There are already many, many blogs, books, and television shows that cover saving money and using coupons in the most extreme of ways. You could drive yourself absolutely crazy trying to keep up with every technique, to catch every deal, and to use every resource that is out there. Don’t beat yourself up – and don’t worry, you don’t have to do everything to do something.
Remember – there are likely coupons out there that are for items that your family buys, uses, and needs. You don’t have to make major changes to your shopping process if you don’t want to. All you're doing at this stage is trying to save a couple of dollars a week, which will add up at the end of the year. You have to buy groceries anyway, right? Might as well save some money.
Before you start
Let’s get one thing out of the way before we continue – nearly always, but especially if you want to do the barest of minimums, the only way a coupon (or a sale) is worth your time on an average day is if you were going to buy whatever it is at full price anyway. If you’re trying to cut back on your sugar consumption and then you look at a box of sugary packaged cookies and think, “Oh, I have a coupon for those that will make them 75% off! Those are a great deal!” then you really need to walk on by. On the other hand, if you are low on your family’s preferred brand of laundry detergent and you can get it for 60 cents off, then you might as well go for it.
You can get fancier in the future if you want to, of course. You can look for deals that make things you wouldn't normally buy so cheap that it’s OK to take a chance, and you can wait for sales so that you can stockpile your preferred items at the lowest price instead of realizing you’re out and being forced to pay top dollar. But if you’re at the grocery store, coupon or sale circular in hand, and you realize that you’re buying something you did not really want or need and that you cannot donate, stop and walk away, no matter how good the deal is.
The simplest way to use coupons
Here’s what I perceive to be the rock bottom, simplest way to use coupons.
- Acquire the Sunday paper for the biggest city in your area, as that is the easiest way to get coupons for the week without much hassle. Buy it. Ask someone to give it to you. Dig it out of your neighbor’s recycling bin. Find a deal on Sunday-only subscriptions. Just get it. (Do remember that there are usually no coupons on holiday weekends – so skip those. There are bloggers that will remind you of this fact, too.) Of course there are other ways to get coupons - we're talking the easiest way!
- Pull out the coupon circulars, clip the ones that you know you’ll use on your very next shopping trip, and throw everything else away.
- Remember to bring the coupons with you and to hand them to the cashier when you check out. (They won't save you a dime if they travel back out of the store with you!)
I used this completely not-scientific system when I was in college, and I probably saved a few cents here and there. I suspect this is how many people use coupons – and if you use this system and it’s all you know, it may be why it seems so daunting to think about saving even more money with coupons.
The second-simplest way to use coupons
The truth is, there are a just a few more steps you can take for not much more time that will save you a lot more money. It’s a system that many bloggers use, so if you learn this system, you will then be able to apply it in many ways out there.
- Acquire the Sunday paper however you can.
- Pull the coupon circulars out of the paper and, if you want, clip the ones you’ll use immediately. (Although this isn’t ideal for catching the best sale + coupon deals, it also is still a way to save at least a little money.)
- Take the full circular, write the date on it in big numbers, and file it, or if you’re like me, shove it in a box that is designated just for your coupon circulars.
What happens next? Each week, you can either take the store’s circular and match up the coupons with the things you want to buy that are on sale, or you can take advantage of the fabulousness that is the Internet and have someone else do it for you.
There are many, many bloggers that will match sales with coupons for you – some focus on a single store, some cover a range of stores. These sites will provide you with a list of what is on sale and tell you which items have coupons out there and in what week each coupon appeared.
Then all you have to do is pull out what you filed, clip the coupons you’ll use for the week, and go off to the store knowing that you’re going to save some money. This method takes a few weeks to get going – in the beginning you’ll see super sales that use coupons from weeks or months before you started. You can always ask around for these coupons or you can even buy coupons (but that’s something I’ll cover later on – for now, just figure that those are deals you’ll miss and move on).
My favorite site for the weekly matchups is CouponMom, which is a free site that covers pretty much every grocery store across the United States. I learned the pull-label-file process from this site. You have to register for the site, but it's a painless process and you won't be spammed. Then, from the main page, select either the logo of your preferred store or click “Grocery Deals by State” at the top to find your store. You’ll be given a list of everything that is on sale for the week, matched up with coupons and other deals. You can check a little box next to anything you think you might buy to compile a list that you can bring with you to the store.
For example, let’s say that Big Grocery Store (BGS) is having a sale on a bag of frozen organic carrots. Usually, BGS sells those for $5. However, this week, BGS has them on sale for half price, and that’s a great deal. But three weeks ago – happily, when you started collecting and saving the coupon circulars – there was a coupon for 50 cents off any organic produce by that particular brand, and BGS happens to double coupons up to 50 cents. That brings your cost for those frozen carrots down to $1.50. And maybe $1.50, instead of $5, is a price that appeals to you and you can then buy them for your family at a major discount.
Substitute “organic milk” or “cage free eggs” or “super chocolate candy bar” and you’ll see where this could save you money, particularly on things you buy on a regular basis. You can get into a bind if you start chasing deals for things that you won’t use nor donate – remember, spending a lot of extra money to save a little isn’t a deal. But if every single week you buy a certain brand of bread at the grocery store and next week it’s both on sale and has a coupon, then that would be a worthwhile deal for you to pursue.
So let us recap: If you want to use the simplest coupons in the simplest way, pull, label, save, and then use a website to help you with the rest.