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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Where to Get Your Coupons

(NOTE: I'll be adding to this post as I discover more sources)

Okay, so you want to give this crazy couponing thing a try? The first thing you'll need to do is start accumulating a stockpile of coupons. Where to even BEGIN?

1. Your Local METRO Sunday Newspaper. This will probably be the easiest and most accessible way for you to start collecting coupons on a regular basis. Notice that I recommend getting your nearest METROPOLITAN newspaper; that means buy the "biggest" paper you can for your area. The sad truth is that the larger cities get the best coupon inserts and usually the most "regional" versions of coupons as well. So, where Atlanta's major paper will get a coupon for an item that's $2 off 1, we "small-townfolk" here in Knoxville will only get the $1 off version for that same item. Or no coupon at all (there's an Angel Soft coupon I'm STILL peeved about missing). It may not sound like a lot, but it can mean the difference between FREE or not free items.

  • You can go buy it every week. But once you really get into this, you'll find that that gets pricey. And if you're busy like me you may miss an opportunity to snag a paper.
  • You can have it delivered. This is the option I finally chose. Jennifer @ CouponMommie had actually posted about a great website for discounted newspapers right about when I was hunting for a deal on a new subscriber package, so it worked out PERFECTLY. I'm currently subscribed to the Knoxville News Sentinal's weekend package for $1.40/week (that alone is worth the $2 Sunday paper). After my 6 month term is up, it will increase to $2.80/week but that still saves me time and gas.

Each Sunday paper will contain anywhere from 1-5 coupon inserts, depending on the schedule, and will come from SmartSource, RedPlum, or P&G (Proctor and Gamble). On holiday weekends, there may be NO inserts. Go here to see the most current schedule of inserts (thanks Jenny @ SouthernSavers!); this can change according to what the companies feel like doing but it has seemed pretty accurate to me.

Many coupon queens out there recommend subscribing to 5-10 different newspapers to get the maximum amount of multiples. I'm personally not there yet, nor am I sure if I ever will be. Plus I just prefer more local options like...

2. Your friends, family, neighbors, and anyone else you're willing to grovel to for extra coupon inserts. Just kidding about the grovelling (well, depending on who you're asking)! But, seriously, consider that there are probably tons of people you know who get the paper and just toss it away, coupons and all. Go ahead and ask if they'll save the inserts for you. My mom is a pretty reliable source and she also does a bit of collecting on my behalf.

Remember, I said ASK. Do not just casually snag the paper out of your neighbor's driveway just because it's 1pm on Sunday and they haven't retrieved it yet. People (me) are entitled to sleep late one day on the weekends and that's the whole point of having the paper delivered: knowing it'll be there whenever you choose to get up and get it. :-)

3. Extra EXTRA inserts. I haven't tried any of these methods but I have HEARD of...

  • Checking your local breakfast haunts like McDonalds or coffee shops. They often keep a couple of complimentary papers on hand OR customers bring theirs to read, then leave it for others. (Okay, this I have done before, but mostly just by happy accident)
  • Striking up a deal with your local newspaper seller. If you've got a good relationship with the gas station on the corner, ask if you can have the coupon inserts from the papers they don't sell.
  • "Dumpster Diving" at the recycling center. I'm not too sure about this one, but if you have a local recycling center, you COULD see if they'd let you go through the bins of papers that get dropped off and snag coupon inserts. Honestly, this seems to be for the truly "committed"... and I mean that in every sense of the word!

4. Buying/Trading coupons. In the case that you know a REALLY good deal is coming up that you'd like to stock up on OR if you miss out on a coupon that your local paper didn't have, there are plenty of people happy to get you what you need.

  • The Coupon Clippers seems like a great website run by some great people that do ALL the work of clipping for you. You can search their extensive database by keyword or alphabetically, buy the coupons you want in the quantity you need and they'll send them to your doorstep, often that same week if you order by their indicated deadlines. They charge a very small administrative/handling fee for each coupon and there is a $3.00 minimum.
  • Coupons & Things by Dede is a site I've actually used and I was really happy with their service. They sell clipped coupons but also have WHOLE inserts for those back-weeks you want to purchase if you're just getting started, or if you need extras... or for when you're still buying the paper and miss a week (hence my deciding to just flipping subscribe already). Their handling fees for the whole inserts are VERY reasonable. I think I ordered 5 of them and paid $6 including postage.
  • ThriftyFun.com is a site I signed up for when I was in desperate need of coupons for food for a Petros-style buffet that I was helping to put together for a local benefit event. I didn't expect much from it but was surprised! It's basically a standard message board forum but they have a section where you can post requests for coupon trades. I'm guessing that the more flexible you can be in what you have to trade (or are looking for), the more luck you'll have. I ended up getting a reply in just 1 day from a nice woman who traded me coups for sour cream and salsa in exchange for Betty Crocker Box Top cutouts (which I don't use). We just swapped addresses and paid for a stamp apiece. Easy!

