Couponing "How to"
Coupon a little or a lot...just do what you can
- We all lead different lives and have differing amounts of time to dedicate to couponing. Those who do lots of couponing can save a TON! However, you may be at a point in your life that couponing just a little is all you can squeeze in. This is still great! Truly, every little bit counts! The dollar value of the coupons you use is money in your pocket! There's no "wrong" way to do it! If you do choose to dedicate a little more time, you'll quickly see that you can save 50% or more off your grocery bill!
- Most stores that allow coupons allow you to "stack" a manufacturer's coupon with a store coupon on the same item. For instance, if you want to purchase an 8 oz. package of cheese, the manufacturer ("Kraft", for instance) may have a coupon for $0.50 off one ($0.50/1) 8 oz. package. If the cheese is priced at $2.50, using the manufacturer's coupon alone, you would pay $2.00 for the cheese. However, if you "stack" the $0.50 manufacturer's coupon with an additional $1.00 off one ($1/1) "store" coupon for the same item, you'd pay just $1.00 for the 8 oz. package and keep $1.50 in your pocket!
Watching sales cycles
- Prices on most products fluctuate over time and reach their lowest or "rock bottom" price about every 8-12 weeks (give or take).
- Ideally, make your purchases (and stock up!) when prices are at their lowest and you have coupons to use at the same time! I don't recommend buying items you don't plan to use (unless it's a free or money-maker deal and you can give the product to charity. More on that later.) Some people stockpile to have enough to feed their families for 6 months or even a year or more! To find great savings, you don't have to stockpile this much. Just buy enough of the item to last until you expect to see it at its lowest sale price again. For example, if your family uses one box of cereal per week and cereal reaches its lowest price every 10 weeks, buy 10 boxes of cereal (at the lowest price) to get you through to the next big sale.
- Be flexible with the brands you purchase. Try out a new brand if the product is on sale (or has a coupon or both). Many brands are actually made at the same factory but simply labeled & packaged differently! You'll find the most savings this way & you might just find some new favorites!
Bigger is not always better!
- Actually, with couponing & strategic shopping, you'll most often get the best deals on smaller sized items. Here's an example: Say you want to buy a bottle of juice. The larger 64 oz. bottle is priced at $2.00 and the smaller 32 oz. bottle is priced at $1.00. You also have a coupon for $0.50 off one bottle of this particular brand of juice. Using your $0.50/1 coupon, if you purchase the 64 oz. bottle at $2.00, you'll be paying $1.50 for 64 oz. (or $0.02 per ounce). If, instead, you use the same coupon on the 32 oz. bottle, you'll be paying $0.50 for 32 oz. (or just $0.01 per ounce)! If you need 64 oz. of juice, just buy two 32 oz. bottles and use two coupons!
"One coupon per purchase" misconception
- In the fine print on coupons, it often states "one coupon per purchase". Many people think this means that you can only use one of that particular coupon in the same transaction at the cash register. Actually, a "purchase" is the act of buying the number of items indicated on the coupon. For instance, if you have a coupon for $1/1, this means the coupon is worth $1.00 when you purchase one of the item indicated. Unless the coupon states otherwise, you could "purchase" four (or more) of the item indicated and use four of the same $1/1 coupons, one for each item, all in the same transaction at the register.
Doubling Coupons is Dynamite!
- If your store doubles manufacturer's coupons (Copps and some Sentry stores do in the Madison area), you can save tons! When a coupon is doubled, it means that the coupon is worth twice its face value (see individual stores for details because policies for doubling can vary widely)! Imagine this scenario with the 32 oz. juice you bought in the "Bigger is not always better" section above:
Juice, 16 oz., $1.00 (sale price)
+ use $0.50/1 coupon
Juice, 16 oz., $1.00 (sale price)
+ use $0.50/1 coupon, doubled (so the coupon is now worth $1.00!)
