Are you Competing or Cooperating?

cooperatingThe buzz around coupons these days is the practice of consumers lowering costs so drastically with price matching and coupons that they are able to create and maintain huge stockpiles of items paying very little money out of pocket. When I see this I think of the scarcity mentality. This term was coined by Stephen Covey in his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He writes “People with a scarcity mentality tend to see everything in terms of win-lose. There is only so much; and if someone else has it, that means there will be less for me.”  The scarcity mindset is founded in destructive and unnecessary competition and over the years since the recession hit, some consumers have become caught up in this mindset as it relates to coupons and deals.

Beware of a scarcity mentality. It involves hoarding whatever we have, fearful that we won’t have enough to survive. The tragedy, however, is that what you cling to ends up rotting in your hands.

For a couponer, this can start by hoarding coupons and then over time shopping becomes a competitive match with the store and manufacturer by purchasing items just because they are low cost or free. Over time this becomes an identity (i.e. Coupon Queen, Discount Diva, Extreme Couponer) as winnings (stockpiles) go on display for all to see and admire and the feeling of having won dominates. Rarely does anyone share the true time commitment, family stress and hidden costs of storage, maintenance and waste or how the store or manufacturer had to absorb the loss.  It’s all about the consumer competing and winning whatever the cost.

When I started clipping coupons, this mentality never crossed my mind. I remember the sheer joy of saving $5, $10 or even $20 at the grocery store. Sadly, this level of savings by today’s standards is not impressive at all.  However, somewhere in my consciousness as a consumer I have always viewed coupons as gifts, not rights. Any company willing to print a coupon is essentially inviting anyone to lower their cost and can do so by following the guidelines on the coupon. I am thankful that a manufacturer of a product is willing to take from what would have been profit for them and in turn extend it to me. Coupons are essentially manufacturers or stores embracing what I now recognize as an abundance mentality. An abundance mentality basically means being of the mindset that there is plenty out there for everyone. In the words of Stephen Covey he writes “the Abundance Mentality, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.”

As it relates to coupons, when consumers embrace an abundance mentality then competition is replaced with cooperation. Victory means success that brings mutually beneficial results to all involved. All parties involved feel good about the solutions, agreements, and decisions in win/win scenarios because they are mutually beneficial for everyone.

When I created the Couponizer over 10 years ago, I had no idea coupons would revolutionize for better and for worse the way people shop. My hope is that more consumers would see and understand the bigger picture and quietly go about saving $5, $10, $20 every week and be thankful. This steady, consistent savings done ethically adds up and will save you more than money!  Coupons will continue to evolve and there is no limit to the possibilities, options and creativity that they will bring if we as consumers embrace a spirit of cooperation over competition.

Are you a Successful Couponer?

Handful of Paper MoneyWhat does it mean to be a successful couponer?  Well it depends on how you define and measure success.  Don’t be fooled into thinking you are successful if you clip a lot of coupons or end up with a lot of stuff!  Being successful as a couponer means achieving consistent, measureable results by redeeming coupons as intended by the manufacturer and/or store.  It takes 3 things to make this happen:

The 4 pillars of organziation are order, structure, efficiency and support.  If you think about any area of your life that is organized and works for you, then you will find these elements present.  When it comes to achieving measureable results with coupons, as in an actual reduction your overall expenses, not a hobby or game to fill your house with endless supplies of goods, then you have to be well organized.  This means ordering your mind and taking actions like spending money more seriously than the average consumer.

This word can be intimidating since it usually means something you don’t want to do or doing something hard.  However, if you have ordered your mind towards stewardship of your finances, then out of this comes making more disciplined choices when it comes to buying things both big and small.  Coupon savings applied to small purchases (under $1 – up to $10) can add up to make a big impact when you focus your efforts in disciplined ways.  Saying ”no” or being able to delay purchases are part of being a discplined spender who produces measurable results.

Successful couponers are keenly aware of changes in the marketplace.  For example, when prices go up or down, they know and act accordingly since this impacts the outcome.  Being aware of prices can occur simply by buying the same items or brands consistently enough to know when things change.   Awareness of other things like coupon polices, store sales and marketing trends all play a part in producing measurable results.

If you take time to concentrate on all three of these areas as you approach couponing, then you will produce results and have the time and energy to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  You will also enjoy the added peace that comes with playing by the rules and contributing to the greater good.

5 ways to be a Couponizer!

42-15530293Being a Couponizer means applying  just the right amount of order and efficiency in your mind, actions, home and of course coupons towards your goal of being a good steward of your financial resources.  Below are 5 practical ways to do this and maintain a healthy flow of goods and savings to help you reach your goal of living within your means and enjoying a full life. 

1.  Know your priorities.
This will drive what coupons peak your interest and prevent you from clipping every coupon and cluttering your mind and organization system.  For example, if you care about healthy snacks for your kids then you will clip coupons for granola bars, yogurt, energy bars, organic cereal, etc. and pass over coupons for junk food. 

