Friday, March 27, 2009

Shaw's--stock your pantry

While Shaw's supermarket does not have particularly good everyday prices, it does sometimes run awesome weekly sales. The key to buying groceries at Shaw's (or any grocery store) is to stock up on items when they are at their lowest prices. It's difficult to save money on staples, so if you can buy nonperishables and long-expiration products cheaply, the savings help pay for milk, bread, etc.

Shaw's often runs deals such as "Spend $20 on ConAgra products and get a $10 coupon good on your next order." There have been similar deals recently on Kraft, General Mills, and Kellogg's products. These promotions are great for stocking up on items very cheaply and sometimes even for FREE. The amount you have to spend is before coupons, and at many Shaw's stores (including mine), it is also based on shelf prices. The latter is not, to my knowledge,
advertised by Shaw's, but the registers are programmed that way and it is a giant bonus when doing these deals. I generally use the HCW coupon database to see what coupons I have that match up with the items included in a given deal. Shaw's doubles coupons up to $.99 in value, but the register will only double six of the same coupon, so be careful when planning your shopping trips. In the Shaw's forum, other HCW users often post the shelf prices for items as they buy them, so I use those numbers to preplan transactions. I try to get my OOP as low as possible for
the first transaction, and then an "on your next order" (OYNO) coupon prints from the catalina machine at the register. I then "roll" the catalina into another deal. At Shaw's, unlike Walgreens, you CAN roll a catalina back into the same deal.

Other than the catalina deals, Shaw's doesn't have many regular deals worth writing about. Every few weeks, Shaw's has chicken breasts and/or ground beef for $1.99 or even $.99 per pound, so we usually stock up at those prices. At least twice recently, there was a coupon in the circular to get free bags of potatoes, carrots, and onions when you buy a beef roast, which is a pretty good deal.

You do need a loyalty card to get the sale prices at Shaw's. The card is also used to track your purchases so that Shaw's can send you occasional home mailers with coupons for products you buy. There are also rewards programs for people with children (Ducklings Rewards) and pets (Pet's Club)--I do not have pets, but I signed up for the Ducklings program. There are offers such as "Purchase 20 jars of Beech-Nut baby food and receive a coupon for a FREE Beech-Nut Let's Grow Toddler item," but I do not have to buy all 20 jars at once, because my spending is tracked. I get an email every time I buy qualifying items so I know how close I am to earning a particular reward. These are year-round promotions, but the offers do rotate.

Right now, Shaw's is running a gift card promotion--buy a $250 gift card at customer service, and get an extra $20 added to the card for FREE; buy a $300 gift card, get an extra $30 added. It may take a while for me to spend that much at Shaw's, but gift cards don't expire and I can't turn down free money! You can buy as many gift cards as you like, and the offer expires on April 15, 2009.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rite Aid--just barely hanging in there

Of the three drug stores I frequent, Rite Aid's program is the easiest to explain to a new couponer but the least enjoyable to someone like me who coupons for sport. Rite Aid does not have anything similar to CVS Extra Bucks or Walgreens Register Rewards, but it does offer a rebate program called Single Check Rebates (SCR). It is called this because Rite Aid will send you a single check to cover all of your rebates for the month. You can use the check to pay for merchandise in the store, or you can cash it like a regular check. Occasionally an individual rebate will be offered in the form of a Rite Aid gift card, which would be mailed separately from your check. There is a monthly rebate directory displayed with the sale circulars in the store, and you can also view the rebates online and create a "rebate shopping list."

There are usually several "free after rebate" offers (just like at Walgreens); you pay for an item upfront and then receive the full amount back in your SCR check. Of course, you could use a coupon at the register to make profit. Some offers may require you to buy a certain number of products or spend a certain amount to qualify for the rebate. Examples of these are "Buy 3 Huggies product, get a $10 SCR" and "Spend $15 on Dove products and get a $5 SCR." You do not have to buy all of the qualifying products on one receipt. You just enter your receipt information on the SCR website, and it tracks your rebates and tells you when you have qualified or how much more you need to spend to qualify for any given offer.