Money-maker (or "overage")
- Oh, and yes...the "money-maker"...a favorite of all couponers! This is when you earn money for purchasing a product with coupons. Really, it's true! To clarify, I don't know of any stores that actually give you the money, itself, back. Most often, the extra savings just helps you to save more on the other products you're buying in the same cash register transaction (or on a later purchase through coupons you receive at the register). Here's an example: You're buying a can of soup, which has a sale price of $0.50 per can. You also have a $0.40/1 coupon for the same soup. Say your store is doubling coupons this day so your soup coupon is now worth $0.80/1. Today, you're also buying a gallon of milk:
Soup, one can, $0.50 (sale price)
+ use $0.40/1 manufacturer's coupon, doubled (so coupon is now worth $0.80)
= $0.30 moneymaker! :-)
Milk, one gallon, $2.30
Total cost this trip = $2.00!
(it's like getting FREE soup and $0.30 off your gallon of milk!)
Some stores will accept manufacturer's coupons with another store's logo on it.
- For instance, a coupon in a "Cub" grocery store ad that has the "Cub" logo on it but states "manufacturer's coupon" would be accepted at the Copps store where I shop.
Store Coupon Policies:
- Many stores have their stated "coupon policy" available on their website and some do not. In either case, it's often best to check in with your individual store's customer service desk to verify & clarify. I also recommend bringing store policies (from the store's website) along with you when you shop (in case any issues arise and you need to politely remind a cashier or manager of particulars in their stated policy).
- For more information about store policies, visit the Store Tips & Policies tab toward the top of this blog.
What to look for in a sale ad:
- Stores often list prices as "3 for $3" or "5 for $10". When you see prices listed this way, in almost all cases, you don't have to purchase the quantity listed to get the sale price! If you do have to, the stores will almost always say that you have to: such as "3 for $3, when you buy three". So, when you see "2 for $6", just change the sale price in your mind to $3.00 each, right away!...and when you see "2 for $1.00", just change the price in your mind to $0.50 each, and so on! :-)
- Many items listed in ads are not actually at a good price! If you've been mostly ignoring prices for a while (like I had been prior to couponing), it may take some time for you to recognize the best prices for various items. In time, you'll be spotting deals left & right! See the "Price List!" page where I'm keeping a current list of the $ amount I aim to pay for certain items. You may wish to keep your own price list (sometimes called "price book") (for items you buy regularly) and track best prices you're finding at area stores over a 3-4 month period. In the end, you'll be right on track for spotting the best prices on your favorite products!
Let others do the coupon & sales match-ups for you!
- There's tons of information on-line about store sales & available coupons. Let Madison Coupon Connection and other blogs do most of the time-consuming work for you! When you see deals posted for a store where you would like to shop, you can simply copy the list of deals into a word processing document on your computer and delete out the deals you aren't interested in. Also, use your method of coupon organization (see below) to find or print the coupons stated in the deals & whalah, your coupons and shopping list are ready to go!
Where to find coupons...
Sunday Newspaper Coupon Inserts:
- There are typically at least one or two inserts in each Sunday paper (except on the Sunday near a major holiday, when there are none). The possible inserts are:
- Smartsource (SS)
- Redplum (RP)
- General Mills (GM)
- Procter & Gamble (P&G or PG)
- To see the projected Sunday coupon insert schedule for 2011, click here. Each Friday, (give or take), I also post a link to Sunday Coupon Preview, where you can get a sneak peek of which types of coupons are coming in these inserts. It can be helpful to know ahead of time in case there are some high value coupons for items you want to purchase. If so, you may plan to grab an extra paper or more that particular week. Please note: Coupons and coupon values do vary quite a bit by region. See four reasons why coupon inserts differ by checking out this great post by Carrie at "Pocket your Dollars".
- You may want to consider subscribing to more than one copy of the Sunday paper or ask friends and neighbors if they wouldn't mind giving you coupons that they would have been recycling anyway. I've even heard of people going "dumpster diving" at the recycle center to find additional coupon inserts! (You may have seen this on TLC's "Extreme Couponing" show).
