A Beginner’s Guide to Couponing

I’ve been asked many times as I’ve gone through my couponing journey how difficult is it, how hard is it to get started, and does it really work? Couponing is easy, as long as you have the time to dedicate to your savings. I’ve finally found a simple way to explain the basic principles to get started.

1: Collect your coupons.

There’s no right way or wrong way to start clipping coupons, and there are many resources out there to help you with your savings collection. The most obvious resource is the Sunday Newspaper– and I encourage every begginner to start buying one or two copies a week, especially if you a local paper and a nearby paper. Sometimes the coupons may vary, and the papers always have the weekly sales ad for your local groceries, a must-have tool for maximizing savings.

If you don’t want to invest a few dollars a week in a paper, or are more tech-savvy, there are websites, like coupons.com where you can print off manufacturers coupons and use them. Most grocery stores now have an online copy of their weekly ads on their websites as well, so you can utilize that instead or in addition to the sunday papers. I highly recommend using both methods to get your coupons, especially if you’re planning to stock up on items, that thanks to your coupons, you’ll now be getting for free or close to it.

2: Review Your Store’s Coupon Policy

As you start to pile up the coupons, you want to make sure you’ll be able to use them, and use them efficiently when you go to the store. The best way to do this is spend a few minutes on each of your local grocery stores’ websites and print off their coupon policy. The limitations and allowance listed in the policy will greatly impact where and how you save the most when you start shopping. For instance, most grocery stores double coupons up to a dollar, but limit the amount of the same coupon that can be doubled in one transaction.

I have a great example of this on my receipt from a store run today, where I bought 5 items with a coupon, but only four coupons doubled, meaning the store matched the price of my coupons up to .99, but only up to four identical coupons in one transaction. My last coupon for .50 off wasn’t doubled, so instead of my dollar item being free, I paid .50. I did this intentionally to have an example, but when your trying to maximize savings, little mistakes or your ignorance of the store’s coupon policies like this could throw your budget out the window and leave you frustrated because you thought you’d save more.

3: Weekly Sales

This is the most crucial part of maximizing your savings when you start couponing. This is why you collect the store ads. Part of efficiently couponing is patience: unless your coupon is about to expire on an item you need, it’s best to hold out for the sale on that item to apply your coupon to. For example, if your favorite soup is usually 2.49 and you have a coupon for .55 off one soup that doubles, using that will save you 1.00-1.10, depending on the store coupon policy. Your out-of-pocket (OOP) cost for that can of soup is then 1.49 (for sake of argument). However, if next week that soup goes on sale for a 10/10 special, you could use that coupon and walk away with free soup.

Well, what if your item doesn’t go on sale while the coupon is good? This happens. In the case where your coupon is about to expire and your item never went on sale, sometimes a little savings is better than none; but it’s up to you whether you really want to buy that item. For instance if I had a coupon for olive oil, a staple item in my kitchen I used practically every night, and the brand never went on sale while I had that coupon– chances are, I’d use it anyway because I use olive oil all the time and I’d rather save a dollar now and have it on hand then run out later and hope that week I have a coupon and/or sale price on that item. However, if the coupon was for something like a novelty food item like chips or a frozen entrĂ©e deal, and that item never went on sale, I’d probably not worry about it and save that money to buy a stock up item or something I need. (I don’t throw away my coupons, I donate them to military families overseas, so even when I don’t get to use them, they go to help someone else save. Waste not, want not.)

Well, that’s basically all you need to know to get started! If you have the time to pour through sales ads, clip coupons, and make shopping lists, you can surprise yourself with how much you save! On the average I save 50% every time I shop for groceries, and I’m sure I could save even more if I made more of a conscious effort to match sales and coupons than I usually do. So I guess, to answer the question of does it really work: Yes! It does work, but it’s up to you how much effort and time you’re going to invest in bringing that grocery bill down. I hope you’ve found this helpful and you’re ready to get out there and save, save, save!