Some of the rebates are only valid during certain weeks and are featured in the weekly sale circulars, and others are available all month long. Not every rebate will appear in a circular, so it is important to pay attention to the rebate directory as well. Last month, there was a spectacularly vague rebate--"Buy any 3 Bayer products and get a $10 Rite Aid gift card." One weekly ad showed large packages of Bayer on sale for $6.99 (I don't remember if the rebate offer was referenced or not), so even using a $1 on each of the three packages, I would have to spend $17.97 OOP to get a $10 gift card. This was of no interest to me, as I have aspirin coming out of my ears and would never pay for it. But the next week, the 36 ct. packages of Bayer were on sale for $1.99, with no mention of the rebate in the ad. I double-checked the rebate directory, and there were no size/type restrictions on the offer. So I purchased three packages and used three $1 coupons, making my OOP $2.97, and I received a $10 gift card in the mail. The icing on the cake was that I found "100% more" bonus packs, so I got three 72 ct. boxes of Bayer and $7.03 profit. The profit in this case had to be spent at Rite Aid, but that was not a problem--I just rolled it into more rebate offers.

The problem with Rite Aid is that the offers are generally limited to one per customer and there is nothing else to get me in the store besides the SCR program. The rebates are not as good as they used to be, and it has actually been a couple weeks since I even stepped foot in a Rite Aid; there haven't been many good freebies lately, and the stock is low on the few good ones. Rite Aid stopped accepting internet coupons, which brings them down a notch in my book. I read online that some stores are going to start accepting them again, but there will be restrictions on usage. I have also read that Rite Aid is in trouble financially and may be closing some or all locations. I cannot verify the truth of that rumor, but if I was to lose Rite Aid, I'd probably just shrug it off (as opposed to losing CVS, which would render me catatonic, rocking in a corner). There are enough offers to keep me paying attention, but just barely.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Walgreens--I just can't walk away

ETA: As of May 2009, the Easy Saver catalog and rebate program have been discontinued. I will keep the details about it in this post in case it ever comes back (there are rumors of a return in fall 2009), but if you are just learning the Walgreens system, you can ignore the Easy Saver sections below.

I will be honest here and admit that deep down, I hate Walgreens. The cashiers and managers are often very unfriendly to couponers, and I usually feel like a criminal in Walgreens. There are exceptions, of course, and an assistant manager the other day congratulated me on my awesome deals! I have said many times that I am DONE with Walgreens, but try as I may, I can't stop shopping there--I can't pass up a good deal, even if I have to put up with lousy employees to get it.

You do not need a loyalty card to shop at Walgreens, but you should definitely pick up the current month's Easy Saver Catalog, which is available next to the sale flyers in the store (you can also access the catalog on the Walgreens website). I usually grab a bunch of them because they contain Walgreens coupons that I can cut out and use at CVS--take THAT Walgreens! These coupons will often be referenced in the sale circular as "instant coupons," but they are not deducted automatically at the register--you must provide the coupon for the cashier to scan. I often cut the coupon out to give to the cashier just so I don't forget, but the cashier can actually scan the unclipped coupon directly from your booklet so that you can keep it for next time. The register will subtract the correct amount no matter how many of an item you purchase. For example, this month there is an Easy Saver (ES) coupon for $.99 off 3 packs of Eclipse or Orbit gum. When the coupon is scanned, the register will deduct $.33 per pack of gum, whether you buy 1, 3, or 8 packs (or any number). Please note that if you use this same coupon at CVS, you have to buy the packs of gum in multiples of three and you need a separate coupon for every three packs you buy. This is because the registers at CVS are not programmed to accept this coupon and the cashier will have to enter it manually.

