Make it rain the easy way.
Hey there, I’m Mathew Jedeikin and like almost everyone, I’m always looking for ways to save a little money. So I decided to spend a month mastering the art of the coupon.
I would dedicate four weeks to couponing.
Luckily, my mother is an experienced couponer so I could look to her for tips and guidance.
During the challenge, I would track both how much I saved and how stressful the experience was.
Clearly my main goal is to save money, but also to push myself outside my comfort zone. Despite my mom being an avid couponer, I never really got into it—mostly due to a fear of judgment by employees, other customers in line, etc. I know I shouldn’t worry about what other people think, but I’m human, and for some reason I didn’t want to give random strangers the impression that I’m a cheapskate.
I resolved not to allow myself to buy something just because it’s a good deal.
My hope was to save on food and supplies that my husband and I actually use, not to make excessive purchases purely because an item was on sale or I had a good coupon.
Week One: Lots of planning leads to saving over 50 bucks
I got up bright and early on Sunday to get myself a newspaper, but I was a little disappointed. Apparently, these days the easiest way to start saving is with digital coupons—according to my mom, that is. Sure, I did clip a handful of coupons from the paper, but not as many as I’d hoped.
Step aside, newspapers?—?even Whole Foods has an app!
And the deals are legit. Sprouts and Whole Foods both regularly feature discounts on produce and specialty health foods. Walgreens and Safeway give you tons of digital coupons on all kinds of products.
Target’s Cartwheel app, meanwhile, is in a league of its own. Cartwheel is awesome. It has deals on thousands of products in over a dozen categories, it lets you connect and compete with Facebook friends and it rewards you with badges for hitting savings-related milestones. Total gamification of couponing!
I scored big savings AND compliments on my first day as a couponer.
After clipping my coupons and reviewing all the deals in my apps, I ventured out to Safeway and Target in search of major discounts.
I was super proud about saving a total of $30 in one day. I got deals on wine and groceries, and saved five bucks by getting two boxes (instead of just one) of my dog’s favorite treats, which I frequently buy, anyway. Hell, I even texted my mom from the Target parking lot! Oh, and the experience was pretty much pain-free. No arguments or confrontations during checkout whatsoever. My cashier at Safeway even complimented me on my discounts. “Fifteen dollars saved,” she told me while handing over my receipt, “not too shabby!”
Throughout the week, I was on the lookout for opportunities to save everywhere I could. Unfortunately, a lack of preparation kept me from being more successful and I ended up making a good number of full-priced purchases.
But my mom reassured me that it could take a couple of weeks?—?and Sunday newspapers?—?before I built up a sturdy inventory of coupons. She also explained that the deals on the digital apps change weekly, so I wasn’t discouraged.
Total savings for the week: $59.96
Week Two: Surprises, savings and disappointments
Turns out, I had a $10 credit on my Walgreens rewards account because of a few prescriptions my husband had filled.
The rewards bucks were just sitting in our account waiting to be redeemed. Now, I don’t shop at Walgreens all that often, but when I do, I rarely remember to type in our phone number. It always seems like an inconvenience, but apparently I’ve been missing out on points and cash rewards this whole time. It was a great discovery to start off my second week of couponing.
If you regularly shop somewhere that has a rewards program, you should totally be using it! Otherwise you could be missing out, like I was.
Things got messy, though, during a mid-week shopping trip that led to a few big lessons.
It started when I accidentally dropped a coupon at the laundromat. Still being a coupon noob, I didn’t realize how easily a paper coupon can slip out of a hoodie pocket. Lesson learned. Luckily, it was still there when I went back, so I was able to purchase my pasta sauce at a discounted price…whew! But later, I couldn’t find a specific brand of chips at Target, even though I went to multiple locations in my determination to save.
To be honest, though, it wasn’t really that big of an inconvenience. Two of the Targets are within about a half mile of each other, and I visited a third, small Target that was next to the movie theater I went to the following day. After all that, and still no chips, I finally gave up.
This was a big lesson?—?just because an item shows up in an app doesn’t mean it will be in stock at your local store, so it’s important to always have a backup plan.
Despite a few minor setbacks, I was able to save even more money than I did during week one!
Total savings for the week: $76.81
Week Three: Trying not to get discouraged after an argumentative encounter
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Preparing for a coupon haul takes time and focus. Clipping paper coupons, sorting through various apps comparing discounts, preparing ideas for meals around items on sale, assembling lists with contingencies in case the store doesn’t carry the product you’re looking for, etc. It’s stressful.
