I frequently encounter people who don’t use coupons because they feel like it isn’t worth their time. If you’ve run the numbers and found this to be the case, I respect that. Coupon use, like all areas of personal finance, is a personal choice and not everyone will find it beneficial or to their liking.
However, I find that the “not worth my time” attitude is most often the case with people who clip only the occasional coupon and don’t take the time to really figure out how coupons work and how to get the most from them. Those of us who use them regularly understand their value and we’ve also learned how to get the most out of them. Here are some tips to get the most from coupons.
1. Get organized
Coupons are only useful if you know what you have and where. Coupons randomly stuffed in drawers or wallets rarely get used. Get and use some sort of organizational system. Some people use recipe boxes or binders with sheets of pockets like those designed for baseball card collections. I prefer a small expanding file. It’s the length of a business envelope with expandable pockets inside. I can label each pocket to better sort my coupons. Figure out the categories that make sense to you and sort your coupons accordingly.
2. Regularly weed out expired coupons
Unless your stores are kind enough to take expired coupons, weed out the old ones at least once a month. Otherwise you’ll be frustrated and slowed down in the store by all the coupons you can’t use. Consider sending those expired coupons to help military families stationed overseas.
3. Try to shop somewhere that doubles coupons
Many grocery stores double or triple coupons up to a certain amount. This really increases your savings. Look for special promotions where the store doubles or triples more coupons per order or higher dollar value coupons. Know your prices though because some stores that double coupons charge much more than those that don’t, meaning that you could shop somewhere else and save more money, even without the doubled coupons.
4. Know what coupons can be combined
Many stores allow you to combine coupons issued by the store (“store coupons”) with those issued by the manufacturer (“manufacturer’s coupons”) which are the ones you get from the newspaper. This means that if you have a store coupon for $1.00 off and a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item for $1.00 off, then you can combine them and save $2.00. Not all stores allow this, so ask if the policy isn’t obvious.
5. Match your coupons with the sale flyer
When you get the weekly sales flyer (or look at them online), take some time to flip through your coupons to see what’s on sale that you have coupons for. Using coupons on sale items is a great way to increase your savings. This is how many people end up getting items for free.
6. Use your store loyalty card with coupons
If your store offers a loyalty program, combine the loyalty sales with your coupons to further maximize your savings. At my store, many of my transactions work like this: The item is $1.00 off for everyone in the sale flyer. Loyalty card holders (that’s me) save an additional $.50. So I’m up to $1.50 in savings. Then I have a coupon for $.50 off, which is doubled to $1.00. Thus, I end up saving $2.50 on the item.
7. Know that the week the coupon appears in the paper is not likely to be the week that the item is on sale at the store
This is because coupons are usually the first wave of promotion, designed to entice you to buy the item at full price. Later, the item will go on sale as part of the second wave of promotion. If the coupon is still valid, that’s your time to buy. However, many manufacturers have figured out that people know this and have started issuing coupons with shorter times to expiration. Buy when you feel comfortable with the price, but if you can hold out you might get a better price later.
8. Know where to get coupons and when they appear
The Sunday paper is the most obvious source for coupons. However if it is a week with a holiday, like Christmas or Memorial Day, there will not be any coupons in the paper or, if there are, they will be sparse. You can see what coupons will be in the paper each week online. If you buy papers off the rack, don’t waste your money on those weeks. Other coupon sources include email offers that you sign up to receive, in store displays or coupon machines, store websites, flyers you receive in the mail, coupon exchanges, and web sites where you can print coupons. (Just make sure your store takes coupons printed from the Internet; some don’t due to fraud.) There are many more coupons available to you than just those in the paper.
9. Clip coupons only for those items/brands you’re sure to use or willing to try at the right price
Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of unnecessary coupons cluttering up your space and tempting you to buy stuff you wouldn’t normally buy.
10. Make a shopping list and match up coupons
Take the time to make a list and match up the items and coupons before you leave home. This will save you time in the store as you won’t have to search through your coupons when you stop for each item. You can just whip out the coupon and put it with your order. Making a list also cuts down on impulse purchases.
11. Know your prices and do the math
To make coupons work for you, you have to know your prices and know when something is a good deal. If you can choose store brands, those are often cheaper than the national brands, even with coupons. However, if the national brand is on sale and you have a coupon, you may get a better deal. If your store doubles or triples coupons, that adds to the confusion. If you’re not good at math, it helps to carry a small calculator so you can figure out exactly which item is the best deal.
12. Evaluate what you buy and know which coupons will be of value to you
I frequently hear people say that they don’t use coupons because they don’t buy prepackaged foods, which is what many coupons are for. That’s fine, but there are also coupons for toiletries, cleaning products, pet items, juices, baking products, and many other things. You may not buy many prepackaged foods, but there are coupons out there that will be of use to you. You don’t have to clip every coupon in the paper; just know what you buy in all areas of your life and look for coupons that match your preferences.
I spend very little time on my coupons (about twenty minutes each Sunday to clip, sort and weed coupons, ten minutes each Wednesday to go through the store flyers and add items to my list, and about half an hour to make my list and match the coupons to my list-so about an hour per week) and my savings average in the $50/week range. To me $50 per hour is well worth my time. Your savings may vary depending on where you shop and what you buy, but understanding how to get the most out of coupons is the first step to success.
Image courtesy of ninjapoodles