Want to know how to use coupons without going crazy? It is possible. I’ve been doing it for years.
The short explanation of why I coupon: because I like to keep as much of my money as I can!
The longer explanation of why I coupon: between store sales that aren’t really sales, grocery shrink-rays, and the challenges of feeding a teenage boy, I need to make every penny in my grocery budget go as far as possible. I’m guessing you feel the same way about your money and budget, too.
When people tell me they don’t use coupon I always wonder why not?
Smart shoppers know they should never pay retail, but not everyone applies that directive to groceries. That makes no sense to me!
If you had the chance to buy a car at 20-40% less than it’s sticker price, wouldn’t you? Of course, you would! Plus, you’d consider the time spent researching vehicles, test driving cars, looking up MSRP’s and negotiating with salespeople as a necessary part of saving that kind of cash.
The same goes for saving money on groceries, which is why you should use coupons. Thankfully, it takes a LOT less time!
Money saved is money earned
Myth: Coupons don’t add up to much.
Truth: My average weekly coupon savings runs 33-48%. Let’s say I’m buying $120 in groceries but, thanks to coupons, pay only $81-63. I’m walking out the door with $39-57 more dollars than someone else buying the exact same groceries without coupons.
Payoff: That’s money which stays in my bank account so that I can put it toward other things like bills, our vacation fund, or even my savings account. That other guy? He has less money to pay the utility bill once it arrives.
It doesn’t take long to clip coupons
Myth: It’s too much of a hassle.
Truth: It takes 10 minutes or less to clip coupons. I usually clip them while watching TV. Most weeks there are two inserts, sometimes three. I only clip coupons for products we use (or that I want to try) so I’m often done before the first commercial break.
Payoff: Remember what I said about spending $39-57 less than a non-couponer on a $120 grocery bill? That’s not a bad return on 10 minutes. If that were an hourly wage it would be $239-342 per hour. I don’t know anyone so well off they’d think earning that kind of money is a hassle.
Coupons make bulk-buying affordable
Myth: Membership clubs are better deals.
Truth: While there are some great deals at membership stores, there are plenty of things that aren’t great deals at Costco or Sam’s. Frankly, when I compare their prices to those I’ve tracked in my grocery price book, I haven’t been all that impressed.
Payoff: Let’s do some math and you’ll see what I mean. Say Sam’s has a 55 oz. box of Honey Nut Cheerios priced at $7.99. That’s $0.15 per ounce. My grocery store sells 12.5 oz. boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios for $1.89 and I have a $1 off 3 boxes coupon. If I buy 3 boxes at $5.67 and use that coupon I pay $4.67 for 37.59 ounces of cereal… or $0.13 per ounce.
If I’ve got four of those $1 coupons (which I do, because they put one out just about every week), I can buy 12 boxes of cereal on sale and use coupons. I’m saving even more and I’m stocked up on cereal until the next time it goes on sale.
Bonus: Rather than having one 55 oz. box of cereal getting stale in my cupboard because my son can’t remember to close the bag, I’ve got one box going stale and 11 more still fresh in the pantry.
How to Use Coupons Without Going Crazy
1. Coupons from the Sunday Paper
Sunday newspapers are usually crammed full of coupons. So many, in fact, that a weekend subscription will quickly pay for itself. I don’t like trying to figure out where my delivery guy threw the paper, so I pick up a copy while running errands on Sunday morning.
On Sunday evenings, I clip coupons while watching TV and set them on a side table until I’m done. Then I grab my coupon organizer (I use this one) and file them.
If I find some particularly high-value coupons, I’ll log onto Coupons.com and print as many copies as I’m allowed, though I’m careful to set my printer to grayscale and draft mode, so I don’t wipe out my savings by spending it all on ink!
2. Check the Sales Flyers
Matching coupons to what’s on sale is the key to reaping significant savings, so the next step is thumbing through the grocery sales flyers. Find the items on sale that your family usually buys and match your coupons to them.
3. Check the Store’s App
Most stores now have shopping apps that let you load digital coupons. Most times, these aren’t as significant as the print versions but don’t worry: cash registers are programmed to apply the higher of the two.
With non-perishables, you might want to use both digital and paper coupons to save on multiples.
4. Make Your Grocery List
Make a list of everything you need from the store.
Although it’s old-school, I write my grocery list on the back of a junk mail envelope then tuck my coupons inside. That way, I never forget them at home!
5. Check Prices Anyway
By noting the value of coupons on your grocery list, you’re making it easy to compare prices. Sometimes you’ll find that even after coupons and sometimes a sale price, too, Product A still costs more than Product B.
What you don’t want to do is stand there in the middle of the aisle juggling your coupons, your list, and your calculator. It’s a hassle for you, and it’s frustrating for other shoppers who have to navigate around you. Don’t be that person.
6. Check Your Receipt for MORE Savings
You’ll often find two kinds of additional savings on your receipt. On the front, stores often print invitations for you to take a customer survey in exchange for purchase points or discounts on future purchases. Fill them out. If you have a loyalty card with the store (and you should), they’ve already got your info anyway — get some money out of it!
On the back, you’ll often find coupons for other products or sometimes even for use at businesses around town. I once discovered a coupon on a grocery receipt that saved me 50% on my next oil change. That scored me another $25, making it a very profitable grocery shopping trip indeed.
NOTE: This post has been revised and updated for republication.