Among other things that she can use for her first apartment soon; I gave L her own fully loaded and ready to shop coupon binder for her birthday. That made me think that it might be a good idea to write a post on the topic of how to make the most of your coupons.
Now I’m no expert (and far from extreme) but I have learned a few things along the way that I’d like to share with you; so grab that coffee cup, a fresh warm muffin, sit back, kick off your shoes, and relax while I fill your break time with information and ideas that you didn’t even know you wanted to know.
~Find your coupons… pick up a copy of the Sunday paper (except on holidays- there’s usually not any coupon inserts on holidays) [I've been told that picking up one copy for each person living in your household is a good rule of thumb for stocking up on sale items.], check out those annoying magazine ads a little more closely some have coupons right there on the page while some give you a web address where you can go to print one, check out ALL YOU magazine available at Wal-Mart I think you’ll like that one a lot, watch for little pads of coupons hanging on store shelves and those little blinky machines flashing away in the isles, take a quick look at that junk mail before you put it away in the ol’ round file and open those flyers too, get on the mailing list for your favorite stores you usually do this when you register your store loyalty card (I know Dillons sends out lots of great coupons in their direct mailings.), take a quick look at that packaging before you toss it some products have coupons on the package or tucked inside or even printed on the backs of labels, pick up those little ads in the doctor’s office or dentist office or other waiting rooms I’ve found some good coupons there, look online at coupon sites and manufacture’s sites and even social media sites (check this page for a short list of just some of the places I’ve found printable coupons I’ll add more links as I find them.), listen to those tv and radio ads sometimes they give you a web address too, and trade the coupons you don’t want with a friend or family member who may have some that you do want.
~Don’t clip every coupon you find… only keep coupons for products that your family will use. If you wash your hair or brush your teeth than keep the shampoo and toothpaste coupons. If you have a dog keep the dog food coupons but if you don’t have a cat than you have no need to keep the cat food coupons. The only exception to this is if you are going to trade/give them to a friend or other family member.
~Don’t buy something just because you have a coupon for it… if you don’t have a microwave than you have no reason to fill your freezer with microwave only meals, and if you can’t stand broccoli then why would you buy it even if you can get it for free. The exception to this one is if you are going to make a donation to a food bank, after school program, or animal shelter. As long as you get that donation made and don’t leave a case of cat treats sitting in your basement for years on end when you are allergic to cats.
~Read your coupons carefully… miss using a coupon is fraud so don’t miss that fine print! If it says “store coupon” than it can only be used at that store, if it says “manufacture’s coupon” then it’s good anywhere that accepts manufacture’s coupons, watch for the wording if it says redeem ONLY at Walgreens that don’t try to use it a Target but if it says redeemable at Wal-Mart and is a regular manufacture’s coupon you should be able to use it at Dillons (if the cashier doesn’t think so politely ask her to check with the manager so that you will both know for sure the next time), some coupons say Do Not Double or DND so don’t expect them to double (even if the store policy says that they double coupons up to a certain amount these specially marked coupons won’t double), watch those expiration dates and don’t try to use them after they expire (There is an exception to this- most overseas commissaries will allow military families to use expired coupons for about 6 months past the date. Check out Coups For Troops to see how you can help those military families.)
~Keep your coupons organized… you can’t use them if you can’t find them. Use a small file box, envelopes, a portable file folder, an old photo album with pocket pages, or my favorite a three-ring binder with baseball card holders. Set it up with sections that resemble the store isles; baby items, baking needs, beverages, canned goods, cereal/breakfast items, cleaning supplies, dairy/refrigerated foods, frozen foods, health and beauty, meats, paper goods, pet supplies, produce, snack foods, and include a section for non-grocery items like household goods, auto supplies, insect repellent, toys, and games. I also keep a section for restaurant coupons for those lunch stops between stores. Once a week, after you have clipped the new coupons from the Sunday paper, purge all those old expired coupons, (I even take out the ones that will expire before I’m going shopping again. This works great if you only shop once a week or once every two weeks.)
~Know your store coupon policies… the rules vary slightly from one store to the next so find the policies for your favorite stores and print them out; tuck them inside your coupon organizer and take them with you. This will save you from doing something that you shouldn’t and help you show the cashier, who may have missed the coupon training meeting, what you can and can’t do. Some stores double (some only up to $1.00 and some even go over that amount), many stores do not double at all, some double only on certain days of the month, some allow you stack a manufacture’s coupon with a store coupon, some allow you to stack a paper coupon with a digital coupon (and some do not), some don’t allow stacking of any kind, some accept internet printable coupons and some do not, some accept all coupons and will enter them by hand if it doesn’t scan, some will not accept a coupon that won’t scan, some will accept coupons that are store coupons for other stores most don’t, some have digital coupons that you load to your store loyalty card and some do not, some will take a coupon a day or two after the expiration date but most will not. There’s lots of variables from one store to the next so just do a little bit of homework to get the best deals you can. It won’t take you long at all to figure things out. If you can’t find the policy for you favorite store online you can try sending them an e-mail to request one or ask the store manager if he can print it for you. I haven’t had any stores refuse to tell me the rules but I have had cashiers who don’t have a clue. Here’s a few links that you may find helpful… Dillons (I had to e-mail for a complete coupon policy, all I found online was their digital coupon policy.), Walgreens, CVS, Wal-Mart, Hy Vee, Dollar General, Target.
