Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Christi the Coupon Coach {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Like so many other one-income families, we always seem to be on the lookout for ways to save money, especially on groceries. Let's face it, groceries aren't optional! I'd like to save money on those things that I pretty much have to buy anyway, but have questioned whether the effort of couponing is really worth it. I had the opportunity to start finding out for myself when I was asked to review the book Couponing Made Simple from Christi the Coupon Coach.
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Christi became the Coupon Coach when she put her advice and experiences in saving money by couponing into the book Couponing Made Simple. Using coupons to save money at the grocery store is not a new idea, but in recent years it's received lots of attention as "extreme" couponers show off their techniques on reality TV - but that does tend to scare off people who don't want to get that involved! Christi's book is for "real" people, and demonstrates that it's possible to garner big savings without making coupon-clipping a full-time job. She describes methods of organizing coupons and how to stack coupons and sales to get the best savings. The book itself is an easy read and full of helpful information.
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How did I use it? I read the book in just a couple of short sittings, and was able to put some of the information to immediate use. Christi suggests getting multiple copies of the Sunday papers that include the coupon inserts, but so far I haven't seen the need to buy more than the one copy I already have delivered. The book reminded me that I have been neglecting to look at those coupon inserts, and that I haven't even bothered to make use of some of the great deals at my local CVS drugstore. I remedied those situations immediately and was rewarded with a couple of great shopping trips to CVS almost right away.

According to the book, the way to optimize coupons is to 'stack' them as much as possible and combine the savings. For instance, combining cents-off coupons with a BOGO sale at a store that doubles coupon value. Of course, that involves matching up the coupons you have with the sale prices at the stores you shop. This was the time-consuming "not worth it to me" part of grocery couponing for me. However, with a number of coupon matching websites to help, I am hoping to make better use of this technique as time goes on. Christi lists some of her favorite coupon-matching websites on her own website - see Christi's Favorites. So far, it seems that my favorite supermarket isn't included on any of those websites, so I am simply taking the time (with help from my kids) to look through the store's weekly flyer and then my coupon stash to see if we can make those matches ourselves. We've been able to do it a few times and get some deals, and by doing that once a week along with checking the coupon match websites for the other stores I shop, we are starting to see some savings.

For my family, the savings aren't likely to be in the 80-90% savings that are featured in the book, and that I see others achieving - but, that's not what I'm realistically aiming for either. I live in a rural area, so the grocery stores are all at least 20 minutes away so I do not make extra trips for anything. None of the stores here do triple value coupons, and those that double coupons do so with a limit. And as I mentioned, the stores I most often shop are more local so the coupon matching websites don't help me as much. What I'm aiming for is reducing my grocery spending wherever possible without spending more money on gas, and without sacrificing hours of time to prepare. That said, I've had at least two CVS trips with well over 50% savings (the two receipts I have on hand show a 58% savings and a 72% savings), and several grocery trips with 30-50% savings. And for the most part, these were things I would have bought anyway and not junk or expensive treats that I blew money on because it was on sale. I did buy Chex Mix at the CVS which I normally wouldn't do, but it had a deep discounted sale price, plus I had coupons, so I got a couple bags for practically pennies, so that was my splurge for family snacking!

By the way, on one of those first trips to CVS, when the cashier rang up the sale, she asked me how much I used coupons and if it was worth it. She said she'd been looking at the extra coupons CVS offers and wondering if she should try it. I was able to tell her that I hadn't really couponed for a long time and was just getting back into it, thanks to reviewing a book called Couponing Made Simple. We had this exchange while she was ringing up the items I was purchasing, with my little stack of coupons sitting on the counter. I said, "let's see if this works!" and handed her the coupons to scan. She was more excited than I was to see my final out-of-pocket price after the coupon savings came off - I forked over a little under $9 for well over $30 of stuff. We agreed that realizing over 70% in savings was probably worth it! If I have learned nothing else, I have learned that I need to check what's on sale at CVS and make use of the in-store coupon machine - that is worth it!

What I liked best:

  • the tips really are very practical, and are things that "regular" people can do without risking a mention on the show "Hoarders" - important to me, because the last thing I need to do is stockpile stuff I don't need just because I could get it cheap.
  • there's an emphasis on ethics - couponing legally and fairly, and being a courteous and pleasant customer while doing so!
  • I liked the reminder that manufacturers and stores are spending a lot of money making coupons available - they want them to be used so that consumers are trying their products and shopping at their stores. It's not cheating to use the coupons to get the best deal!
What I need to mention:

  • your total savings will depend to a certain extent on your willingness to hunt down the coupons and the best places to use them. That said, I've spent only a few minutes a couple times a week in checking coupons and sale prices before heading to a store, and some of those shopping trips saw significant savings.
Our bottom line: I certainly have no plans to be featured on any of those coupon queen reality shows, but I admit I get a thrill from seeing the total on the cash register plummet once the cashier starts ringing up my coupons. By investing the little bit of time and effort it takes to clip some coupons and check some flyers and websites before hitting the stores, I've been able to get that good feeling of getting more bang (or bacon!) for my buck recently. I'm thankful for the practical tips in the book and am getting more organized and efficient in my approach to couponing. 

Would you like to consult Christi the Coupon Coach? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website at: http://ChristitheCouponCoach.com
Christi shares links to some of her favorite coupon matching websites along with tips on how to use them on the page Christi's Favorites.

Pricing: The paperback version of the book (133 pages) is currently available for $18 (regularly $20), and the Kindle format version is available for $4.99. Both formats are available through Amazon, find the link to purchase at Christi the Coupon Coach.

Connect with Christi the Coupon Coach on Facebook.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other Crew member reviews. 

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