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Couponing 101 (How I Afford All This Makeup)

Have you ever watched Extreme Couponing on TLC?

Oh my goodness, it's so addicting.


These people are so good at using coupons that they walk out of the grocery store with multiple carts filled to the brim with groceries and end up paying like $7.

Well let me start off right away by saying I am not that good with coupons, but I do know how to use them to save money on makeup.

I honestly don't remember how I got into couponing. My family has always been subscribed to get the newspaper (yes, a physical, tangible newspaper. Not the news app on your phone. Yes, they still print them), and the Sunday paper always comes with the weekly circular ads for stores like Target and Macy's as well as drugstores like CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens. Nestled between these ads are often pages of coupons from companies like Procter & Gamble, (who owns many brands like Covergirl, Olay, Tide, etc.) Unilever (who owns Axe, Dove, Simple, etc.) and other companies as well. When I realized that these coupon inserts contained coupons for makeup...well let's just say it was a game changer. What's more magical than a little piece of paper that can save you $3 on Maybelline mascara??

It was my first year of college when the culmination of my YouTube addiction, couponing, and general obsession with makeup led me to buy tons and tons of makeup. Watching YouTubers recommend products and finding lists of dupes on Pinterest led me to create a longggggg list in my phone of makeup that I coveted. Every week, I would look at the Sunday circulars and see what coupons were available and what sales CVS and the other drugstores had to offer. If I felt I could get a good deal on any of the items on my wish list, I was super excited to plan out a trip to the drugstore that week. Looking back, I definitely got a little obsessed and bought way too much makeup. I always justified trying so many products because I wanted to be a freelance artist and had to know what products were going to be good to use on clients. So in the end...I was kinda justified.

My drug[store] of choice is CVS. My town has 3 of them within minutes from my house so I've become familiar with their sales, coupons, and policies. I will include a little tutorial at the end of this post explaining how I manipulate a typical transaction with coupons.

If you have any questions about couponing that I don't address or don't explain clearly enough in this post, check out Krazy Coupon Lady which is where I learned a lot about couponing.

Also, if you don't live in prehistoric times and receive a newspaper like my family does, has TONS of coupons you can print right at home. You have to "install a coupon printer" which only requires you to download a program that allows you to print from their website and in my experience, has never slowed down or corrupted my computer in any way so don't be afraid to do it!

The following is my understanding of how coupons work. Again, if anything is confusing or you want to fact-check me, Krazy Coupon Lady knows what they're talking about. Also, some stores change policies on coupons and as you can probably tell by these already-outdated pictures, I wrote this blog when I was more experienced in using coupons a couple years ago (maybe more depending on when you read this).

Coupons from the newspaper or sites like are called manufacturer coupons because they are distributed by the manufacturer of the product. The brand/company makes these coupons available for customers to use at stores. When the store (such as CVS) accepts the coupon, they eventually send them back to the manufacturer, who pays them in return so essentially, the store is not losing any money with these coupons. An example can be seen in the picture above on the left (the L'Oreal one).

Store coupons are only accepted at the specific store they are marketed for. Sometimes Rite Aid will print small coupons in their weekly circular or you will find some on your receipt if you make a purchase. CVS has a coupon machine where you scan your loyalty card and it will give you coupons to use in store. You can also log into your account online and send coupons to your card. PRO TIP: Avoid the mile-long CVS receipt by sending all available coupons to your card so they don't print out on your receipt. An example of a store coupon can be seen in the picture above on the right (for CVS).

Now let's get into detail about CVS, since that's my preferred store which I have the most success in. If you have an Extracare card (their loyalty card) but are not subscribed to get emails from CVS, I highly recommend doing so. Most of my successful coupon transactions are thanks to the weekly coupon I receive via email from CVS. Once a week (Thursday, unless it's not the same for everyone) CVS sends either a percent-off coupon or a $ off of $ purchase coupon. For example, I often used to get a coupon for 20%, 25%, or even 30% off my entire regular-priced purchase. In recent years, I get 40% off almost every week but it's only off one item. I rarely see entire-purchase percent-off coupons anymore. These CANNOT be used on sale or clearance items but CAN be used on items that earn you Extrabucks (which I'll explain shortly). If it's not a percent-off coupon, it's usually a coupon such as $5 off your $25+ purchase or sometimes as good as $5 off $15+ purchase. These coupons CAN be used with sale items.

