The word “couponing” tends to incite drastic opinions. Most people are either in favor of it (who can live without couponing?!) or very much against it (who has time for that?). If you find yourself veering towards the latter, check out some of the tips below. We’re talking about finding a way to turn couponing into a smart money saving strategy you might even like, without taking too much of your time.
You do not need to be a crazy couponer to save money.
Use coupons for things you were going to buy anyway
This is key. Yes, there are a mess of coupons for things you aren’t going to use. Focus your efforts on finding coupons for things you’re going to buy anyway. Shampoo. Dog food. Cookies. This is where that printable coupon database comes in. Make your shopping list and then see if there are any coupons available. Note, this is the complete opposite of what extreme couponers do (who find the coupon deals and then determine the shopping list). But you’re not going to that extreme, you’re just trying to save some money. Fifty cents is only fifty cents, but it’s still fifty cents.
This sort of targeted couponing allows you to save the money without spending a lot of time.
Redefine “extreme” and “stockpile”
The words “extreme” and “stockpile” have bad connotations when it comes to couponing. Throw out those ideas and start over. If you’re knocking 15% off your grocery bill, that’s 15% you aren’t paying, and while it might not seem like a lot at the time, go ahead and multiply your savings by 50 and give yourself a sense of how much that will save you over the course of a year of shopping. You’ll be surprised.
And “stockpile” does not need to mean a year’s worth of toothpaste. Who would use all of that? No, consider how much storage space you have and how quickly you go through a product. A stockpile should be enough that when you run out of something, you don’t need to immediately run out and buy the replacement. That might be only one or two extra of whatever you use.
Try the buddy system.
There are a couple reasons why having a coupon buddy can make saving money easier. One has to do with actually getting the coupons. If you decide to buy a newspaper for the coupons (you can preview the Sunday inserts before you buy a paper by searching for “Sunday coupon preview” to make sure you’re not wasting that money), you’re still not going to use all of them. But perhaps you have a coupon buddy who also buys the paper. You can swap: you give her your cat food coupons; she gives you the coupons for your favorite toothpaste. You can also swap printed coupons. Since most websites only let you print a coupon twice, if you need four bottles of salad dressing for that party next month, he prints off his two and you print him the coupons for his preferred razors.
Another way the buddy system works is with actually shopping. Frequently, coupons require you to buy multiples of something to use the coupon. I don’t need six yogurt cups, but maybe my buddy and I would each like three. Buy what the coupon requires and even up with your shopping partner at the end.
Think outside the grocery store.
Pick your favorite stores. Sign up for their loyalty program if they have one and opt into their emails, at least for a little while. A lot of the best non-grocery coupons will show up in your inbox.
And finally here are a few more tips before you go couponing:
-When printing coupons, make sure your ink is full. Difficult to read barcodes means it won’t scan and the cashier will probably reject it.
-Photocopying coupons is fraud and can land you in jail. Just don’t do it.
-Don’t buy something just because you have the coupon. It doesn’t actually save you money.
-Here are the three things you need to make sure about the store’s coupon policy: Do they accept coupons? Do they accept printed coupons? Do they restrict the number of coupons you can use in a transaction?
-See if your preferred grocery store has electronic coupons that get associated with your loyalty card. This saves time clipping and means you don’t have to remember to hand coupons over to the cashier.
-Most printable coupons expire in 30 days. Don’t print until you’re ready to shop.
General Savings Tips
Build an emergency fund. It can make all the difference. Low-income families with at least $500 in an emergency fund are better off financially than moderate-income families with less saved up. Learn more about emergency funds here.
Establish your budget. Are you looking for an easy way to begin? On the first day of a new month, get a receipt for everything you purchase. Stack the receipts into categories like restaurants, groceries, and personal care. At the end of the month you will be able to clearly see where your money is going.
Budget with cash and envelopes. If you have trouble with overspending, try the envelope budget system where you use a set amount of cash for most spending. And once the cash is gone, it’s gone. Learn more about the envelope budget system here.
Don’t just save money, save. There’s a difference between saving money and saving money for your future. So don’t just spend less, put the money you save into a savings account to plan for college expenses, retirement, or emergencies that can leave you financially better off. Learn more about what you should be saving for here.
Save automatically. Setting up automatic savings is the easiest and most effective way to save, and it puts extra cash out of sight and out of mind. Every pay period, have your employer deduct a certain amount from your paycheck and transfer it to a retirement or savings account. Ask your HR representative for more details about how to set this up. Or every month, have your bank or credit union transfer a fixed amount from your checking account to a savings or investment account. Learn more about automatic savings here.
