Couponing for Noobs

Coupons!My wife has been a deal hunter & coupon clipper for a long time now, but I’m still very much a couponing noob. The little bit of insight I have into the crazy world of coupon shopping has come from trips to the grocery store with Ames. Ever since we started Publix 4 Pennies though, I find myself thinking and talking about couponing a lot.

It’s not a new or a glamorous hobby by any means. In fact, I remember how my mom used to furiously sort through her coupons before heading to the grocery checkout when I was a kid. When I bring the topic up with friends, it seems anyone who worked their way through college eating Ramen Noodles has at least given it a try. Unfortunately though, most of them quit couponing because they couldn’t keep up with it or came to the conclusion that it was more trouble than what it was worth. I would fall into the latter camp. Clipping and organizing hundreds of sporadically expiring coupons just to save 25¢ here and 60¢ there always seemed like a waste of precious time.

Well, seeing Amy work her coupon magic has made me a believer. Yes, there’s a time investment involved, but if you stick with it and get organized you can easily cut your grocery budget by 60% or more. Sound worthwhile? Here are 8 key steps I’ve learned from Amy about how to become a coupon pro:

  1. Collect Them All!

    Every Sunday, we buy 6-8 newspapers at $2 a pop…just for the coupons. This may seem a bit absurd to some, but the Sunday paper is a great source of coupons. If used, these coupons pay for the price of the newspapers many, many times over. On most weeks you will find 2 main inserts in your Sunday paper: RedPlum & SmartSource. The Sunday paper isn’t the only source of coupons though. In fact, you can usually find several while walking around your grocery store in the form of peelies, blinkies, tearpads & hangtags. Grocery store flyers are another great source of coupons. If you have a particular grocery chain that you like to go to, don’t throw away the flyers for the other grocery stores in your area. Many stores will also honor coupons from their competitors. Finally, there is a growing number of sources on the web to find legitimate coupons such as coupons.com, upromise.com, RedPlum and SmartSource. Keep your eyes peeled because coupons are everywhere. The more coupons you collect, the more opportunities you have of not paying retail.

  2. Get Organized

    Once you’ve cut out the coupons from your newspaper, you’ll quickly realize how crucial it is to get them organized. Amy has tried several methods of organizing her coupons, but she currently uses a zip-up 3 ring binder with photo and baseball card pages to hold the coupons. For each main grocery store category she has a tabbed divider so she can quickly find the coupon she’s looking for. For more details about her organizational tricks and a list of other organizational options, check out the Getting Organized page.

  3. Let Go of Brand Loyalties

    Most people have a tendency of always buying the same brand of a particular product. Kashi cereal, Green Giant frozen vegetables, Palmolive dish soap…you may think it’s your favorite, but if you insist on Breakstone sour cream over Daisy, you might miss a killer deal. Getting you to try different products and services is the primary motive for manufacturers to produce coupons. Keeping your brand options open will always allow you to save more money. On the flip side, a lot of people buy generic or store brands because they think they’ll save money. If you’re paying retail, this is usually true, but with coupons and sales, brand name items are almost always cheaper than the store brand.

  4. Plan your Trips

    We’ve all been there before. You’re on the way home from work, you’re hungry, you don’t feel like eating out and you know there’s nothing quick to cook at home. This is not the time to do your weekly grocery shopping. Set aside some time to look through your store’s sale ad and plan to buy the things you need that are on sale…that you have coupons for. If you shop at Publix most of the work of matching up those weekly deals with the current coupons is already done in our weekly deals posts. We’ve even taken it a step further and added check boxes next to each sale item so you can create your own shopping list. Planning your shopping trip before you go to the store will make it easier to save money and might also prevent you from coming home with loads of cookies, cheese, beer & ice cream…well, it might.

  5. Combine Whenever Possible

    A buy-one-get-one sale on pasta sauce is great and adding a manufacturer coupon for each bottle is even better. Most people don’t know though that you can combine (or stack) a manufacturer, a store and a competitor coupon for every item. You’ll want to check with your grocery store’s policies, but stacking coupons can often result in big savings. Also, some coupons offer a discount on a separate, but related item. For instance, there was recently a coupon for $6 off Pork when you bought Kingsford Charcoal. Because the coupon didn’t count toward the charcoal, you could also use a $2 off Kingsford charcoal coupon and a coupon from another grocery store that offered a free bottle of barbeque sauce when you buy charcoal. Again, the more coupons you have, the more opportunities you have to save money. You just have to know what coupons you have and what the deals are.

  6. Be assertive, but be Ethical

    If you use stacks of coupons every time you hit the grocery store checkout, you will inevitably be harassed by cashiers and store managers about the validity of the individual coupons you are using. As long as you are confident about the authenticity of the coupons you have and that they are valid for the items you are purchasing, you shouldn’t let this make you feel like a criminal. Keep in mind that coupon fraud is fairly common and that it’s the cashier’s job to prevent it.

  7. Save More than You Spend

    A receipt from most grocery stores will show you how much you saved along with how much you spent. Amy’s rule of thumb is that if you’re not saving as much as you spend (50%) then you’re not really trying. Remember that 60% number I mentioned above? As long as you’re saving as much as you spend, you’ll be cutting your grocery budget (for that trip at least) by close to 60% and therefore deserve a pat on the back.

  8. Create a Stockpile

    No, you don’t really need 10 tubes of toothpaste or 8 boxes of cereal, but if you get an amazing deal and will use the items before they expire, you can hold out until the next amazing deal on said item. This was (and still is) the hardest part of couponing for me to get over. I’m a minimalist and I hate excess, but if you wait till you need something to buy it, you’ll probably pay a premium.

If I missed any good points, feel free to post your own “couponing for noobs” tips in the comments below. Best of luck and happy savings!

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