It’s not easy making a budget that covers both necessities and life’s sanity-saving luxuries, but knowing how to use coupons effectively will help.
If you tried the methods used by extreme couponers but found them burdensome, these six essential tips to using coupons effectively are game-changers.
Using Coupons Is Worth the Effort
Grocery shopping is annoying enough! I just want to get in, spend as little money as possible, and get home.
So, I use coupons to keep as much of my money as I can. Also, I intensely dislike the games that manufacturers and stores play with consumers’ finances.
- Fake “sales.” Stores often falsely markup goods for a period of time and then lower the price to its original point so they can call it a sale.
- Product shrinkage. Manufacturers have been shrinking the size of things — with or without shrinking the packaging — so people are paying the same money but getting less product.
- Price variations. Stores use all sorts of data to track how much people in an area are willing to pay for things. The price in one city may be much higher than in another, not because it costs the store more to provide it, but because the residents are willing to pay more.
Myth: Coupons Don’t Save Much Money
Truth: My average weekly coupon savings run 33-48% of my pre-tax grocery bill.
- So, let’s say I’m buying $120 in groceries. Thanks to coupons, I’m paying only $81-63.
- That means I’m walking out the door with $39-57 more dollars than someone else buying the same groceries without coupons.
Myth: Clipping Coupons is a Hassle
Truth: It takes 10-20 minutes to clip coupons. Most weeks there are two inserts in the Sunday paper, sometimes three. If you stick with clipping coupons for items you already use, you may be done even faster.
- 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 $234-342 per hour.
- It’s even better if you’re fortunate enough to have a store that will double coupons on certain days!
I don’t know anyone so well off they’d think earning that kind of money is a hassle.
Myth: Membership Club Savings Are Better Than Coupons
Truth: There are some great deals at membership stores, but there are plenty of things that aren’t great deals at Costco or Sam’s.
When I compare some of their prices to those I’ve tracked in my grocery price book, I haven’t been impressed. (Here’s more about how to use a grocery price book.)
- 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 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 stack them on top of the sale price to save even more. Plus, I’m stocked up on cereal until the next time it goes on sale.
6 Tips to Use Coupons Effectively
1. Buy the Sunday Paper Every Week
Printed newspapers are on their way out now that people can get instant news updates online. But the Sunday newspaper remains worth a “weekend-only” subscription since it spares you from rushing to find a copy before extreme couponers grab them all.
There are usually two, and sometimes three coupon inserts in the Sunday paper. Clip the ones for the products your family uses, and maybe a few things you’d like to try out. Then file them in an organizer and stash them in your purse, so they’re with you next time you shop.
(Here’s the coupon organizer I use. The labeled dividers make it easy to find what I need, and it doesn’t take up much room in my bag.)
If you find some particularly high-value coupons, log onto coupon sites like Coupons.com or RedPlum.com and print as many copies as allowed. Set your printer to grayscale and draft mode, so you don’t wipe out your savings by spending it all on ink.
2. Check the Sales Flyers
Using coupons to buy things that are on sale is the best way to maximize your savings. So, before you make your menu plan for the week, thumb through the grocery sales flyers in the paper.
If you see a sale for something your family uses often and you have multiple coupons for it, stock up! Don’t forget you can use the space under beds to stash bulk packages of toilet paper or paper towels, while extra canned goods or food in sealed jars can go above cupboards.
3. Check the Store’s App
Most stores now have shopping apps that let you load digital coupons. These digital store coupons are often of lower value than the printed manufacturer coupons, but cash registers are programmed to apply the higher of the two.
If you’re buying multiples of the same item, you might want to use the paper coupons on some and the digital ones for the rest.
4. Make Your Grocery List
After you’ve clipped coupons, browsed the sales flyers, and planned your menu for the week, it’s time to create a strategic grocery list to use on your shopping trip.
- Write down everything you plan to purchase. Sort it by category if you like.
- Next to each item, note any coupons you have and how much the coupon is for.
- Be sure to indicate if you need multiples, Buy One Get One deals (BOGOs), or if you have to buy one product to get a free version of another one. You don’t want to figure that stuff out in the store.
- Pull the relevant coupons and clip them to your list, then tuck the whole thing in your coupon organizer.
Now you’re ready to head to the store and start saving.
5. Check Prices Anyway
Since your grocery list notes the value of the coupons you plan to use, it’s easy to compare prices you see in the store.
Sometimes you’ll find that even after coupons Product A still costs more than Product B. If that’s the case, thumb through your coupon organizer to see if you have a coupon for Product B, too.
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 coupons printed on your receipt as well. Be sure you don’t leave it at the store.
- Take the customer survey! If you’re a store loyalty cardmember, you’ll almost always get an invitation to take a customer survey in exchange for discounts on future purchases. They only take a couple of minutes, but after several, the savings add up.
- Check the coupons on the back. Local businesses often offer discounts on the back of grocery store receipts for everything from free appetizers at their restaurant to half-price oil changes. Don’t overlook those savings!
Don’t Forget About Amazon Coupons, Too
If clipping paper coupons and finding deals in the store flyers don’t fit into your lifestyle, you can still save money. Check out Amazon’s Coupon Page for one-click savings, or use a site like Rakuten to get money back for purchases — sometimes even on things you’re buying on Amazon!