My husband was laid off from work the Summer of 2011, for three months. We vowed not to go into debt over it, and made serious budget cuts and life-style changes. One of those adjustments was the amount we spent on groceries and household items. I began to clip coupons on a weekly basis, and build a stockpile of household items for pennies on the dollar (and most of the time for free). That stockpile allowed us to reduce our grocery budget significantly. It carried us through those three months and well beyond. Here are the basic things I did, in terms you will understand.
Clipping & Sorting Coupons: Get your local Sunday paper each week and clip every coupon, regardless whether you use it on a regular basis or not. I recommend getting two newspapers. This way you can buy two of the same item on sale, helping to build a stockpile. Also, quite often you will see Buy One Get One Free sales, which you can use two coupons on in one transaction, saving you even more money. The paper will actually pay for itself after you utilize the coupons within! There may be some items you think you will never buy, so when clipping coupons ask yourself "Would I get this item if it were offered for FREE?". After you have clipped all coupons wanted, sort them by categories you can easily access (Dairy, Frozen, Toiletries...). Depending on your needs, you may want to break the categories down even further (Shampoo, Laundry Detergent..). Some couponers use binders, or just paper clip them to index cards in a box. Choose a filing method that suits your way of thinking and sorting. Some couponers do not clip them at all. Instead they write the date on the front of the coupon booklet and file it. Then, they match the date to the coupon-blog site's specific special. This works great if you are only using the coupons based on the deal you see advertised on the coupon blog sites (mentioned below). The only down side to doing it this way is if you are out and see an unexpected deal. In that case, you are going to have to flip through a lot of coupon booklets to find that one specific coupon. I personally like to have them all clipped and categorized in a small tote bin. I like to have all my coupons with me on each shopping trip, in case I see an unadvertised deal while I'm out. Check out local public Newspaper Recycling Bins too. Just make sure they don't say "Private Property".
Follow Money-Saving Blogs: Check couponing blogs often (they are updated several times a day) and follow them on Facebook too. I have found the most savings through them. They alert you as to what coupons to combine and at what store, in order to get free or discounted items. They also inform you of freebies being offered by companies! There are tons of coupon blogs you can follow, but I really like the following ones best. Once a day I scan the blogs to see what deals have been posted. Most store deals begin on Sunday and end on Saturday. These blogsites will tell you what the upcoming deals will be and get you ready for them. Some of these ladies were featured on the TLC show, Extreme Couponing and they know their stuff!
I also post freebies and deals on my blog (just not the coupon match-ups): www.jennifervandahm.com
Printable Internet Coupon Sites:*You can print 2 coupons per item, per computer. Avoid printing coupons for totally "Free Items", as most stores will not accept them.
E-Coupon Digital Sites:*These sites allow you to load coupons directly to your grocery store rewards cards. These coupons do not double at most stores. They can not be used in conjunction with a Manf. coupon or internet coupon.
Dining Cards:Use Dining Cards, such as "Kids Dine Free", in lieu of coupons! It is the fun, affordable way for families to eat out and enjoy the dining experience without breaking the bank. Your card can be used as many times as you like during the valid three-month period, per child. The more you eat out, the more you save! Visit www.kidsdinefree.net to purchase your card and start saving! Check them out on Facebook too! www.Facebook.com/kidsdinefree
Finding Other Deals: If blogging is not your thing then you may want to check out the database. Every Sunday the coupon database is updated on www.couponmom.com. You need to register online, but it is free. Under the "Grocery Deals By State" section, you get to choose the stores you shop at and it will tell you the deals and which coupon to use from the Sunday paper. If you are new to couponing, you'll want to categorize the data base list by 'coupon release date' over on the left side of the page and only really use the coupon if it is over 50% savings (unless you need the item regardless that week). Once you have a few weeks of Sunday paper coupons stored up, then it would be easier to start categorizing the data base by '% saved' over on the right side of the page. For new printable internet Manf. coupons you can visit the "Coupon Database" section of their website. Also, be sure to match your clipped coupons to the circular store ads in the Sunday paper. This will maximize your savings! The goal is to buy when the price is at its rock bottom lowest (aka: a sale). If you have more than one coupon for that item then buy multiple of that item. This is called stockpiling. If you stock up while it is at its lowest price, you won't run out and have to buy when it is full price later. Don't just shop for the week, instead think ahead. So yes, you may have 10 toothpaste, 15 body wash, and 20 packages of toilet paper...that's okay! I have found that this database doesn't show you other reported deals throughout the week, as the blogs do. I personally prefer the blog sites over this option.
