Five years ago, with our bills on the rise from our growing family, I decided to jump on the “couponing” bandwagon. After all, the people on the show Extreme Couponing always left the store with heaping piles of household essentials that were purchased for just a few dollars. It couldn’t be that difficult — right?
Well, it turns out that cutting coupons takes up just about as many hours as a part-time job. There’s the planning, the organizing, and then the cutting and printing. And, after all that, there comes the executing — which can equal a lot of time in a spent in the grocery store. It’s certainly not as easy and thrilling as the TV show makes it out to be.
Though I gave it my best shot, I always found myself discouraged and exhausted by the end of it, surrounded by products that I didn’t even really like or use. They were all purchased from about four different stores, and bought in the name of “couponing glory.” But, really, it all just seemed like a huge waste of time and energy.
Then one day, it dawned on me: Maybe this “all or nothing” attitude about couponing was part of the issue. What if I just focused on saving money at one store, instead of driving all over town and running myself ragged?
So I chose to experiment on my favorite store: Target. (And for the record, no, I’m not getting any money from them for plugging it — I just really love Target!)
We were already spending a minimum of $800 a month at our local Target. But, once I invested my energy into saving, I started regularly shaving off at least 30 percent of that (around $240, at least) on our monthly bill.
Here’s how you can join me, and do this very same thing:
1. Sign up for a Target Red Card.
Target’s Red Card gets you 5 percent off every purchase. There are two options: The debit card or the credit card. The Red Card also offers you free shipping from the Target website, and easy in-store returns. Additionally, Target will mail you special flyers with coupons that aren’t available to the masses.
2. Get the Cartwheel app — pronto.
This app allows you to search for the items you plan to buy, and then puts special offers in your virtual cart (offering both percentages off and coupons). Then at checkout, the cashier scans a barcode within the app, and you can just stand back and watch the savings add up.
But here’s the best part: Once you accrue enough points in your app, you get free stuff. (I repeat: FREE.) And it’s not just free stuff you totally don’t want or need — you get to choose from a large selection. I’m talking about everything from clothing to household décor, bedding to DVDs. (Let’s put it this way: I haven’t had to buy diaper wipes in a while.)
3. Gather coupons, and organize them.
Check your Sunday newspaper for coupon inserts before you toss it. Sometimes it’ll only have one, but other times there could be up to three in there. Every Sunday afternoon, I cut out the coupons I plan to use, and recycle any expired coupons left in my binder. The paper also has Target’s weekly printed weekly ad. And even though you can view it in your Target app (note: The Target app is not the same as the Cartwheel app), the ad is also a great place to get coupons.
You can also print coupons from various websites, like The Krazy Coupon Lady or Coupons.com. Additionally, sometimes products on store shelves have coupons stuck to them to try and lure new customers, or coupon dispensers at the end of certain aisles. Take advantage of them!
If you’re curious about keeping a coupon binder, I promise it’s super easy and inexpensive to create. I use a three-ring binder, with some of those baseball card plastic holders inside and a set of dividers. After that, I just organize them by department: Grocery, Beauty, Healthcare, Household, Clothing, etc. (Again, sticking to one store — that you already know the layout of — helps when it comes to strategizing your list and in-store game plan.)
4. Learn how to read the ad.
The Target weekly ad offers a way to learn about new products and what’s on sale. So keep in mind, not everything featured in the ad means it’s discounted that week. Discounted items will say “sale” next to the price, usually in red. The ad often features deals like, “Buy three detergents, get a $5 gift card” — just note that when you earn a gift card for a particular purchase, you can’t actually use that gift card during the same transaction.
I take the ad to the store with me every time, because it’s much more convenient than having to navigate between the apps (especially while shopping with four children!). Also, if there’s ever an issue at checkout, you can refer the cashier to the ad at hand.
5. Get to know the coupon policy (like the back of your hand).
You can read the entire policy on Target’s website, but it’s pretty simple: Target customers can use one manufacturer coupon (like what you get out of the Sunday paper) and one Target coupon per item. To easily tell the two apart, a Target coupon will have the Target red bullseye logo on it. (FYI, this is called “coupon stacking,” and it’s fantastic.)
On top of sales, you can also use coupons, Cartwheel discounts, and offers (such as the aforementioned “buy three detergents, get a $5 gift card” deal). It’s also super important to read all the fine print on your coupons, especially mentions of exclusions and minimums. (For example, an item must cost at least $4.50 to use it.) Product specifications are also key to know — in case that hand soap coupon you have only applies to the orange blossom scent, for example.
And, most of all, check the expiration date.Target cashiers are trained to carefully examine coupons, so don’t try to cheat the system. (Oh, but just in case you’re wondering, I almost always use coupons on top of clearance pricing!)
6. Make a list, and actually check it twice.
Before you head out the door, make a list of what you need to buy, according to item, brand, quantity, etc. I write my list in order of the route that I take when I travel through the store, but in addition to your list, be sure to take along your coupon binder, your store flyer, and your reusable bags.
Which brings me to my next point …
7. Bring your own bags from home.
When you take your own reusable bags to Target, you get $0.05 off for every bag used. That may not seem like much to you now, but we all know that savings adds up — fast. And, since I exclusively shop at Target these days, it just makes sense to stack on more savings. (It’s also better for the environment, so there’s that.)
8. Slow down and keep your head in the game — you got this.
When you get to the checkout line, you need to be organized. Have your coupons in a stack ready to go, and your Cartwheel app open and ready to be scanned. You need to keep an eye on the cashier’s screen, and make sure all those discounted prices are coming through correctly.
After you check out, and before you leave the store, make sure to skim your receipt to see that everything worked as you intended. If there’s a mistake, head to Guest Services and handle it right then and there.
Just think, with all that money you’ll be saving, you’ll have cash left over to treat yourself to that Starbucks latte you’ve been craving!