I will be the first to admit that I am NOT a professional couponer. I still have tons of tricks I need to learn, but I do know enough to teach you how to get started, and as I acquire new information I will update the page.
For me, the hardest part was learning to organize my coupons. Before, I would go into the store with a handful of coupons I had clipped out of the paper, not even loking to see if the items were on sale, and I would grab a buggy, grab my shopping list, and head through the store. I would scurry down each aisle, grab what I needed, check to see what coupons I might could use, and rush to the checkout. Half of the time I would end up not even handing the cashier my coupons because I would shove them in my purse, my pants pocket, or just throw them in the buggy never to see them again. I might leave the store with one coupon used and the others either forgotten or lost. This time I made sure that did NOT happen.
1. Organize your couopns. This is what hurt me in the past. I had no organizational system at all! When couponing you will hear of two popular organizational systems: binder and file system.
With the binder system you simply get your coupons together each week, (I’ll go into detail later on where to find your coupons) place them in your binder and you’re done. You then visit a coupon database (explained later) or look through your store sales papers and match your coupons to the sales. Advantage is that you always have your coupons with you when shopping so if you spot an unadvertised sale or a clearance item. Disadvantage is that unless you categorize, and possibly sub-categorize your coupons, you can spend hours just looking to see if you have any coupons for sale items.
The other system is great for beginners and takes a lot less time. With the file system you simply grab your coupon inserts out of the paper each Sunday, label each insert with the date that you purchased the paper, then simply file the circular until you are ready to look for coupons on the database. Advantage is that you normally only have to spend 10-15 minutes a week clipping your coupons. Disadvantage is that you walk into the store with only the coupons you clipped, so if you see unadvertised sales or clearance items you do not have your extra coupons on hand.
Some people say they do not like carrying a binder because they do get bulky after a while, and they do take up room in the shopping cart, but others say they never leave home without their binder. Others choose to use the file system, but still carry a small organizer with them while shopping in case they find unadvertised or clearance bargains. You choose the system that works best for you. If you have to, try one method for a while and if doesn’t seem to work for you, switch to the other system. If that still doesn’t work, create your own method. This is your coupon world, you create it however you want.
2. Start slow. As tempting as it may seem to clip out every coupon and hit every single grocery store in your area, DON’T! The quickest way to get burnt out on couponing is trying to do too much too fast. Every fellow couponer I have spoken to has the same advice, “Start with one store, focus on that store’s policies and procedures regarding coupons, and base your coupons on that store.” Most stores have their coupon policies listed on their websites, and I also plan on providing policies to the biggest grocery chains in the next few weeks. Once you know the ins and outs of one store, and become comfortable with the couponing and shopping process for that store, up your couponing to two stores, then three, up until you have covered all the stores in your area. Yes, this takes time, and yes, you may end up missing a big sale at another store at first, but it’s better to lost one or two big sales than to drive yourself completely insane the first week to the point that you give up couponing all together.
3. Join online coupon forums. Online coupon forums have tons of members who have been couponing for years. Take advantage of these forums. Sign up, say hello, share your story, and connect with fellow couponers. I, myself, love WeUseCoupons.com. They not only have a coupon forum you can participate in, but they also post all the best store deals for the week. They also have a coupon database which allows you to find the best prices of the week and tells you where to find coupons for those deals
4. Become familiar with coupon databases. Coupon databases are websites that feature all of the weekly deals from all of the bigger grocery stores. Most even list the deals from national drugstores and department stores. WeUseCoupons.com has a wonderful coupon database on their website that I visit quite frequently. Another wonderful coupon database is CouponMom.com. On her website, the owner not only lists the weekly deals, she only includes the sale price, coupon amount if the the item has a coupon, the final price you will pay after the coupon, as well as the percentage of savings you will receive by using your coupons. She also makes searching through your coupons easy because she lists what day the coupon came out, as well as, where you can find that coupon. She also lets you know of any online coupons you can print out for each item.
5. Don’t use a coupon just because you have it. In the beginning it is tempting to use every single you have just for the thrill of using it. This is the absolute wrong thing to do! Often times you will buy things not on sale just so you can use the coupon. Hang on to your coupons until you know the item is on sale. Often times companies will put items on sale right before the coupon expires, so it’s best to hold on to your coupons as long as possible. Doing this may result in a few coupons expiring, but I would much rather have a coupon expire than to pay double or even triple for an item just because I wanted to use a coupon.
6. Get multiple coupons. The easiest way to do this is to buy two newspapers every Sunday, but there are other ways to build up your coupon stash. There are tons of websites online where you can print out coupons. One of the biggest is Coupons.com. You will find a ton of coupons every week that you can print from your home computer. You will be asked to download the coupon printing software, but it is completely safe and will not harm your computer in any way. You can find websites with printable coupons by doing a simple web search, but I will also be posting a list of websites in the near future.
7. Use online savings programs. Not only are there websites that allow to print online coupons, there are also websites that allow you to load coupons to your store cards. This keeps you from having to print a ton of coupons each week, and ensures that you don’t forget a particular coupon when you prepare your shopping list. There are two main online savings programs that couponers use: SavingStar.com and UPromise.com. SavingStar allows you to go on their website, insert your store cards information, select which weekly coupons you would like to use, then loads those coupons onto all the store cards you have on file. You then simply go to the store, swipe your store card, and the online coupon is taken off. Once you have reached a certain payout amount, SavingStar will send you a rebate for the amount of money you saved in coupons. For example: if you use a coupon for $1.00 off, SavingStar will send you a rebate for that $1.00.
UPromise works a little differently. With UPromise, you still go through each week and choose what coupons you want loaded onto your store cards, but rather than sending you a rebate when you reach a certain payout amount, UPromise loads the money into a college savings account for you or your children. If you have a little one at home, this would be a great way to save for college!
8. Combine coupons with store sales, store cards, rebate forms, etc. Almost all major retailers now have some form of rewards program. Most have a store card that allows you to get additional savings on items simply for being a member. Each and every grocery visit, be sure to not only hand the cashier your coupons, but also your store card. Also, if your store has an in-store coupon kiosk, be sure to visit it as soon as you enter the store. Oftentimes you can find in-store coupons for items on your shopping list, and in most stores, you are allowed to combine those in-store coupons with your printed and manufacturer coupons. That’s double the savings!! For any items you purchase that may have a rebate form attached, be sure to always send in the rebate! Most companies only require the original store receipt and the item UPC in order for you to receive the rebate.
9. Always buy the smallest size of an item. Most coupons give you a specific size to purchase. When shopping, always choose the smallest size allowed. You end up getting a smaller size item, but it greatly increases the savings you receive from your coupon, so choose small. For instance, if one bottle of lotion is $5.00 for a 16oz. bottle, but the 8oz. size is only $2.00, when using a coupon for $1.00 off, you would end up paying $4.00 for the 16oz. bottle, but only $1.00 for the 8oz. bottle!! Buying smaller is how most extreme couponers end up getting items absolutely free.
10. Keep a stockpile. A stockpile is simply a build-up for items. If you have ever watched Extreme Couponing, you will see some couponers with $20,000 or more in stockpiles in their homes! You create a stockpile by simply buying extra of items when they are at their lowest price. When you find a great deal, be sure to have several coupons for those items, and stock up. Buy as many as you can. This will not only allow you to have extra items stored up in your home, but it also allows you to stock up on those items that may only come out a few times a year (Christmas cereals, Christmas air fresheners, etc.). It also ensures that you get the best deal possible on an item. Once you reach a stockpile amount you are happy with, you do not even have to consider buying that item again until there is another huge sale.