Now that we set our grocery budget (from Part I), we can start talking about how we’re going to be saving. The first and most important resource is the coupon. Taking a 50 cent coupon into a store won’t do much for you. You’ll have to watch for store deals and learn how to get the most out of each coupon. We’ll be covering store deals next week. For now, we’re going to cover coupon basics.
Where to begin
It’s going to take a few weeks to get started. You’ll need to establish a coupon collection. There are several resources to get started. The best resource is the Sunday paper. Each week, the Sunday paper will have anywhere from 1-5 coupon inserts. These coupons come from Red Plum, Smart Source, and Proctor & Gamble. Depending on where you live will determine what coupons you get in these inserts. I subscribe to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday edition for $.35 a week. Then I get three additional San Francisco Examiners for free. Strangely, the coupons are different. The rule of thumb is to get one paper per family member. If you don’t want to buy a ton of papers, ask around. Neighbors are often happy to get rid of them.
You can always get several coupons online. All of the sites mentioned above have their coupons available online. However, there is a print and quantity limit. The only way you are guaranteed the best coupons is via the inserts. I do both. Not only am I getting four newspapers, but I print the coupons as well. This way I know I’ll have multiple coupons to stock up on items I really need.
There are several other ways to get coupons too. When you are shopping, look for “blinkie” machines in the aisles. These are the holders that spit out select coupons, and they’re usually attached to the shelf with a blinking red light. “Peelies” are coupons that are attached to products. Peel it right off and use it on your purchase. Don’t forget about the free coupon booklets throughout the stores. There are free booklets by our deli department with great store coupons. Also, go online and see if the manufacturer of a product has coupons available. You usually have to sign up for their newsletters, but I’ve found some really high value coupons this way.
Once you start building your coupon stock pile, you should also get a Rewards Card for the stores you shop the most. These Rewards Cards are free, and will save you a ton of money instantly. There are also great coupon sites that will let you add coupons straight to the card. Cellfire is one. Load the coupons onto your Rewards Card each time there are new coupons. I love that I get an email from Cellfire, showing how much I saved and what coupons I used.
How to organize your coupons
Now that you have a few coupons, you need to organize them. I spend about an hour each week cutting and organizing my coupons. I only clip the coupons I know I’m going to use. The rest I file in a box, organized by coupon source. I keep all the coupons because there may be a future offer that will allow me to get the item for free, or make money from it. I can always donate items I won’t use, or give them to friends and family who will. There are several different ways of storing your cut coupons. I use a small check accordion-style folder. A lot of people use binders. Whatever works best for you. Just know, you will need a system that’s easy to use, or you’ll give up. There’s nothing worse than fumbling for coupons at the resister. So get organized right away!
When to use your coupons
Just because you have a ton of coupons doesn’t mean you’re going to use them. Remember, that 50 cent coupon isn’t worth much until it can be used the right way at the right time. If you used all the coupons you just cut, you’ll be buying products you really don’t need, and spending more money than necessary. The trick to saving money with coupons is to wait until an item goes on sale or goes on clearance. Learning how to combine manufacturer and store coupons for the best value. Creating a grocery list from the weekly ads, and matching those items up with coupons. All of these tricks can make for free, or almost free items because you have used coupons wisely.
Next week, in Part III (Grocery Shopping), I’ll tell you how you can get the most out of your coupons, how to grocery shop, and what to look for when shopping.
*photo by thisisbossi on flickr.