The Easy Saver Catalog also contains information about the Walgreens rebate program. Each month there are about 30-40 different rebate offers, including several "Free After Rebate" (FAR) items. There are other offers such as "Get $3 when you buy Triaminic," and "Get $2 when you buy 2 Revlon Colorsilk Hair Color." For rebate items, you pay for the items in the store (using coupons if you have any), and then submit your receipt information online. You can enter as many receipts as you want, and the online program will keep track of your rebates. At the end of the month, you can request a check for all of your rebates. You can also opt to get your rebate in the form of a Walgreens gift card and receive a 10% bonus. This is what I do, because I can then use the gift card to pay for future purchases, and each month my rebate money is loaded onto my gift card. If you have coupons for a FAR item, your rebate will be for the item price before coupons, so you can often make profit. You can make profit on other offers as well--last month there was a special offer to get a $5 Walgreens gift card (separate from monthly rebates) when you buy Clairol Perfect 10 Hair Color. I found one shade on clearance for $5.69 and I used a $1 off coupon, so the $5 gift card gave me $.31 profit (profit that I have to spend at Walgreens, which works out fine for me). I don't dye my hair, but that's hardly the point. Most of the rebates have a limit of 1, but if the limit is higher, it will say so in the ES booklet.

I love the rebate program, but the good rebates seem to have dwindled. I think this is due to the hideous Register Rewards program, which is the source of my hatred toward Walgreens. I assume that the Register Rewards (RR) program was created to compete with the CVS Extra Bucks program, but it is far inferior. The premise is the same--pay for something upfront and get RRs to use on your next purchase. But there are all these stupid restrictions, and I swear the cashiers are not trained at all about this program, because every cashier just makes up her own reasons why you can't use your RR or why your RR did not print. As long as you are willing to deal with the crap, you can get some pretty good deals, which is why I just can't help myself.

Here are some rules for RR deals; as an example, I'll use "Buy 1 Crest toothpaste 4 oz. for $3, get a $3RR back":

You can only do each deal once per transaction--You cannot buy 3 Crest toothpastes and get a $9RR. (This differs from CVS, where if there was a limit of 5, you could buy all five in one transaction if you wanted.)

There are no set limits for RR deals--Since there is no loyalty card to keep track of your purchases, you can do this Crest deal as many times as you want throughout the week, as long as you only buy one per transaction.

You cannot "roll" RRs into the same RR deal--If you use a $3 Crest RR to buy another Crest toothpaste, you will NOT receive another $3RR. (At CVS, you can roll any EBs into any deal, including the same one that produced the EBs.)

You must spend the entire RR amount in one transaction--You cannot get change back, and the RR will not even scan if the transaction total is less than the RR amount.

Here are some lame excuses your cashier may give you regarding RRs, using the same Crest example:

Your RR did not print because you paid with a RR--This is not true; you CAN roll a RR into a different RR deal (Crest into Huggies, for example). As stated above, you CANNOT roll Crest into Crest.

Your RR did not print because you used a manufacturer coupon--This is not true; you CAN use a manufacturer coupon on the Crest, and your RR should still print.

Your RR did not print because you bought items for more than one deal--This is not true; you CAN do as many RR deals in one transaction as you want, as long as they are all different deals. For example, if there are also RR deals on Huggies, Pantene, and Vaseline, you can buy everything in one transaction and get four different RRs.

You can't pay with a RR because you used a manufacturer coupon--This one is possibly true; RRs are considered manufacturer coupons, even though they are only redeemable at Walgreens, and you can only use one manufacturer coupon per item purchased. So if you buy the Crest and use a manufacturer coupon, you probably CANNOT pay the difference with a RR. If you have a coupon for every item you are buying, you need a "filler" item in order to use a RR to pay. I have been using packs of Orbit as fillers, because I found some flavors clearanced to $.65 each, and the previously mentioned ES coupon (store coupon) makes it $.32 per pack. I also often use RRs to pay for FAR items that don't have corresponding manufacturer coupons. I have had cashiers push RR through even when I don't have enough items, but according to the program rules, they did not have to do this. I still count it as a "lame excuse" because I think you should be able to roll RRs regardless of the number of items. Oh well.