This was a busier week than normal for me. I started a new part-time job, which meant less time for couponing. I really wanted to show week-over-week increases in my savings, and was putting a lot of pressure on myself, which made grocery shopping unnecessarily stressful.
Shit really hit the fan when I tried to use a discount offered by Round Table Pizza especially for Pokémon Go players.
I’m a member of Team Mystic, so the 15% off discount was larger than the 10% off coupon that was also featured in the advertisement. I was hella excited, and when I placed my order the employee told me to bring the ad in with me when I picked up my pizza. It seemed like everything was all good.
Unfortunately, the manager at Round Table Pizza did not want to honor my Pokémon Go discount.
He was argumentative and tried to tell me the discount must be a promotion at a different location, despite their address appearing on the ad. It was really, really stressful (especially as a line of people grew behind me), but I was committed. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and tried to remain polite but firm. He eventually applied the discount but was completely unapologetic over the confusion.
The situation at Round Table flustered me, and I had less time to dedicate to couponing, but I was still able to save over fifty bucks. Hell yeah!
Total savings for the week: $51.70
Week Four: A massive, money-saving haul at Target
It was the final week of my challenge, so I was determined to go out with a bang!
I started the week with a trip to Target, where I stocked up on paper products and saved $47.
Yup—during one Target trip, I saved almost as much money as I had the entire previous week. A bonus? I won’t need to buy toilet paper or paper towels for a solid few weeks.
I was really excited about my Target haul. All the items I bought were things I regularly buy?—?usually paying full price?—?and I got them at dramatic discounts. Although I wasn’t personally splurging on fun stuff for myself, I’ll be able to use the money I saved to do just that!
However, this was the longest and most stressful checkout of my challenge.
When I saw that two people were behind the register, I assumed one of them was there to assist with bagging or something. I was wrong. One was an employee and the other was a cashier trainee who struggled to get through my stack of coupons, with multiple requiring manager approval.
I felt bad, like I was being unnecessarily difficult by busting out coupons. Luckily, the manager was friendly and helpful. Granted, she called me “ma’am” and “miss” a few times?—?clearly mistaking me for a girl, which didn’t bother me, as I get that sometimes. The situation was already awkward enough—there was definitely no need for me to point out her mistake.
I ended the week with dinner at Buca di Beppo with a 20% off coupon.
I saved a significant amount of money and I won’t need to buy paper products, dog treats, deodorant or toothpaste for quite a while. Talk about a win-win situation!
Total savings for the week: $111.19
Total savings for the month: $299.66!!
Pretty solid, if I do say so myself!
What I learned about couponing:
1. It’s definitely all about the apps?—?but not all apps are created equal.
Target’s Cartwheel app is the best, IMO. Not only in terms of savings but also in making the couponing experience fun. I did occasionally get a few good coupons from the newspaper, but not as many as I’d expected.
2. Buying in multiples can mean major discounts.
The easiest money-saving trick I discovered is buying items in multiples?—?when they’re on sale, that is. Target frequently has promotions during which they’ll give you a gift card for buying two or more of a certain item and a lot of stores and brands often have coupons/discounts when you buy in bulk.
3. You can save a ton of money by couponing.
I saved just shy of $300 in one month. In the weeks since I finished the challenge, I’ve totally kept up with my couponing. Not as aggressively as I had been, but I’m still clipping coupons and checking my favorite apps while planning shopping trips?—?and I intend to keep it up for the foreseeable future!
What I learned about myself:
1. For me, checkouts were often awkward and sweat-inducing, but my fear of judgement was pretty much all in my own head.
I had this concern that employees?—?as well as fellow shoppers?—?would judge me for trying to save a buck. However, that wasn’t usually the case. For the most part, people were polite and encouraging of my attempts to save money, which helped me feel more relaxed and confident.
2. I also find it rewarding helping others save.
These days I’m all about encouraging everyone to get in on couponing. I’ve totally become that person who gives coupons to friends and coworkers. I feel like a lot of people (my former self included) don’t realize how easy it is to save on the items we regularly buy.
3. I didn’t necessarily need a reason to call my mom more often, but couponing gave me one.
Whether I’m asking for advice, bragging about my savings or just talking about how good or bad the coupons were in the Sunday paper, I feel like we now have another thing in common that we can talk about, and I like that.