Paul writes an earn-money-online blog, MTurkish Delight. His wife Abby, part of the Coupons Couponing team, moderates a couponing forum.
Effective couponing is definitely a learned skill, and often those who are new to it don’t know when or how to begin.
It took me some time to gain the experience that I share in this article, but in tough economic times I really think it is important to share info on how to obtain, organize, and use coupons.
It is no exaggeration to say that couponing can play a strong role in helping to keep a family food budget in line.
Below, I have listed my top 10 tips for using coupons for grocery shopping effectively in order to save yourself time and, more importantly, money.
1. Get Organized
Spend 20-30 minutes before shopping to make a grocery list, meal plan, collect your coupons, and make sure you have everything before heading out to the store.
Make sure you use coupons that are within the expiration date and are for the right size and style of the product being discounted.
Amassing a collection of coupons for the products you use is not as difficult as you think. Once you have a growing collection of coupons, you might invest in a coupon wallet or expandable file if you are serious about your couponing.
Shopping in a disorganized fashion, or on the spur of the moment, is something that serious couponers always try to avoid.
2. Research Coupon Policies
Especially when first starting out in couponing, it is important to know what kind of coupons your store will take, and whether or not they will accept competitor coupons. This is one of my most important tips for coupon shopping as it will save you lots of time and energy in the long run.
It is also good practice to inquire at the Customer Service Desk regarding coupons. Many coupon questions can be settled before shopping. Stores can vary widely in their interpretation and acceptance of coupons; it is important not to assume you know a store’s coupon policy. It should also be mentioned that coupon policies can be updated or changed over time.
3. Use the Internet to Find Coupons
Nowadays coupons are available at manufacturer’s sites and often if you email a manufacturer with a compliment of a product you like and use, the company will send out a coupon for a product as a thank you (sometimes with a sample, too!).
Many coupon sites have a wide variety of coupons available for printing from your home computer. I would recommend sites such as www.coupons.com, www.smartsource.com, www.redplum.com and www.grocerycouponnetwork.com as a good place to start.
Why I Use Coupons?
Collecting and using coupons is an important way to keep a food budget under control while providing nourishing meals for your family.
I routinely save 50% off my grocery bill using coupons and I don’t think I could go back to a life before couponing!
4. Review the Circulars and Store Ads
People new to couponing might not realize that a lot of stores put coupons into circulars and store ads. Some great coupons you might find in store ad or circulars are for $5 or $10 off your grocery order. That’s free groceries and definitely a coupon all couponers would want to have available.
A lot of websites on the Internet will actually give you a preview of what is going on sale in the coming week, along with a list of ‘match-ups’ which detail what coupons match the products in the ads.
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A good strategy to employ, and one of my tips for coupon shopping that I cannot recommend enough, is to use coupons for products all ready on sale, for deeper discounts.
A lot of stores also have monthly ‘special buys’ which are discounted over a longer period of time and can be combined with coupons for extra savings.
5. Understand The Terminology
It is important to understand the basics of coupon language, or slang, when shopping.
You should know what a BOGO is, how to stack coupons effectively, what a blinkie, tearpad, peelie and hangtag are.
6. Behave Ethically
I included this in my couponing tips because I feel strongly about it. One of the most essential ideas in couponing is how to do so ethically, so that manufacturers will continue to reimburse grocery stores for coupons.
Done correctly and ethically, couponing is a win-win for all involved. Done incorrectly, couponing is definitely a situation where a bad apple (fraudulent consumer) can spoil the barrel for everyone.
It is important to apply the coupons according to the terms stated on the front, within the stated expiration date and for the stated product. Buying and selling coupons is generally frowned upon and manufacturers are clamping down on couponers who engage is this process, either with a clipping site, Ebay or who dumpster dive to get inserts.
Ethical couponing involves buying the newspaper where the inserts are located, even multiple copies. Inserts obtained in other ways may be deemed to be illegally obtained and the coupons voided and non-reimbursable.
7. Trade Coupons
There are couponing websites on the internet that have forums where members can trade coupons they don’t want for coupons they need. This can be an extremely valuable way to obtain coupons you might not otherwise be able to get.
Building and maintaining a reputation for being timely, reliable and generous will ensure that your coupon trading will go very well. Those who coupon depend upon these relationships to have access to a certain number of coupons, or coupons from different regions, to enhance their savings.
8. Understand Rebates
Couponing and rebates go hand in hand. Many times, a retailer will have a rebate for a $10 gift card when you buy $50 in groceries. You can buy $50 worth of groceries, reduce your out of pocket with sales and coupons, and still get the rebate. Then, you can spend the $10 gift card on a future grocery outing, to help reduce your after-coupon total on that grocery shop.
9. Learn The Art of the Deal
Many couponers, when couponing for the first time, are amazed by the deals they can snag by watching the ads, collecting their coupons and timing their purchases appropriately. Sometimes, however, this can lead to a situation where couponers try to score every deal going and that is a road to bankruptcy and stress.
Those who are well-versed in using coupons know many stores have sales cycles and that if a product goes on sale now, it will probably also be on sale in 8-12 weeks, too. As long as the expiration date for the coupons is well into the future, go ahead and wait unless there’s an immediate, pressing need.
Learning how to stockpile for your family size, using coupons, will help you to be able to time the cycles appropriately. Stockpiling will be addressed in a future post.
10. Expired Coupons
Couponing experts know that even expired coupons have a good use. They can be mailed to military bases and used by families living on those bases for an additional six months past the expiration. It’s a good way to support our troops and make sure that the coupons do get used, even if it’s not by the original person printing them out.
There are many websites around where you can sign up and get assigned to a base where you will send your coupons when they’ve expired.