How would you like to have a free supply of health and beauty items that is large enough to last you for years on end and occasionally even be paid to take it out of the store?
While your average teenager was out swimming, hiking and enjoying other festivities associated with summer, I was working on my summer job -- couponing.
Although I could never stoop to the levels of digging through Dumpsters for coupons and buying 300 deodorants simply because they're free, I did know that the first time I went couponing that it was a match made in heaven. There is no comparison to a moment in which you are left paying only tax on items.
Over the past three months of couponing -- through trial and error -- I have learned a few tips and tricks of the trade that I now offer you, my future fellow couponers.
* Start the search. In order to become a couponer you need coupons. Most couponers advise getting at least four Sunday newspapers per week. However, I typically get by with two; this way, there are at least two coupons to use on buy-one/get-one deals. Coupons are everywhere, it's just a matter of finding them. Sunday papers are your best bet but Internet sites such as www.coupons.com or even liking a company's Facebook page can lead to getting coupons.
* Be prepared. Once you get your coupons do not head to the store without them. Not all sales are advertised and oftentimes you will come across clearance bargains you did not know about. If you don't have your coupons with you, you may miss out on scoring a deal.
* Organize your coupons. Having your coupons organized makes planning for a trip easier and bringing them along easier. Everyone organizes their coupons differently, find a method that works for you whether it be a binder, envelopes or a folder.
My personal method of organizing coupons consists of a binder with business card holders. Each pocket has a coupon with those expiring first at the beginning and those expiring last toward the back of the pocket. Each page of business card holders represents a category such as deodorants or toothpaste. Then, from there, all of the pages are grouped together in larger categories like health and beauty items or foods.
* Pick a store to start couponing. Get to know the store and its coupon policies. At first this will be challenging but the longer you coupon the more familiar it becomes and the easier it is. To plan a trip, look at the store's ad and match up your coupons with the sale prices and decide on what deals you would like.
* Timing is everything. Just because an item is on sale and you have a coupon does not mean you necessarily should buy it. Couponing requires discipline and waiting for the best deals to come along. Referring to other couponers' blogs may inform you of coupons you were not aware of and also unadvertised sales. Some of my personal favorite bloggers to follow are Super Coupon Lady and HIP2 SAVE.
* Get coupon savvy. There are three different types of coupons: store coupons, manufacturers' coupons and catalinas. Manufacturers' coupons are coupons from the manufacturer and what you receive in the inserts from the Sunday paper. You cannot use two manufacturers' coupons on one item, however, you can use a manufacturers' coupon in conjunction with an in-store coupon. Each store goes about how they distribute their in-store coupons differently; often they are in a booklet from the store, sometimes they are online or in the store's weekly ad.
Catalinas are tricky because, like in-store coupons, each business handles them differently. Essentially a catalina is a coupon you receive for buying a specific item that is good on your next purchase. So, for example, when you buy a lotion for $5, you will receive a $2 catalina; then, on your next purchase, you might also have a $2 off in-store coupon and a $2 off manufacturers' coupon. You can use these two coupons together to get the lotion for $1 out of pocket and receive $2 back.
* Beware of expirations. It's a sad day in the life of a couponer when coupons go unused due to them being expired. Whether it be because a good deal never came around or you lost track of the expiration date, there is a better place for these coupons than the trash can.
For families who are overseas in the military, coupons can be used for up to six months after their expiration date. Organizations such as Coupons for Troops provide opportunities for these families to receive these coupons. This organization is preferred because coupons can be mailed directly to families versus being sent to a location to be processed. They can be contacted at www.facebook.com/couponstotroops.
Couponing in general can be frustrating between grumpy cashiers, items being out of stock and sale prices ringing up incorrectly. Couponing in the Top of Utah is especially challenging; with stores clamping down on policies, finding good deals looks a lot easier on the television.
Although couponing is becoming more of an accepted lifestyle it is still foreign in the eyes of most teenagers. I am a teenager and I am a couponer, and even if I had all of the money in the world I would not stop couponing.
I love the rush when my total is over $100 and then, after coupons, I bring it down to under $20. Most of all I love knowing that my family currently has at least a two-year supply of health, beauty and some food items that cost $392.84 but would have cost $1,385.38 without coupons and sales. This adds up to a total savings of $9,992.54 -- not quite as impressive as getting it all for free but definitely not worth stopping.
Caitlynn Kindall is a junior at Ogden High School. She enjoys softball, debate and being outdoors. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.