Grocery Coupons: How to Start Using Them and Why You're Crazy Not To

Dollars & Sense on 03.14.11
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There is a dedicated group of people out there who make coupon clipping one of their primary focuses and manage to buy $300 worth of groceries for $30. There are even shows about it. I am not one of those people. But I am the type of person who loves to save some cash, and I get a huge high when I look at the bottom of my grocery store receipt and see a big number under "Today's Total Savings".  My last trip to the store netted me a savings of $86.80 on a bill of $233.62, a 38-percent savings and one that is pretty typical for me without having to do much other than scan my rewards card and clip a few coupons. I don't know about you, but my family of four has a lot of other things we can do with $86.80. Whether you enjoy the game or not, if you aren't clipping coupons, you're paying way too much for your groceries. Here are a few simple tips for getting started using grocery coupons that will only take a few minutes of your time, but will save you a lot of dough.

 

1. Printable Grocery Coupons
There are loads of web sites out there that allow you to print grocery coupons for free. My go to sites are coupons.com, redplum.com, and smartsource.com. Simply select the coupons you want, print, and save. Sometimes you can print the same coupon more than once which of course saves you twice as much and really allows you to take advantage of stocking up on the sale items in your store when you can pair the sale with a coupon. If you are a loyal follower to any certain brands, you should also check out their web sites to see if they offer coupons or sign up for their newsletters to receive coupons via email. It can be overwhelming to do this for a lot of brands so keep it simple and only pick the ones that you really buy regularly. That is unless you have some extra time on your hands and extra space in your inbox. For instance, I always check out Stonyfield.com before a trip to the store as my kids eat loads of yogurt and that's the only brand I buy. Many of these sites require you to set up an account. It's well worth the few seconds it takes to do it. Think of it this way: If I told you I'd give you $20 to do it, would you? Because you'll easily save that much, if not more.

 

2. Sign Up for Your Grocer's Rewards Program
If your grocer offers a rewards program, make sure you sign up for it! While many cashiers will scan a rewards card for you so that you get the weekly sales promotions, you will benefit by having your own card attached to your purchases. The coupon generator at the checkout generates the coupons based on what you buy so if you buy a package of diapers, you'll likely get a coupon for your next diaper purchase. It may be for a different brand, but this is where it really pays to be flexible on your brands. It also pays to give the store your mailing address when you sign up for the rewards program. I regularly get coupons in the mail for $5 or $10 off a certain purchase amount that aren't being offered in store.   

 

3. Clip Newspaper and Mailbox Coupons
Every Wednesday, a pile of coupons arrives in my mailbox. Often they are masked in a larger advertisement and many people toss them as junk mail. Would you throw money in the garbage? I wouldn't. As soon as they come in the door, I do a quick run through, clip the ones I want, and toss the rest. You can also buy the Sunday papers which typically have a big coupon section, and if you already get the paper, you should most definitely be taking advantage of it. If you're feeling really motivated, some local libraries also offer the Sunday paper coupons for free on a first come, first serve basis.  

 

4. Keep Your Eye Out for Coupons in the Store
Have you ever noticed that sometimes there are coupons affixed to the very box you are putting in your grocery cart? Check them out! Sometimes they are for the item you are buying, and sometimes they are for another item in the store, but often you can use them that very day so why wait? The meat department in my grocery store always has $1 to $3 coupons on packages of meat that have quickly approaching sell by dates. In my store, they seem to be the most abundant on Fridays and Sundays, and I'm often able to get meat for half price as a result. Recently, I purchased a $9 package of ground beef that was already on sale and had a $3 off coupon attached to it for $3.43, a 62-percent savings. Actually, because I needed a lot of it for an upcoming party, I bought five packages of it and saved $15 just in the coupons. I make room in the freezer and stock up when I see these opportunities.

 

5. Double Coupons, Double the Savings
Just in case I haven't already convinced you of the awesomeness of coupons, guess what? It gets better! Did you know that most of your local grocers will typically give you double the value of any coupons that are less than $1? Check the fine print, but unless a coupon says something along the lines of "Not Subject to Doubling", it's not uncommon for a 75 cent coupon to actually be worth more than the $1 coupon because of your store's doubling policy. Be sure to read your grocer's local flyer as well because every once in a while you'll find double coupons offers for your $1 coupons too.  If you can use it on a $2 item, you've got free groceries!

 

But...Buyer Beware
There are some pitfalls to avoid when coupon clipping. If you don't normally buy an item, don't buy it just because you have a coupon. If you occasionally buy an item but don't need it right away it can pay to hold onto that coupon until the item goes on sale to really maximize your savings. I recently had a coupon for 50 cents off of three Stonyfield Farm yogurts. I held onto it and when they went on sale at buy one get one free I was able to get four yogurts that are normally 99 cents apiece for 98 cents total (with coupon doubling).

Clipping coupons is great, but if they're not organized, you'll drive yourself nuts. Get a small coupon file with different sections so you can organize your coupons by category such as dairy, frozen foods, household, health & beauty, etc. And don't forget that coupons expire! Every few weeks go through your file and toss the ones you haven't used to minimize in store frustration.

These few simple steps of grocery coupon clipping only take a few minutes each week, but easily save me at least $150 a month or $1,800 a year on groceries. And that's no small change.   

 

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