5. All You Magazine. This is a GREAT magazine available only at Walmart and containing upwards of $75 in coupons each month (sometimes less, but often MORE). The new issue is available at the beginning of the month, but if you're a subscriber you'll get it early as with other magazines. See my post here for details. You can also get a great subscription rate for TWO years through Jenny at Southern Savers HERE.

6. Local home mailers/Junk mail. This is a new discovery for me: don't just TOSS those packets of local restaurant and service ads that come every week or so! I used to throw them out before I even walked into the house (except the Papa Johns flyer on the front). Not anymore! They've been an increasingly good source of high-$ coupons for all kinds of items, from toothpaste to groceries. Sometimes there's 6, sometimes 1, or none, but keep your eyes peeled anyway.

7. The stuff you already buy! You probably know this already but save the coupons from the things you buy. Many products will have a coupon included in whatever "Tips" or "Recipe" booklet that's buried at the bottom of the box. Sometimes products will advertise a coupon or other type of rebate inside, others won't. Keep an eye out for those little surprises.

Other products will come with what are known as "Peelies" on the box. These are coupons that are meant to be used for that product right then and there, but you don't have to. I've bought groceries that came with a peelie but I had a better coupon in hand already; so I just "peeled" it off and pocketed it for next time. It's still good to use so long as it has a valid bar code and expiration date. NOTE: I do not recommend just grabbing peelies off of products if you don't intend to buy them. In my book that's "stealing" at worst, and just plain dishonest and shady at best.

8. INTERNET coupons. I didn't leave this for last because it's the least method... there are just SOOO many sources for IPs (Internet Printables)! A few of my favorites with the least amount of spammage/annoying flashing ads...

You'll find that the first 4 links will often have similar coupons available, which is actually great because you can then print multiple sets of your favorites. Oftentimes any given IP will limit you to a maximum of 2-3 prints from any one computer. This is to try to have SOME kind of reasonable limit on the amount of coupons that a manufacturer will have to reimburse the stores for. However, you can go to the various websites and print them like you're printing for the first time.

GrocerySmarts.com is a pretty NEAT website because it not only links you to coupon-collecting sites like the ones above, but it ALSO gathers all the web addresses of individual manufacturer sites. This can be time-consuming b/c you'll have to visit each product site, check for promotions, and often register to access the coupon(s). But it's worth it to get coupons that aren't always readily available!

NOTE: If you see coupons for items you regularly buy or MIGHT consider buying on the right sale, print them right away. Try not to wait until that week's sale ad is posted, b/c although sites like Southern Savers do their best to only post up-to-date and available coupon links... when EVERYone knows that item is a steal that week... EVERYone will try to print those coupons... when the print limit is reached (yep, there's also an overALL maximum limit) they're gone.

Stores & Policies

These are the stores available to me; like I said in my original post, it's important to start off SLOW and EASY with just one or two stores. Find your ground, find the methods that work best for you, and then branch out to other stores.


This is my main store of choice for all things coupon for a few reasons:

  • Kroger doubles all paper coupons up to $0.50 when you use your store card.
  • Kroger accepts/doubles printable Internet coupons the same as paper, though they do have a few rules on IP coupons and any store has the right to refuse an IP. Most all IP coupons are good to go so long as:

*The coupon is not for a free product or for more than 75% off the original cost. (Coupons from mailers or inserts are fine for this, however)
*The coupon scans properly at the register. If the registers do not register it, it is most likely not a valid coupon. (Fair)
*The coupon is not altered in any way. (You should never photocopy much less try to alter an IP; it’s wrong and it causes those individual stores to stop taking them, thus ruining it for everyone)

  • Kroger participates in all 3 e-coupon programs (Cellfire, Shortcuts, and P&G E-Saver) via their store loyalty card AND you can stack those with regular coupons. E-coupons do NOT double, however!
  • Kroger does not have any limits on # of coupons used in one transaction that I’m aware of. They will also usually double coupons on up to 3 like items (some stores may allow more; this is just the average and I generally don’t go beyond this myself).
  • Kroger often runs additional sales/deals such as their “Mix and Match” or “Buy Any 10, Get $5 Off” promotion. Combine with coupons and you can get a LOT of FREE groceries.