The RRs print from a separate machine from the receipt tape, so if one doesn't print and the cashier can't figure out why, ask her to check the machine. It may be out of paper or spooled incorrectly. Also check to make sure you purchased the correct item. Show the cashier the ad and ask to see a manager if necessary, but don't let them tell you that you can't have the RR for any of the reasons above.

Okay, I can't think about Walgreens anymore or I might just puke.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

CVS--the happiest place on earth

In the next few posts, I'll discuss the various programs and policies of my favorite stores and show some examples of sweet deals. First up...CVS!

I used to work at CVS, but that has nothing to do with why it is my favorite store. I worked there years before I became a couponer and before the introduction of the Extra Care program. If you want to shop at CVS, you should sign up online or in a store for an Extra Care card. This is a loyalty card needed to get sale prices and track your purchases.

There are four CVS stores in my town, and plenty more in surrounding towns. In this area, you rarely find a CVS without a Walgreens within spitting distance, and Rite Aid stores are pretty plentiful, too. In the spirit of competition, my CVS stores will price match both of these competitors AND accept their store coupons, which can make for some awesome deals. CVS is also very coupon-friendly in general and will even accept coupons for more than the item price (ex: a $2.00 coupon on a $1.89 product). However, they will not give you cash back, so I make sure to have other items in my transaction to absorb the overage.

CVS has fairly recently installed price scanners in most stores, which are very useful. Sometimes I will read about a CVS clearance deal on a couponing website, but when I check my store, the item is not marked as clearance. I can check the price on the scanner, and often the item will ring up at the clearance price even though it wasn't marked. The scanners, usually located near the front of the store, also print store coupons when you scan your Extra Care card. Some of these coupons are product-specific (ex: $2 off Aquafresh Extreme), some are category-specific (ex: $2 off any $10 hair care purchase), and if you're really lucky, you might get a "$4 off any $20 purchase" or $5/$30, $10/$50, etc. These coupons are much-coveted but hard to come by. It seems that they are generated randomly, though some people get them all the time, and I hardly ever do. All coupons from the scanner are store coupons and can be combined with manuacturer coupons and/or Walgreens and Rite Aid coupons.

The cherry on top is the Extra Bucks program, which includes weekly and monthly deals such as "Buy $15 of Dove products, Get $5 in Extra Bucks." In this scenario, the $15 is calculated before any coupons, so depending on the sale prices and your coupon values, you could end up making profit on this deal. There are also lots of "Free After Extra Bucks" deals like "Buy Garnier shampoo for $2.99, Get $2.99 in Extra Bucks" (use a coupon to make profit). Extra Bucks (EBs) print at the bottom of your receipt and can be used like cash on a future purchase (but you can't get change back, so you must spend the whole EB amount at once). If you are new to the Extra Bucks program, you most likely will have to invest a little bit of money at first, but then you can "roll" your EBs forever, spending little to no out-of-pocket (OOP) on each transaction, and often making a profit. I should explain that when I say "profit" in reference to CVS, it generally means "an increase in Extra Bucks," which you can only spend at CVS. But trust me, once you get going, that will not be a problem. Here are some examples of my recent transactions and how to roll Extra Bucks:
I didn't have coupons for any of the items above, but I did have a single EB for $8.97, which made my OOP $0. All three items were "Free After Extra Bucks," so I received three separate EBs for $4.99, $.99, and $2.99. So I got three items for free, but my EB balance remained the same. The next transaction shows how you can increase your EBs:

