Book Excerpt.

From the book in progress, “On A Budget: The good housekeeper’s guide to economizing.”

The previous excerpts were on supermarket grocery shopping, time management, mending clothing and cooking. This one is on online vouchers and coupons, from the chapter “Internet”.

Almost everyone is aware of vouchers and coupons. And anyone who’s shopped on a supermarket’s website or watched “Extreme Couponing” knows that these vouchers and coupons can be found online if you have the time and the inclination. The problem with this is that both of these give the wrong impression. Supermarket vouchers make it seem as though coupons are largely for things you don’t use or need and shows like “Extreme Couponing” make it look like you need to be ridiculously obsessive to do well with coupons. Neither of these impressions is correct. Couponing can be fun, simple and produce useful items at the end of the day.

So, to make it easy, the first step is to find coupons. Most of these are printable, so you just have to save and print any useful vouchers and take them with you when you go shopping. Most social networking sites have groups of couponers and voucher-finders you can follow to get all the news on the latest deals. This also provides the benefit of discussing how to access any hard-to-find vouchers, as well as what ones are more useful and what places won’t accept certain vouchers. However, if you don’t use social media much, these groups may not be particularly useful.

Another way to find them is to keep an eye on websites that track vouchers and offers. An easy way of finding these is just to search for something along the lines of “uk vouchers”. These websites link you directly to where the voucher is, or give you a code to use when next shopping. Just be aware that sometimes vouchers expire and the website doesn’t edit the voucher to tell you this.

Sometimes, the retailer will give you vouchers directly, as you find with supermarkets. So going onto your favourite coffee shop’s website to have a look around can’t hurt. You get to read about the coffee shop, see any current offers and there may be a voucher or two available.

A similar technique is to write a short letter or email to the company complimenting them on the quality of their product or service. This sometimes results in them sending you a voucher so you can enjoy an amount of their product or service for free.

Finally, shops also offer vouchers in their magazines. If you normally buy a gossip magazine, a cooking magazine or are looking at getting a catalogue, it can be good to switch onto your local supermarket’s magazine. A lot of them offer free pamphlets and magazines also, or at a discount with a certain purchase.

It’s also worth having a look through any magazines or newspapers you already buy or subscribe to. Some health magazines will have vouchers for specific supermarkets or brands. The RSPB magazine has discount vouchers for RSPB products and advertisements for bird and garden related companies that offer you a discount or a freebie if you mention the offer in the RSPB magazine. Newspapers often have a vouchers, discounts or freebies section, where, if you collect a couple of days worth of cutouts, you can get a free or heavily discounted product. It’s usually more worthwhile to look for vouchers and discount codes in magazines with a certain focus, as you’re more likely to be interested in bird feed if you subscribe to the RSPB magazine than to be interested in a brand of shampoo if you subscribe to a newspaper. However, it’s always worthwhile to find out where the vouchers and discounts in your regular newspapers are, just in case there’s something you’re interested in, someone you know is interested in or that you could sell.

Next, is the issue of how to sort and store your vouchers. The best place to keep them will be an agenda, a memo board, a fridge door, a wallet or a diary; somewhere where you look on a daily basis before you go shopping or when you’re making a plan for the day. I keep mine pinned to a cork board in my kitchen, because it’s where I keep important phone-numbers, is in a very visible place, in a room I use every day (also the room I go into when making a shopping-list) and right next-to my calendar. You will want to keep them somewhere that you visit just as frequently. Don’t get an agenda or a diary specifically for your vouchers, at least not until you’re used to it. In my experience, getting a new folder or agenda or calendar for them usually means they’re entirely forgotten. However, if you keep important memos on the fridge door, then you’re highly likely to find your vouchers there. How you store them is also important. Most retailers won’t accept a damaged voucher, so you’ll want to cut it out with quite an extra margin, maybe a cm border after the cutout line. This way if you pin them or they peek out of your agenda, the edge that is scuffed or has a hole in it won’t be the actual voucher. Another thing to consider, especially if you’re keeping them on the fridge door, in a highly messy room or have pets, children or out of control adults, you will want to put them in a transparent plastic sleeve, like the ones you get in ringbinders. This way you can see what vouchers are, where they are and keep them clean and safe.

