Recycling Centers: How I Get So Many Coupons For Free

One of the questions I get asked a lot is, “Where do you get all of these coupons from?” When people see me buying 24 boxes of pasta, it’s natural for them to wonder how I’m doing it. After all, it wouldn’t be very cost effective to buy 24 newspapers every week. There are lots of good ways to get extra coupons – trading coupons with other people, ordering from a clipping service – but the one that’s worked the best for me is visiting my local recycling center. This method, lovingly referred to as “Dumpster Diving”, involves scouring the recycling center’s newspaper bin for inserts. This may sound gross, scary, or just plain bizarre, so I’d like to explain a little more about it.

Yes, that’s me in front of the newspaper bin! I was first introduced to the concept of dumpster diving for coupons when I read this helpful thread on Hot Coupon World. They talked about how you could get loads of extra newspaper inserts by looking through the recycling bin. “That’s cool,” I thought, “But I’d never sift through the trash for coupons.”

A few months went by, and I kept thinking about how I could stockpile so much more, if only I had more copies of the paper. I did a lot of trading for coupons that I needed, but that can be time intensive and requires an investment in postage. All of a sudden, digging through the recycling bin didn’t seem like such a bad idea. My quest to save money won out, and I put my snobbery aside and decided to try it. Much to my surprise, the recycling center was clean, and had the newspaper all in one bin, separate from anything else. In fact, there’s even a little “Freecyle” area, where people leave things that they don’t need for others to use – I found a cool, working camera there once.

The newspaper bin was a coupon lovers dream: huge piles of newspaper, as far as the eye can see. It was a gold mine of inserts, and my box quickly filled up with coupons. And since it was just newspaper, there was no icky stuff lurking in the bin. I’m pretty uptight about cleanliness, so if I’m willing to do it, you know it’s not that bad. And the savings were immediate: having so many copies of the inserts allowed me to slash my budget even further. So how does a dumpster diving trip work?

As you can see, I bring two plastic bins with me. I pull out a mound of newspaper, and sift it into two piles: the inserts go in one box, the unwanted newspaper goes in another. After I sort through one pile, I dump out the unneeded paper and get another stack. In just 15 or 20 minutes, I can have a mound of great inserts. Sometimes I stay longer and fill the box to the brim. How often I go depends on my schedule – sometimes I’ll go once or twice in a week, sometimes weeks will pass without a trip. There’s usually several weeks worth of newspapers in the bin at any given time, so I can catch up with the inserts if I haven’t been there for a while. I’ve even found an insert from December of 2007 in there!! I guess some people hang onto their recycling for a long time.

I actually haven’t bought the newspaper for about a month or two, because I’ve been getting so many papers at the recycling center that there was no point. However, I’m going to start buying one copy per week again, because now that the weather is getting nastier, it’s not practical to go as often.

See how many inserts I got for 20 minutes worth of easy work? These trips save me so much money – if you got paid a hundred dollars for an hour’s worth of work, would it be worth it to you? It certainly is to me. So how do you get started? Here’s a few tips and tricks:

Check your local rules and regulations: Every area has different policies regarding their recycling bins, so make sure that it’s OK to dumpster dive in your town.
Bring supplies: You’re going to want at least two big boxes to sort newspaper with. Or, if you prefer, you can load up a few boxes with paper, sort it at home, and then drop off the unused paper later. And don’t forget the hand sanitizer!
Leave the area better than you found it: I’m sure this goes without saying, but don’t make a mess. Be neat and clean about your dumpster diving, and don’t leave newspaper strewn about. If I find a cereal box or bottle thrown in the newspaper bin by mistake, I help out by putting it in the right bin.
Have fun! You’ve gotta laugh at the absurdity of digging through the recycling for coupons, but trust me – you’ll be saving too much money to care!

What do you guys think? Have you ever been dumpster diving?

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