- "Print Coupons!" tab on Madison Coupon Connection! :-) FYI--when you choose to print coupons from this tab or this and other coupons.com links on this blog, I receive a very small commission. This helps to reimburse me for my time spent working on this blog. Thank you!
- Click the "coupons" link on the right side of the blog under "Other Posts" to find all of the Madison Coupon Connection posts containing particularly great "coupons"!
- Scroll down to the bottom of the Madison Coupon Connection blog to find a "Coupon Database" which is updated by another blog, Deal Seeking Mom. This is a great way to find out what types of coupons might be available & where. Many are printable!
- Target.com: Target always has a number of coupons available to print from their website. Scroll to the bottom of their web page and click on the word "Coupons" to find them. Many are Target "store" coupons. Others are "manufacturer's" coupons.
- Manufacturer's websites: Often, you can find printable coupons on manufacturer's websites. If a coupon isn't obviously available from the site's home page, look for words like "Promotional offers" or "Savings", which may lead you to a great printable coupon. Many people have also had success receiving coupons after calling or e-mailing manufacturers directly to let them know how much they enjoy their product (or how much they would like to try their product).
Other places to find coupons:
- Coupon clipping services: There are several coupon clipping services you can choose from. These are ideal when you see a great deal coming up and want to plan ahead & stock up by using lots of coupons. The services are known for getting shipments out quickly. Choose a service closest to your home for the quickest shipping. I have not used these extensively yet. Once I have, and have a feel for which particular services I recommend, I'll add a list here.
- Facebook.com: Manufacturer's facebook pages frequently offer coupons and free sample deals! You'll see these posted on Madison Coupon Connection from time to time.
- Ebay.com: Many coupon clipping services offer their services on ebay. Simply go to ebay.com and search for the name of the product you're looking for along with the word "coupon". You'll often find several coupons available. It is not legal to "sell" actual coupons. According to the ebay coupon clipping sellers, you will not be paying for the coupons themselves, you are paying for their time in clipping and organizing them for you.
- Blinkie's: These are the coupons that you sometimes see in the aisles at the grocery stores. Sometimes you can pull them out of a machine that has a blinking light, hence the name "blinkie's". When you see these, feel free to take a few but please be sure to leave some for other couponers!
- Peelies or hangtags: These are coupons that are directly attached to a product in the store & can be a nice surprise when you find them! It's tempting, I know...but, please, in respect for other shoppers, don't peel coupons off items you aren't planning to purchase the same day.
- Catalinas: "Catalina" coupons are the coupons that print out of a "catalina" machine at the register.
- Store booklets: Often, stores will have booklets of coupons available near their entrances each month (such as Walgreens). Or, you may find them in certain areas of the store such as near the beauty or pharmacy department. Sometimes these are filled with "store" coupons or may have several "manufacturer" coupons in them.
- Magazines: Several magazines have coupons in them. The best magazine for coupons that I know of is All You! It's always loaded with great coupons!...& great money-saving articles! Definitely worth the subscription!
- Free samples: You will often get coupons in the mail along with free samples. I post about many of these "free sample" opportunities. To see these posts, click on the "free samples" link on the right hand side of this blog under "OTHER POSTS". Please note: The word about free sample deals spreads very quickly and the samples are often gone before you get a chance to snag them...you'll need to act fast! Also, please be patient and understanding with the websites that are so kindly offering the samples. When they provide these offers, they often get slammed with thousands of page views all at once & their web servers may have difficulty keeping up. You may need to refresh the page several times, for instance, to get a chance to get through to request the deal.
Coupon Organization Options:
- Oh, my goodness there are a lot of ways to do this! Again, there is no right or wrong way here. Read through these ideas and try a method out that appeals to you. You may find, in time, that you need to "graduate" to a method that allows more storage and organization (such as the "no-clip method" and/or the "binder method"), or you may find that you use fewer coupons and a "small accordian-style coupon file" is just enough.
