I have had a lot of readers contact me over the past week or two to tell me they have now started using coupons, and to ask for advice or clarification. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to help! Extreme couponing does take a little time and practice, but the monetary rewards are SO worth it! (i.e. less money spent on food = more money for shoes!) Plus, it doesn't seem like it would be, but it can be a lot of fun.
To help you save more time and money, today I thought I'd put together a few tips to help those of you who are just getting started in this coupon game:
1. Clip as little as possible. It is impossible to avoid clipping all coupons--how else would you use them--but you can save a ton of time each week by simply filing your entire newspaper insert by date and only clipping coupons when and if they are needed. The best way of filing these inserts is to use either an accordion file or a portable hanging file folder box. Printable lists of which coupons are included in each insert are published here on SouthernSavers.com each week. (Some coupons vary by region, but generally the lists are pretty accurate.) That way if you need to buy a specific item, you can scan the list for a coupon that might work.
2. Keep your clipped coupons organized & accessible. Even if the majority of your coupons stay filed by date in their inserts, you will still amass a lot of loose coupons, whether they be a hot coupon you
printed or coupons that come in the mail. To organize these loose coupons, I use my trusty Couponizer book, which was my first organization method when I started couponing. (It is still a great tool, it just doesn't fit all the coupons I am now working with!) A smaller accordion envelope with labels by category would probably also work well for this purpose. Both are small enough to carry along with you to the store, in the event you come across an unadvertised special.
3. Be on the lookout for great printable coupons. There are literally hundreds of coupon & frugal living blogs out there (although I know you love mine the best!) Spend some time looking through them, then follow the ones you like best in a RSS feed reader. New coupons pop up all the time, but the really good ones tend to go fast. 5 minutes a day scanning the headlines for a hot deal could eventually save you hundreds of dollars.
4. Don't expect to use every coupon. Even if a coupon seems really good, it might not be a great deal if that item happens to be at its highest price point in the sales cycle. As much as possible, try to wait until items go on sale. Experience and practice will tell you when an item has hit rock bottom. Trust me, P\patience will pay off.
5. Prepare before you go. DON'T try to wing it! This is important! For my weekly trip to Publix, (the store I get the vast majority of my groceries at), I probably spend an average of 2-3 hours preparing my list and gathering coupons. I use the printable list tool at SouthernSavers.com (CouponMom.com also has this feature for other regions.) I look through the list and check all the items that look like a good deal with coupon match-ups, or items that are on sale that I know my family wants/needs. I print a copy of the list with coupon match-ups, then methodically go down the list and find the coupons that are listed, whether they be printable (which I then print) or located in an insert.
6. Go to more than one store. Sure it's a hassle, especially if you do most of your shopping with kids in tow. However, different stores have different deals each week, which doubles your chances at savings. Additionally, if you have a bunch of non-sale staple items to buy, it is generally better to get those items at the store with the lowest overall prices, while stocking up on deals at the higher-priced stores.
7. Stockpile, stockpile, stockpile! I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the key to saving a ton of money with coupons is to build a great stockpile! If you buy large quantities each week of the few really cheap sale items, you will eventually have a great variety of products to choose from--your own little mini grocery store.
8. Buy multiple newspapers. One insert a week won't cut it for big-time savings. For my little family, I buy at least 6 (and sometimes more if I know it is going to be a good week.) Call the newspaper in your area and see if they will cut you a deal--perhaps deliver extra inserts if you order multiple subscriptions. Ask friends and family members or neighbors who don't coupon if they would mind giving up their inserts. You could even collect them from businesses like hotels or restaurants that provide Sunday newspapers for their guests to ready. Be creative. But stock up!
9. Invest in a B&W laser printer. The vast majority of coupons are now acquired online, which means you will be printing a LOT of coupons. A laser printer will save you a lot of money on toner in the long run. After my last $25 ink jet cartridge lasted me all of 3 weeks, I bought the Brother HL-2140 (available on Amazon for $79.99) and a refurbished replacement High-Yield Toner cartridge for $36.99. Even at the rate I print, I should now be set for at least a year, which means in that time the printer will have paid for itself 4 times over. Along those lines, stock up on cheap printer paper at office supply stores whenever you can!
10. Learn the rules of the game. Be familiar with the coupon policies of the stores you shop at. Learn about the different drugstore programs, whether you go to CVS, Walgreens, or Rite-Aid. Know what it means to "stack" store and manufacturer's coupons. Likewise, learn the terminology and abbreviations that are frequently used. Jenny of Southern Savers has a fantastic coupon tutorial on her site, (which is useful even if you don't live in the South.) You can also check out some of my previous coupons 101 posts.
Finally, if you are just starting out and have any questions, please feel free to post it on a comment below, and I will try to answer it as best I can! Chances are if you're wondering, someone else is too!