Let me tell you about my latest hobby: couponing. At first, I wondered when the word “coupon” became a verb. But with the economy as low as it is and prices as high as they are, money is tight for many of us. I became especially interested in what all the coupon fuss was about when I saw the flyer to take a budget/couponing workshop on my installation, and I jumped at the chance. I figured if others were getting into it and saving lots of money, why not me too?
After about a year or so of couponing, I can now tell you this:
- Couponing is a lot of work.
- Couponing takes a lot of time.
- Couponing can be very confusing.
I know, you’re probably wondering why, right? Well, let me start with a little background. Up until now, the only “couponing” I did was looking up discount codes online for my favorite retail stores. That’s it, really. I didn’t bother with coupons when grocery shopping because I always ended up with a bunch of items in my cart I didn’t need and I ended up overspending!
The first grocery trip I took after the first coupon class, I only saved $13 on my bill with coupons. The second grocery trip I took after the second coupon class, I saved close to $20 on my bill. Which brings me to another awesome point I’ve learned:
- The more you coupon, the better you get at it!
I am by no means whatsoever an “extreme” couponer. On average, when I do take the time to research, clip, and use my coupons, I save around $50-70 on my grocery bill. I’m not getting entire orders for free like the ladies on those TV shows. But for my family, even saving $50 helps out.
Here are a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned so far.
Always get the Sunday paper. It’s the number one source for all the coupons you can think of. The Sunday paper generally has inserts from different manufacturers. These inserts have all the manufacturer’s coupons. The Sunday paper also has store flyers, which sometimes have store-specific coupons as well as all the sales listed for the stores in your area that week.
Go online. There are many coupons available online, as well as blogs devoted to couponing! These blogs and websites share deals and coupon match-up specific to certain stores and certain regions in the country. Lots of them also have fan pages on social media sites, so if you really want it… the deals can be thrown in your face all the time.
Also online, you’ll find hundreds of printable coupons. They reset every month and have a print limit, so check often! The websites of your favorite stores often offer online coupons, too. Some are store-specific, some manufacturer-specific.
Use your smartphone. Another portion of the class covered smartphone apps. If you have a smartphone, there are a lot of apps you can download to help find coupons, make price comparisons, and get the best deals.
Make a list. Possibly the biggest thing I learned was to make a list. Never shop without a grocery list, and never impulse shop. Take your time to plan your list based on the coupons you’ve collected, and stick to your list. This is a VERY important tip.
Organize, organize, organize! Another big key to couponing is organization. There are lots of ways to organize, but you have to figure out which way works best for you. A common method is to keep a binder with plastic sheet protectors for each week’s newspaper inserts and plastic baseball card inserts for clipped and Internet coupons.
Just starting out, the binder was too much work for me. I chose the accordion file method. It works fine for me, especially since it’s just my husband and me, and we’re pretty specific about what we want! You can also just use envelopes, recipe boxes, or index card files. Again, whatever you think will work best for you.
Next, choose how you want to divide everything. By expiration date? By store? By category? My coupons are organized by category. Everyone will have different categories depending on their shopping preferences.
Stock pile and match up. Lastly, you have to learn the HOW TO part of it, especially if you want to save lots of money like the extreme couponers do.
At some point, every item you purchase will go on sale. The key is to wait for the sales, and when those items do go on sale and you have coupons for them, stock up! Buy enough to last you through until the next time they go on sale.
The other “hard” part is matching up your coupons. When stores have sales on the items, that’s when you go in with your coupons to get the store sale and the coupon discount. That’s how you can get some items for free, too. For example, if the store has a sale for toothpaste that’s marked down to $1.98, and you have a 99 cent coupon that your store will double, you’ll get your toothpaste for free. Check your grocery store’s coupon policy to see if they double manufacturer’s coupons.
There are all sorts of tricks, too. Aside from certain grocery stores that double your coupons, there are “extra dollars” at drug stores and buy-one-get-one deals. You can also sometimes use manufacturer’s coupons AND store-specific coupons together. Do your homework!
For those of you just beginning, I hope this gives you a little background info, or at least some good resources, to help you get started. Even a year later, I’m still learning how and it’s still pretty complicated to me! If you have any additional advice or comments for the beginner couponer, I’d love to hear it in the comments below!