Please feel free to share links to coupon policies you have found for your favorite stores in the comments!
~Use your coupons everywhere… I know that you know you can use coupons at the grocery store but there are other places that accept them too. How about your pharmacy, your favorite department store, the super center, the big box store, the club stores, restaurants, hotels, car rentals, airlines, and codes for online shopping. Just do a quick search, check the ads, or ask the cashiers and managers; you’d be surprised what you can find!
~Plan your shopping trip… use the weekly ad to find out what’s on sale, make a list, shop with your list, match your coupons to sale items for a bigger savings (let’s say macaroni and cheese usually costs $4.oo a box and it’s on sale for $2.00 a box and you have a coupon for $1.00 off a box that means you will pay only $1.00 a box –time to stock up on macaroni and cheese), pay special attention to the first and last page of the store ads this is where they put the biggest deals -usually. You can also use this planning time to compare prices from one store ad to the next and plan what you want to pick up a which store (Let’s say Dillon’s has soda for $3.00 a 12 pack and Wal-Mart has the same soda for $2.85; you might think Wal-Mart is cheaper. Maybe not. Maybe you have a coupon for .50 off that soda, that means you will pay $2.35 at Wal-Mart, however Dillons will double that coupon up to $1.00 which means you will pay only $2.00 for that soda if you pick it up at Dillons.) That brings me to another tip ~Shop where your coupons double and/or where you can stack your coupons. (Let’s say that Walgreens has that soda for $3.00 too and I have a manufacture’s coupon for .50 and a store coupon for .50. I’m going to pay just $2.00.) (another little tip for Walgreens; the number of items in your cart must outnumber the pieces of paper you hand the cashier. This means sometimes you just might pick up an extra little item such as a pencil or a pack of gum in order to save that $20.oo off your total because you had 15 items and 16 coupons/store coupons/and register rewards.)
~Use your store loyalty cards… a lot of stores have store loyalty cards that save you even more. Just today I scanned my loyalty card at PetCo and saved $4 off a bag of Bella Dog’s favorite food that was already on sale and ended up with 50 pounds of food for almost the same price as the 20 pound bag! At Dillons you will notice that most of the items have two prices on the shelf. One is what you will pay if you don’t take the time to get and use that loyalty card and the other is what you will pay if you take those few moments to fill in that form and get that card and simply hand it to the cashier every time you check out. You may laugh and say who would pay the higher price? But I see people all the time shop without a loyalty card and pay $5.00 for the same thing I paid $3.00 for; crazy! And when I add a .50 coupon to that and that coupon doubles I pay only $2.00 for the same thing that other guy just spent $5.00 on.
~Do the math… is that store brand really a better deal? It might be or it might not be. How about this… the store brand oatmeal is priced at $2.00 and the Quaker oatmeal is priced at $4.00; given no special sale pricing or no coupons then the store brand is clearly cheaper. (and for this scenario we’ll say they are the same size packaging, that way we have less math to do ) But… let’s say that you have a coupon for $2.00 off the Quaker; nice, that makes it the same price as the store brand. But… let’s say that Quaker is on sale for $3.00 and we have that coupon for $2.00 off; now that makes Quaker cheaper than the store brand. Very nice. And is that large value size really a better deal? Maybe so and maybe not. Let’s say Dillons has your favorite hand lotion in a 16 oz size for $6.50 and in an 8 oz size for $3.40. If you buy two 8 oz sizes to get the 16 oz amount that you are wanting you will pay $6.80; so in this case that larger size is a better deal. But what if… you have coupons for .50 off one any size bottle of that lotion. Let’s do that math… 16 oz for $6.50 minus one .50 off coupon that doubles to $1.00 = $5.50 lotion. But if you pick up two of the 8 oz size at $3.40 each for a total of $6.80 and use two of those .50 coupons that double to $1.00 each you end up paying $4.80 for that 16 oz of lotion. Yes; that’s only .70 but what if you saved .70 on every item in your cart? I can live with smaller packages if I save money doing it. You might want to toss a calculator in your coupon organizer!
~Do a little more math… when you get home from shopping take a look at your receipts and add them all up. Find out how much you would have spent without coupons and store loyalty cards and how many dollars worth of coupons that you used. Awesome!! You just brought home $400 worth of groceries and you only paid $250. What will you do with that “extra” $150? Will you use it to make an extra payment on a bill? Will you start a savings account for that next vacation? Will you use it to help your grown up children buy some groceries for their place? Will you pick up a bucket of paint and paint your living room? Will you go out to a fancy dinner and a movie? Will you treat yourself to something you’ve had your eye on like that new blue ray player? What will you do? And just think if you save another $150 dollars next week…..
Ok; that’s all I’ve got for you today now get out there and find those coupons!!!