Store Coupon Policies: Although stores have a corporate coupon policy in place, I find that some store employees can tend to misunderstand their own policy. It is recommended that you print the store's policy and have it with you when shopping. That way, if an issue comes up you can refer to it. Check their policy frequently, as stores will update and make changes to it. If new to couponing, I highly recommend starting with just one store and not adding another store until you are comfortable with that stores policies. Here are the policies for a few of the stores I shop at here in Virginia:
Walmart: Will only take 1 Manf. coupon OR internet coupon per item. They do not double coupon amounts. They do offer online Walmart coupons on their site at www.walmart.com, but cannot be combined with another Manf. coupon. They will give you overage (you buy an item for .97 and use a coupon for $1, you get the .03 difference credited toward your purchase). They also price match items from other stores. If your internet-printed coupon won't scan, they will refuse it. They will not take internet-printed coupons for "Free" items.
Target: Will accept 1 Manf. coupon OR internet coupon along with 1 Target Web coupon. If paired up right, this is where you get a lot of freebies! Just visit www.target.com and click on 'coupons' located at the bottom of their website page. Target does not double coupon amounts, nor do they allow for overage. The Target Web coupon cannot exceed the value of the item you are purchasing. I've had some cashiers give it to me any ways and others decline. I like to give them my Target web coupon first, then the Manf. coupon. It seems to make a difference on some transactions. Most of the Target web coupons are only good for 1 item per transaction, if buying multiple of that item (it will state it on the coupon itself).
Kroger: Will double your coupon up to .50 (a .50 coupon is worth $1, and coupons for .55 are only worth .55, and so forth), with a Kroger Reward card. They only take 1 Manf. coupon OR internet coupon per item. So if you have a coupon for .50 off hot sauce, it would be doubled to $1, and if you can find a small bottle for .98, then you would get it for free. They do not offer overage, so they would adjustment the price and only discount up to the item price after the coupon has been applied. In other words, you would not get the .02 credit. They offer digital e-coupons that can be loaded onto your Rewards Card online at www.kroger.com, but they can't be combined with a Manf. coupon and the e-coupons will not double like the paper coupons do. They offer a 'gas reward program' as well.
Martins: Will double your coupon up to .50. Coupons in value of .51-.99 would double to $1, with a Martins Reward Card. They will only double the first item, if buying several of the same thing. I break my purchase into two transactions if I want two of the same item to double in coupon value. They only take 1 Manf. coupon OR internet coupon per item. You can combine a Manf. coupon and a Store coupon. They do not offer overage. Coupon value cannot exceed the value of the item (using a $1 coupon on .99 item). They also give you a bag credit of .05 per bag, for reusing your paper bags on your next trip. They offer a 'gas reward program' as well.
CVS: I like them alot! They offer 'Extra Care Bucks' (aka: ECB), which can get you a lot of freebies and save tons of money, by using your CVS rewards card! For example, if you buy a toothbrush for $2 and use a Manf. coupon for $1 off, and they are offering ECB for $1 on that item, you would pay $1 out of pocket upon checkout, but really it would be free after the $1 ECB. The ECB print out at the end of your transaction, to be used on a separate/future transaction. The ECB do have an expiration date, so be sure to apply them toward your next purchase. The ECB are tied to your reward card, so you are not able to share them with other card holders. Only one reward card allowed per household. They accept store, Manf., and internet coupons. They do not accept competitor coupons, nor do they price match, and no overage. They do not double coupons either. You can use 1 Manf. coupon and 1 store coupon, and any ECB per item. They also have a red or yellow machine in the store foyer that you can scan your reward card at and receive additional savings (freebies and/or coupons). Typically, drug stores are not the place to build stockpile, due to item limits. For example: an item on sale might say "Limit 2". That means you can only purchase two for that entire advertised sale week. Since you have to use your reward card to get the sale, it won't allow you more than the limit. They offer rainchecks on out of stock items, which do not expire. So although you won't be able to stock up quickly, you will still save!
Other Coupon Offers: Be sure to check your favorite products official websites for coupon offers. Some even offer coupons by "Liking" them on Facebook. There is also a magazine out there called "All You" (at Walmart checkout stand), which is loaded with coupons as well. Take time to email companies and let them know how much you like their product. Quite often they will mail you high dollar coupons or freebies in return!