2.  Play by the rules.
Sponsored giveaways and sweepstakes have rules and so do coupons; it’s all promotion marketing by manufactures and stores. It makes sense that they would write the rules since they control the prize or prize money. So, organize your conduct accordingly when clipping and shopping with coupons, this way everyone wins.  For more information about coupon policies, visit the Coupon Information Center.

3.  Stockpile according to need.
Finding deals is the goal and when a good one comes along, by all means stock up!  However, don’t go overboard filling your basement, extra rooms and garage with free or low cost items.  This will wind up costing you and others around you something.  People who border on hoarding items obtained through extreme couponing seldom see the effect their behavior has on others.

4. Know and use what you buy.
Knowing your inventory of supplies for meals and other household items happens as a result of good planning.  Unplanned trips to the grocery store and using coupons to get cheap stuff sabatoges a good plan.  By knowing and consuming your grocery store haul with coupons within a month or less, you will keep a leaner pantry and refrigerator, so more of your money stays in your account instead of in perishable items and it will reduces waste.

5.  Take breaks.
Organization takes effort.  If you are overwhelmed by coupons, then take a break for a month from clipping. During this time, use up as many of your existing coupon supply and it is good time to clean out your pantry and refrigerator and assess your needs.  Then when you return to coupons, you’ll see patterns in offers and pick up quickly where you left off with renewed energy for savings!

Keeping Coupons in Perspective

Recently I had the chance to talk with Star 94 News Director Rob Stadler about the topic of “extreme couponing” on his Atlanta based radio show InfoStar.  It is a weekly newsmagazine show covering the news, stories and topics that concern Atlanta. It’s airs on Sundays, 6-7 a.m. 
Click here to access the segment.  Enjoy!seeme extreme

Coupons cannot cure overspending.

The New Year is underway and saving money is always at the top of the list if New Year’s resolutions.  Below are a few insights to keep in mind as you incorporate coupons into your New Year’s savings strategy.

Coupon Organizer Tip

The Couponizer came about 10 years ago as my approach to using coupons to emphasize planning and preventing overspending as opposed to getting as many good deals as possible whatever the cost. One thing I quickly learned is that coupons cannot cure overspending. If you have a problem with spending, than turning to coupons as a cure may exasperate the problem. Rather, turn to coupons as a planning tool to change your spending habits from demoralizing to economizing. Take time to access your needs before shopping and as financial guru Dave Ramsey says sometimes you have to tell yourself “No” so later you can tell yourself “Yes.” The coupon savings available today through clipping 1-4 Sunday paper FSI’s weekly as well as digital coupons are more than enough to help reduce costs at the grocery store and other places and at the end of the week, you will save MORE than money!

To save more money, spend more time thinking about the value of a coupon before you clip it. Many “binder” method couponers have come a calling in the last year exhausted by the sheer weight of their organizer. Remember, once a coupon is clipped it sits “in the hole” until the right time to use it comes along. If your coupon organizer is too jam packed, and then the odds your coupons get to the “on deck” circle and go to bat goes way down and the stress of having wasted time and energy goes way up. So lighten your load this year and you will likely save as much or more money this year!




Coupon Organizer Methods Explained

Finding the right coupon organizer method will help you make the most of your time and money!  Coupon Organizer Methods Explained - The Couponizer

Organization is the key to success when it comes to converting coupons to cash!  I have watched for 10 years now how couponers go about making sense of their coupon inventory and have seen an increase in the number of products available to consumers.  Below is a diagram that illustrates where each method fits as it relates to 2 things – level of organization offered and the number of coupons it will hold on a consistent basis.  Envelopes ($3 or less) – this is obviously the lowest cost method and couponers who use this method are creating their own categories and have little support in the store when shopping with coupons.  It is a great starting place for any consumer who has the initiative to get started on their own.  This method while cost effective is limited in holding very many coupons so if coupon inventories start increasing, this couponer will graduate to one of the other methods in addition to or in place of envelopes.

Accordion File/Wallet ($5 – $35) – this option usually comes with pre-set category tabs and depending on the design can be useful for couponers who have both high and low coupon inventories.  This method often comes with a feature to clip onto the shopping cart and functions as a travelling file system.  Some are small and portable and are not designed to hold many coupons and some are larger file boxes and are designed to hold both clipped coupons and inserts but these are not very portable.  Couponers often are visual learners and with this method the coupons drop into a file and are hidden from view.

The Couponizer ($19.95) – our method is a 6 piece system of tools including a booklet of pockets structured to include all types of coupons.  The booklet is ordered to include groups of coupons and within each group are categories common to every coupon.  The patent pending sorting mat (CoupStacker) is an efficient way to clip and pre-sort coupons according to the categories in the booklet.  The system also includes a shopping list, pad for tracking spending and savings (CoupTracker) as well as a carrying bag and scissors.  This all inclusive and portable method provides solid organizational support at home as well as shopping in the store for a moderate (200+)  to high (1,000) inventory of coupons.  It is designed to be efficient with time and money.