So look at all the stuff I got, and by using EBs to pay, I only had to fork over $.19 OOP, and I got back $33.96 in EBs ($5.98 Colgate, $4.99 Gillette, $4.99 Instant Energy, $10 Neutrogena, $5 Boost, $3 Mylanta)! That's a $21.78 profit! This is a great example of how participating in couponing message boards can be useful--I read about the clearance deals online and knew to look for them in the store, except for the Skin Effects, which I came across myself. Someone online had reported that the Neutrogena soaps were working for that week's "Buy 2 select Neutrogena products, get $10 EB" deal and that the clearance Mylanta was working for the monthly "Buy any Mylanta, Get $3 EB" deal; same goes for the Boost, although it should have printed $6 EB instead of $5. I wasn't about to complain after the awesome deal I got! If this had been my first transaction ever, I would have had to pay the full $12.18 OOP, but I would then have $33.96 EBs to roll into later transactions. I could also have broken this into two transactions to reduce my OOP (use EBs from first transaction to pay for second transaction), and CVS cashiers are usually more than willing to split your order. The only reason I didn't split this order was that I only had one $5/$20 Rite Aid coupon and I had plenty of EBs to get my OOP as close to $0 as possible.

I know this can all be confusing, but I hope these examples help illustrate how you can use coupons to get FREE stuff and turn a profit at CVS!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Getting organized

Once you accumulate a large number of coupons, you'll need to get organized. I know of couponers who use binder systems, regular envelopes, and many other supplies to organize coupons. You'll eventually figure out what works for you based on whether you keep full coupon inserts intact or clip all the individual coupons, and also based on whether you want to be able to have all of your coupons with you when you shop.

I use a file box with a handle to store full newspaper coupon inserts, sorted by date. It took me a few months to realize that the date is printed in tiny type on the spine of each insert, which makes things easier for sure. If I need a coupon for Colgate, for example, I use the coupon database on to find out which inserts contain Colgate coupons, and then I can quickly find them in my file box. The box is too big to take with me into stores, especially when I'm lugging a baby, too. I generally plan my shopping trips ahead of time so that I have all the coupons I need for sale items. The problem with leaving the bulk of my coupons at home is that I never know when I'll find clearance items or unadvertised sales. If I have an afternoon to myself to shop at a leisurely pace, I might stash the file box in the car in case I need it (although without the database at hand, I have to have a very good memory!).

I have two small accordian files that I keep with me at all times--one for grocery coupons and one for drug store coupons. These files are for loose coupons, and I separate them by category (pantry items, frozen foods, beverages, etc.) and then sort each category by expiration date. You might notice in the pictures that the file tabs are not labeled--that was originally due to sheer laziness, but now I know those files like the back of my hand, so I haven't bothered to label them. As a side note, I found these accordian files at Staples when I was hugely pregnant, and they were marked "Regular Price $6.29, Sale Price 4/$10." I knew it had to be wrong (probably should have been 2/$10), but I also knew that they would have to honor the posted price. My dad had some $10 Staples coupons, so my husband and I left the store and drove down the road to my parents' business to get a coupon. By the time we got back to Staples, it had closed early because it was the 4th of July. That was a Friday, so I told Don we had to come back the next day to get the files before the sale ended. Well, my water broke a little after midnight and I ended up in the hospital, but after several hours, I was still not in labor and the nurses said the baby wasn't coming anytime soon. I said, "Don, you have to go to Staples!" He said, "I know, honey--I knew you wouldn't forget about those coupon files!" So he went and got four of them for free! Now you know for sure how coupon-crazy I am.

So anyway, experiment with different coupon-organizing systems and hopefully you'll find something that is ideal for you.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Getting started

If you're just entering the wild world of couponing, you need to (duh) get some coupons. These are some of the best places to start:

The Sunday paper--Excluding holiday weeks, your local Sunday paper should include manufacturer coupon inserts from Smartsource, Red Plum, and/or P&G, with occasional supplements from companies like General Mills and Kelloggs. The Sunday paper will also contain sale circulars for local stores; most of these can be viewed online, but it's nice to have the actual flyers in hand.