Aim for short-term savings goals. Make a goal such as setting aside $20 a week or month, rather than a longer term savings goal. People save more successfully when they keep short-term goals in sight.
Start saving for your retirement as early as possible. Few people get rich through their wages alone. It’s the miracle of compound interest, or earning interest on your interest over many years, that builds wealth. Because time is on their side, the youngest workers are in the best position to save for retirement. Learn more about different options for saving for retirement in your workplace or on your own here.
Take full advantage of employer matches to your retirement plan. Often as an incentive, employers will match a certain amount of what you save in a retirement plan such as a 401(k). If you don’t take full advantage of this match, you’re leaving money on the table.
Save your windfalls and tax refunds. Every time you receive a windfall, such a work bonus, inheritance, contest winnings, or tax refund, put a portion into your savings account.
Make a savings plan. Those with a savings plan are twice as likely to save successfully. That’s where America Saves comes in. If you take the America Saves Pledge, we’ll help you set a goal and make a plan. And it doesn’t stop there. America Saves will keep you motivated with information, advice, tips, and reminders to help you reach your savings goal. Think of us as your own personal support system. Take the America Saves Pledge here.
Save your loose change. Really! Putting aside just 50¢ over a year will get you 40 percent of the way to a $500 emergency fund. And some banks and credit unions or apps offer programs that round all your purchases to the nearest dollar and put that money into a separate savings account.
Use the 24 hour rule. This rules helps avoid purchasing expensive or unnecessary items on impulse. Think over each nonessential purchase for at least 24 hours. This is particularly easy to do while shopping online, because you can add items to your cart or wish list and come back to them a day later.
Treat yourself, but use it as an opportunity to save. Match the cost of your nonessential indulgences in savings. So, for example, if you splurge on a smoothie while out running errands, put the same amount into your savings account. And think of it this way, if you can’t afford to save the matching amount, you can’t afford the treat either.
Calculate purchases by hours worked instead of cost. Take the amount of the item you’re considering purchasing and divide it by your hourly wage. If it’s a $50 pair of shoes and you make $10 an hour, ask yourself if those shoes are really worth five long hours of work.
Unsubscribe. Avoid temptation by unsubscribing from marketing emails to the stores you spend the most money at. By law, each email is required to have an unsubscribe link, usually at the bottom of the email.
Place a savings reminder on your card. Remind yourself to think through every purchase by covering your card with a savings message, such as “Do I really need this?” Write the message on a piece of masking tape or colorful washi tape on your card.
Participate in a local Investment Development Account (or IDA) program. If your income is low, you may be eligible to participate in an IDA program where your savings are matched. In return for attending financial education sessions and planning to save for a home, education, or business, you typically receive at least $1 for every $1 you save, and sometimes much more. That means $25 saved each month could become several hundred dollars by the end of the year. Find an IDA program near you.
Extreme couponers can get a huge amount of product for little money, an attractive option for some college students. Here’s how to adopt the life of a an extreme couponer:
Step 1: Start collecting coupons. There are many places to find coupons. Coupon inserts are in the Sunday newspaper each week.
“If you want to start couponing you need to have more than one Sunday newspaper every week,” said Allie Erler, a 23-year-old BYU—Idaho graduate from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. “The point of extreme couponing is to have at least four or five of those coupons, and you need that many if you want to get a deal.”
There are also mobile coupons, and websites such as Coupons.com, Red Plumb and Smart Source have printable coupons. Some stores have printable store coupons; Target, for example, gives great coupons to its customers. The important thing to remember with printable coupons is that the computer only allows two coupons to be printed per computer.
Step 2: Buy a binder and get organized. Organization is key to becoming an extreme couponer. Go to the store and buy a binder and baseball card holder sheets. These sheets are the perfect size to stick the coupons in and give easy access. Then start organizing the coupons into different sections according to what kind they are. “I organize my coupons according to food, beauty, personal care, cleaning products and pets,” Erler said. “From there I can keep track of when they expire and keep track of each section.”
Step 3: Research store policies. Every store has a different coupon policy, and it’s important to learn them so the coupon transaction is successful. Most stores only allow four like-coupons per transaction; that means there can only be four of the exact same coupon in one transaction. Walmart and Smith’s, on the other hand, allow an unlimited number of coupons per transaction.
“I think Walmart and Smith’s is two of the only stores that allows you to use an unlimited number of coupons, but it’s up to the manager, and they can stop you if they want to. Every other store they limit you up to four of the same coupon.”