I’ve only tried couponing at Ingles a couple of times because their policy is more complicated than Kroger and more varied in how it is enforced:

  • There’s no limit on TOTAL coupons allowed… but they will only double 3 coupons per $10 of purchase (pre-coupon price, thankfully).
  • On like items, their doubling limit is only 2.
  • They seem to have a similar policy on IP coupons as Kroger (they do take them and double them with the same exceptions as Kroger) but I’ve heard a lot more stories of individual stores nitpicking or flat out refusing IPs.
  • I’ve also heard and experienced a general distaste for coupons at Ingles; maybe it’s b/c of the weird policies but their cashiers visibly don’t seem to like getting them (whereas I’ve occasionally had a tired Kroger cashier, but still reasonably pleasant about it).
  • On a positive note they DO supposedly TRIPLE coupons more frequently than Kroger (but I think the rules get even MORE finicky). I’ve not experienced a triple special at EITHER yet, but there is the hope…

    Still, I like Ingles as a store; my plan with them usually goes something like this:

    (1) I always go with a mindset to also buy higher dollar items I need so I can be assured of doubling the max amount of coupons. They often have Pepsi 12-packs on sale 5/$12 (which we go through like water), plus I really like their pre-seasoned seafood.

    (2) I take a detailed list of the sale items I intend to buy and the number of coupons I plan to use and I DON’T really deviate too much here (unless it’s a non-coupon item).

    (3) Primarily, I go to Ingles to score FREE items, or use coupons that won’t double anyway.

I’m really new at couponing at Walmart and it’s probably just because you have to hunt around a bit more for the deals. Walmart does issue a sales flyer each week but it’s only a handful of what’s on sale. This is one of those times where I am REALLY relying on all my other wonderful blog connections to help me find the best buys!

Also, Walmart rollbacks vary from store to store so any list of deals you get is really more of a guide. You should definitely have your coupon stash handy here to catch any deals specific to your location. Some quick bits about Walmart:

  • They have a pretty wide open coupon policy including manufacturer, “Free” or BOGO, and internet coupons. However, their staff’s knowledge seems to be pretty wide open as well! If in doubt, bring a copy of their policy with you.
  • No doubled coupons but Walmart will price match items at other stores within a reasonable distance including ALDI’s and other grocery chains. You’ll probably need to bring the sales flyer with you to verify. Also, the item must be the same as the one you’re trying to match at Walmart (i.e. if you’re buying Corn Chex cereal in the 24 oz size at Walmart, you can’t price-match it to a 15 oz size box or a different variety at Kroger).

I had held off from stepping into the CVS/Walgreens ring when I first started couponing because there was so much to learn. About 2-3 mos into it, however, I decided to give CVS a try because so many other coupon-bloggers seem to have great success and get most of their high-dollar freebies there (I also chose it because with the retirement of Walgreens’ Rebate program, the 2 seem to be on a level playing field now and the Extra Care Bucks program seemed easier to learn).

So far, so good! It has taken me a while to get into the swing of “rolling” my ECBs (where the previous week’s ECBs pay for all or most of the next week’s deals in order to reduce the out of pocket cost), but it’s doable with practice. At first I was making one purchase at the beginning of the week to get my ECBs, and then spending those immediately on whatever I needed that week and then having to start all over. This, I am told, is not how a true coupon-queen operates. Yes, I was being careful, using regular coupons and getting some good free stuff on those 2nd trips, but I’d be back to square one the next week. Here are some of the highlights of learning to work CVS:

  • Like with every store, you have to sign up for an ExtraCare card to participate. It’s better to get it in store so you can start using it immediately. NOTE: YESSSS... CVS prices are HIGH. Way higher than you would want to pay for most items. This is why it makes sense to maximize savings and try to spend as little out of pocket there as you can.
  • Every week CVS will advertise certain items on sale that give you Extra Care Bucks which are basically like free money you can spend the next time you shop there. When you buy a specific item at CVS that has the special ECB calculation tag, you will get whatever ECB is stated on the tag. Sometimes it’s a straightforward transaction: “Buy 1 Crest Toothpaste at $2.99, Get $2 ECB = $2.99.” Just grab that tube of Crest and go! Easy! Other times you have to spend a certain amount on select products to get the ECBs advertised: “Buy $20 in Aveeno products, Get $10 ECB.” In this case, be sure that the items you purchase EACH have a sale tag stating that they are part of that deal.
  • ECBs DO have some funky expiration dates that you need to be aware of; some may last a couple of weeks, others are good for a month. If you’re afraid of letting them expire (like I was) you can usually plan a second shopping trip that week. But don’t just spend them on random stuff like I did unless there’s really NOTHING else you can buy to get more ECBs to use the next week.
  • ECBs are printed on the regular register tape and are spit out on the bottom of your receipt. FYI: The ink on these fades really easily if mistreated; I’m also told they turn BLACK in the heat. CVS will not reinstate or replace your ECBs if you lose or damage them so put them in a safe place!
  • You can use regular coupons, printable coupons, CVS coupons ($5 off $20)and ECBs altogether in one transaction, however you must present them in a certain order to maximize your savings. Jenny at Southern Savers has a great post explaining all the details HERE. Since I haven’t been CVSing long, I’ve only used manufacturers coupons and ECBs. When I get those special $-off ones, I will give them a try!

Unfortunately, Food City bought out most of the Bi-Lo stores when Bi-Lo left the Knoxville area a couple of years ago. Sad. I liked Bi-Lo. I like Food City for their pre-marinated meats but I feel their prices are generally high for everything else. The main problem for me is that although their corporate policy is to accept legitimate manufacturer-issued IPs… the handful of Food City’s I’ve been to DON’T. Maybe I’m just getting the wrong cashiers all on the wrong days, but even managers have confirmed that those stores won’t accept them due to past issues of “legitimacy.” They do take regular coupons, Catalinas, and their own store-issued coupons… But they won’t stack Food City coupons with anything else. Overall… just not worth it.

Okay, I know – NOT a grocery store! But we have furballs and so this is a frequent stop for me! I haven’t been able to dig up a formal “coupon policy” for them so this is all based on experience with my store. Overall I have found Petsmart to be very accommodating and pleasant about coupons:

  • They DO accept IP coupons, no problem.
  • They accept regular manufacturer coupons.
  • They will gladly combine EITHER of those with their own store issued coupons (usually $ Off Purchase, i.e. $5 off $20).
  • I have EVEN had them accept coupons for items that weren’t scanned in! Short story: Had $1.50/off cat treats making them near free; put the big stuff up for scanning; gave them my PetPerks card and ALL coupons; was signing my receipt when I noticed the treats had fallen under the cart. The cashier didn’t even blink; she just showed me where the $1.50 had come off my main order anyway... and I paid for them separately.

    BTW, I’m NOT telling you that so you’ll try to slip a bunch of coupons by the cashier for items you aren’t actually buying!!! Just to show how easygoing they are.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why coupons?

I really don't know what started it. If I wanted to go allll the way back I guess can remember watching my grandmother and mom clip their way through the Sunday paper. Our family was always about saving where you could even if it was to spend it elsewhere. Recently, I'd tried all the ways I could think of to cut our grocery bills, the same as I’d tried to cut mine on my own, and kept feeling like I was missing something. I was going shopping with a set list, buying mostly generic and still coming home with bills way higher than I estimated. There had to be a better way.

One of the things I was already addicted to were restaurant & meal coupons; I'd carry tons of those for whenever we wanted to eat out and had no problem collecting them where I could find them and whipping them out when the check came. Why not do the same for groceries? Then one day I was searching around for tips on frugality and ran across a few sites that explained the concept of "Extreme Couponing". These ladies were saving 50% or MORE on their groceries... I wanted to learn to do that, too.

Why hadn't you ever tried this before on your own?

I had, actually. But I NOW know I was doing it all wrong.

First, I "cherry-picked" my coupons. I only cut out the very specific items I KNEW I would buy SOON, which made for very few coupons.

Second, I didn’t stockpile in the slightest, nor did I see the point. Part of it was a space issue; I lived in a tiny apartment, then moved into my husband’s after we got married (actually downsizing further if possible). But if I had a half bottle of pasta sauce in my fridge I wouldn’t replace it until it was empty and then I “had to” replace it ASAP with whatever was cheapest at the time.

