Up front, before anything else: I am NOT an extreme couponer. I don’t have a garage stockpiled with 50 cans of soup or 100 razors. I don’t buy things I don’t need just because they’re cheap. So if you’re searching for something like the extreme shows on TV, I’m probably not the best source.
However, I am an average housewife (a modern one, of course!) and save hundreds of dollars each year using coupons. If you would like to do the same…while remaining normal…this is the place to be.
While I have covered the basic of couponing in the past, I’m going to condense and update it for readers both old and new. Couponing 101…just in time for 2015.
Where do I find coupons?
- Sunday paper (I recommend paying for the Sunday subscription…if you subscribe, it’s cheaper than at the newsstand…plus it’s delivered to your door).
- Other regional/local papers. For example, our Thursday local paper (yes, Thursday) has more coupons than our Sunday paper. But I have to go to a certain store to find it.
- In your mailbox (ValuePak, RedPlum circular, and restaurant coupons show up without any effort).
- At stores. Some have a bin or box by the front door that people drop in coupons they don’t need. Stores will also often have coupons placed near products throughout the store. And some stores print coupons at the checkout based on your purchases.
- And the #1 source: online!
1. For printing coupons, I recommend SendEarnings and MyPoints before anywhere else, as you get cash/points back for every coupon redeemed. If you prefer not to use SendEarnings or MyPoints, you can go directly to the coupon sites yourself: Coupons.com and SmartSource.com are the two big ones.
2. SavingStar is one of the best programs out there. You don’t actually print coupons, but rather purchase selected items and get cash back.
3. Apps. Ibotta is one of my favorite. I also like Checkout51.
5. Grocery store websites. More and more stores are allowing you to virtually clip coupons and load them on your store loyalty card. In addition, there are special offers not available anywhere else (such as 10% off entire order).
6. Retail Store Coupons. One of the best sources of savings is via “store” coupons, such as Barnes & Noble, A&F, Bath & Body Works, Dillards, Nordstroms, etc. The best way to get these coupons is by signing up for the specific store’s online newsletters.
How do I organize all those coupons?
In general, people use one of two methods: expanding file type of organizer -or- zipper binder.
- With either method, you first sort by category (aka: frozen food, produce, etc.).
- Then, within that category, you sort further by brand, type of product, or expiration date. (I sort by expiration date).
Below is a screenshot of a decent expanding file type organizer that I found (I haven’t used it…just thought it looked better than some of the cheap plastic ones you run across).
I personally use a zipper binder. At first I was a bit hesitant (I really, really didn’t want to look like a crazy coupon lady), but it has by far been one of my best purchases. See my detailed, step-by-step post “How to Make a Coupon Organizer Binder” for pictures & how to organize should you decide to go that route.
Time spent? Money saved?
This is the most important equation when using coupons. More time spent should equal more savings.
The amount of time couponing takes is completely up to you. I spend between 1-2 hours each week. Maybe 3 hours if I’m doing extra research on a site or app (but that’s because I do research for all of you!).
Generally, time invested should correlate to amount saved. If you’re putting in extra time & not getting extra savings, try to figure out why. I personally save about $2,000 a year. $100 a month, on average, is on grocery and like items. The other $800 is on retail coupons, cash back from shopping, rebates, and other misc. savings.
General guidelines to follow:
- RARELY PAY FULL PRICE for anything except fresh meat, produce, and (maybe) dairy. If it comes in a box or a can, find a sale or find a coupon. If it’s in the cooler or freezer and is brand name (Kraft cheese, lunchmeat, Red Baron pizza), find a sale or use a coupon. If it is for personal use- such as toilet paper, razors, over-the-counter medicine, toothpaste- find a sale AND use a coupon.
- Don’t buy a more expensive product just because you have a coupon. If X brand of cheese is normally $2.99 and Y brand is $3.99 and you have a coupon for $.50 for brand Y, DON’T BUY IT. You’re still paying more than you would for X brand.
- Don’t use a coupon just because it’s about to expire. A product costing $2.99 after using a coupon & never used is $2.99 thrown in the trash. Letting the coupon expire and not using it is just a piece of paper thrown in the trash.
- Take your coupon organizer with you to the grocery store. Do NOT pull out the coupons you think you’ll need and leave the rest at home. You’ll notice sales in the store. If ketchup is BOGO (buy one, get one free), and you have a coupon, you don’t want to discover you didn’t bring it because you weren’t planning on buying ketchup.
- Sort through coupons on a regular basis. I actually pull out all coupons expiring in the next two weeks. Husband and I both go through them and see if there are any we want to use. For example, we eat tons of brown minute rice. If one comes up as close to expiring, I’ll go ahead and buy it (using the coupon) because I know it will be quickly consumed. This method prevents that… “oh, darn, that coupon expired two days ago and I ALWAYS buy that item!”
- When shopping online, ALWAYS, ALWAYS check for promo codes and get cash back.
If you’re not getting cash back on an online purchase, you’re doing something wrong.
My personal checklist:
- Check SavingsStar. They opened a “Cashback Mall” which I’ve used multiple times. If I can get an extra 5% back for shopping at Wal-Mart, I’ll take it.
- If the store I’m looking for isn’t there, I try MyPoints.
- Next, I check my credit cards. Some offer an incentive above and beyond normal cash back rewards for going through their website.
- Lastly, if I can’t find anything else, I go ahead and purchase the item. Using my Discover card which gives me cash back. Note: We only use credit cards because we pay them off IN FULL every single month. Even a single month’s interest can wipe out any savings the various rewards programs offer. But I’m sure you all know that.