In stores--Whenever you go shopping at a grocery or drug store, keep your eyes peeled for manufacturer coupons. You can often find peelies (stuck to packages), hangtags (hanging from bottled/jarred products), tearpads (on shelves or displays), blinkies (in little red Smartsource machines attached to shelves), and in some areas, winetags (hanging from wine bottles--we don't get many of them here in Southern NH). You may occasionally find booklets or sheets of store coupons, but this is hit-or-miss and depends on the store. A store coupon can usually be combined with a manufacturer coupon for extra savings.

At home--Get in the habit of checking inside packages when you open them at home. Sometimes you'll find a coupon for the same product or a related product (such as a coupon for Special K granola bars inside Special K cereal).

Online--There are many websites with internet printable (IP) coupons, such as and If you're looking for a coupon for a specific product, try the manufacturer's website--many companies offer printable coupons or coupons by mail. You could also try emailing your favorite companies to ask for coupons.

Trading/buying--You can trade coupons with friends or with online strangers on websites like and It may sound silly, but you might find someone with no children who would be happy to send you all of her diaper coupons in exchange for coupons she can use. If you trade for a large number of coupons, the price of one stamp is worth the savings. Many people sell multiples of "hot" coupons on eBay as well; just make sure you are getting your money's worth when buying coupons.

The websites listed above are excellent resources for couponers, so I will list them in a sidebar for easy reference. Happy coupon hunting!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Why coupons are worth it

For my very first post, I want to address the two most common questions people ask me about couponing:

Doesn't clipping coupons make you buy things you wouldn't normally buy? This can certainly be true, but you need to consider the circumstances. For example, if you need one box of brownie mix, but you have a coupon for $1 off 2 boxes of brownie mix, should you buy one or two boxes? If you are likely to make brownies again in the near future (or at least before the mix expires), then why not buy two mixes now and save a dollar? If there is a good sale on the brownie mix, it makes even more sense to buy two, or even four or six if you have enough coupons, pantry space, and a sweet tooth! But if you hate brownies and you're only making them this one time as a special treat for your dear Aunt Gertrude, who's visiting from Siberia and loves them, then by all means, just go ahead and buy your one box. But I must add that if the brownie mix happens to be on a super-sale for $.50, you could get two boxes FREE with your coupon. If I found out that you bought one box in this special circumstance, I would die a little inside. If something is FREE, get as many as you can!!! Share them with family and friends or donate them to a food pantry.

Doesn't clipping coupons take up a lot of your time? Sometimes, yes. However, when I get my Sunday paper and flip through the coupon inserts, I don't cut out all the coupons. That would be a lot of work, and chances are that I won't use every single coupon. I save the entire coupon booklet and file it away (I'll talk more about organization in a future post). There are coupon databases online that help me to quickly locate a coupon I need, so I don't waste time cutting out useless coupons. The most time-consuming part of couponing, besides the actual shopping, is searching through the store sale circulars and matching the coupons to the sales. Again, there are many websites and message boards to help out with the match-ups. I am a television junkie, so I plan my shopping trips in front of the tube while Taylor is sleeping or otherwise occupied. I don't consider this wasted time, as I would be watching TV anyway. But I coupon for sport (and yes, coupon is a verb!), so honestly, I would happily do this without a TV or other distraction.

Are your coupon savings really worth the effort? I guess my answer to this question is obvious, or you wouldn't be reading this blog. It is difficult to save money on grocery staples, such as milk, meat, poultry, and produce. But if you can get health and beauty aides, cleaning products, snacks, packaged foods, and much more for FREE or at a profit (and you can, I promise!), those savings help pay for your grocery staples and other items your family needs. I have gotten thousands of dollars worth of items for FREE in the past two years, and that is, without a doubt, worth the effort. I hope you think so, too, and keep coming back to learn how easy it can be. If you have any tips of your own, I welcome them!