How you sort them is a matter of some debate. Many people sort them by expiry date, but I find this to be more awkward than it’s worth. For starters, if your voucher is pinned to the day it expires, it’s more likely you’ll only see it when it’s too late to use. On the other hand, if you just bunch them all together you’ll find it harder to throw away the expired ones and to find the ones you need on a particular shop. I find it more useful to sort them by shop and by the date you’ll use them. If you stop by a certain shop or supermarket daily, then keep the vouchers you can use there always on you. If only shop at another one weekly or monthly then you’ll want to collect all the vouchers you intend on using whilst there and make sure you go to the shops before ANY of them expire. To make sure you remember them, pin them to a calendar sheet or diary page on the day when you’re going, or pin them to a memo-board or the fridge with a note saying what day they’ll be used. That way, you’ll always use them up or take them with you when you’re going to the appropriate shop. Whenever you get a voucher, think of where and when you’ll use it (“Pet-store; next Tuesday.”) and put it with the other vouchers for the right day and shop.

Now that we know where to get coupons and how to store and sort them, the question is: how do we spend them? Here are some answers geared towards making the most of your coupons and not losing out or getting things you could otherwise get cheaper.

1: Is the product as cheap as it could be?

Sometimes, just because a product is discounted doesn’t mean it’s good enough. As an example, my fiance and I are happy to get value brand mouthwash and soaps from pound stores. This means that, even with a £1 voucher, a lot of the more expensive brands aren’t worth it. However, when multiple vouchers or offers are combined, you can often get the expensive brand at a reasonable price. For example, we had one voucher for £1 off a certain brand of kitchen towels, we also had a voucher for 50p off it. Combined with a discount that was running, a product that would normally cost £3 cost us 50p.

2: Can I multi-coupon or combine it with another offer?

As in the example above, sometimes a voucher is only good if you can use it at a time when an offer is running or use it alongside another voucher or coupon. Almost all coupons say that you can’t do this. However, many supermarkets and stores simply view them as an IOU or a form of alternative currency from the manufacturer. In other words, whilst some stores stick to one coupon per item and one item per coupon, others will not scrutinize them or have a system that will tell them “This person already had a discount on that sweetcorn!” If you’re unsure, get the products, try and apply the coupons and, where the coupons aren’t accepted, return any more expensive items at the till.

3: Is this a product I’ll use?

Sometimes, the product on offer is one you don’t normally buy. Here we apply the same tactics for working out what we need to do as we apply with supermarket discounts and offers. For example, we had a voucher for 50p off brand-name face-wipes. This would have been useful if we used the wipes often, the voucher made them cheaper than the cheapest brand or if there had been another voucher or offer available, to make it incredibly cheap. It’s not like we WOULDN’T use it, if we could get it cheap enough. There are plenty of uses for face-wipes. However, it would still have cost over £2 for a small pack and, at that price, we’d be better off getting the value brand. On the other hand, the kitchen towels in question 1, whilst we didn’t normally get them, were a fairly unique product at such a price that they were worth getting. Not only was there no alternative, but, after the vouchers, they were cheaper than the closest alternative products.

Money-Saving Book: Sneak-Peek.

So, it isn’t quite finished yet, I don’t have a proper title yet and everything is likely to be polished up and changed a little, but here’s an excerpt from the book I’m writing on money-saving tricks, tips and techniques.

All feedback appreciated and, if you’ve personally tried any of these tricks, feel free to leave a testimony/review, as it will be added to the book. 😀

From what’s currently chapter 3: “FOOD”.

1.- Supermarkets: Scams, Scroungers, Savings!

Too many people nowadays seem to think that supermarkets are a necessary evil. Yes, they draw you in with “Offers” and then shove what they actually want you to buy in your face, but what can you do? They’re the only place where you can find everything you want at a medium price and just get it all over. Necessary Evil.

Except they aren’t either: not necessary, but not evil either. But more on that in the next chapter, just hold the thought! First, we’ll assume you don’t feel up to going to an outdoors market, or to specialized stores for everything you want. Let’s say you want to use the supermarket, you just don’t want to be conned.

Something I quickly found was that brand names do in fact, mean very little. For example, my boyfriend and I would usually only drink a certain brand of energy drink. It didn’t take long to figure out that, on offer, it was £2 a litre and, full price, sometimes £4 or more! What were we using it for? The taste? That was the main difference between our favourite and the cheaper brands and we used them largely for the odd (or daily) boost in the morning. So, we started getting some cheaper energy drinks. We quickly saw that cheaper brands were, at most £1.30 a litre, sometimes even cheaper than that! And, to be honest: you aren’t going to tell the difference at that time in the morning.

