Coupons

Couponing 101

There are five key steps to using coupons strategically:

Locate resources for obtaining coupons.

Determine which coupons to cut.

Organize your coupons.

Learn how to maximize your savings.

Maintain your coupon stash.

1) Locate resources for obtaining coupons.

The best place to find coupons is in your Sunday newspaper.  If you don’t already subscribe to the paper, you may be able to choose to have only the Sunday newspaper delivered.  Of course you could always go to the store each Sunday to buy a copy (or several), or you could get a discounted subscription by ordering online at DiscountedNewspapers.com or Subscription-Offers.com.  Once you’ve got the hang of strategic couponing you’ll probably want to buy several copies of the newspaper each week.  Be sure to check the 2010 Schedule of Coupon Inserts so that you’ll know ahead of time if there will be coupon inserts in the paper and how many to expect.  Most weeks there will be at least two coupon inserts, one each from Red Plum and Smart Source.  Occasionally you will also find a Proctor & Gamble insert as well.  Don’t forget to look for coupons in the store inserts such as CVS, RiteAid, Target, Walgreens, and your local grocery store.

The Internet is also a wonderful place to get coupons.  Many manufacturer and retailer websites will post coupons for their products, as will some drug stores and super centers, but you’ll find the majority of printable online coupons at Coupons.com and the websites of the companies that print the weekly newspaper inserts (i.e. Red Plum, Smart Source).  There are also a few new services that allow users to download coupons to their cell phone or rewards card.  These coupons are typically deducted at checkout when you present your rewards card, or in the case of UPromise, the money is added to a college fund that you setup as you wish.  Following is a list of all the top coupon sites:

Printable Coupons

Downloadable Coupons

2) Determine which coupons to cut.

I’ve always clipped coupons, but before I became a strategic couponer I only clipped the coupons for products that I already used and threw the rest away.  My theory was that if I bought a product I didn’t normally use just because I had a coupon, then I wasn’t really saving any money.  I have since learned that through strategic couponing I can get many products for free, or close to free, if I’m willing to try out new brands.  In fact, one of the best things about strategic couponing for me is that my family of seven is now able to try any number of name brand products, and we don’t have to settle for generics or the cheapest products on the market any more.

To take best advantage of available deals, I highly recommend that you clip EVERY coupon you find, no matter if its for a product you may use or not.  Keep two separate stashes of coupons – the ones you may possibly use, and the ones that you’re pretty sure you won’t use.  For example, I clip every coupon I find – from magazines, newspapers, inserts – and I organize all the ones I could potentially use in my Coupon Clutch binder (more about that later), and I keep all the rest in a small check file for potential trades.  Although I don’t need denture adhesive, I will keep coupons for it to trade with someone who does.  It is illegal to buy or sell coupons, however it is perfectly fine to trade coupons so there are several active forums for trading coupons like A Full Cup and Hot Coupon World.

There are a couple of options if you’re buying multiple newspapers for the inserts.  Some people like to get multiple coupon inserts but only clip and file one set, while keeping the extra copies in file folders organized by date.  You can search our coupon database or the ones at A Full Cup or Hot Coupon World and quickly locate the file for the appropriate coupon and clip as needed, saving the time of clipping and filing every coupon.  Due to the sheer volume of coupons that I use, I have chosen a different method.  I always buy the newspaper in multiples of two (so 2, 4 or 6 papers depending on the coupons available) then I tear each insert into individual pages and stack the matching pages.  If I only have two papers then I just stack them and cut two pages at a time.  If I have four or more papers then I will take the stacks and staple them together on one side, making sure not to staple through any coupons, which helps to keep the pages stable while I cut through them all at once.

You can start slowly if you’d like, or try out a few different methods to see what works best for you.  The beauty of strategic couponing is that you can decide how much or how little time you want to spend, and if you keep your coupon stash well organized then you will save yourself a LOT of time AND money!

