The word “couponing” tends to incite drastic opinions. Most people are either in favor of it (who can live without couponing!) or very much against it (who has time for that?). If you find yourself veering towards the latter, check out some of the tips below. We’re talking about finding a way to turn couponing into a smart money saving strategy you might even like, without taking too much of your time.
This is part 2 of a companion series in which one of my oldest and dearest friends, Elizabeth Rauf, shares her story on how she was able to save more than $4,000 in the past year from couponing and rewards programs. Read on to learn how couponing played a role in her huge savings.
You do not need to be a crazy couponer to save money. And I think I’ve gained some valuable insight having gone through my own slightly-less-than-sane period.
Find a coupon blog/website that doesn’t annoy you.
There are a lot of couponing sites. There are a lot of annoying coupon sites. Bad layout with too many ads. Spend a little time browsing and see what you like best. Do you prefer one that focuses on coupons that are specific to your area? Do you like having a national overview? I like The Krazy Coupon Lady, but I know Coupon Mom is also popular. The one thing as a non-couponer you definitely want to make sure your preferred website has in a coupon database. Specifically, a printable coupon database.
From what I’ve read, at the dawn of the internet couponing age (maybe 5-7 years ago), retailers and manufacturers had not yet figured out how to make sure coupons weren’t abused. And thus, they were abused. Coupon fraud (yes, it’s a thing) was difficult to prevent, and so printable coupons fell off.
But more recently, coupon websites like Coupons.com have been able to solve the problem. Each coupon printed has its own PIN and the number of times a coupon can be printed is limited by a computer’s IP address. While this sounds limiting, what it means is that printable coupons are back in a big way. And they are free.
A printable coupon database is a non-couponer’s friend because it eliminates the hunt for coupons you can use.
There are other advantages of following a couponing site. A great deal on pasta sauce might pop up on your Facebook news feed. Or a coupon for eggs might show up on your Pinterest page. If these are things you would buy anyway, read the details. If not, no big deal. Just keep that database in mind when you need to shop.
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Use coupons for things you were going to buy anyway.
This is key. Yes, there are a mess of coupons for things you aren’t going to use. Focus your efforts on finding coupons for things you’re going to buy anyway. Shampoo. Dog food. Cookies. This is where that printable coupon database comes in. Make your shopping list and then see if there are any coupons available. Note, this is the complete opposite of what extreme couponers do (who find the coupon deals and then determine the shopping list). But you’re not going to that extreme, you’re just trying to save some money. Fifty cents is only fifty cents, but it’s still fifty cents.
This sort of targeted couponing allows you to save the money without spending a lot of time.
Redefine “extreme” and “stockpile.”
The words “extreme” and “stockpile” have specific – and often disengaging – connotations when it comes to couponing. Throw those out of your head and start over. I feel like an extreme couponer every time I save more than 40 percent on my grocery bill. I feel even better when I save more than 50 percent! Yes, there was at least one time when I saved more than 90 percent, but that’s much easier to achieve when you only buy six items and three of them had coupons that were specifically “Free *insert item*” coupons. Think of extreme as not saving 90 percent on every shopping trip, but rather saving something every shopping trip.
And “stockpile” does not need to mean a year’s worth of toothpaste. Who would use all of that? No, consider how much storage space you have and how quickly you go through a product. A stockpile should be enough that when you run out of something, you don’t need to immediately run out and buy the replacement. That might be only one or two extra of whatever you use.
Try the buddy system.
There are a couple reasons why having a coupon buddy can make saving money easier. One has to do with actually getting the coupons. If you decide to buy a newspaper for the coupons (you can preview the Sunday inserts before you buy a paper by searching for “Sunday coupon preview” to make sure you’re not wasting that money), you’re still not going to use all of them. But perhaps you have a coupon buddy who also buys the paper. You can swap: you give her your cat food coupons; she gives you the coupons for your favorite toothpaste. You can also swap printed coupons. Since most websites only let you print a coupon twice, if you need four bottles of salad dressing for that party next month, he prints off his two and you print him the coupons for his preferred razors.
Another way the buddy system works is with actually shopping. Frequently, coupons require you to buy multiples of something to use the coupon. I don’t need six yogurt cups, but maybe my buddy and I would each like three. Buy what the coupon requires and even up with your shopping partner at the end.
Don’t turn your nose up because you avoid processed foods.
Yes, you want to eat healthy. Yes, coupons for fresh food are harder to find than for frozen food. That doesn’t mean you can’t use coupons. You still use soap, right? And trash bags? And toothbrushes and spices and tissues? There are routinely coupons for all of these things. And that database mentioned earlier is going to help you find them.
Think outside the grocery store.
A lot of the money I saved this past year was not on grocery items at all. With Target’s Cartwheel, I saved money on baby shower gifts. With Bed Bath and Beyond coupons (which the store continues to take after they expire), I saved on wedding gifts. I saved money on my work wardrobe by using Kohl’s coupons and tried new products thanks to Speedway coupons. I got free razors to donate to the homeless shelter by shopping at Dollar General and enough gift wrapping supplies to last a year at CVS.
Pick your favorite stores. Sign up for their loyalty program if they have one and opt into their emails, at least for a little while. I get my best non-grocery coupons in my inbox.
And finally here are a few more tips before I send you off to go couponing:
- When printing coupons, make sure your ink is full. Difficult to read barcodes means it won’t scan and the cashier will probably reject it.
- Photocopying coupons is fraud and can land you in jail. Just don’t do it.
- Don’t buy something just because you have the coupon. It doesn’t actually save you money.
- Here are the three things you need to make sure about the store’s coupon policy: Do they accept coupons? Do they accept printed coupons? Do they restrict the number of coupons you can use in a transaction?
- See if your preferred grocery store has electronic coupons that get associated with your loyalty card. This saves time clipping and mean you don’t have to remember to hand coupons over to the cashier.
- Most printable coupons expire in 30 days. Don’t print until you’re ready to shop.
- Printing coupons requires you to download a plug-in. If you use a reputable coupon printing site, there is no worry about this being malware. But this does mean you can’t print coupons at the library, as you won’t be allowed to download the plug-in.
- Besides Coupons.com (which recently started being traded on the stock exchange), other good sites are RedPlum.com and SmartSource.com.
Image Credit: Phillip