You have discovered couponing! This is a wonderful world, but it can be very overwhelming. So how exactly do you begin? I’ve put this together to help those new to couponing to learn where to start. First off some points I want to make:
Have Realistic Expectations
You have seen “Extreme Couponing” and you too want to save 99% of your grocery bill. This is a wonderful goal but remember that this will take a long time to obtain, if ever. These savings are achieved over time as you collect coupons and build up a stockpile. Eventually you will have enough items on hand that you can be picky about sales and only buy free and cheap items.
I am not trying to discourage you at all; I just want to make sure you have realistic expectations. From watching “Extreme Couponing” it’s easy to think you can achieve their savings after only an hour or two of work. But that is just not realistic. Couponing does take time and effort.
Realize the Costs
Sure the people on that show save a ton of money, but how much are they putting in to get that savings? You have to balance the savings with the amount of time needed to achieve that savings. If you are taking too much time away from your family then the savings is not worth it in the end. Find the balance of time and savings for you. Also, remember, the longer you coupon the less time it takes. After a while you instinctively know what is a good deal and a good coupon. You will find a system and a balance.
I believe it is entirely possible to save 50% or more on your grocery bill. The savings will vary depending on your family size, eating habits, and the stores available to you. But everyone can use coupons, and everyone can save!
Some Basic Rules of Coupons:
Coupons may only be used once. You may not buy ten boxes of cereal and scan the coupon for $1 off cereal ten times. The store will only be reimbursed for the single coupon you scanned – they would lose $9 for the nine additional times you scanned the coupon.
You may not use two coupons on one item. You may not buy one package of diapers and use ten coupons on it. You may only use one of your coupons on the diapers. You may, however, use one store coupon and one manufacturer coupon on one item if the store allows it.
Coupons may not be copied. Copying coupons is illegal. Do not do it. There are many ways to obtain multiples of coupons in legal ways like buying multiple newspapers.
Read the wording of the coupon and ignore the picture. Manufacturer’s commonly put a picture of their most expensive product to get you to buy that item. But if you actually read the terms of the coupon you will see it can be used on various size or type of products such as “any of xyz product”. That means you can buy even the least expensive product and still save with the coupon! Always follow the size and type wording of the coupon.
You can use a coupon on an item that is on sale or clearance too. Occasionally the cashier will try to tell you otherwise, but a quick chat with the manager or corporate can clear that up.
Do not use expired coupons even if they scan. If you have a stash of expired coupons, consider sending them to military families overseas. They can use them up to six months past their expiration date.
Per Purchase vs Per transaction – Understanding the difference between the coupon terms “limit one coupon per purchase” and “one coupon per transaction” is an important aspect of couponing. “Limit one coupon per purchase” means one coupon per item. Each item you buy is a purchase. So if you purchase ten boxes of crackers you can use ten coupons. They want to prevent you from thinking you can buy one box of crackers and use two manufacturer coupons on the same item. You should be able to use one coupon per item purchased. Of course, if the coupon is for “$1 off the purchase of two” you’ll need to buy two and you can only use one coupon for those two products. “Limit one coupon per transaction” simply means your entire shopping trip.
Okay, now on to How to Begin:
Step 1- Gather cCupons
You never know what will go on sale and when, so a supply of coupons on hand allow you to swoop in and get your great deal when it pops up. Coupons come from many places: Newspaper inserts, coupon websites, product websites, store websites, product Facebook pages, store shelves (blinkies, tearpads, and peelies), magazines, brochures, and product packaging. Get your hands on them however you can. Always get a Sunday newspaper (most experienced couponers get multiple papers). Ask your friends and family to save the inserts as well. You can also trade, and even buy coupons, as needed.
Step 2- Organize Your Coupons
You need to know what you have and you need to be able to find it. Some options are baggies, envelopes, recipe boxes, binders, accordion files, etc. There are many systems people use – find what works best for you!
Step 3 – Plan your shopping trip
Make sure you know your store’s coupon policy (do they accept internet printed ccoupons, limit the number of coupons per transaction, can you stack store and manufacturer coupons, do they double coupons and if so how many). If you cannot find it online ask at customer service or the manager. Get organized before you leave the house – Get your store ads in paper or from online. Check the ad for cheap prices and make a list of the things you want to buy at each store. Check for deals others have posted here on AFC. Then clip your coupons and keep them with your list. Also, try to find a convenient time to go shopping – It’s better to avoid the rush hours and it’s easier without the kids.
Step 4 – Go shopping
Look at your list and gather your items. Don’t forget to check out clearance areas for good deals. Don’t be embarrassed to use coupons! Understand that coupons will slow down the check out process, so be prepared for that and don’t be embarrassed. Watch the register – sometimes the sales prices don’t ring up correctly, and sometimes coupons don’t scan. Be prepared to say something if needed.
Step 5 – Stockpile
Avid couponing leads to stockpiling! The goal here is to buy before you need an item while it’s cheap or free, and avoid having to buy it at full price when you have to have it. Buy multiple items at your rock bottom price (you will soon learn what is your rock bottom price, it varies for everyone because of store/pricing/needs variations). That way you won’t pay full price when you really need to have it. Also it eliminates the need to run to the store when you are out of something, and will cut out those impulse buys. Sales tend to cycle so try to buy enough to get you to the next cycle.
A Few Random Things:
Start Small! Start with one store and only a few coupons and build up from there. I recommend new couponers first learn how to create a shopping list and complete trips at their local grocery store, and then move on to new stores as they get comfortable. Each chain has different rules and systems. Learn one, then move on to the next. Once you are comfortable at your grocery stores then move on to learning a drug store (CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid). Drug stores offer amazing deals but are very complicated to learn. Only approach those after you get settled into couponing.
Realize Sales Come and Go. Don’t try to hit them all or you will go crazy. If you miss a deal, don’t beat yourself up – a new one is just around the corner. Make sure you balance family time with couponing – it can easily consume you if you aren’t careful.
Just because you have a coupon doesn’t make it a deal! A common pitfall to new couponers is buying things because you have a coupon. If you won’t use it and its not free then don’t buy it. You will just be spending unnecessarily if you spend money on something you don’t need or want.
Be Respectful. Remember that cashiers and other shoppers are human beings. Be respectful and polite in your shopping and couponing. Try not to empty a shelf just because you can. Be courteous to your cashier – most are just trying to do the right thing and follow the rules. They don’t want to get in trouble. If they don’t know all the rules then politely help to educate them. Remember you catch more flies with honey than vinegar!
Be patient with yourself and have fun!! If you expect too much of yourself right off the bat you will get frustrated and quit. Keep trying, keep going, and soon all this will be second nature. Remember even if you only save $5, that’s still $5 more than last week!
You can do it. Have fun, and enjoy this new world of couponing!