Learn to Coupon

Get organized!  The key to successful savings in the cheap lane is being organized.  There are many coupon organization systems available for purchase and used by millions of shoppers everyday.  The three most commonly used methods are:
  • Envelope style.  Using an expandable coupon or letter file, you can organize your coupons in a compact, wallet style system.  Many of these files include letters or numbered tabs that you can insert to create your own method of organization. 
  • Coupon Binder.   Perhaps the most popular at the moment (and the envy of those in the store who don't coupon) is the coupon binder.  Creating a coupon binder is easy, but, takes time.  To create a coupon binder you will need a large, sturdy binder, baseball card sleeves, dividers and tabs. Use the baseball card sleeves to insert your clipped coupons and the dividers and tabs to help organize your coupons.  If you shop at the same grocery store, you may want to organize your binder by shopping aisle.  However, if you frequent several stores in your local area, you may find alphabetizing your coupon binder works best.  It's your system---make it work for YOU! 

  • File by insert.  The least time consuming of the three methods is to file your coupons by insert. By keeping your coupons together, uncut, in the insert, you will spend the least amount of time clipping coupons.  An oversized expandale file is the perfect fit for 8.5 X 11 coupon inserts. 

Ready, set, clip!  Clipping coupons and knowing where to find additional coupons is the first, and biggest, start.  Coupons can be found in several places:   
  • Sunday newspaper and newspaper inserts.  The most commonly known source for coupons is the Sunday newspaper.  However, depending on your local area and coupon insert schedule, you may find additional coupon inserts during the week.  (For example, my local delivery area receives an additional coupon insert on Wednesdays to accompany the local grocery store ads.)  And once you become more familiar with the available coupon inserts, you can preview your Sunday inserts by visiting Sunday Coupon Preview.
  • Online coupons.  Online coupons have become more and more popular.  Check to see if your favorite brand name items have a website and look for links to special offers or coupons.  Additionally, you can print coupons from the below websites: 

  • Coupon clipping services.  These services offer additional coupons without the clipping! Coupon clipping services are best when used for items you or your family uses most often.  High value coupons are common so it's a great opportunity to get a few more of the coupons your family would greatly benefit from.  Be sure to check out the following coupon clipping services:

  • Store displays.  Manufacturers often place large, eye-catching displays in high traffic locations in grocery stores.  Their purpose is simple:  to get your attention!  When you see one, whether you need the product that day or not, check it out.  Look around the display for money saving coupons that you can use that day or save for when the item is on sale.  And be sure to take a few when you can.  Often, display coupons are higher value coupons which mean more savings for you when you check out! 
  • Mail in rebates.  Mail rebates can often make your purchase FREE, but, make sure you know the terms of the rebate before sealing and submitting your rebate and required information.  You can check current rebate offers by clicking here.
Knowing how to shop with your coupons. 
  • Store coupon policy.  Knowing the coupon policy for each store you shop in will help you make the most of your clipped and printed coupons.  Most stores post a copy of their coupon policy at the customer service desk and/or on their main website.  If you are unable to find a store policy on the website, ask to speak with a store manager during your next visit to see if a copy of the policy may be provided to you.
  • Store loyalty and/or store savings card.  Stores want your business and a loyalty card is their way to trying to keep you returning to the store!  Be sure to sign up for your stores' loyalty or savings card so you can take advantage of all advertised and unadvertised specials that require a savings card.  You may sign up both in store and now, online.  The best part about store loyalty cards is, they are FREE! 
  • Double/triple coupons.  Many stores now offer double and triple coupons as an incentive for you to shop within certain store.  This is automatically done at the register for you, but there are often additional stipulations on how you may double coupons or even triple coupons when you shop.  (For example:  my local Farm Fresh grocery store will double up to twenty $.99 face value coupons everyday.  All coupons after that are scanned at printed face value.  The store will double 2 of the same coupon for the same item, per transaction.  Any additional coupons for the same item will be scanned at printed face value.  On Wednesday, Farm Fresh will double up to twenty $1.00 face value coupons.  All coupons after that are scanned at printed face value.  That means that instead of receiving $1.00 off the required item(s), I will receive $2.00 off the required items.) 
  • "Stacking" coupons.  No, this doesn't mean you sort, organize and hand your coupons to the cashier in an organized stack upon checkout.  This simply means that you are able to use 1 store provided coupon and 1 manufacturer provided coupon for the same item.  Target stores, Rite-Aid drug stores, Walgreen's drug stores, CVS pharmacy and Walmart will allow stacking coupons during checkout.  Additionally, most grocery stores will also allow stacking coupons.  If you are unsure, just ask to speak with a store manager before checkout! 
  • Internet coupons.  Internet coupons are hot right now, but, are also causing problems for many stores.  Internet coupons are printed with a security watermark to prevent fraudulent copies being used at the checkout.  Double check with your selected store to see if internet coupons are acceptable and if there is a limit on the number you may use per transaction. 
  • Expired coupons.  Some stores will accept expired coupons.  Military commissaries operating OCONUS will accept expired coupons for up to 6 months after the printed expiration date.  Check with your store to see if you may use expired coupons. 
  • Competitors coupons.  Check to see if you may use competitors coupons for items.  This may add up to bigger savings in the cheap lane!
Plan your attack!  Going to the grocery store with your shopping list is just the beginning.  But with a little pre-planning and a few tried and true shopping tips, you will conquer the check-out lane everytime! 
  • Set your budget.   Do not set your new budget significantly lower than your current budget.  Be realistic and stick to your new, lowered budget.  As you become more familiar and comfortable with coupons and stockpiling, you will lower your budget again and find that you won't need to grocery shop as often. 
  • Try shopping once per week.  Smaller trips to the grocery store means a smaller, better organized shopping trip and better savings in the check-out line.  (For example:  I used to shop 2 times per month on payday.  By breaking this habit, I have manage to grocery shop for no more than $50.00 per week; averaging no more than $200 per month.  This is significantly less than the $550-$600 per month I was spending before!) 
  • Start by viewing weekly store ads.  If you do not receive the local newspaper, you can easily view weekly ads online at the store website. 
  • Coupon matches and match-ups.  By matching your clipped coupons with advertised sale items, you save even more at the register!  (Especially if it's a double coupon promotion!)
  • Price-matching.  Many stores advertise price-matching as an incentive to keep your business.  Check and compare ads carefully and should you find the same item priced less elsewhere, take the advertisement as proof of selling price to the store manager and ask for a price match for your purchase. 
  • Make your list (and check it twice).  Make a list and stick to it. When you abide by the items on your list, you are less likely to overspend or, surpass your alloted budget. 
  • Cash only, please!  Whenever possible, purchase groceries using cash.  You will be far less likely to overspend if you only have an alloted amount to spend.  (Keeping a small calculator handy will help you keep an accurate total of the items you place in your shopping cart.)
  • Raincheck, how I love thee!  Rainchecks are a great way to ensure you will be able to take advantage of a promotional item or an advertised sale even if the store has sold out of the item.  Rainchecks usually expire after 30 days so be sure to double-check your stores' raincheck policy.  And don't forget:  you can use coupons with rainchecks! 
  • Shop alone.  Whenever possible, shop alone, without distractions. 
  • Keep a price book.  This is a great suggestion if you are just starting to coupon.  A price book is nothing more than a small notebook in which you keep track of the items you purchase the most and how much you pay for the item(s) each time you purchase them.  Soon, you will see a sale patter and will know the lowest selling price for those items AND the best time to use your coupons for those items.  It's a win-win all around! 
  • Shop early.  Couponing is making an overwhelming comeback and in the age of technology, everyone has access to coupon blogs and money saving websites.  The earlier you are able to get to the store when promotions change, the better chance you have of taking advantage of advertised specials. 
  • Know your cashiers.  Once you have shopped in a particular store for some time, you become more familiar with the cashiers.  In fact, I only shop at certain stores because of the cashiers---how nice they are to me, how familiar they are with the store and how wonderful their customer service is.  But even with that said, I still watch to make sure ALL coupons are scanned and scanned correctly.  If a coupon rings incorrectly, speak up!  I have never encountered a cashier who isn't willing to re-scan a coupon if necessary. 
  • Check your receipt.  Checking your receipt before you leave the store is very important.  If your total seems higher than you had expected, take a minute to double check your prices.  (I've even returned to the aisle to check the shelf price in some cases!)  And if the price is incorrect on your receipt, simply take your receipt to the customer service desk and ask for it to be corrected.  In most cases, cash will be provided for the indifference and even an apology for the inconvenience.  Remember:  stores want your business and will work hard to keep it. 
Stockpiling.  Let's build one together! 
  • Create a small space in your home for your grocery stockpile.  Your stockpile should consist of the items you and your family use most often and use most quickly.  (For example, we go through cereal very quickly so I look for opportunities to purchase cereal most often)  Once you have created and designated a space for stockpiling, you will be ready to start building your stockpile. 
  • Begin slowly.  Don't be tempted to purchase an item just because you have a coupon for it.  Try to buy only when an item is at its lowest price.  And whenever possible, purchase several at the lowest price to add to your stockpile. 
  • The "one" rule.  Typically, when purchasing multiple items at their lowest sale price, I use the "one" rule.  Meaning, one for each member of my family.  Now, just because that rule works for me, doesn't necessarily mean it will work for you.  I encourage you to purchase what you know you will use and then move on to the other items on your list. 
  • Doing good in the community.  One of the benefits of couponing is learning how to get items for FREE sometimes.  Whenever that happens, I encourage you to think of others in the community and how, even if you don't need or use the product, you might be able to provide that item to a local group to help someone else. 
On average, it will take about 12 weeks, or, 3 months to learn how to make the most of coupons and store deals.  Ironically, that is the average sale cycle of store items.  But with a little patience and a lot of savvy sense, you will soon find yourself the envy (and the talk) of your local grocery store. 
Good luck and I'll see you in the cheap lane!