Another issue was baked beans. There is a certain, well-known brand of beans that does, according to my boyfriend, taste rather different to others. He prefers it. However, a preference isn’t a need and we soon found out that a splash of curry-paste or paprika in a cheaper brand did wonders! Plus, it goes really well with sausages. Yum!

Admittedly, there will be things everyone hangs onto. I still buy the expensive energy drink because I like to enjoy it with my boyfriend, it has connotations for us that make it pleasant. I also sometimes get a certain type of chocolate, as a treat. But these are odd treats: you don’t have to have it all the time and, even if a certain brand is truly “irreplaceable”, that doesn’t have to be how it is for every item in your house!

But what about offers? When is a deal really too good to miss? Well, there are two types of offers, as far as I’m concerned: offers on a product you usually get (same or different brand) and offers on something you haven’t ever got.

So: products you usually get. If it’s the exact same item you usually get, same brand, same size box… etc. and it’s just been discounted, it’s a no-brainer: get it. But what if it’s a “multi” offer? Where you have to buy more than you’d usually get so as to make a save? There are three main variables: perishability, quality and cost.

How perishable is it?
You’re more likely to get away with buying 12 cans of tomatoes than 12 actual tomatoes (unless your family are true tomato-lovers!). Think about how long it would take to use it all up. For example, as I am usually at home on my own, I wouldn’t ever get more than 10 bananas: I just can’t eat them that fast! However, if there was a deal of “12 for the price of 6”, I may get the 12 and just make sure I eat A LOT of bananas. Basically: know your limits. If it’s 1 for £1.20 or 2 for £2, ask yourself: Is there any humanly possible way we can get through two before they go off? Do we want to? Depending on your answer, you’re halfway to seeing if it’s worth buying!

How good is it?
If it’s the same brand you always get, you won’t have to ask this, but, sometimes, you see a new or different brand on offer and wonder “Would this work?” I often find myself looking at discounted new or popular brands and try and weigh the pros and cons of getting it. So, here’s a check-list to see if it’s worth being adventurous and getting those 12 cans of unknown-brand tomatoes!
– Is it something fairly generic?
Good example: apples. Apples are apples are apples. As long as you can see what it is on the outside, you can have a quick guess as to whether these Granny Smith’s are better or worse than your usual choice.
– Does it have the same (or better) stuff in?
You don’t want to be swapping your favourite, wholesome pasta-sauce for one filled with preservatives if you can avoid it!
– Could we eat our way through it or make it work if it turns out we don’t like it?
Not necessary if you can return it, but returning is a major annoyance and most people I have known wouldn’t return something just because they don’t like it.
– Is this something everyone eats?
Why bother getting 2kg of pork when Bobby is a vegetarian, Mommy is dieting and Luke won’t eat anything that isn’t reared to his standards? (Unless, of course, Daddy is going through a bodybuilding/strength-training phase.)

How expensive is it?
Needless to say, if your weekly food budget is £40 and those tomatoes would push you into £45, they’re probably staying on the shelf. Something I advise, specifically for this sort of occasion, is to always have a small amount of change that you can throw onto a shopping bill. It may seem frivolous at first, but, if it saves you £10 over three weeks, would it be such a bad thing to have an extra fiver in pennies?

Tips for trying new stuff:

Return dates! If you are happy to make a return trip: do it within a certain time-limit! It’s very hard to return perishables much later than the next day. For non-perishables, return within a week or by the date given on the receipt!

Don’t experiment with staples! It’s hard to get through bread you hate when you’re having it for the next week and a bit.

If you don’t like it, try and swap with friends/family/neighbours! You may not make all your money’s worth back, but something is better than nothing.

But what if you haven’t ever got this item before? Here, I recommend the same cautions as with the untried brands… and even more! If at all possible, buy a “sample” to take home and try. You may find that certain products are on “loop-offers”: offers that they make and then repeat in a few month’s time. I found out that Lidl often keep a certain well-known brand of beans on a “loop”. The offer they were on made them cheaper than the cheapest brands! So I tried them and then, as I liked the taste, later stocked up on them. Now I alternate using that brand and cheap beans with paprika! But this was another brand issue. I would never consider swapping from say, potatoes to brown rice, if I’ve never tried the rice! I’d have to try it first, see if it works with what I usually have at home before I stocked-up on discounted rice.