Learning the policies is important to make sure the transaction goes smoothly and doesn’t frustrate the couponer or the cashier.
Step 4: Learn how coupons work. There are many tricks when it comes to couponing, so it’s important to know how to use the coupons. Stores such as Target allow coupon stacking, or using two coupons on one item. But one coupon must be a manufacture coupon, which is the kind from the newspaper or couponing websites. The other is the store coupon, such as the printable coupons on Target’s website. Stacking those two coupons together when there is a good sale usually results in a cheap or even free product. Another trick is coupon doubling. Select stores double coupons up to a certain value, usually $0.50. If the coupon does not say, “cannot be doubled” and the store allows it, it will usually be doubled to $1.
Step 5: Look for the deals. The key to extreme couponing is waiting for the right sale. Don’t waste the coupons on full-priced items; wait until there is a sale to get the best deal. Couponing websites like Krazy Coupon Lady break down each week what is going to be on sale and what coupons to use; they are a fantastic resource. Reading the grocery ads from the newspaper is also beneficial; they will tell when certain items go on sale. Finding deals will become easier with more practice.
“From there you can start to learn how (to) coupon, and then when you go into the stores, you can actually figure out your own deals by looking at the items and the coupons,” Erler said.
Step 6: Start saving money. Extreme couponing saves couponers hundreds to thousands of dollars every year and provides great bulk storage for themselves and their families. I mean seriously, why pay full price for an item if it’s possible to get it for free?
If you’re in the habit of trashing supermarket flyers or pages of coupons from the newspaper, you may want to rethink that impulse. Coupons are rising in popularity again––and for good reason. “On a regular basis I save between 50 and 60 percent a week at the supermarket with coupons,” says Susan Samtur, author of Supershop Like the Coupon Queen. Want to know her secrets? We talked to the Coupon Queen to learn surprising ways to save big at the supermarket, so you can too.
1. Forget saving a few dollars––coupons can slash 50 percent or more off your monthly grocery bill.
If you know what you’re doing, you can save serious cash at the supermarket. Samtur regularly cuts her grocery bill in half “just by planning ahead, buying the sales and matching up coupons with sale items.” The key, according to Samtur, is to spend about 30 minutes a week preparing to shop. This means leafing through your store’s flyer, noting what’s on sale and going through your coupons to match them up with sale items, which creates big savings. When Samtur invests more time—between four and five hours a week cutting coupons and filling out forms, filing and sending away for rebate offers—she saves up to 95 percent!
2. To save big at the supermarket, buy national brands instead of generic.
It may sound counterintuitive, but according to Samtur, store brands may have cheaper price tags, but they are also produced by companies without the finances to promote them. Because you can’t use coupons to buy them or receive a refund for doing so and they hardly ever go on sale, “in the long run, you’ll lose out by staying with the store brands.” You’re better off matching national brand items with coupons and rebates to score big deals.
3. Coupons benefit shoppers who aren’t brand-loyal.
Samtur reports in her book that a recent study showed 7 out of 10 people refuse to give up loyalty to their local stores and chains. That’s a bad move: Because products at different stores can vary in price, it makes sense financially to play the field when it comes to grocery shopping. Checking out each store’s circular once a week will help inform you. The same goes for product loyalty: “People become accustomed to buying the same things whether they’re on sale or not,” Samtur says. “Often there will be a similar product just below or above their go-to brand at a reduced price.”
4. You can save on unprocessed food with coupons.
True, the most heavily couponed items in the store are usually packaged. “Health and beauty aids, cereal, pet food, household products, baking items and paper goods are always couponed in a big way,” says Samtur. But this doesn’t mean you’ll never score on fresh produce or meat. In her book Samtur reveals some companies that, for example, don’t sell meat but will still provide you with coupons for perishables. Why? Because they want you to use their product with meat—like Borden, who has offered coupons for ground beef so you’ll use their cheese on burgers.
5. The store likes it when you use coupons.
If you fear eye rolls from the cashier when you approach the register with a wad of coupons, think again. “Stores encourage coupon using,” insists Samtur. “It motivates them to stock up on the product—which means they buy more from the manufacturer––and it encourages you as the consumer to buy the product from them.” Because they often earn a handling fee and the face value of the redeemed coupon, “it’s a win-win for everyone.”
6. Coupons benefit manufacturers as much as they benefit you.
The first one cent–off coupon was issued in 1895 by C.W. Post to promote his new cereal. According to Samtur, “a coupon is still one of the single best ways to get people to buy a product. Even if you forget to bring it to the store, clipping the coupon jogs your memory and you’ll likely buy the product anyway.”
