Perhaps you’ve seen one of those television shows wherein a shopper uses an incredibly large amount of coupons to bring her grocery bill down to just a few dollars and cents at checkout. “If I can do it, anyone can do it!” this person exclaims, and we do want to believe her. Who wouldn’t want to save money at the food store? However, the people who save the most money generally spend quite a bit of time gathering coupons, organizing them and strategizing their shopping trips. Getting the kind of savings by using coupons that you see on TV may not be possible right away (and you may not have quite as much time to invest in couponing), but using coupons will save you money (in french we say “réduire ses dépenses“, I find that beautiful). Start small and then build up as your schedule and desire permit. Use the following 10 tips as your guide to making coupons pay:
1. Pick a shop. Choose the food store that you most often shop at to focus your couponing skills on first. It can be too overwhelming for a novice couponer to keep track of all the sales at all the stores in their area and coordinate trips to all of them. Usually, stores also have a minimum purchase amount to obtain sale items.
2. Familiarize yourself with your store’s coupon policy. Every store has its own rules regarding coupons. Stay up-to-date on the store’s rules and you avoid wasting your time planning purchases around coupons that your store will not honor.
3. Sign up for coupon websites. Open a free email account just for this purpose. If you search “couponing,” some of the top sites should come up. Join their mailing lists to receive free, printable coupons. Also join sites for products that you use regularly and know you’ll be buying. These companies appreciate brand loyalty and regularly offer coupons for their products on these sites; diapers, cereal and laundry detergent are just a few that come to mind.
4. Have a simple system. Most serious couponers have large, impressive-looking binders jam-packed with coupons in clear plastic sleeves–leave these systems for the future couponing you. Just starting out, all you really need is a small accordion file or plain envelopes (whichever you already have on hand will do). Don’t make the mistake of spending your future coupon savings on today’s coupon organization system.
5. Link your system to your store. Use one file slot or one envelope for every aisle in your chosen store. File your coupons according to aisle and also write your shopping list by aisle. Keep one envelope or file slot open for the coupons you know ahead of time that you’ll be using, but always bring all of your coupons with you every shopping trip.
6. Start clipping. If you’re already receiving coupons with your newspaper, start with those. Perhaps a friend, relative or neighbor has coupon inserts that they don’t want or need. If you choose, you may want to start purchasing the Sunday paper for the coupon inserts. However, if you’re just getting started, don’t buy multiple copies of the paper for the inserts or coupons from a clipping service. If you do not make use of these extra coupons, then you’ve wasted money instead of saving it. The coupons you will have on hand just from the paper and from the web will be enough to get you started.
7. Stick to a schedule. Choose one day/evening a week to “work” on couponing, i.e., clipping coupons, printing coupons from websites, filing, checking your store’s circular, etc. This ensures that you’ll never miss a great deal.
8. Keep track of your time. Be sure to note exactly how much time you’re spending on couponing and shopping and compare this time spent to the amount that you spent just on shopping alone. This gauge can help you decide if using a lot of coupons is worth your time and effort.
9. Keep track of your savings. This combined with tip no. 8 will help you to decide whether or not coupons pay for you. If you’re really not saving that much money and spending more time than you’d like trying to, maybe couponing isn’t for you.
10. Purge regularly. Nothing is more frustrating than having a great coupon (which will double!) matched to a great store sale item, only to find out at checkout that this great coupon has expired! Incorporate a check of expiration dates into the schedule that you have established to be sure that this never happens. Keeping coupons in order of oldest to newest (within their respective file) can also help