Coupons and Care Packages

I love couponing. My glory days were living in an urban apartment building where every apartment got a coupon insert and all the tenants threw them straight in the recycling bin in our mail room–fair game and boy did I make use of them getting through grad school on a shoestring. But, the more I learn about food, the more committed I am to clean eating, and I love the taste of scratch made food so much I’ve lost my taste for most processed foods, so couponing is a lot more work now, I try to consider it a challenge, but really it’s just not the same rush it was when I could get paid to take 4 tubes of lavender icing out of the store and my lean pockets and cereal were free.

And then…there were care packages. A lot of the things that travel well and last in the heat and make soldiers smile are just pennies if you shop smart, and so my goal is to spend as little as humanly possible to get them. Jerky, tuna, candy, cookies, chips, beverage mix, toiletries, all very prevalent in the coupon world. The other day, I got two care package items for free: a Gillette razor and old spice deodorant kit on clearance for $5, and I happened to have a $5 coupon for a Gillette razor and it worked! Score! Also a bottle of nail polish that was actually less than the value of the coupon I had, which was awesome because I just finished a girls’ night box for the female officers who have become my close friends here.

If you’re not familiar, and toying with the idea of trying this, let me share the 5 best tips for really amazing deals:

1) Get at least 2 of every coupon/circular (because of BOGO deals, below), the more the better. Ask your neighbors for their inserts from the Sunday paper if they don’t use them. Grab coupons everywhere: in the red dispensers at the store, the stacks of them on the shelf at the Commissary, the booklets at the front of the store. Just because you don’t need something now doesn’t mean you might not want it before it expires (and some stores take expired coupons up to 1 month, test and see).

2) Clip coupons you might use, but don’t really need and sort them anyway. Every store I go in, I check the clearance section, and often get things for free this way. Example, $2 off coupon when applied to high end nail polish on clearance for $1.97 actually got me 3c back, and I love the color.

3) Don’t ignore the smaller coupons! Many stores will double coupons up to 50c, and many coupons for low cost staples may only be for 35 or 50 cents. If you wait for a sale at a store that doubles (coupons now worth 70c/$1), you can get many staple items for 60+% off.

4) Look for buy 1 get 1 free deals. Technically you are still buying 2 items, so you can use 2 coupons. It’s like getting them for 50% off PLUS one coupon per each which is a lot of savings.

5) For certain items, especially less processed foods and natural toiletries, you may find coupons hard to come by. However, these  brands often reward customer loyalty. Join their email list and facebook page. Set up an email that is just for coupon mailings and you can catch most coupons by just searching your inbox for “coupon” and “off” and “savings” and print the ones you want.

While my job is engaging and and challenging, it is not mathematical, and I love the mental challenge of working the numbers. I recently caught a multi-layered deal that was so good the store took down the coupons the next day: BOGO on chicken breasts, plus a coupon for $2 off chicken with the purchase of a jar of mayo, plus $2 off that same jar of mayo! Now, some stores require you to buy two items to get the special pricing, and it’s important to check, because the ones that don’t can give you more wiggle room. I got 4 lbs of chicken breasts and 2 jars of mayo for under $7, but I could have gotten one package of chicken and one jar of mayo and they would have honored it at this store. You don’t have to have crazy hoards of stuff to make it successful (although it is best to stock up 2-3 of things so you never have to buy them full price before another good deal comes along).

I have built up my own collection to the point that I stopped couponing for these items, but I am about to resume couponing for lotion, face wash, deodorant, lip balm, hair ties, bobby pins, because I found a GREAT place to donate them: Operation Courage Is Beautiful. I stumbled across this organization, which recognizes the morale importance of items that allow female soldiers to pamper themselves a little while deployed. If you also enjoy the thrill of the hunt for good bargains, organizations like this, and women’s shelters/homeless shelters, can always use more donations of toiletries. http://www.operationcourage.org/

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