This post first ran in April, 2010.
WARNING: If you know what a Catalina deal is and/or have actually employed one, this may not be the post for you. If you occasionally slice your pinky open while using adult scissors, this is definitely the post for you.
When you think of couponing, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? Is it GoGurt? Is it a planet-sized binder and never-ending stack of circulars? Is it a crazy cat lady, forever in search of the single slip of paper that will net her 14 free packets of McCormick fajita seasoning?
It’s understandable. Long stereotyped as the favorite pastime of bargain-happy grandmas and moms of 47, clipping coupons gets a pretty bad rap. Many believe it gets you minimal deals on junky food. I didn’t touch coupons for years, figuring the time it took to collect them was disproportionate to the amount of money they saved.
Now I know better. While I still buy groceries primarily based on the circular, I’ve come to realize that a simple, no-frills approach to couponing nets good money for little time investment. I don’t freak out, I don’t buy rainbow-colored faux food, and I save a couple hundred bucks each year. Not too shabby.
If you’re considering coupons, but don’t know where to start, read on. These simple explanations and stress-free strategies could kick off a lifetime of half-price egg noodles. If you do nothing else, make sure to scroll down to the GOLDEN RULE OF COUPONING, wherein I explain the practice’s most important tenet as well as the origin of the universe.
(Also? Readers? What am I missing? I’m sure it’s a lot. The comment section awaits.)
There are a few ways to collect coupons. Some are intuitive, others not so much.
Newspapers. Since the beginning of time, the Sunday paper has come equipped with bazillions of coupon-stuffed circulars. If you can’t swing a subscription, bum them off friends and family after they’re done reading. This is how I amass most of my deals. (Thanks, Dad.)
Store circulars and magazines. Occasionally, coupons will appear in publications within a supermarket or drugstore, probably by the door or the cashier. Though you’ve already made your plan, leaf through these, since they can offer good last-minute deals or bargains for next time.
Store shelves. You know those little ticket dispensers that line supermarket aisles? If they’re located by a food you enjoy, grab one. Hey, you never know.
Mailings. If you really like a particular company, you can frequently sign up online to receive coupon packets through the mail.
Online. Online coupon deals can be tremendous, but also a giant headache if you spend too much time looking for them. So, be judicious in your search. Speaking of which, there are three basic ways to collect and save.
- Go to aggregate sites like Coupons.com and Mambo Sprouts (organic).
- Visit individual company pages like Betty Crocker.
- Cruise popular forums and consumer sites like A Full Cup and Coupon Mom.
My coupons currently sit in a small stack on my clock radio, vaguely organized by general category. Sometimes, I weed through them and pick out the expired ones (which can then be donated to the military). Your preferred method may vary, but other folks seem to enjoy:
CLIPPING AND USING ‘EM
It’s Sunday afternoon. You’re sitting down at the kitchen table, coffee at your side, clippers in hand. In front of you rests 20 coupon circulars, waiting patiently for you to begin slicing and dicing. How in the good name of Bea Arthur do you approach this? By following these simple rules:
Forget brand loyalty. You’re looking for products (ex: cheese), not brand names (ex: Sargento). If you find a coupon for a brand you like (Tropicana!), that’s fantastic, but the better toothpaste deals come when you let go of your Crest fixation.
Clip only for products you need or use. When you don’t eat yogurt, own a dog, or have dentures, getting bargains on Activia, Alpo, and Polident is senseless. A good rule of thumb: if you have to think about clipping a particular coupon for more than a few seconds, skip it.
Avoid clipping if you can find a comparable generic product. Even with coupons, store brand foods are almost always cheaper. In most cases, people can’t tell the difference in flavor or texture, either.
Don’t clip for junk. It’s undeniable: most coupons are for processed, insanely over-packaged crap, and hoarding them will only lead to blown cash and rampant unhealthiness. (*cough* Hot Pockets *cough*) However, you should always …
Be on the lookout for pantry staples. Yay! These diamonds in the aspartame-blanketed rough are more common than you might believe. Currently (4/14/10), in my alarm clock stack, I have coupons for bread, olive oil, sour cream, butter, soy milk, mustard, dried beans, chocolate chips, cooking spray, corn starch, baking powder, rice, pasta, and egg noodles. Not to mention tin foil, gum, deodorant, and the all-important Zyrtec (a brand we will not forgo).
Be on special lookout for personal products. Coupons are fantastic for cosmetics and body care items (shampoo, toothpaste, etc.). If you like L’Oreal eyeliner, and see a bargain, don’t hesitate. You could consistently save 50% or more without much effort.
Take advantage of double and triple coupon days. Never in my life have I seen a Double Coupon Day in a New York City supermarket. But I’m assured they exist in many other wonderful parts of the country, as does the rare and hallowed Triple Coupon Day. Check your grocer’s website for dates.
Beware hoarding. Odds are you’ll never end up in a terrifying A&E series, but there is such a thing as going overboard on coupons. If you don’t have sufficient storage OR the product will go bad before you use it, avoid buying multiples.
THE GOLDEN RULE OF COUPONING
If you take nothing else away from this post, remembering this single rule will still help you bank mad cash every year:
Wait for sales to use your coupons.
Sales alone can save you money. Coupons alone can save you money. But they’re at their most powerful when combined. This may mean waiting a few weeks after your initial clippage, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Let me give you an example: I buy Del Monte diced canned tomatoes all the time. They’re usually $1.89 at my local supermarket. (Not a typo. I double checked.) Two weeks ago, they went on sale for $1.00 each. That’s a good deal by itself.
However, I also had a coupon for $1.00 off four cans, meaning each dropped to $0.75. What would have been a $7.56 spending spree became a $3.00 bargain. I saved 60% off the usual price.
In order to obtain these most excellent deals, leaf through your supermarket circular (at its own website or Money Saving Mom) before going shopping. Food companies generally offer circular and coupon deals around the same time, so matching them will be easier than you think.
And that’s our ballgame. Readers, what advice would you give a beginning couponer? What do you think of the words offered here? Did I get anything wrong? (Seriously, please tell me.)
If you like this article, you might also be taken by:
- 26 Common Food Labels, Explained
- Angus Anguish: Is Angus Beef Worth the Money?
- Eating Healthy While Clipping Coupons