7. Coupons can help you save for college.
Sites like CouponSnapper list over 600 online retailers that you can save money with, including college books and accessories for dorm rooms!
8. It’s worth it to browse the aisles while shopping.
Though you may have heard that heading to the supermarket with a game plan (like which aisles and products you’re going to make a beeline for) is wise, Samtur recommends checking out all the goods the store has to offer. “I go down 80 percent of the aisles, because sometimes you come across a very good special that wasn’t in the paper or for which you already have a coupon.”
9. If your store is out of a sale product that they advertised, they can offer you a rain check.
If the shelves are bare, you don’t have to leave empty-handed or without savings. “My store had advertised a sale on seltzer in their circular and when I got there, they were all out,” says Samtur. “So they gave me a rain check, which entitles me to the sale price once they have more product in stock.”
10. The Internet is a great place to find coupons. Start with CouponSnapper.Com!
You can find savings in places other than the newspaper or supermarket flyer… CouponSnapper is your one stop coupon shop!
1. Learn what coupons are “stackable.” This means that they can be used together. You should know this ahead of time so that you can plan how to check out.
2. Check out more than once. With coupons that are not stackable or have a limit, you can return to the store and buy more, using a different coupon.
3. Clip your coupons at home. If you are distracted by trying to tear out coupons or figure out which coupons are stackable, you may miss the fine print. Be well aware of the limitations and advantages before stepping into the store.
4. Apply these practices to online shopping. Keep in mind that discount/coupon codes are available through email newsletters, coupon websites, and catalogs. Try to find a coupon code before checking out of any store online and you can save 5 to 50 percent off purchase or get shipping free.
5. Multiple checkouts are extremely common with couponing. Taking the extra time to split up your purchases or return to the store will help you to save more money and trips to the store.
6. Make sure you’re getting the best deals. Just because you have a coupon, that doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to be getting the best deals. Check with other stores to see if they have the same item for a cheaper price, or see if there are Other/Generic brands that are even cheaper than the item with the coupon.
Couponing is the practice of searching store ads, newspapers, and websites for discounts that are available if you produce a coupon at checkout. Television shows and articles on “Extreme Couponing” have shown people that learn to save money on almost every shopping trip by analyzing and organizing paper coupons. Learning how to start couponing can save you hundreds of dollars in grocery bills and services.
Follow these steps to become an official Couponer!
1. Make a sample grocery list. Devote 1 section to the products you buy every month and another section to the products you buy every 3 or more months.
2. Decide which name-brand products you need and which products on which you are brand-flexible. Usually, the best brand loyalty you have, the more money you will save.
3. Pay attention to product prices. If you are on auto-pilot when you go to the store, you may not know what the going rate is for a name-brand and discount-brand package of toilet paper, a jar of pasta sauce or bag of chicken breasts. To get a deal, you must be able to recognize a deal.
4. Make a list of stores in your area. You will be searching for coupons by store as well as a by-product. Add some stores that you think might be too expensive, in case they give extremely valuable coupons.
5. Buy a coupon organizer. Small expandable folders are a great way to sort by expiration date. Get a folder that is no larger than 6 x 9 inches (15 by 23cm) so that you don’t forget to bring it when you go shopping. Keep a coupon folder for each type of item you want to buy. For example, you can have a coupon folder for grocery shopping that you place in your car and a coupon folder for services, such as oil changes, tax preparations and carpet cleaning that you keep by the computer or phone.
6. Bring your own bags. Many grocery stores give discounts for bringing your own bag and it’s eco-friendly, but you may need to ask for the discount.
7. Buy a printer. This is an essential part of online couponing since you can do a good amount of couponing without ever subscribing to a newspaper. A smartphone can also be a helpful tool in modern-day couponing. You can search for an online coupon right in the store, compare prices with those on Amazon using an application called Price Check or send coupons by text message.
8. Understand coupon terminology. Double coupons mean that you can double the value of a coupon up to a certain number, and triple coupons mean you can triple it. Look for stores that take and advertise these kinds of coupons. Ask for rain checks. Rain checks allow you to go into the store and get a coupon for the sale price of an item when it is restocked. Some coupons specify “No Rainchecks” so you must get to the store early on in the sale to ensure the coupon will be valid for a purchase. Learn the acronyms that are frequently used with couponing, such as Buy One Get One free/half off (BOGO), On Your Next Order (OYNO) and Mail-In Rebate (MIR).