Save money with Christi the Coupon Coach (review)
I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of ‘extreme couponing’; I even know a couple of ladies who faithfully watch television shows focused on the phenomena. However, I know of no one in my area who actually practices it, nor have I ever seen anyone in any local store who appeared to. As for myself, I’d checked out some of the couponing sites, used quite a few of the free printable online coupons here and there, but never really found the opportunity for more – and I didn’t really figure that I’d have time for that crazy ‘extreme’ type, anyway.
When the opportunity came along to review a ‘couponing, but not extreme’ variation that was intended for typical families without that much time to devote to couponing, of course I was interested. What low income mom wouldn’t be? We already budget out our food dollars pretty carefully – we have to, SNAP only goes so far – but any dollar saved on the basics was more that we could use for things like fresh fruits and vegetables, something we never have as much to spend on as we’d like. By the time Couponing Made Simple by Christi the Coupon Coach arrived, I was looking forward to getting started, and anxious to see how much we’d save.
What’s included in Couponing Made Simple?
A slim paperback volume of ten chapters and approximately 120 black & white pages, Couponing Made Simple is a quick read. Chapter 1, Success Stories, consists entirely of anecdotal evidence of shopping trips, complete with photos that display products and the amount saved per trip. With four of these examples, plus two graphics of the “are you convinced yet?” type – nearly half of the first chapter consisting of these images and white space – I was a little puzzled. I already had the book – at this point, the sales pitch was rather redundant.
Moving on to Chapter 2, A New Way To Shop, in which Ms. Coupon Coach lightly details why the system works, describes her shopping habitat, and eventually spends just one text page listing where to find coupons, plus the typical items she’s able to purchase for good prices with couponing. Again, I’m frustrated by sales pitch – out of seven pages, there are two of the “trip photos”, two graphics that repeat what is in the text, a receipt photo, and enough white space to account for a full page by itself. It works out to three a total pages of text, with two being either more shopping examples, or repeats of info presented in the graphics. Still, nothing new in this chapter – except the realization that I have never seen cereal coupons similar to those described in this area!
She cites a retail price of cereal as being approximately $4 – fair enough. They tend to range from $3.50 to $4.50 around here. But then she gets the price down to zero with a buy one, get one coupon, a manufacturer’s coupon, and a store coupon. I don’t know about you, but around here, a $1 off coupon isn’t on one box of cereal, it’s on THREE. And I have never seen a BOGO offer for cereal.
At this point, I’m wondering if the examples are totally out of whack, or if our local stores are. See, while she might have three “national chain” grocery stores in her area, we have three groceries local to us. One, Rosauers, is part of a small regional chain that never has coupons it its flyers, just many sale items in both a weekly flyer and a monthly booklet. The second, Safeway, is the second-largest national chain, but exists primarily in the Western and Central U.S. Most of its coupons are in electronic form these days, with some occasional great deals and specialized customer-specific offers – but it doesn’t do doubling, and BOGO is rare, usually on something like hamburger, which there are no coupons for.
The third, a Thriftway, another small regional chain, and is the only one with an occasional double-coupon, plus a few typical store coupons – but it’s the most expensive, by far, of the three, with prices that are often $1-2 more than the store on the other side of the river – plus, at that one, you have to pay sales tax. (Having grown up on the Oregon side of the river, and still doing the majority of our shopping there, becuase that’s where the stores are – most of the time I forget the sales tax exists, and am constantly surprised at the additional 8% added to my total!)
So, moving on to Chapter 3, my skepticism that this is going to give our family any kind of fantastic savings in on the rise, as I learn about ‘The Language of Couponing’. The vast majority of the terms described within this chapter will already be familiar to most people who do much grocery shopping; they’re pretty basic. There *are*, however, a couple of terms defined that may not be in your vocabulary, one of which is “Blinkie”, those little coupon dispensers that are attached to the shelves in some stores. Only our Safeway has had those, that I’m aware of, and I think they’re down to just one or two store-wide – it often is for frozen packages meals, something we try not to buy a lot of – and again, it’s rare for it to be as high as $1 or for just one item. Thankfully, there’s only one ‘look at the deal we got’ example in this chapter – everything else is relevant.
