I know there are lots of people excited about using coupons thanks in part to the new reality TV show called Extreme Couponing. I know this little world can seem very overwhelming at first and I am getting lots of questions about where on Earth you can begin if you are new to using coupons.
I will have a series for you to learn the ins and outs of coupons from the very beginning. I am hoping this is easy to digest information that will have you saving big before you know it.
I should tell you that the show features people that are… well Extreme. I do not typically shop like the people showcased on the show nor do my children sleep in the bathtub so I can make more room to store my deodorant collection. I personally have a very reasonable pantry and we have very little space actually dedicated to the products that I buy or get for free.
So there is absolutely a comfortable middle ground for those that still want to be able to park the cars in the garage and don’t have 30 hours a week to cut coupons. I hope this series I am putting together will be beneficial to those of you that are interested in simply finding easy and fast ways to save a little money. There should be ideas and tips for those of you that really want to go big as well- I encourage you to find the place that makes you comfortable and works for your family.
Soooo.. are you ready?! Let’s get started!
I personally look at using coupons as just one very easy way to put extra money in the bank. I have three newspaper subscriptions that come to my home and I spend roughly 90 minutes a week total on coupons- organizing, printing, planning my shopping trips and our menu for the week etc.. I spend another 2 hours or so actually shopping each week.
I typically save at least 50% on my grocery bills- so I look at it is an extra 90 minutes per week and I probably save at least $300 or more per month. If I had more spare time, I am sure I could save even more.
One important thing I want to mention, is that coupons are not just for people on tight budgets or with limited incomes. The average coupon shopper has a household income of $70,000+. Using coupons doesn’t mean you can not afford to pay for groceries, it is just a smart way to save a little on something you need so you can put the money back in the bank or splurge on something you want!
So if you are interested in getting started learning how to effectively use coupons, the very first thing we need to do is get our hands on some coupons!
I like to suggest starting very small and working your way up. I do not recommend running out and buying 20 copies of the newspaper- because let me tell you this can be incredibly time consuming. I like to suggest people start small and get comfortable and then figure out what is going to be manageable to you.
So there are two primary ways to get coupons- the first is the Sunday paper.
The common perception of Sunday paper coupons is to flip through them and if something appeals to you, rip the coupon out and throw the rest away. The next time you head to the store grab that coupon you tore out and use it and you just saved yourself .50!
What you want to do now is collecting those Sunday paper coupons. I happen to get 3 subscriptions at my house (so 3 inserts each week) and I will leave it to you to decide how many you would like. Once you get those babies you can flip through and see what looks appealing- I usually cut about 10% of them out. Then I tuck them away in my little pouch and I wait for the right time to use it to get the biggest bang for my buck. The rest of the coupons, I toss in a basket in my closet. (And we can talk more about fabulous ways to organize all your coupons later. For now I’d like to start with the simplest things you can do to get rolling.)
Now you want to hold onto those coupons because you never know when they will come in handy. Some of them will expire in 30 days and some might not expire for an entire year. So just hold onto them.
So that is your first order of business, you really want to start researching the newspapers in your area. I would recommend checking out the papers in your city on both Saturday and Sunday- some areas have inserts available a day early and maybe you can get that paper a little cheaper. I recommend flipping through the papers because one paper in the same city might have double the amount of coupons as another paper. So it is important to really look and see what is available. Once you get that sorted out, you will want to track down the best price you can get. If you are paying $1.50-5.00 per paper each week, well that cuts into your savings. I pay $20 per year for my subscription- so .38 per Sunday newspaper. You might check Dollar Stores, call the subscription desk, ask friends- whatever you can do to track down the best price available on the newspaper in your area. (You can also check Discounted Newspaper Subscriptions and see what they offer.) You can absolutely get multiple copies of the newspaper sent to your home. Before you get crazy though ordering tons of subscriptions, I really suggest using coupons for awhile so you can see what you will really need. I know some sites will recommend getting 10 or more papers a week and I can tell you there is 0 chance I personally could manage that many coupons and I have been doing this for years.
Job # 2 will be to start collecting internet coupons. I post them all the time– the first time you print from most coupon sources like coupons.com, smart source or red plum, they will require that you download a coupon printer. Each coupon will have a unique barcode so that is why you need the download. If you install the software once you should not have to do it again. I think as you start getting more experience you will recognize the coupons you want to print ASAP. I will usually tell you if I think it is a hot coupon as well. So this is homework #2. Internet coupons are a great resource, so if you have a printer you will want to be ready to start printing away as coupons come up! The really good ones can be gone very quickly- most coupons will have a certain limit on how many total can be printed and you don’t want to miss out.
Two important notes on printables:
1. You can usually get 2 copies of the coupon by using your back bar to go back and the coupon should spool a second time. Don’t cheat yourself out of your second copy by forgetting to do that.
2. Sadly, you can usually only get those 2 coupons per computer that you have. If you want extras, you either need access to more computers or you need to sweet talk a friend into printing coupons for you. It is absolutely never, ever OK to photocopy coupons. That is actually a crime and please don’t ever put yourself in a situation to get in trouble.
So those are the primary ways to score coupons, you might also start keeping an eye out at the grocery store because you will start to see coupons can be found everywhere! Sometimes you see little machines that spit out coupons- if it is a product you can use grab one or two of the coupons and just tuck it away. You might also be on the lookout for little booklets in your stores that have coupons. Safeway, Publix and Kroger often have great coupon booklets available. (And there is such a thing as coupon karma so again 2 or maybe 3 booklets is plenty- no reason to take the entire stack.)
The very last step, is you will want to start understanding the coupon policies for your stores. Each person will have a slightly different experience and it is important you are aware of policies that might prevent you from getting great deals. You can go to the web site of your store (such as www.Safeway.com) and look for the coupon policy or you can just ask at customer service in your store. Remember those policies can change at any time so be sure you check back every few months for updates.
So that is part 1. You are already on the way to starting to score great deals! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below. There is really a lot to learn so again I am hoping to just take this one step at a time and hopefully it turns into a fun and easy way to start saving big at the grocery store!
… You can continue along with this series by clicking the articles below:
- Extreme Couponing: Understanding coupon matchups
- Extreme Couponing: Ready for Action
- Extreme Couponing: Determining a Realistic Savings Plan
- Extreme Couponing: Understanding Buy One Get One Free Coupons
- Extreme Couponing: Organizing Your Coupons
- Extreme Couponing: Free Item Coupons!
- Extreme Couponing: Creating a Pricebook
- Extreme Couponing: Using the Coupon Database
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