"Whoa, whoa, wait," you’re thinking. "I’ve seen that new show. Those couponers devote their lives to those weird stockpiles of mustard, soda, and toilet paper. Those people are crazy. That is so not for me."
No matter what you’ve seen on TV, this is not the norm for most people who coupon. You can save tons of money a week with only an hour or two of work—and we’re going to show you how.
We polled couponers and asked them what they were most worried about when getting started. Then we asked Melea Politis, author of Freebies2Deals.com, a booming couponing blog that gets upwards of 23,000 hits a day, to respond to their, and your, concerns.
“I was afraid that I couldn’t use the coupons, or that the cashier would tell me he wouldn’t accept them. Also, I wasn’t sure where I could use coupons.”
—Heather Mailo; Elk Grove, California
MP: Just about every grocery store accepts coupons. If you aren’t sure, you can ask customer service for their coupon policy. Just be clear on the policy and you won’t have any problems using them at your grocery store. I’ve never run into a grocery store that doesn’t accept coupons, because each store actually makes $0.08 to $0.16 off of your use of them.
“I always feel lame and poor when I use coupons, and I always feel the urge to apologize to the cashier and everyone behind me.”
—Cassie Randal; Houston, Texas
MP: Don’t apologize! You are being smart and saving money for your family. If anything, you should feel bad for the people who are paying full price for the same items you are getting for ridiculously cheap or [for] free. When you get up to the register, kindly let your cashier know that you will be using coupons today and you will have them all ready to go when he/she is ready.
Depending on how many coupons you are using, it may take a little longer than normal to check out at the register. You might want to let the person behind you know that you will be using coupons and they might want to pick another checkout lane. They will either be extremely happy you told them or they will be so intrigued by your using coupons that they will eagerly watch you check out!
“I was way intimidated. I actually started it up and then quit because I thought it was so hard.”
—Veronica Chugg; Mesa, Arizona
MP: Using coupons can be intimidating for sure. However, the more knowledge you gain about efficient coupon use, etiquette, and policies, the less intimidated you will feel. Also, don’t try to do couponing all on your own. There are many couponing sites that will actually do all of the work for you. They will tell you where to go, what to buy, which coupon to use and more. It really makes saving money so much fun and super easy on your part.
The Great Coupon Scheme
Without further ado, let’s start saving you some cash.
Step 1: Get your coupons. The most common type of coupon you will use is a manufacturer coupon (a coupon printed by the manufacturer, like Kraft). You can get the bulk of these from the newspaper or from a coupon site, like wholecouponinserts.com. They are also distributed online as eCoupons. Store coupons are also great, and you can usually get them from the front of the store or from the customer service desk.
Note that you can use only one manufacturer coupon and one store coupon per item. A store will not let you use several $1-off coupons to make a $4 item free. However, if you had a $2-off manufacturer coupon and a $2-off store coupon, the $4 item would be free.
Step 2: Find a coupon blog. This will be your saving grace, because the best kept secret of couponing is this: The coupons don’t actually save you a ton of money. It’s the sales plus the coupons that saves you the money. For example, if you want to buy Kellogg’s cereal and you have a $1-off coupon, the cereal will probably still cost $3. Not that great. But if the cereal is on sale for $2.15, and then you use your $1-off coupon, the cereal is $1.15. Now that’s a deal!
Who has time to find the sales and then match up the coupons? Nobody! However, authors of these couponing blogs do the work for you—each week they scour the sales and match them up with coupons, then tell you what the best deals are and which week the corresponding coupons were released. There are many coupon blogs, but here are a few favorites of couponers:
Every one of the sites listed above has a “Getting Started” link that will guide you through the couponing process and will hopefully answer any questions you might have about couponing details. This includes abbreviations used on the site, drug store rewards programs, and coupon policies. If you have any additional questions, most bloggers will respond to an email.
All of the above coupon blogs also regularly post other great deals, so you might want to subscribe to their newsletter so you don’t miss out on great deals on clothes, magazine subscriptions, and activities in your area.
Step 3: Pick a store. Start small and coupon at only one store first. All of the websites listed above post the couponing policies for all the stores that they cover, so you can quickly check and see what your favorite store will take. We recommend starting with a grocery store, as the rewards programs at drugstores like CVS are really great, but complicated when you’ve just started couponing.
Step 4: Make your shopping list. Now that you’ve got your coupons, your couponing blog, and your favorite store, it’s time to really get down to business.
Go to your couponing blog, and click on your favorite store. Find this week’s deals post, and make sure you click on the blog title so you will see the entire shopping list.
Decide on which items you want and print out your list. Remember that you should buy any low-priced items that you might need soon, even if you don’t need them now (products usually go on sale every 6 to 8 weeks).
Print out any eCoupons (also called printable coupons) you might want to use. Blogs will usually post a link that will direct you to the site where the coupon is, but it is usually up to you to find the actual coupon on the site (You will usually have to flip through a few pages of grocery or household coupons before you find the one you want. On manufacturers’ websites, you will probably have to fill out a form. We suggest you create a junk email address for this purpose).
Step 5: Clip your coupons. Start at the top of your list and work your way down. Most blogs abbreviate a lot when listing their deals, but here’s a simple example. If the blog lists that Jell-O pudding is on sale and states there is a $1-off Jell-O in 4/3 SS, that means that you find your SmartSource insert from April 3, flip through it until you find that coupon, then clip it out.
Step 6: Go to the store, and don’t get distracted. Stick to your list unless it’s something you really, really need. Chances are, if you can wait, it’s going to go on sale in a few weeks. Smile and tell the cashier you will be using coupons today, then watch as your total drops lower by the second.
It may sound a bit complicated, but after doing it for a few weeks, it will get easier, take less time, and drop your grocery bill. When you are saving a couple hundred dollars a month, the few hours you put into learning how to do it will be completely worth it.
A New State of Mind
One of the greatest things about becoming a couponer is that along with saving money on grocery items, you become more aware of what you are spending in other areas. Jaylene Scott, an avid couponer since September 2010, says, “My family and friends now joke that I won’t buy anything unless I have a coupon, it’s on sale, or I can get it for free. I feel that it has made me a smarter shopper in general because I’m paying attention to how much money I’m spending on everything—not just groceries.”
Scott has been able to cut her grocery bill in half, saving her family about $200 to $250 a month, which allows her to stay at home with her young daughter Lydia without breaking the bank. “With the money I’ve saved, we’ve also been able to get out of credit card debt,” says Scott. “What a great feeling!”