Advanced Guide to Couponing
In this article I look at:
- Where to find coupons
- How to organize them
- How to use them effectively
Where to Find Coupons
Probably the first question that I am most frequently asked, especially by beginner couponers, is where to find coupons?
My answer is that there are many places to obtain coupons and many methods by which to locate and/or request them.
Below is a list of those places where people who are interested in learning how to coupon can find what they might be looking for.
Find Coupons in the Sunday Newspaper!
Every Sunday, Smart Source and Red Plum, as well as General Mills and Procter & Gamble, place booklets of coupons in the newspaper.
A subscription to the newspaper is the most cost-effective way of obtaining these booklets of newspaper coupons, but it is not necessary. Bear in mind that you will pay more for the Sunday paper if you choose not to obtain a subscription.
There are subscriptions available for weekend-only subscriptions, from many newspapers. The number of newspapers you obtain should be based on family size, but there are other, less expensive ways to supplement your number of newspaper coupons that will be discussed further down my list.
Find Coupons in the Wednesday or Thursday Newspaper!
Special savings and weekly grocery flyers usually come in either the Wednesday or Thursday newspaper, depending on your region.
Often, $x/xx newspaper coupons come in the mid-week newspaper, and also competitor coupons can often be found because that is the day all grocery stores put out their sales flyers and some of those contain coupons, too.
Find Coupons in Weekly Flyers and Special Publications!
You can find coupons in weekly flyers and special grocery publications like baby clubs, or healthy eating magazines.
Often these publications and flyers can be mailed to your house if you sign up with the supermarket’s corporate office.
Find Magazine Coupons!
Many magazines will have coupons in them. Good choices for magazine coupons are food magazines, healthy living magazines and family magazines.
Magazines can be donated, or you can often get free subscriptions through rewards redemptions.
Find Manufacturers' Coupons!
Many manufacturers will mail you coupons or email them to you if you sign up on their websites, or for their newsletters.
Sometimes, all it takes is an email to the company letting them know you like their products in order to receive manufacturers coupons in return.
Find Coupons Online!
Many grocery stores and manufacturers post coupons in coupon clearing house sites like Coupons.com, smartsource.com and redplum.com. You will need a PC and printer and ink to obtain these online coupons.
There are also specific sites available if you are into healthy eating, as well. Try changing a zip code to get access to online coupons not in your region.
Find Coupons on a Purchased Product!
Often, something you buy will have a coupon on it (a peelie), a hangtag on the outside or inside the box (either attached to the inside of the box or free-floating).
Check your packages before recycling the box for peelie coupons.
Get Coupons from a Rewards Redemption!
Many places like Recyclebank, myStonyfield Rewards or mycokerewards.com will give you free product coupons when you redeem points from purchased products, often found on drink lids or yogurt cups.
These rewards can either be print at home or mailed to you via the post.
Get Coupons from In-Store Displays!
Many coupons are available from in-store displays. These are not only available in grocery stores, but also convenience stores, drug stores and mass-market retailers.
Blinkies and tearpads are also found in product displays, or in carousels near the front of the store.
Find Coupons on Social Media Sites
Retailers and stores will also use Facebook or Twitter to offer coupons that promote their products, or introduce new products. These are usually internet printables (IP).
Obtain Coupons Through Coupon Trading!
Many experienced couponers know that coupons are offered regionally and so trading coupons becomes a valuable way to get rid of coupons you don’t need in exchange for ones you do want to use.
There are coupon trading groups on social media sites and different websites, too. However, there are also in-person groups that meet.
Try Craigslist or a local bulletin board if you want to find coupon trading groups and trade coupons.
Get Coupons through EBay and Coupon Clipping Sites!
Although the purchase of coupons is illegal, it is possible to pay someone for the time and postage to mail coupons to you.
EBay and coupon clipping sites do offer a valuable service for a fee, and they are good places to buy coupons in large quantities or hard-to-find coupons.
More Tips For Finding Coupons!
It is important to know where to find coupons for the products you use every day. One of the complaints many beginners have is that there seem to not be coupons out there for things they buy. Honestly, this has not been the case for me.
There are coupons for everything from household oil, to blenders to canning jars and for everything in between, if you are looking. It is extremely helpful to remember two things: Make a list of the products you commonly use, especially if you are new to couponing, so you will know what you are hunting for, and try not to collect coupons for products you know you won’t use because disposing of them can be difficult.
The main function they serve is to provide you with a means to complete trades for the coupons you do want to use. Remember, expired or unused coupons can also be donated to military families. Military families can use them at PX/BX for six months beyond the stated expiration date. A future post will detail how to donate these coupons to military families in need.
How to Organize Coupons
To take proper advantage of sales and deals in order to make big savings, there are two core approaches that need to be taken.
- Firstly, it is very important to keep your coupons organized, so that you are fully aware of the types of coupon, the products they apply to, and their individual expiry dates.
- Secondly, it is strongly advised to shop according to a list in order to maximize use of coupons and save big money.
Organizing coupons is not an exact science, however, and there are several schools of thought regarding different organizational approaches, issues such as whether coupons should be clipped.
While you are getting started, it might take a few hours a week to get where you want to be. However, once you have a method in place that works for you, putting your weekly shopping list together will take you less than an hour and you will be able to make substantial savings right away!
“These days, you’ve gotta milk a dollar out of every dime.”— Gayle Forman
Two Main Approaches to Clipping
- Some people prefer to keep their coupon booklets and inserts whole and organize them in accordion files by date and type (manufacturer, printable, store, etc). That way, they can easily refer to their coupons and then cut them as they need to. Proponents of this method state that it saves them time and they tend to lose fewer coupons.
