So you've tried budgeting, watching for sales and comparing prices.
Now, you're desperate to shrink your grocery bill even more, and considering coupons.
I know the situation very well, because I was in the same place a few years ago.
I used to think that all couponers were like the obsessive people on "extreme couponing" reality shows.
But in fact, it's a simple and fun way to save money on essentials.
If you're wondering how to start couponing, or just looking for tips to save more money, this guide is for you.
Of course you already know the basics of couponing, but just bringing a few clipped coupons won't make a dent in your weekly bill.
To use coupons effectively, you need to invest some time and plan your shopping trips.
Clip your best coupons, plan your list around them, and stick to that list like it's the law.
Coupons add up, but if your shopping habits are wasteful it won't make a difference.
Know the Policies
Take time to study your grocery store's coupon policy, as well as the coupons you plan to use.
Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:
- Do your coupons have any restrictions? (a specific item, a purchase limit, etc.)
- Does your store price match other stores? (This is not about coupons, but it will save you time and money.)
- Does the store accept coupons for competing stores? For example, Walmart will but not if the coupon gives you a percentage off.
- Does the store offer rain checks? And can you combine a rain check with coupons or other ways to save?
Knowing these before you arrive and planning based on the rules will save time and money.
Scope Out Prices
What's the point of saving $2 on an item if it's already $3 above the regular price?
The best couponers learn to track their favorite items by studying the four prices:
- The Average Price - A fair price you would buy the item for without a coupon.
- The Max Price - The very most you would willingly pay for something without a coupon.
- The Deal Price - A good discount. When the item's price and the coupon equal the deal price or less, it's time to buy.
- The Stock-Up Price - This is probably the cheapest you've ever seen the item. This is the time to fill your cart and use all your coupons.
Get Your Coupons
Now that all your research is done, it's time to actually find your coupons.
Collecting flyers and newspaper pullouts is so last decade.
I get my coupons from Coupons.com, where I can search my favorite brands or products and print out my coupons at home.
You can even sign up for emails to get the latest coupons delivered straight to your inbox.
There's even a Coupons.com app that lets you save money on paper.
Link your credit card to the app and you can get special cashback offers in store.
You can also upload your store loyalty cards to the app, so they're always at hand.
If you're an online shopper, Coupons.com also offers online coupon codes for major brands like Best Buy and Sears.
Make Coupons.com the last place you check before making your weekly grocery list.
One downside of couponing - even in our digital age - is that it involves plenty of little scraps of paper.
Most couponers rely on a binder with plastic sheets to store and track their coupons.
I like to organize my coupons by expiry date, so I can always tell when one is about to be worthless.
Sorting your coupons also lets you plan which ones are good for your next shopping trip, and which ones should be stored until the next price drop.
Stack Coupons for Big Savings
"Stacking" means combining multiple coupons or store policies to save even more money.
For example, a half price sale and a coupon together are a much better deal than just a coupon.
That's why it pays to learn store policies and take advantage of every possible discount.
Always try to pair a store coupon (from a flyer) with a brand coupon (from the manufacturer) to "double dip" on savings.
Some coupons can even be used multiple times on the same item - read them carefully.
Look out for "Catalina coupons," that save a certain amount on your next order. These are a great way to stretch your product coupons even further.
Get the Order Right
Cashiers should know how to process coupons properly, but if they don't it can be a costly mistake - for you.
It's almost always best to let the cashier total the whole price of your purchase before handing over your coupons.
That way, you can start with coupons that say, for example, "$5 off if you spend $20."
Next, use your Catalina coupons, BOGOs, and product-specific coupons.
Don't be afraid to ask the cashier to start over or correct any errors. This is your money we're talking about.
One habit to develop now is collecting multiples of all your coupons.
Almost every coupon is one per item, but you get the best value by buying multiples of an item at their Stock-Up price.
If Ritz crackers are the lowest price you've ever seen, you'll kick yourself if you only have two coupons.
Remember to take multiples of every coupon book or flyer. You never know when your coupons will come in handy.
Overages Mean Huge Savings
Now that you're saving all this money, you're bound to encounter overages - congratulations!
An overage is when your savings are worth more than the item's price. Say, if you save $3 using coupons on a $1 item.
Every store has a different overage policy - some will pay you in cash for overages at the end of a transaction, some make you spend the overage on more items.
When you know you'll be getting an overage ahead of time, stock up on necessities and staples like meat or toilet paper.
It feels great using those hard-earned discounts on something useful.
Get Cash Back
Even after stacking deals and getting overages, you can still save even more money.
Couponers also use cash back sites like Checkout 51 to get rebates on their favorite products.
After signing up for free, you can see a list of cash back offers on great products and brands, from Special K and Triscuit to Aveeno.
Buy those products at the store, upload your receipt to Checkout 51, and the site will give you cash back.
The site earns money for promoting these products, but since you're probably buying them anyway, the bottom line is you save money on your weekly purchases.
You need to make sure you buy the right products to qualify for cash back, but the savings make the extra effort totally worth it.
Once you combine a sale, coupons, and cash back from Checkout 51, it feels like your groceries pay for themselves!
Mind Your Manners
Sadly, couponers have earned a reputation for being a little cranky.
I've had a few people move to another line when they see me pull out my coupons.
To avoid getting dirty looks from cashiers, it pays to mind your manners.
Be friendly, ask if there's a cash specifically for couponers, and ask your cashier if they mind dealing with coupons.
Remember to smile - after all, you're saving money!
For more money-saving advice, try these 17 tips to cut your grocery bill in half.