Timing: When you see a gonga deal, don't wait. Too often the shelves will be cleared quickly. Check back often though, as shelves are restocked throughout the week. If it is a good deal, buy it and stockpile it, even if you don't need it at this exact moment. That way it will be there when you do, and you saved money in the meantime! For example, if you eat pasta once a month you know you need 12 jars of sauce, then pick up 12 jars if the price is too good to beat. Ask for a raincheck if the store is out of a sale item. The key here is to think ahead! Don't apply a coupon toward full retail price unless you really needed that item regardless. Most of the time generic items are cheaper, but rarely go on sale. You can get brand names cheaper than generic by watching for the sales and then applying your coupon toward that sale. If a store is out of an item, due to a sale, remember you can always price match items from your circular ads at places like Walmart.
Shopping Trip: The first month or so you will spend building your stockpile. Despite what you've seen on TV, building a stockpile is a slow, steady process. A little here, a little there, really adds up over time. Set a grocery budget and what ever you spend on stockpile items will get deducted from that total. What ever is left is what you would buy your 'other' groceries with (necessities that you don't have coupons for, nor a stockpile of yet). To save the most money, plan your meals around the coupons and stockpile you have on hand. If you are new to couponing I suggest starting out at one store. Get comfortable with their policy before you venture on to the next store. Once you feel you have a grip on how this couponing thing works, then start sorting your coupons for your shopping trip categorize them by the store that will give you the biggest discount. For example: If I have a .75 coupon for jelly I will add that to my Martins trip, as they will give me $1 for it (unless another store is running a sale on that jelly and I can get it even cheaper, without having to double my coupon). Break your shopping list into separate stores and attach the coupons you want to use at each store. The discount adds up quickly! Bring your other coupons with you, in case you see a clearance on an item you know you have a coupon for. Expect the unexpected!
Check-Out: Have your coupons ready to go! Watch the screen during checkout. Be looking that each coupon is scanning correctly and doubling (if offered). Don't be afraid to question your bill. I like to have a running total on paper for the smaller trips (less than 10 items), so I know what total is expected at checkout. I discovered a few errors already, by doing it this way. If you have an item that won't ring up with a coupon for some reason, just have them take that item off your bill. You don't need it, if you were just going for free. Check your receipt before you leave the store to verify they didn't over charge you for a sale item.
Do's & Don'ts: Do not use expired or photocopied coupons. Be sure your coupon matches the product stated (size, style, brand...). Only print coupons from trustworthy sources. Most of the time, coupons printed from the internet that are for "Free" items, are fraudulent, unless from a reliable source. Check that your coupon doesn't state "Do Not Double" prior to using it at a store that you were banking on to do so. Read all restrictions and limitations prior to using your coupon. You can not buy or sell coupons, however you can pay online services for clipping your coupons. Please be responsible, so not to give other couponers a bad name. Always thank your cashier and the guest behind you for being so patient with your big orders. About once a month, go through your coupons and pull out the expired ones. There are organizations that will accept them, to ship to overseas military families.
Sale Cycles: Have fun! So what you missed a deal, it will be back again. Most stores rotate sales every 6 weeks and by seasons (Popsicles and sunscreen on sale in summer, baking goods in the fall...). Remember, free is good, but there is no need to get worked up over it.
Common Coupon Terms:
AY- All You Magazine
BLINKIES- in store Smart Source coupons
BOGO/B1G1- buy one get one free *use 2 coupons on these deals!
CATALINA- a coupon printed at the register, after your purchase
CNP- coupon near product
DND- do not double
DOUBLE COUPON- a coupon that a store will double in value
FAR- free after rebate
GM- the General Mills Coupon insert
K- the Kellogg's Coupon insert
MIR- mail in rebate
OOP- out of pocket
OYNO- off your next order
OVERAGE- when the coupon value is higher than the item and the credit is applied toward your purchase
PG- Proctor and Gamble Coupon insert
PEELIE- the coupon you peel off a package
PER PURCHASE- you can only apply one Manf. coupon toward the item. Not to be confused with 'per transaction'.
PER TRANSACTION- can only have specified coupons/items per one transaction
RP- Red Plum Coupon insert
SS- Smart Source Coupon Insert
STACKING- combining a Manf. coupon with a store coupon
TEAR PAD- a pad of coupons displayed near the item
WYB- when you buy
Swag Bucks: This is another way to earn free things, by using Swag Bucks as your search engine for your computer. It cost nothing and takes no effort. You are being rewarded for doing everyday things on the computer. The points accumulated are then redeemable for products and more, at the online Swag Store. They even offer points for printing coupons from their site. For example, 450 points can get you a $5 Amazon Gift Card. For more information visit them at www.swagbucks.com