Couponing 101: Saving Money Clipping Coupons

You’ve probably stood in a checkout line behind someone who has a coupon for every item they’ve purchased, and it seems like eternity until they are finished. But, they probably saved over 50% to 80% off their grocery bill in that few minutes!

How, you ask?

If you want to try your hand at snipping scissors for savings, first you need the coupons! The best source for coupons is in the Sunday newspapers. The inserts are tucked in the middle with the advertisements.

With the cost of a Sunday paper usually ranging from $1.50 – $2.00, it is a good investment with sometimes hundreds of dollars worth of coupons. And can you believe most people throw them away? Ask your friends, relatives and neighbors to save the inserts for you. Be on the lookout for businesses that subscribe and leave papers around for customers to read (i.e. Gas Stations, Laundry Mats). Check recycling bins. “Dumpster dive” if you have to.

On Monday, ask your newspaper carrier and stores if they have any leftover Sunday papers that didn’t sell. Vendors usually only have to send in certain parts of the newspaper (i.e. the heading) of those that didn’t sell to get credit for unsold papers. But they still have the coupons inside!

Unfortunately around Holidays, coupon inserts aren’t as plentiful. So, you may want to check the Newspaper in the Newsstand on Mother’s Day before searching the couch cushions for pocket change. And not all Sunday newspapers carry the same inserts. Some may have one, and another three. And even if they carry the same inserts, the amounts of the coupons may be different! It is common that coupons have a higher dollar value in an urban area over a rural area.

More ways to obtain coupons is directly from the manufacturers. Call the toll-free number on your favorite brands asking for coupons. Telling them first how much you like their product is a good introduction to your plea. Most will be happy to mail you coupons. Also check out to see if the product has a website. Email them or use their contact form to inquire. Don’t forget to include your mailing address.

Look over your empty canned goods labels and boxed food items before throwing them in the trash. Usually you can find a toll-free number to call (see above) on the package. Some packages also adorn their own coupons good on their next purchase. And many companies are now participating in Boxtops for Education and Campbell’s Labels for Education, so take a second to cut out the little symbol for the school of your choice. Those 10¢ add up fast when many people save, and all schools, public and private alike, appreciate them.

Also look for “hang-tags” on items in the store. Some will say “Save $$$ now” and if you read the print, it does not have to be used on only that certain item. Look for hangtags on wine, as some offer $$$ off soda, meat or produce, with NO alcohol purchase required.

Another plan to acquire coupons is to beg, borrow or steal from other couponers. Ok, maybe not steal. Barter. If you don’t know any coupon locales, you can meet them through Refund/Coupons Magazines and Internet Chat Boards. It is prohibited to actually sell coupons, but you can “purchase” coupons from Coupon Services who charge a “handling fee” per coupon (for their time to cut, sort and mail). You can even bid on coupons on Ebay!

The newest way to add coupons to your collection is to print them directly from the Internet to your printer. Some stores have yet to accept these thinking they are counterfeit. But printable coupons are definitely the wave of the future. Many sites make you register first, and your name may even appear on the coupon or are bar-coded with your information. Others may only let you print one or two of the same coupon before you get a “Sorry you’ve already printed your quota for that coupon” message.

Once you have your coupons, it is best to have some rhyme or reason to them, so it is easier to find the coupon you want when you need it. You can use a simple recipe box with dividers, a three ring binder with divided pages (like for baseball cards), or you can even buy a “real” coupon organizer.

Then you need to categorize your coupons within your organizer. There are several ways people sort theirs. The simplest way is to organize by generic classifications (i.e. Baby, Pet, Frozen Foods, Dairy, Paper Products, Health & Beauty, etc). Another way to sort is by expiration date. Couponers with thousands of coupons file the full inserts by the name of the insert (SmartSource, Valassis, RedPlum, Proctor & Gamble, etc.) and the date that it came out.

Make a date once a month with your coupon organizer to weed out expired coupons. This can be done easily while watching your favorite show on the television. Your kids can even help. If you have an extra stamp to spare, mail those expired coupons overseas for the deployed military to use at the commissaries. Some commissaries accept coupons up to six months after the expiration date.

Never throw out any coupons thinking you won’t use them! Even if you have coupons for products you know you won’t use, you may find those products on sale or clearance and after using a coupon may be only a few cents or even free! Save health and beauty items for gift baskets. Donate canned goods to food pantries. Sell Cleaning Supplies at a rummage sale. You get the idea.