- Small envelope: Simply stash a few clipped coupons in an extra envelope you have around & take along to the store when you go!
- Small accordian-style coupon file: These (approx 5" x 7" or so sized files) can be found in several stores such as Target or office supply stores. You can choose to organize your coupons in these by store or by aisle, for instance.
- Coupon file box: Use a plastic box to store your coupons (ideally, find one that would fit well in the shopping cart). You can choose to organize your coupons in these alphabetically or by aisle/category. Some people who organize these by aisle use envelopes within the box as subcategories for each aisle. You can staple an index card inside each envelope to label the subcategory and give the envelope a little more substance.
- Binder method: Store all of your coupons in a three ring binder using baseball card style inserts. Many people who use this method file by aisle/category. Place like coupons in the same baseball card slots, on top of one another (those most soon to expire on top so you use them first. This also makes it easier to scan through your binder quickly & pull those that are expired out. If you plan to bring the binder into the store, it may be best to find one that zips closed all the way around so to prevent your pages and coupons from falling out.
- No-clip method: Keep your Sunday coupon inserts intact!...simply mark the date you received them on the front and file them for easy retrieval later. If you get multiple inserts, match like-pages up together (collate) so it's easy to find & clip multiples of the same coupons later. When you see a great deal posted (or see a coupon in the "Coupon Database" at the bottom of this blog) you'll often see a notation such as "SS 1/2/11" next to it ~which means this coupon came in the SmartSource (SS) coupon insert from the 1/2/11 Sunday paper~ When you find that deal, just pull that insert out, clip your coupon, and head to the store! You'll still need a way to keep track of your internet printable coupons and coupons that you clip and then decide not to use right away. For those coupons, choose one of the other methods above.
- My current method: I currently use a combination of the "no-clip method" (for in-tact inserts), filed by insert type and then by date and the "binder method" (for clipped coupons & internet printables), organized by category/aisle. I also use a small accordian-style coupon file, organized by store. Before heading out, I have most of my deals planned out for each store & just file the corresponding coupons in the small accordian-style file. Lately, I've just been bringing the little accordian-style file into the store & have been leaving my larger binder in the car (just in case I spot a great unadvertised deal).
For more information about Organizing your Coupons, see this great post by Frugal Living Mom (with pictures & all!)
Sunday Newspaper Insert Abbreviations:
- PG = Procter and Gamble
- RP = Red Plum
- SS = SmartSource
- GM = General Mills
- B1G1 = Buy One Get One Free
- BOGO = Buy One Get One Free
- Catalina = coupon printed out by a “catalina” machine at the register
- Filler = This is an item that is purchased to achieve a minimum purchase amount or to meet a requirement to buy a certain number of items.
- IVC = Instant Value Coupon
- Insert = These are the coupons from the Sunday paper
- MC = Manufacturer's coupon
- MFG = Manufacturer
- MFR = Manufacturer
- MIR = Mail In Rebate
- MQ = Manufacturer's coupon
- Moneymaker (aka overage) = indicates you can come out ahead money-wise with this deal (better than free!), to save even more on other items in your transaction.
- OOP = Out of Pocket
- Overage (aka moneymaker) = indicates you can come out ahead money-wise with this deal, to save even more on other items in your transaction.
- Peelie = A coupon that you peel off the package
- Q or Qs = Coupon or Coupons
- Raincheck = when a store is sold out on a particular sale item, you can ask for one of these at the register or at customer service in order to get the same price on the item when it’s back in stock at a future time.
- RR = Register Reward (Walgreens Lingo), it's a type of manufacturer's coupon that prints out at the cash register when you purchase items associated with it. For more info., see the "Walgreens" section here: Store Tips & Policies: Drugstores
- Stacking: Using a store coupon and manufacturer's coupon together on one purchase to increase savings.
- UPC = Universal Product Code
- YMMV = Your mileage may vary, different at different stores
- WAGS = Walgreens Drugstore
- WSL = While Supplies Last
- WYB = When you Buy