Third, I wasn't bothering to MATCH coupons to the items on a really good sale. Oh, I'd take my entire little envelope to the store that week, but with no rhyme or reason; just magically expecting my pile of coupons to produce a cartful of cheap groceries like THAT. Of course, when I got there I'd compare brand-name item prices (with coupon) to the generic item prices and the generic would always be cheaper and that's what I'd continue to buy. What. Was. The. Point... I decided coupons were a scam to entice you to buy the more expensive item. Or they were for those who just couldn't “lower” themselves enough to buy generic.

It was a trap; I wasn't falling for it.

Fourth, the envelope method wasn’t working. I could never find coupons I “knew” I had, and I kept ending up with piles of expired ones. This added to my frustration, and I gave the whole thing up.

Isn’t all this time-consuming?

At first, YES, b/c I was utterly obsessed with learning as much as I could!

I still check my favorite blogs once a day or so to scan for new coupons/deals I wasn’t aware of, and I set aside a chunk of time each week to clip and file my binder. If I have a LOT of inserts or multiples it may take longer, and in those cases I’ll make my list of deals for the week and just cut those I plan to use right away. Through trial and error I’ve found the methods that work best for me and MY schedule.

Couponing this way is NOT for everyone, IMHO (although I believe ANYone can incorporate some part of it into their weekly routine to save a little extra money). If you have multiple jobs, kids, and other commitments your time is and should be your most valuable commodity; I would tell you to go enjoy a drink, a bath, a book, or a nap! I don’t have kids, but I do have 2 jobs, one of which includes a decent time-commitment at home (teaching). I have a household, pets, and a husband with whom I enjoy about a half dozen other active hobbies/pursuits.

But I also follow the blogs of moms with multiple kids who have found ways to make this work for them. Often it started out of necessity but then it became kind of… fun. And when THAT happens, the savings plus satisfaction make it all worth it.

One big tip is to get in on the blog scene and find the sites that do the legwork for you in matching sales circulars and coupons. All you have to do is cut/paste the lists, delete what you don’t want, pull the coupons from your stash, and hit the store with your own customized list of deals. I would be utterly LOST without sites like Southern Savers, Deal Seeking Mom, Coupon Mommie, and the many many others (bloggers AND the followers who share the deals they found) that take the time to list, match and verify deals.

This “Extreme” thing sounds like deal-chasing just for the sake of the hunt; aren’t you spending unnecessary money anyway?

For the most part, actually? … NO.

The joy of the hunt IS part of it for me, though. There is a weird high that comes with watching a register total drop 50% or more just from matching sales and coupons. I’ve already made a couple of cashier’s mouths drop as I handed over my store card and coupons saying, “And now for the magic part!” When I get reallllly good at this, it can be even better; lots of coupon queens are getting $100-$200 in groceries for well under $25! That’s near 90% in savings! (My best so far is usually about 75% and for small “runs” of very specific items that are free or super cheap; i.e. $30 in groceries for $7.)

And I AM buying foods/brands I never really bothered with before in quantities that I never did before… but I’m doing it because I’m getting them for FREE or waaay cheaper than generic. AND I’m still coming in under my overall target grocery budget.

Let’s start with the obvious: if an item ends up being a moneymaker (the coupons create an overage beyond the sale price – that’s right, you get PAID to put it in your cart), FREE, or just pennies once the coupons are factored in there’s almost no reason not to grab it. Even if it’s something you won’t use, you may know someone who could. Then there’s the charitable possibility; many shelters or churches can use the deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, and pantry items that end up being totally free after sales/coupons.

Then there’s the debate of buying brand names versus generic. Most of the time if you need any given item right that second you will probably do better buying generic brand, though sometimes you get lucky with an unadvertised sale (hence having your coupon binder or other stash). This was the case for me when I used to shop with coupons… without stockpiling them and waiting for sales. Brand name items ARE overpriced… that’s WHY they offer coupons for their products. I’m learning that the trick is to wait for a sale that coincides with that coupon, making it even cheaper.

Finally, there’s the issue of stockpiling. Most items go on sale in 6-8 week cycles. The other trick is to try to make your supplies last until the next cycle so that, in theory, you never have to pay close to full price for anything. Ever.

Of course, this is only feasible with frozen and dry goods, and you’ll need to know how long something will usually last in your house. There’s also the issue of space. At the moment I’ll confess that my cabinets are STUFFED. I only just sweet-talked my husband into giving up a small amount of space in the garage (a.k.a. “Man Zone”) to a set of plastic shelves into for stuff I buy that I don’t have room for in my cabinets. Forget about the freezer. I’m really not sure how I’m opening the door and not being buried in bags and boxes.

