Over the course of my misspent youth, I have lived in many parts of the U.S. of A. I’ve lived in the South and I’ve lived in the North; I’ve lived in big cities and I’ve lived in small towns. Most places I’ve lived have been awesome. Odessa, Texas, is the exception; its only selling point is that it has drive-through stores where you can buy Jell-O shots right from your car, thus drastically lessening the amount of time it takes to get drunk enough to forget how much Odessa otherwise completely sucks.

Anyway, the point of this is that I’ve shopped in many a grocery store in my day. And being cheap, I must admit that any town is improved by a grocery store that is willing to triple a manufacturer’s coupon. This is more common in big cities, where there’s a lot of competition; in the sticks, where Wal-Mart is sometimes all you got, triple coupons are harder to come by. Here in DC, two rival stores (Harris Teeter and Shoppers) have been running triple-coupon specials up to 99 cents every three weeks or so lately, and I have profited mightily from their competitive spirit. Behold, what I brought home today for a total of $7.71:

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There are a couple of disclaimers here. One is that the checkout lady gave me the batteries free for some reason. They were supposed to be buy one get one free at $5 each, so the title of this post would be $12.71: A Triple-Coupons Love Story were I a more honest person, which I am not (also, I didn’t notice until I got home). Two, my husband pleaded with me not to bring home any more frozen foods, because our freezer is so full that an errant kielbasa leaped out of it yesterday and bruised his foot. I was also under strict orders not to buy any more freaking Ziploc bags this millennium, because we have so many that the extras are being stored in a suitcase in the closet. True fact.

So what did I get? What you see above:

* Bisquick Heart Smart: $3.17 minus 75 cents, tripled ($2.25) = 92 cents
* Mahatma White Rice: $2.89 minus 50 cents, tripled ($1.50) = $1.39
* Lawry’s Garlic Salt: $1.59 minus 50 cents, tripled ($1.50) = 9 cents
* Welch’s Aqua Juice: $3.65 minus 75 cents, tripled ($2.25) = $1.40
* Planters Snack Bars: $2.99 minus 75 cents, tripled ($2.25) = 74 cents
* Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers, Sweet & Sour Chicken: $3.69 minus 75 cents, tripled ($2.25) = $1.44
* McCormick Marinades: Buy one, get one free; $1.29 each with two coupons for 50 cents each, tripled ($1.50 each) = free
* Bread: 97 cents (no coupons here; sometimes you just need some bread)

Add tax, and about 40 cents I can’t account for (seriously, I’ve gone over this receipt like eleventy times and it’s just a phantom 40 cents, apparently), and you get $7.71.

I saved $16.71 this order, so I paid $7.71 for an order that was originally supposed to cost $24.42. That’s 68 percent off. Yay me!

And this is the part where I give you:

The Janie Jones Guide to Couponing
I really love couponing, which is probably obvious. It’s like a game. It’s also an excellent way to curb your urge to go shopping without guilt; I hate to sound so stereotypically female, but sometimes Going Out and Buying Stuff just makes you feel good, and if you don’t have much cash and/or don’t like wantonly spending what you do have, couponing is a good way to channel that impulse for a good cause, as it were.

There are two reasons people often give as to why couponing isn’t for them. One is that coupons are almost always for processed foods, stuff they don’t want to eat. The other is that the savings are never high enough, especially if you buy stuff you wouldn’t otherwise just because you have a coupon.

Here’s what I think. As to the first argument, that coupons are for crappy foods: This is often true, but not always. As you can see, tonight I brought home some Bisquick, garlic salt, and white rice, none of which are exactly Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs (and it would have been brown rice had they not been sold out of it, SO THERE). In the past I’ve gotten wonderful deals on whole-wheat pasta; lots of marinades and sauces; any kind of seasoning or baking ingredient you can name (lemon pepper, garlic powder, vanilla extract, cooking oil, cornstarch, white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, evaporated milk); some kind of fancy-schmancy eggs that ended up being like 42 cents a dozen; soy milk; Kashi cereal; Soyjoy bars; canned soup (cream of chicken, cream of celery, tomato); canned tomatoes; butter; orange juice; and tomato sauce, including the nommy Paul Newman kind.

I’d also say that if none of that works for you, since you churn your own butter and grow your own sugar beets or whatever, there are also a ton of awesome coupons for household goods. Free or almost-free stuff I’ve gotten lately includes: floss; toothpaste (I haven’t paid more than 50 cents for toothpaste in like forever); mouthwash; deodorant; carpet cleaner; all-purpose spray cleaner; bathroom cleaner; moisturizer; feminine hygeine products; Q-tips; body wash; soap; toilet paper; paper towels; candles; and shampoo. Again, maybe you’re into green cleaning, etc., so some of that wouldn’t work for you. But I bet there’s a lot that would.

As to the second objection, that the savings aren’t high enough: This really does depend on where you live and where you shop, I think. Here in DC, Giant and Harris Teeter double all coupons up to 99 cents every day, and Harris Teeter and Shoppers triple up to 99 cents fairly frequently. I admit it: Sixty cents off some Bisquick isn’t nearly as good a deal as $1.80 off some Bisquick, and if you’re in an area where doubling and tripling is rare, you might not be able to realize the savings you would otherwise.

But you can still save more than you think, I bet. Here is Couponing in Three Easy Steps.

Step 1: Collect coupons. These can come from three sources: the Sunday paper, direct-mail circulars, and coupon-clipping websites like The Coupon Clippers and The Coupon Master. Use whatever method works for you; I clip from the Sunday paper and the Red Plum mail circular, which comes on Tuesdays in my area (in some areas it’s in the paper, other places it’s mailed). I also supplement that by ordering from The Coupon Clippers from time to time, especially when there’s a good coupon for a nonperishable item. I save mine in a little plastic organizer I found at Target.

Step 2: Scan the store circulars. Ours come in the paper on Wednesday, and I sit down and go through them and write down what’s on sale that I have a coupon for. If this sounds tedious … well, maybe it is, but I enjoy it. You sort of have to know your coupons, but this tends to be easier than you’d think. Anyway, look for products that are on sale that you also have a coupon for — this is where you’ll really save some money. Buy-one-get-one-free deals are the most glorious example of this; those Grill Mates seasonings above, for example, ended up being free. Some stores will let you use two coupons for a BOGO deal, one for each item. (That’s why we have so much kielbasa, actually; Giant had a BOGO on it, and I had two coupons for 75 cents off, which meant $1.50 off doubled, so a total of $3 off, so two delicious tubes of meat that were supposed to be $4.29 apiece came home with me for a total of $1.29.)

Step 3: Profit! Hurray!

I spend about two hours a week on clipping, organizing, and making lists, and I rarely save less than 40 percent of the bill, so to me it’s worth it.

Some final thoughts:

When my husband was working, couponing was a good way to save money on stuff we needed, so we had more to spend on stuff we wanted (farmer’s market produce, fancy-schmancy cheeses, whatever). Since he lost his job, couponing has become an awesome way to just plain live as cheap as possible. Our budget doesn’t have much wiggle room at the moment, but our freezer is still full enough that meat products are leaping from it to their untimely demise.

And that is pretty cool.

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