Watch the weekly ads and stock up when something you use is on sale, and especially when you have a coupon for those sale items. Some stores will let you combine a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon (i.e. Target and Walgreens). Other stores price match if you bring in their competitor’s ad. Price matching is good if the original store is out of stock and your coupons expire before the rain checked items come in. It’s also good to save on trekking all over town to get the sales when you could get them all at Super-Walmart, for example.

Ask if your favorite store offers a reward program. Baker’s offers a club card you swipe every time you shop to get their discount prices. HyVee’s checkout spits out Catalina coupons to use on your next purchase when you purchase certain items. Register all of your grocery and drugstore cards at Upromise.com, and they deposit 1% – 5% of the purchase price of thousands of different brands into a college fund for the person of your choice!

Some lucky shoppers get to take advantage of “Double Coupon Sales” or even “Triple Coupon Sales” where the store actually doubles the value of the coupon, up to a certain amount. For example, the store may advertise “Double Coupons up to 99¢!” Any coupon value 99¢ or lower, will be doubled, but $1.00 and up will be normal value. The store themselves eat the doubled value as an incentive to pull in shoppers.

Be sure to browse the Clearance Sections of your store. Target is known for having deep discounts on their end shelves hidden in the store. Also, if your coupon boasts “Valid on ANY size”, buy the trial size! Be sure to calculate if you are getting a deal. Sometimes, it may still be cheaper to buy a generic brand of something, than to use a coupon on a name brand something.

If the price of a product is more than the value of your coupon (i.e. Shampoo is 99¢ and you have a $1 off coupon), it is up to the store whether they will give you whole value of the coupon (where you make a profit) or just deduct the cost of the product. Either way, the store will be reimbursed for the full amount of the coupon plus the standard 8¢ redemption fee they receive. So, even though cashiers act like they hate coupons, it’s in the store’s best interest to accept them.

Rebate and Refund forms are another way to “cash” in on savings. These are obtained the same way coupons are only they are not as plentiful. The best ones offer “Try Us Free!” Read the fine print, as most require you buy the product within a specific time period, and mail in the cash register receipt (with the purchase price circled) along with the UPC barcode from the product. Mail in as soon as possible, so it doesn’t get forgotten about before the deadline. Many, many people forget to mail in their forms or don’t read the fine print and miss out.

Stores, like Ace Hardware and Office Max, offer their own rebate booklets where you can take advantage of multiple offers with one form to get cash back. Some stores, like Walgreens, Shopko and Menards, offer their “cash back” in the form of store credit. You can turn around and use your store credit next month to buy new products that are FAR (Free After Rebate)! And you can combine coupons with rebates!

“Triple Plays” are music to Couponer’s ears. This can mean that 1) the product is on sale, 2) you have a coupon and 3) the store offers a monthly rebate program. Or 1) there is a store coupon, 2) you have a manufacturer coupon and 3) you have a mail-in rebate for that product. The possibilities are endless. And most possibilities turn out with totally free products.

Unfortunately most perishable items do not have coupons for them. But you can still save! Watch when meat is marked down. Markets must sell their cut meat after so many days, so you can get meat 50% off or more on the cut off day. If you don’t need any meat for the next few days to use it, freeze it to use later! Also watch for big ten-pound tubes of hamburger to go on sale, as it is a lot cheaper per pound. Buy some freezer bags and divide it up into smaller portions and freeze.

Long timer couponers have yearlong supplies of certain stockpiled items, like toothpaste, razors, shampoo and cleaning supplies. When they are out of an item, they simply “shop” their stockpile closet. Not only did they save money buying the item, they saved time not having to run to the store to buy it again.

And There’s More Coupons!

Watch for coupons to save when dining out at your favorite restaurant, to get a free membership to the gym, or even to save 25% off new clothes at the mall boutiques. These are also found in Entertainment books, newspaper ads and printable online.

Now, that you know how to save on most everything you need or want, there are also virtual coupons! Most online merchants offer promotional codes to be used during the checkout process for percentages off your purchase or even free shipping. ShoppingBookmarks.com categorizes thousands of coupon codes for hundreds of merchants. No need to go out now. Sit in front of your computer and have your good delivered to your door for less!

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Kim Rowley (aka ShoppingKim.com) is proud to boast that she is a “Coupon Queen” when it comes to saving money feeding and clothing her four children in Pierce, Nebraska.

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