Christi describes her Organization System in chapter 4. Finally, something that’s a bit different than the typical recommendations, and likely to save you some time over other recommended options. Yes, you may sacrifice a little bit in the ‘having it all’ department, but by using her method, it’s easier to suppress impulse purchases, and saves a huge quantity of clipping time. Good information here.
The Couponing Made Simple Step-By-Step process is detailed in chapter 5. This chapter is full of good information on actually working with the coupons and purchasing. I won’t describe in more detail, because this is obviously a large part of the ‘guts’ of Christi’s book. Though there *are* a few of the ‘I saved this much!’ stories, the majority of the text is meatier than the previous chapters, and well worth a read-through and application of her methods if you’re not already using something similar. My only pet peeve with this chapter? I have no clue how she’s finding newspapers for so cheap. She mentions both large and small locals being priced as low as $0.50 each, depending on location, with the range being $0.50-$1.00. Here, our large Sunday paper is $2, and the local twice-weekly is $1. Thankfully, non-subscribers to the local paper receive a mini-newspaper that includes all the local store flyers.
Chapter 6 describes Tips and Tricks to help increase your savings and the benefit to your family’s finances. It’s a mixed bag, with about half being things that we already knew and used – or had made the decision not to. (How much does all that frozen food cost in electricity? Some things just aren’t as practical for buying in huge bulk amounts. Again, good info, though the “I gotta deal!” spiel is back in small quantities.
The Ethics of Couponing is the topic of Chapter 7. It’s sort of interesting to read, but short and sweet, focusing primarily on not trying to ‘cheat’ the store with extra coupons, expired coupons, or taking coupons off products. Given that all the coupons I’ve seen in the last several years have barcodes that are scanned and TELL the cashier if they’re valid or not, it’s not something that would have even occurred to me to be concerned about. I did, however, find it mildly interesting that there was an entire chapter here that even went so far as to mention a manager with permission to be flexible on the coupon expiration dates – but it was recommended earlier in the book to always be pleasant and friendly, because then the cashier would be that much more likely to accept coupons that they shouldn’t. A store can’t turn in manufacturer’s coupons that are past the expiration date or didn’t fulfil the requirements, no matter what – the rules are out of their hands. Interesting conundrum… I wouldn’t have been asking them to go ahead and honor it in the first place, primarily because I wouldn’t want to be an extra hassle.
The author advocates ensuring that one pay attention to Networking & Communicating well, both online and in your own community, with a variety of people that might be helpful to your search for savings. Some good suggestions here; these might not be something one would think of on their own, but do remember – a store employee is there for the paycheck; don’t put their job at risk by insisting on chatting every time you come in, especially if it’s busy. They won’t appreciate it, and that does you no good, either.
Chapter 9, the Bonus Section, discusses other ways in which a family might save money in ways that are typical to pretty much any community. Chances are, the reader will already be quite familiar with these, but just in case, they’re here.
Chapter 10 rounds out Couponing Made Simple with Beyond Couponing, an outreach to non-Christians. I must admit, it seemed like a bizarre addition to a book about couponing, but she does frame her purpose well with couponing-style examples. However, I’m a pretty firm believer that the most effective time for ministry is when the time is right – and I’m not so sure that the end of a couponing book fits the bill.
Overall, I have mixed feelings. If you’re totally new to couponing, this might be a good method for you to try. For us, who are already doing what couponing is available in our geographic area, it’s not terribly realistic, and in the long run, it’s helped confirm to me that the extreme options aren’t even possible if one shops local to us. (This might be hugely different in a metro area – which we’re not in – rather, I live in a small rural area that is at a distant drive from larger cities with many variations of grocery stores.)
I received the paperback version which is normally priced at $20, but on sale right now for $18. It’s also available as a Kindle ebook for $4.99 through Amazon.