great place to find coupons. Don't have a swap bin? Ask the manager to start one, or start an online local coupon swap. I started mine with Yahoo groups.
2. Print ASAP! Don't wait...a lot of times coupons are limited time only, or limited amount of prints. Grab it while you can...this is where rule #1 comes in handy. It is okay in my book to print like a wild woman (person) as long as you pay it forward.
3. Get the item for the coupon as soon as possible, so you do not miss out. But do not have a spaz attack if you don't get it the first week. A lot of times the coupons are hard to get, but the item will be around again at some point. You can also ask for a rain check, which is a great way to ensure you get the most out of your coupons.
4. DO NOT BUY ITEMS THAT YOU/YOUR FAMILY DO NOT USE REGULARLY. This is a big one for me. I recently saw on a Facebook fan page that a couponer had over 30 boxes of hair dye, from 3 different companies, in 5 wildly different colors. This is NOT ALLOWED in my book. Pardon my language, but WTF could you possibly need all that for? It is wasteful both of money and space. It is taking viable products that someone else might actually need, off the shelf. I do not like this practice at ALL. Make a list of core brands/items that you use and stick to it. Veer from your brands or items only if it is something you want to try out but do not want to pay the full price, or if it is a freebie coupon. If you don't need the item, give it away. Shelters everywhere need EVERYTHING.
5. NO ALTERING,PHOTOCOPYING OR MISUSING OF COUPONS. Another biggie with me. If you don't play by the rules, you could potentially ruin the coupon game for everyone. Play nice, and be ethical.
6. Carry the coupon policy with you to your stores. Don't fight with managers. And most importantly...pick your battles. I saw a woman once get escorted out by the police because the manager wouldn't honor a 25 cent coupon. That's right, she got a record for 25 cents. It just isn't worth it, folks. Keep your dignity.
7. Pick 1-3 stores that are within either A. a 5 mile radius of each other, B. a 10 mile radius of your home, or C. 5 mile radius from work/on your way home. Stick to these stores, regardless of deals that try to entice you into other establishments. MOST coupon policies state they will take competitor coupons, and do ad price checks. This is where rule #6 comes in handy.
8. Develop an organization system that works for you. This includes the coupons, the stockpile and your freebies. I also like to have a stash of gifties hidden away. Find what works for you...this may be a trial and error sort of thing.
9. Don't spend more than 1-3 hours per week clipping/printing/searching. It negates the actual savings, unless you think your time is worth nothing. TIME=MONEY so keep it to a minimum, to max out your benefits and savings.
10. Keep track of what you save, and ACTUALLY SAVE IT. Using cash during shopping helps with this. Stick the money saved in a separate savings account and watch it add up over time.
My goals are simple. I don't want to pay for feminine products at all this year, I want to begin a stockpile of our most used items (bought at deep discount or free!) that would get us through at least 3-6 months. That means shampoo/conditioner, laundry and dish soap, and non-perishables like canned goods, cereal and some frozen items. We have a deep freezer, so if I find things at the right price, then I can stock up. I would like to save $400 in a separate account, for our holiday gifts. I hope the couponing will help to that end!