Binder Method – ($16.95 – $29.95) – this method is typically an adaptation of baseball card holder sleeves in a 3 ring binder.  Binders can range in size and complexity depending on the volume of coupons.  A baseball card sleeve will have 6-9 single coupon sleeves per sheet or stack of similiar coupons to occupy one sleeve and be completely visible.  Many extreme couponers like the ones featured on TLC’s Extreme Couponing use this method and it makes sense due to the sheer volume of coupons needed to achieve 90% or higher savings.  The term strategic shopper is used to describe how this organization method combine with using a coupon database and supporting spreadsheets will calculate total product cost in advance of a shopping trip.  To clip coupons and pre-organize price information will require about 15-30 hours a week of preparation at home and more lengthy shopping trips.

I always encourage anyone using coupons to find an organization method that will best fit their overall goals.  Time is a big factor in deciding what works and in my opinion there is a point of diminish returns when you look at the overall picture of coupons and time/money management.  The more coupons you have, the more time is needed.  Personally, I’d much rather shoot for saving 20-40% with my coupons and manage my time better, than save 50-95% and have little time for anything else.  With a family of 3 active kids and a business, my husband and I guard our time and aim for good stewardship with time as much as money. In the end, I treasure my family more than I do my pantry and while couponers love piles of free or nearly free goods, they can’t love you back.

Resolve to Expend LE$$

Reducing expending while boosting savings is a winning combo!

Saving money is always at the top of the New year’s resolution list, especially following the holiday season when spending increases and many consumers find themselves with extra debt and feeling the pinch.  Even if you have no debt, grocery costs rose a staggering 4.25 – 4.75% in 2011 when on average grocery prices rise only about 2.9% per year.  While coupons offer some relief from rising prices to support savings goals, coupons are just part of the overall picture.

The TLC show “Extreme Couponing” has thrust an interesting spotlight on how real money is in couponing.  However, as I have shared before, the work that’s involved to achieve those results is unrealistic for most moms; and while extreme couponing is tolerated to some extent by manufacturers and grocery stores for the purpose of publicity, it is not the intended use of coupons.  Last month, I outlined realistic savings by using an example weekly budget of $100 and investing an hour of time to get organized each week. Then, by using coupons combined with store sales produced a reliable 27% savings.  While this is great, there is something else I think will really help you this year, and that is to expend less.

To expend means  to use up, pay out, disburse; spend.  What if the groceries and supplies you bought this week actually lasted a week and a half instead of just a week?  Overtime this will add up!  Here are a few ways to do this:

- Unless you plan for leftovers, learn to cook the right amount of food for each meal.  Uneaten leftovers are usually tossed and always wasteful.

- For cleaning up, use more sponges and cloth towels, and for meals use cloth napkins.  Save paper supplies for emergencies and occasions when paper is more convenient but not for everyday.

- Communicate to all who consume snacks “Choose wisely, this is it until the next trip to the store.”   Stick to this even for yourself!

- Look at your shopping patterns from last year and audit your time.  How much planning did you really do?  How much was impulsive?  Be honest and set a goal for how much planned versed impulsive shopping you will allow this year.

So to expend less for success in 2012 and beyond, it really is about saving more than money.

Teach Others!

Consider teaching others what you know about spending and saving money using coupons!

Grocery and gas prices continue to present challenges for many consumers these days.  Many people simply do not know about the tools and information that is readily available to help ease the financial pressure.  In this season leading up to the holidays, now is a perfect time to consider helping others through becoming a Savings Nation Ambassador.

There are different levels of involvement based on your skills and goals.  The opportunity to teach a curriculum and receive materials for classes is available through this program.  To find out more about becoming a Savings Nation Ambassador, please click here for more details.

If you would like to attend a Savings Nation class, check to see if there is one in your area.  By attending a class first you may be inspired to become an Ambassador yourself. Click here for the current class offerings.

Think Before You Shop!

Thinking is powerful and a resource you have access to every waking minute of the day!

Having a plan when shopping involves taking time to think through your overall financial picture.  As your mind connects with this picture, then if you are married or share your financial picture with someone then your shared goals for spending money will emerge.  If you don’t have shared goals then then your shared goal is not to have them.  At this point you have a decision to make, do I honor these shared goals or not.  This will determine your plan.

Plans can be written or mental, spontaneous or carefully crafted, the important thing is to have them.  During the holiday season, they will guide you since it is very easy to justify lots of purchases.  So take time to think, create a simple plan, then shop, buy honorably whatever you want, then deliver with confidence all the gifts, groceries and goods your money could buy .  All of this will help you reinforce your connection to your family as well as your shared goals.