Couponing 101

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I have received a lot of questions (via Facebook and email) regarding couponing.  I am certainly not what you would call a “couponing queen”; I watch the weekly ads very carefully and match sales with my coupons to get some really good deals.  I don’t, however, fill my cart with 100 items I don’t really want or need because I have coupons for them.  There are some weeks when I don’t use coupons.  As I’ve said before, I do most of my grocery shopping at Aldi and “follow the ads” for the rest.  If you aren’t willing to go to multiple stores and cut down your budget in other areas, couponing for great deals may not be in your cards.  A lot of people are brand and store loyal – I get my best deals by being open to different brands and going to multiple stores.

I’m going to break this down into 6 sections:  

Why? – I’ve been told many times by a lot of discouraging people (who are probably spending WAY too much) that buying a newspaper and spending “all that time” clipping coupons and driving to multiple stores can’t possibly be saving me anything.  I just can’t come around to that way of thinking when I’m getting $25 worth of products that I need for $10 and sometimes less.  Why do I spend a few minutes each week looking at ads and cutting out coupons?  Because I save money.  This year so far, I’ve saved $49 on $98 worth of groceries and household items that we needed.  Half off seems like a pretty good deal to me!     

What? – For those of you that are not familiar with coupons, I’ll let you know what types of coupons there are.

  • Manufacturer’s Coupons: Manufacturers want you to buy their products – this is a given, right?  In order to attract you to their products, they issue coupons that you redeem where their products are sold, i.e., grocery stores, drug stores, discount stores.  You present your coupons to the cashier and the amount is subtracted from your total.  So is the store taking a loss?  Certainly not.  They then mail the coupons back to the manufacturers to collect not only the amount of the coupon but also a small redemption fee. 
  • Store Coupons: Store coupons are, you guessed it, issued by the actual store and can only be used at their location.  The motivation behind store coupons is a little bit different.  These stores issue coupons on specific items – brand name and store brand alike – in attempts to bring you into the store.  They’re hoping that you buy these great sale items and also toss a few more regular-priced items into your cart to make up the difference.  The great thing about store coupons is that you can combine them with manufacturer’s coupons for an excellent deal. 

How? –   Organization, watching ads, and staying focused are my 3 basic rules to couponing. 

  • Organization: I keep all of my coupons in the same place.  I use a small 24-page photo book with clear pockets (I got it for 99 cents at Walgreens awhile ago) to stash my coupons.  I have sections for Produce, Meats, Bakery/Baking, Boxed/Canned Goods, Cereal, Snacks, Dairy, Frozen, Pets, Paper Products, Cleaning, Baby, Toiletries, Health, Beauty, and Miscellaneous.  These are just some ideas – you should organize your coupons in a way that makes sense to you.  Others use the coupon accordion files, envelopes, and some people only take the coupons with them that they know they need.  Periodically, I go through my coupons and pull out the expired.  I usually try to sort them all right before the end of the month, when a lot of coupons expire. 
  • Watching Ads: I get a the Sunday newspaper every Saturday (minus major holiday weekends – there are no coupons issued) and take out all the major ads and coupons.  I go through all the coupons and clip the ones I know I’ll use.  By this point, I usually know what I’m looking for because I get weekly emails from Sunday Coupon Preview, a website that has a sneak peek at what coupons are being issued for the upcoming Sunday.  I then go through my 3 favorite ads: Target, Walgreens, and Kmart.  I look for items on sale that I also have coupons for – this is where I save the most money.  I usually write a list of what items and coupons I’ll use and then the amount I should be paying for them.  This way, when I get my total at the store, I have a good idea if everything was deducted properly.  It’s important to pay special attention to sizes and quantities that are printed in the ads and on your coupons – it saves time and frustration – trust me!
  • Staying Focused:  It’s so easy to get distracted when I go into a store.  Cute holiday displays, items at end-caps that appear to be a good deal, yummy treats at the check-out – the list goes on and on.  And there’s a reason for this.  Stores are designed and laid out to get you to spend more.  Think about it next time you’re in the grocery store:  Why do you have to walk ALL the way to the back of the store to get a gallon of milk?  Why is the produce the first thing you come to?  Why are there over 5o different types of candy at the check-out?  It’s not by accident.  My advice is to write a list, get in, and get out!  Only buy what is on your list.  Sometimes just 1 extra item can totally cancel out your savings.  Tunnel vision is a good thing in this situation!

Where? – So where are you supposed to get all these coupons?  These are certainly not the only places to get coupons, but this is where I find most of mine:

  • Sunday Paper – My Sunday paper is $2.00.  You can get a really good discount if you subscribe to the Sunday Only Option.
  • All You Magazine – This magazine is an excellent resource for anyone looking to save a buck.  I subscribe to this magazine because it’s much cheaper than buying it monthly.
  • Online – There are several websites that allow you to print specific coupons.  Red Plum, Smart Source, & Coupons.com are the sites I use the most.
  • Store Coupons – These usually come in the mail or you can print them directly from the Store’s website.  Target has excellent store coupons.  K-Mart has a similar set-up.
  • Coupon Clippers – This is a website where you can actually buy coupons.  I use this website when there’s a really good coupon out there that I want a lot of. 

When? – There are others out there that are watching the ads just like me.  A lot of the items that are on sale are only available in limited quantities.  I find that if I really want to get something, that Sunday morning shortly after the store opens – usually after 8 AM – is the best time to make a trip to the store.  And if they’re all out, ask for a manager for a rain check – it’s worked for me several times in the past.

Who? – This section is going to be very specific to my location, but I wanted to let you know who takes coupons, who doesn’t, who doubles them, and where you can find the deals without having to do all of the work.

  • Yes to Coupons: Dierbergs*, Dollar General (location specific), K-Mart, Save-a-Lot, Schnucks*, Shop ‘n’ Save, Target, Walgreens, Wal-Mart
  • No to Coupons: Aldi, Sam’s Club

*Dierbergs and Schnucks will double coupons up to 40 cents.  This means that if you have a coupon for 25 cents off, it becomes 50 cents off.  If you have a coupon for 40 cents off, it becomes 80 cents off.

There are several very coupon-savvy people out there that are great at matching up coupons with deals in the ads, and they publish them in their blogs.  It’s so nice when I’m in a time crunch to just pull up their blogs to find the real savings!  This list was compiled with the help of Money Saving Mom – her blog has been a huge help to me!

So I hope this answers a lot of your questions.  I welcome your comments, tips, & tricks to saving your hard-earned cash by using coupons!

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3 responses »

  1. Hey! I love your website. Your ideas to save money have inspired me to become more frugal as well. I’m usually pretty lax about money, which is terrible since I’m technically not employed. 🙂

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