3)  Organize your coupons.

check_fileIf you are only clipping one set of inserts you could probably get away with using a canceled check file similar to the one pictured here for around $5.  This is the type I started out with and I still use it today for my “extra” coupons that I plan to trade.  There are typically twelve divided pockets in a canceled check file that are organized by month or alphabetically so you will want to organize your coupons alphabetically by manufacturer name.  For example, place Domino sugar coupons under “D” for Domino rather than “S” for sugar.  This method will also work well for those just starting out, while you’re deciding how much time and effort you want to spend getting the deals.

coupon_clutch250If you’re clipping several copies of inserts and printing online coupons then you will need a more advanced organization system like a coupon binder.  Coupon binders range in price from about $25 to $40 depending on the style and what is included.  You can get several different plain styles of coupon binders on eBay, or you can visit CouponClutch.com for a gorgeous handmade fabric covered binder that looks like a designer tote, they even have a do it yourself coupon binder kit there where you can choose to just buy the plastic inserts and tabbed dividers to put in a binder of your own.

4)  Learn how to maximize your savings.

The magic of strategic couponing happens when you ONLY buy things that are on sale, and of course the few staples (milk, eggs, etc.) that you need for the week. The trick here is to stockpile items when they’re on sale so that you’re always paying the lowest possible price for the things you need and use. Instead of buying enough coffee for the week, you get enough for the month while its on sale, and instead of buying enough toothpaste or toilet paper for the month, you buy enough for six months when you can get it on sale. It won’t take long, and once you’ve built up a bit of a stockpile you’ll see how easy it can be to get those high numbers like 70-90% off.

There are so many wonderful resources online that you can find out everything you need to know for free, but if you’d prefer to learn one on one from a teacher or through a workshop, there are plenty of those available as well.  Take advantage of the strategic shopping pages on this site then look through our local pages so you can subscribe to or follow money saving blogs based in your local area to maximize your savings.  Don’t limit yourself to your local area, also look for sites that focus on your favorite stores or blogs that follow national chains and you’ll get all kinds of free information sent directly to your inbox or RSS reader.

The stores I visit most often are Publix, CVS and Walgreens so I follow several bloggers that do matchups of coupons and sales for those stores.  Every week when planning my shopping trip(s) I copy the matchups for each store and paste them into a Word document that I name based on the store and the date I plan to shop there (i.e. publix_111809.docx, cvs_113009.docx).  I sit in front of the computer with my coupon clutch and go through the list one item at a time.  I delete the items from the list that I’m not interested in and pull or print all the matching coupons before I print the final list that I’ll carry to the store with me.  I put all of the coupons that I plan to use in the side pocket inside my coupon clutch, then carry the whole thing into the store with me so I have the others handy in case I find any in store deals or clearance items that I can further discount with a coupon.

Remember, strategic couponing is a learning experience and it will take a little time to get the hang of it, but it really is fun and the more you save the more you’ll enjoy it!  On my first few attempts at strategic couponing I only saved about 40-50%, but I was THRILLED with that since it can get pretty expensive to feed a large family like mine, or really any family for that matter.  Now I routinely save between 70-90% and I keep track of my savings because I love to see how I’m doing and to share the deal information with others who might be interested (i.e. brag to my mom and husband).

5) Maintain your coupon stash.

As you’re going through your coupons to plan your shopping trips each week you should be on the lookout for any expired or soon to be expired coupons. Remove the expired ones and keep an eye out for any valuable soon-to-be expired coupons that you may not want to miss out on using.  Also be sure to keep any duplicates together in your binder so you can easily tell how many you have of each specific coupon.

If you’ve found a particularly interesting deal and you don’t have enough coupons then search for some more to add to your stash by searching for coupons at eBay, pay a clipping service like Select Coupon or my new favorite Coupons and Things by Dede, or head back to A Full Cup or Hot Coupon World and trade for the coupons you need.

Here are some of my favorite coupon information sites – check them out and subscribe if you find them useful:

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