CVS offers coupons called Extrabucks which are essentially cash back for buying certain items. They often have deals such as "Spend $15 on L'Oreal products, receive $5 Extrabucks." These Extrabucks can be used just like money on any of your future transactions but they do expire, usually after a month. Some people say their CVS accepts them after they've expired but I never chance it. Also, if your total is $4 and you're using a $5 Extrabucks coupon, you will only receive the $4 and that last dollar will be lost. You can't get money back for Extrabucks if you're not using the whole value so save them for a transaction where your pre-tax total is the same amount or more ($5 or more in the example in the previous sentence). Sometimes different CVS locations handle their coupons in different ways, so never assume that a different location will do things exactly the same way as one that you're used to.

If CVS is offering a sale where all Milani lipsticks are 2 for $10, that is considered a sale and cannot be combined with a percent-off coupon. However, if there is a sale where you spend $10 on Milani products and receive $3 Extrabucks, you can use a percent-off coupon. This is because the products are still regular-priced and the extrabucks are just a reward for buying a certain amount of regular-priced items. You can also combine manufacturer coupons and other store coupons in the same transaction. You can only use one manufacturer coupon and one store coupon per item. Let's say you scan your card on the coupon machine and a $3 off $10 Milani purchase coupon comes out, you can use them like this:

Buy $10 of Milani products

Use the $3 off $10 Milani coupon from machine ($ off $ coupons always ring up before percent-off coupons)

$10 - $3 = $7

Use a 30% off purchase email coupon

$7 - 30% = $4.90

Pay $4.90 (plus tax) and receive $3 Extrabucks Rewards.

Now the real magic comes when you have Extrabucks Rewards to spend. In combination with the coupons used in the previous example, it can be easy to pay next to nothing for products when you use Extrabucks.

Here's a real example from back in my prime couponing days:

Maybelline Lash Sensational Mascara $9.79

Maybelline Color Jolt $10.79

Physicians Formula Shimmer Strips $14.99

=$35.57 (retail value without tax)

-$3 ($3 off Physicians Formula purchase from CVS coupon machine)

-30% off regular priced purchase (CVS email coupon)

-$2 (I used a $2 Maybelline Manufacturer coupon)

-$2 (another Maybelline mfr coupon)

-$13 (Extrabucks from previous purchases)

=$8.12 (what I paid including tax! Over 75% savings!)

Now let's talk about when the magic doesn't happen:

I've planned out many elaborate coupon schemes that just didn't work out exactly as I thought they would and was devastated when I had to spend more money than I planned, so if you're going to get into couponing, plan out two numbers:

1) The price you plan on spending if all goes well with your coupons. Since I got into couponing as a college freshman with a part-time job, I kept myself on a pretty strict budget and only planned out purchases that I was almost sure would go as planned and would be very inexpensive.

2) The highest potential price you would pay. Maybe you have some coupons that you aren't sure will work or you're just new to all of this and don't know if any of it will work. Will you be okay paying a higher price than expected or even paying full price if things don't work out? If not, plan to politely tell the cashier that you were only buying the items because of the coupons and apologetically explain that you won't be purchasing the items.

That brings me to the most important lesson: please be kind and considerate when you coupon. If you think your amount of coupons may cause trouble when ringing up at the register (and they almost always do), maybe let the person in line behind you go first so you don't keep them waiting. Always be patient with your cashier because sometimes the coupons cause an error. You don't want to be known by your local drugstore staff as the crazy person who comes in with all the coupons and gets mad when they don't work. It's important to take a step back and remember that people's feelings are always more important than money, makeup, or whatever else you are buying.

Lastly, a quick word on materialism: I had to go through this phase of hoarding makeup to learn how ridiculous and wasteful it was. At a certain point, I had accumulated so much makeup that products expired before I even got around to using them or I owned products I didn't even touch for years and realized I would probably never wear. If you can take my advice and save yourself a lot of money and guilt (from feeling wasteful), remember this: there will always be makeup to buy. There will always be new and exciting products that make you forget about the ones you first lusted after. Even the most amazing sales will probably happen again, so don't let them lead you to buying things you don't need. So now I still make those wishlists in my phone, but I put a date on them and don't let myself buy the product until it's been on my list for six months and ONLY if I still have the same desire to get it. 90% of the time, I don't want the product anymore. But when I do, I still put my coupon skills to good use. Because who doesn't like saving money???

Have fun shopping (and saving)!

xoxo Melissa

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