I am not ashamed of my mad couponing skills. The fact of the matter is that I have only a few simple principles that help me save 30 to 60 percent on my grocery bill every single time I shop and I’m happy to share them with everyone. After you read this, I hope you’re encouraged to try your hand at this fun and easy way to save your hard-earned cash. There’s a singular thrill to watching that cash register total go down that’s almost impossible to match. Before we begin, though, there are some things I’d like you to bear in mind:
Reality shows AREN’T REAL. Those crazy couponers on TV have not only spent months (and in some cases, years) planning their mega-shopping haul for the cameras, they’ve often (with the help of producers) persuaded the store management to bend the rules of their couponing policy for the show. Please don’t think that you can buy a few issues of the Sunday paper and walk out of your big chain supermarket with $800 worth of free groceries on Monday. And you don’t have to buy 300 bottles of mustard to save big, either.
Coupons don’t cost the store money. Coupons are just another way that manufacturers advertise and market their products. The store gets reimbursed by the manufacturer for all those coupons, don’t you worry!
Yes, you really can save BIG. And that’s often without clipping a single paper coupon, Would you like to pay $40 for $100 worth of groceries? Then read on.
Coupons are NOT just for crappy, packaged and processed foods. Every week I probably pay less for my fresh produce, meat and dairy than you do. When there aren’t specials on fresh items, I use my coupon savings to pay for them.
BABY STEPS: START WITH 1 STORE & LEARN IT WELL
With all of the newspaper inserts, store website coupons, wireless coupons, Facebook coupons, coupon blogs, and more out there, you could easily devote 24 hours a day to bargain hunting. Please take my advice and start with just one store, either your supermarket or drugstore, and really familiarize yourself with that store’s customer loyalty program, their couponing policy and the layout of the location where you shop most often. Will this approach save you the absolute maximum number of dollars? No. But it will save you lots time (which has a value, too!)
REWARDS PROGRAMS: MAKING THEM WORK FOR YOU
I am always stunned to find myself in the checkout line behind someone who not only hasn’t signed up for the store’s customer loyalty program, but professes to have no interest in doing so. I want to shout at them, “Do you have any idea how much money you’re THROWING AWAY?” That’s not what I say, though. What I always say is, “Hey! No worries, allow me to plug in my number for you!” The person usually ends up saving a nice chunk of change and thanks me profusely, but I’m the one who should be thanking them. Because I’m earning customer loyalty rewards on their purchase. Thanks, total stranger!
Once I was in line behind a lady who seemed to have been on a quest to purchase the most expensive items in the supermarket. Her tiny haul of French champagne, caviar, fois gras, imported cheese, olives and gourmet crackers totaled well over $100 dollars. After I let her use my loyalty card she saved $30 and the points I earned from her purchase resulted in a $5 coupon that I used to help pay for my groceries.
Different store programs have different merits. My drugstore rewards me quarterly with a percentage of what I’ve spent in store credit. At my supermarket, I earn “gas points” on the items I buy. Last week I saved SIXTY cents per gallon. All of this is on top of the coupons and preferred pricing you’ll receive for signing up. My supermarket not only has customer-preferred pricing, it also has online coupons that I can preload to my loyalty card before I head to the store. It even has “just for me” online coupons (and FREE items offered just to me!) based on my purchase history.
But what if you want to save even more?
THE SUNDAY PAPER: TO CLIP OR NOT TO CLIP?
Most couponers get their coupons from the Sunday paper. If you’re just starting out, you might want to get only two copies of the newspaper. Many “crazy clippers” are known to buy more than 20 per week—the cash outlay being minuscule compared to the savings. I wouldn’t recommend getting only one newspaper because it is EXTREMELY disappointing to find the steal of the century on an item you love, only to find that you can only buy one of that item at the rockbottom price. Take it from me and just buy the two copies, already. Why would you want to use paper coupons in addition to store coupons? Because you can frequently do what is called “coupon stacking,” which is when you use a manufacturer’s coupon AND a store coupon to score a crazy deal.
Now, as far as clipping, there are two schools of thought:
1. File inserts by date, then clip. Many successful couponers employ this method. Take your Sunday coupon inserts, write the date in large numbers on the front, and file them chronologically. Then when you know something is on sale (by keeping an eye on the coupon blogs or your store’s site) you can,clip the coupon for that item and head to the store.
2. Clip first, then file coupons according to category. I clip ALL the coupons (for things I am likely to buy) as soon as I get them, then I sort them into broad categories (Beauty Products) in my coupon binder filled with transparent plastic sheets. I even bought a cute cover with handles for my binder on Etsy, because that sucker is heavy!
ONLINE RESOURCES TO THE RESCUE
There are so many online resources available to help you save even more. In addition to the specials and coupons you can get from your store’s website, some stores (like Target and Starbucks) will send coupons with QR codes right to your mobile phone that can be scanned at checkout. But the best online resources are definitely the coupon bloggers. These selfless people comb the internet to find the best coupon deals so they can tell the rest of us about them for free. Bless you, coupon bloggers! I have many that I consult, but a couple of my favorites are Cuponeando (which is in Spanish) and The Krazy Coupon Lady (which is in English).