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How to Coupon - It Really Works!

Updated on April 12, 2012

Coupon Power

Coupon Lady

You have seen the “coupon ladies” in the grocery store, pouring over their thick binders full of page after page of coupons. You probably have been behind one in the check-out lane and wondered what the hype is all about. Does couponing really save you that much money? What type of time commitment do you have to put in to get a payoff?

It is true! Yes, couponing really works. It will save you hundreds of dollars every month, and every week for larger families. I save between 65% to 85% on every grocery bill. The more organized you are, the less time you spend preparing for your shopping. I only spend about one hour a week making a shopping plan and organizing coupons. Contrary to what you may have heard, you do not have to buy dozens of newspapers; purchase coupons on Ebay; spend hours clipping and filing coupons; or drive all over town to shop at multiple stores. It does not have to be that complicated.

Power of a Coupon

Some stores double coupons
Some stores double coupons

When Do I Use the Coupon?

What you may not know is that it is not all about the coupon. To maximize savings, you will need to follow sales ads and buy items when they are on sale. Using a coupon is the second half of the strategy. And that little $.75 coupon can work wonders, especially if your store doubles coupons. For example, say a $4 box of crackers is on sale for Buy 1 Get 1 Free, making it $2. You have a $.75 coupon that doubles, for a savings of $1.50. You get the crackers for $.50, a savings of more than 85%. You can’t beat that!

Stacking coupons

Some stores allow you to use a store coupon and a manufacturer's coupon together
Some stores allow you to use a store coupon and a manufacturer's coupon together

Does it Matter Where I Shop?

There are two schools of thought on which types of stores to shop for the most savings. Some people believe they can save more overall if they go to super centers like WalMart and Super Target. This may be true if you don’t plan to follow sales ads and instead just buy what you need week to week. The biggest savings, though, come when you shop grocery stores, buy what is on sale, and use coupons. You will find that Walmart and Target do not double coupons, but a lot of grocery stores do. Some grocery stores will also let you “stack” coupons, which means you can use a regular manufacturer's coupon in combination with a store coupon on the same item.

The Pantry

Store extras on top and bottom shelves
Store extras on top and bottom shelves

Stockpiling?

No, you do not have to stockpile food the way you may have seen or heard about on television reality shows. You do not have to turn your basement into a mini-mart, and you don’t have to store paper towels under your child’s bed! When you find a good deal, you should buy the amount your family will use in the next month or two. The item will go back on sale, so there is never a need to buy 100 jars of mustard or 75 bottles of juice! I rarely ever buy more than three or four of one item for my family of four. We have a small closet pantry (not walk-in) and everything I buy fits. I keep extras on the very top and bottom shelves - ideally, with cans on bottom and the lighter boxes on top. We do have a deep freezer in the garage, which is a plus for storing meat. If I find a good sale on chicken or beef, I buy three or four packs and freeze them. When you buy multiples of one item, be sure to check expiration dates!

Having many food items on hand makes meal planning easy. If you are always stocked up on staples and meat, then you just need to fill in the fresh fruits and vegetables. I usually only buy what produce is on sale at the grocery store, but another option is to shop your local farmer’s market. There is no need to get too extreme about this, though. If you really want to make a broccoli casserole this week and the broccoli is not on sale, don’t worry about it. You are still saving tons on the rest of your bill.

Grocery Store Weekly Flyer

Publix flyer
Publix flyer

Matching Coupons to Sale Items

The easy way to find the coupon matches for sale items is by using a good website that does just that, for free! I am a Southern gal, and I faithfully use only one site, southernsavers.com. It matches sales and coupons for every store in my area. It is as simple as clicking on the store, checking desired items off of the sales list, and printing a grocery list. All the possible coupon matches are listed along with the items. There are many other such websites out there. I suggest you look into a few that feature stores in your area and see which one works for you.

Another way to make the match is to check out the weekly ad yourself. Grocery store weekly ads can be found in your local paper, in the store, and sometimes on the store's website. This could work if you just shop one store and you have a little more time to browse. The coupon matching websites typically list the best sales, but not everything in the ad. I do spend about five to ten minutes flipping through the weekly ads just to make sure I don't miss anything.

A Couponing System That Works

When you first start couponing, you will spend more time as you collect coupon inserts and learn the ropes. To start, you will need to focus on one grocery store and learn their coupon policy. They are all different. Some double coupons, some don’t. Some put limits on how many coupons you can use for one item. Some limit how many of a sale item you can buy. Get a copy of the coupon policy from your store and become familiar with it.

Every Sunday, I get a copy of the local newspaper which contains coupon inserts. If there are three or more different inserts that week, I will buy one or two additional papers. I spend about 20 minutes browsing the inserts, dating them, and filing them away. If I see a coupon for a product we use a lot, I will go ahead and clip it and file it in my binder. For tips on how to organize your coupon binder, see my article - How to Organize Your Grocery Coupons.

In my area, grocery store sales start every Wednesday. On the day before, southernsavers.com has the grocery lists available. It takes about 30 minutes for me to make my checklists and pull coupons. I usually only visit one store - Publix, but I occasionally shop Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter if they have a great sale on items I need. Shopping time for me is 45 minutes at Publix and about 20 minutes if I stop at one of the other two. I only shop stores that are on my way in the morning.

I do my shopping on the first day of the sale, mainly because of local incentives, but also to make sure I get the items that may be free or near free - those go fast! Check your store for special day discounts such as Mystery Penny Item or senior discount.

Ready, Set, Shop!

The biggest time commitment for successful couponing is when you are first getting started. You will spend time collecting coupons, getting organized, navigating coupon-matching websites and looking into your grocery store's coupon policy. Once you are organized and have developed a strategy, though, it will become a short and easy task each week. The payoff will be huge savings!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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