How to Save Money with Coupons
Using coupons is one of the easiest ways shoppers have to save money on basic goods and services. Some shoppers have made a sport of it and participate in what is commonly called extreme couponing where they attempt to get as much as they can for as little money as possible, often buying items they don’t need and won’t use. Others take a more common sense approach and stack coupons with store sales and rebates to get the best prices on only the items they need.
Hitting the stores and using coupons is the easy part. Finding, printing, clipping and organizing them is another story. There are so many sources for coupons it isn’t as hard to find them as it is to keep track of your coupon inventory. Once you have figured out the system that works best for you, you are set to save.
Newspapers offer weekly home delivery of coupon packs as well as grocery store ad circulars. If one issue features particularly valuable coupons It is easy to get additional papers. Many publishers offer a reduced price when you sign up to take Saturday and Sunday papers, with the fattest coupon bundles included in the Sunday paper you easily save more on groceries than you spend on subscriptions.
The popularity of couponing has spawned the creation of websites centered entirely on connecting shoppers to coupons and shopping deals. Some sites offer hundreds of coupons available for printing from your home printer. Be careful since printer ink is expensive and you don’t want to waste money on ink for coupons you may never use.
Here are a few sites to get you started:
Local coupon trade groups
Many communities have local coupon trade groups based out of community centers, churches, schools or neighborhoods. Ask around and look for notices in the newspaper or online community chat boards. Trade groups make it worthwhile to clip coupons you might not use since you may be able to swap them for coupons on products you buy frequently.
Store specific coupons
Most retail stores offer coupons that can be used on products and services purchased from their store or chain of stores. Often these coupons print out with your receipt as you make a purchase, but you will also find store coupons in the mail, online and in the newspaper.
Typically these coupons can’t be used at other retailers, but every once in awhile a store will honor other retail store coupons.
Many brands and coupon sites offer coupons in exchange for liking their Facebook page and will then periodically offer printable coupons to fans of the page. Many coupon sites also post coupon offers on their Facebook page and allow coupon trades between members.
Brand specific coupons
Brands are reaching out to shoppers from web sites and as many social media sites as they can. They offer coupons once you like or follow their social media accounts as well as for signing up for email newsletters and alerts.
You can buy and sell coupons on eBay. While you may only sell 25 valid manufacturer’s coupons totaling $100 per month, you may buy as many as you like and can afford. You can find eBay’s own buying guidelines here.
Clipping and sorting coupons can be overwhelming and adds a substantial amount of time to your weekly grocery list planning if you don’t have an efficient system. Keeping coupons organized and using a system that allows for easy maintenance will save time and encourage you to continue using the coupons you’ve gathered.
Traditional file system
If you’ve been in a grocery store you’ve probably seen the file pouches made especially for carrying coupons. These may work for some casual coupon users, but for those who take couponing to more of an extreme, this probably won’t be an efficient way to organize coupons. A larger file box or a accordion file folder may be a better system if you don't mind flipping through coupons before you head to the store.
Notebook with clear photo pages
One of the easiest ways to see a large collection of coupons is to store them in the pockets of clear pages used for storing photos or collectible cards. Coupons can be ordered by product type, brand, or expiration date and are clearly visible through the clear pockets. Use wipe-off markers to keep track of the expiration dates on the front of each pocket.
One of the biggest challenges of using coupons is remembering the coupons you have for different brands and products. Keeping manual lists can be tedious and very time consuming. Find a coupon site that maintains this database for you. SouthernSavers.com is one site that publishes store circulars and matches coupons up with those items currently on special. It also lists where the coupon was originally found making it easier for you to track it down in the stacks of circulars you have yet to clip.
What to do With All That Food
If you catch the coupon bug you will inevitably wind up with merchandise you won't use. There are a variety of ways to handle this situation.
Extreme couponing has given birth to another trend - food hoarding. Food storage has moved from the kitchen and has spilled out into garages, basements and spare bedrooms. If you have the spare room you can install shelving and create an inventory system to rival you local commercial grocer.
Some shoppers are able to make a profit by reselling the items they bought on sale. Stop by any flea market and you'll find a booth or two of vendors selling groceries and cleaning supplies they've bought on sale with triple coupons.
Getting bargains at the grocery store is a great way to help stock the shelves at the local food pantry or the school snackbar. In some cases this will be considered a tax deductible contribution.
Shopping Strategies & Tips
- Map out stores to save gas - If you plan to visit multiple stores to cash in on deals make sure you map out your trip to save as much on gas as possible. It doesn't make sense to spend more on gas than you're saving on groceries.
- Print copy of store policy - Read the forum on any coupon site and you will find a thread about a store employee who didn't know the store's coupon policy and tried to prevent a shopper from using valid coupons. It is a good idea to keep a copy of each store's coupon policy on hand just in case you need to defend your coupon use.
- Learn the art of stacking - Stacking is using a coupon or multiple coupons on top of a sale or rebate. Better yet, use coupons to purchase an item that is on sale and is offering a rebate to maximise your saving.
- Look for BOGO combos - Combine a buy one, get one (BOGO) coupon with a buy one, get one sale and save a bundle.
- Watch for double and triple coupon sales - This is self explanatory. Stores will usually announce these a week or two in advance when they aren't a scheduled sale and will offer to double or triple manufacturer's coupons that are less than a specified value.
- Pay attention to the sales cycle of the products you buy. You can learn more about sales cycles at SouthernSavers.com
Understanding Store Limits and Policies
It is no secret that some shoppers abuse coupons. They clear store shelves, try to use expired or counterfeit coupons or use coupons on products for which they were not intended. With the explosion of extreme couponing and the number of shoppers who take advantage of the system, stores and brands are rewriting their policies on coupon use.
Before you shop at a store make sure you are familiar with their coupon policy. Some limit the number of coupons you can use that are printed from the internet, while other stores won’t take them at all. Some stores will allow you to stack couponsThere may also be an unannounced limit to how many sale items each customer can purchase or whether coupons can be stacked. Most stores post their coupon policies in the store and online. If you have any questions check with the manager before you fill your cart.
Coupon Classes and Seminars
Understanding the basics of collecting and using coupons is not all that complicated, but there are many tips and tricks that can be learned from the experts. Jenny at Southern Savers is offering seminars on the following dates.
It may not be long before stores and brands no longer use paper coupons or will offer digital versions for those who prefer using apps on cell phones and tablets to organize coupons. Some stores will already scan digital coupons from a cell phone or tablet. Stores like Target http://www.target.com/spot/mobile/landing , CVS http://www.cvs.com/promo/promoLandingTemplate.jsp?promoLandingId=mobile-... and Walgreens http://www.walgreens.com/topic/apps/learn_about_mobile_apps.jsp offer their own coupon apps. The following are a few apps to help organize your coupons for general shopping:
- Grocery Smarts Coupon Shopper - Android - Apple - This app keeps track of the sales circulars from Target, Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Rite-Aid. It also tracks printable coupons from multiple sites.
- SnipSnap - This app is available for both Android and Apple phones. While there is no support for manufacturer’s coupons yet, this is a great way to organize coupons from the retailers and restaurants you frequent. The app allows you to scan and store coupons and remember expiration dates. It’s also social, so you can share coupons with friends.
- The Coupons App - The free app (Android & iPhone) offers a searchable database of coupons that you can save for later or share with friends. It has been around since 2008 and is highly rated across all devices.