The nice thing is that this gives me several WEEKS off of buying a long list of items; I only have to concern myself with fresh groceries and other odds/ends. And, if something happens -- a cat eats a dryer sheet (vet = $$$); a car needs new tires; etc. -- I can also NOT buy groceries and we'd be more than fine. The first couple months or so of doing this, you will probably spend your usual grocery budget, but you’ll get so much more for it.

Things I Don’t Do:

* I don’t chase every single deal out there to make my total savings look better NOR do I buy things to “use up” coupons. Some weeks we need more fresh meat or produce; there are rarely coupons for that. Some coupons never really match to great enough sales for me. You let ‘em go (and if that makes you feel guilty, there are places you can send expired coupons for a good cause). If I manage to stock up on certain things I won’t chase those sales for weeks. As of writing this I’ve maxed us out on BBQ sauce thanks to some FREE or under 10-cent deals; I won’t buy more for a few months (unless country ribs also go on major sale!). Which brings me to…

* I don’t stockpile like we’re headed for Y3K just because something is a good deal; I DO stock up for our household’s needs/preferences (and for the space I have). I COULD get my hands on 10 coupons for Cheerios if it’s only $1.00. But do I want to be eating the same cereal for months on end, even alternating every week? No. A household with 3+ kiddos however might want to take advantage of that deal; they’ll go through it much faster.Take the BBQ sauce, for example. Last week it was on sale FREE with coupon. Weeks later, it’s again on sale. Could I find another 10 coupons and go buy 10 bottles? Yes. Am I going to? No. Six is more than enough to last us most of grilling season. And I’m not devoting a whole shelf of my makeshift “pantry” to BBQ sauce! Even with items that stay good for a year, you have to buy in quantities that work for you.

* I don’t go to shopping without my list and coupon binder if I can help it. Even if I’m just snagging 10 small items. You never know when a good unadvertised deal may pop up. I have been known to pull the wrong coupons or miss some completely. And just like when I was shopping SANS coupons, I made lists so I know roughly where I should end up budget-wise.

* I don’t forbid myself from buying stuff NOT on sale. You just can’t live that way. I try to plan ahead and buy stuff ON sale WITH a good coupon match BEFORE we absolutely have to have it. But this isn’t always realistic. Things get used up quicker than anticipated or you decide to make/do something on a spur of the moment. This IS a good example of why couponing still comes in handy, though: if you have a good stash of them you’re likely to have a few that will prevent paying full price for anything.

* I don’t get picky about brands. I have my favorites, but if I just wait for THOSE to be on sale, forget it. Besides, I’ve been sticking to generics for so long; it’s not like I’m going to have a hard time transitioning to tastier name brands! You have to be willing to be flexible. I don’t know about you but frankly when stuff is $.50 to free my flexibility level goes way up!

* I’m not forcing myself to try or master ALL the stores at once. The important thing when just getting started is to learn the lingo, learn the basics, and go one store at a time. Right now my store of all stores is Kroger; I’ve tested the waters with Ingles; and I've done Walmart a few times. I've JUST started with CVS but I don’t go Wagging (Walgreens) yet because I’m just not ready and what I’m currently doing is all I can fit into my schedule. But this is OKAY.

Welcome! About Me

Let me start off by saying I AM NOT A GURU when it comes to couponing. Not by any means! What I am, however, is someone who has been a broke college student, a broke IN-DEBT college student, a heavily in-debt and modestly paid single young working professional, and now a married working professional (2 jobs!) who is very grateful for all I have… but still has a car to pay off, two mountains of student loans to tackle (mine and the spouse's). We also have 3 cats who insist on eating on a daily basis.

Let me be clear: we're not rich. We are definitely lucky because if the world came crashing down tomorrow, we'd be okay… if we could sell most of our belongings and/or vehicles pretty quickly (very unlikely in this economy). Mostly, we’re just like a lot of people in that we need to save wherever we can so that some small catastrophe DOESN'T send all the dominos falling. And sometimes it's nice to just be able to free up a little extra cash for something fun. Or something unexpectedly necessary. Or a future goal.

So if you’re fairly new at this like I am and learning the ropes, feel free to learn from my successes… and mistakes, of course!