- However, some people prefer to clip their coupons, as it takes less room overall. Once the coupons are clipped, there are a variety of different ways to keep them organized and easily accessible with minimal effort. Proponents of clipping coupons enjoy the zen of keeping their hands busy and appreciate that it takes minimal work to put their shopping list together, coupled with the appropriate coupons.
Accordion Files or Coupon Wallets
Once you start amassing a collection of coupons, you might want to invest in a coupon wallet. There are many different colors, styles and types available to make your system reflect your personality.
Other good choices include an expanding file, or a binder with plastic inserts, like photo sleeves. It depends on if you wish to clip your inserts or keep them whole, and how many coupons you acquire. Both methods are simple and easy to use.
The benefit of a coupon wallet is that it is very portable and not too bulky. There are several pockets with blank labels that can be titled anything you might wish. That leads to how you want to organize your coupons.
Some people want to group by type (manufacturer, store, printable, competitor, $x/xx, etc), but in my experience this is not as good a method as some. I prefer to group mine by certain categories, such as Meat, Dairy, Bread/Pasta/Rice, Vegetables, Fruit, Frozen/Prepared Foods, etc.
I will often paperclip manufacturers coupons with store or competitor coupons that I am able to stack for easy pulling when I am ready to make my list. I like my accordion file because I sometimes can amass quite a coupon collection over the month.
At month’s end, I go through my file looking for expired coupons to send off and help military families.
“Be studious in your profession, and you will be learned. Be industrious and frugal, and you will be rich. Be sober and temperate, and you will be healthy. Be in general virtuous, and you will be happy. At least you will, by such conduct, stand the be.”— Benjamin Franklin
The Envelope System
Instead of using accordion files or coupon wallets, some people organize coupons by keeping them in recycled or unused business-sized envelopes. They label each envelope for easy locating, and will keep the envelopes in a box.
It’s a less-expensive way of doing the above-mentioned method for coupon organization, so you don’t need a special holder to get started, especially if you don’t have a lot of money at present.
Binders with Clear Plastic Sheets
Sometimes, people prefer to see all their coupons laid out for them for easy perusing. The Binder, Scrapbook or Portfolio method is good for this type of person. It might cost a little up front, unless you can find yours (like I did mine) at Goodwill or a second-hand store, but it can be worth the investment.
I found a photographer’s portfolio complete with platstic sheets of different widths, heights and dimensions for $6.00 at Goodwill and it has served me very well. I tried this method out of curiosity, because I tend to use the accordion file method as stated above.
I did like the ability to view all the coupons I had, and the full page plastic sheets were good for protecting coupons and storing things like rebate forms and other refund/receipt information for tracking purposes. However, for me this method was a bit bulky and I didn’t like looking quite so conspicuous in the grocery store.
I went back to using the accordion file method and have stuck with that.
Regular Maintenance is Vital!
Whatever system you choose, remember to pull out your expired coupons and filed your inserts or coupons promptly to keep from losing valuable savings!
There’s nothing worse than thinking you have a coupon that might get you a free or greatly reduced-price product and then you can’t find it…
It can be easy, when you collect many coupons, to let them stack up and not take on the daily task of filing them but it might cost you more in time and savings later to try and get current.
Once you adopt a style of coupon organization that suits your personality, putting your list together and maximizing your savings will be a quick and efficient process.
How to use Coupons Effectively to Save Money
Anybody can cut out coupons and use them to save money, but the more experienced couponers know how to generate maximum savings, while still getting the products that they want. In their hands, coupons are almost as good as cash.
That is because they know the best couponing strategies to save money and they know how to organize themselves and their coupons, as well as plan ahead, so that they can make big savings.
This article aims to explain how to use coupons effectively to save money by employing some of the strategies, organization and planning that experienced couponers use.
Some of the ideas are actually quite simple and have been touched on before in articles such as Top 10 Tips for Coupon Shopping, but they are worth repeating as they radically help to ease your household budget and save money on groceries.
Remember, if you use coupons badly, you won’t save money – you may even end up buying products that don’t want or need. But use coupons effectively and employ the right strategies, organization and planning, and your coupons are as good as cash.
Be Prepared to Hang on to Your Coupons!
The main reason that you will need to save and organize your coupons is because in order to use coupons effectively, you will often have to use them at a later date, rather than straight away.
Be aware of the coupon expiration date, however, as you don’t want your coupons to expire!
One of the main reasons that you will need to hold onto your coupons is because your aim is to combine different sorts of coupons together – sale coupons, store coupons, manufacturers coupons. That way you can use coupons effectively to save money.
Combining coupons like this is known as ‘stacking’ and is one of the main strategies used by experienced couponers. This is one of the big secrets that you need to be aware of, if you want to save money couponing.
Learn the Coupon Policies of the Stores You use!
Make sure that you check out and get to know your local stores. Some stores don’t have an official policy, but the vast majority do. Print the coupon policy out, if necessary, so that you can refer to it.
More Great Couponing Ideas!
- Get to know your local stores and sign up to your store’s loyalty program.
- Forget loyalty to specific product brands if you want to get the best deals.
- Keep a price book and record prices for cheap products in the stores that you shop at, so that you can compare prices easily (it doesn’t have to literally be a book, you do it on the computer, if you prefer).
- Shop around and cherry pick the best deals from three or four stores, rather than just using one.
- Last but not least, practice ethical couponing and don’t try to cheat the system, which can hurt everybody!