Saturday, May 8, 2010

Couponing 101

These days everyone is trying to save money. People are going out to eat less, shopping less, but most people aren't fidgeting with their grocery budget. On average, most families spend over $5,000 a year on grocery store trips. Most families can spend around $150 per week on groceries (not counting eating out), which is almost $8,000 a year! That's almost as much as a decent used car (or about half the price of a new car).

Before couponing, my mother was spending around $100-125 a week for groceries just for her and my brother (when I was away at college) and she was always saying "there's nothing to eat in this house". I always thought the was absolutely ridiculous. With the help of fellow frugal blogs, I learned how to use coupons and sales to get our grocery bill down to, on average, around $60 a week for 3 people.

I don't want to overwhelm people with everything at once, so I'm just going to talk about basic couponing here. Coupons aren't just something that mom's who drive mini-vans use (no offense to any mom's that read here), they can be used by anyone. I am 23 years old and have no shame when I hand my stack of coupons to the cashier when I go to the grocery store.

The basics to couponing:
  1. FIND THEM!: Coupons are easy to find if you look for them. You can find them weekly in the Sunday paper, online (websites such as,,, as well as the actual manufacturer's websites), in grocery stores (sometimes items will have tearpads nearby with a certain amount off the item), from family and friends, and sometimes you can even get some from your local library if they keep a box of donated coupons.
  2. START SMALL: Looking through coupon inserts can seem overwhelming at first, so start small. Cut out coupons for items you use a lot. I started with Zyrtec coupons. I have horrendous allergies and Zyrtec is the only thing that makes me feel semi-normal during spring, but it's expensive. During allergy season, there are often $4 off Zyrtec coupons in the paper which is a big help. If your family goes through a lot of cereal, go for those first. Work your way up to using more coupons for more items. Don't feel like you have to use every coupon in the insert the next time you go shopping.
  3. DON'T USE EVERY COUPON IN THE INSERT THE NEXT TIME YOU SHOP!: This is one of the first mistakes beginners make. Just because the coupons are in the insert one week doesn't mean you have to use them right away. Most coupons have an expiration date at least a month away so there is plenty of time to find the item on sale and use the coupon then. If you use the coupons right away it's more likely that you'll wind up spending more money than if you didn't use them at all. (Sounds counterproductive, huh?)
  4. ORGANIZE THEM: In the beginning you won't have many coupons, so using a simple envelope is usually fine. Try to keep coupons for like items together (cereal, frozen food, drinks, etc) this way they are easier to find when you are in the store. Over time as you get more coupons, you may need to invest in something bigger like an accordion folder or something to better organize yourself.
  5. READ YOUR COUPONS: Always make sure to read the coupons before you use them on a purchase. Sometimes some will say you have to buy a certain amount, or you have to buy a certain size of the product. Also make sure it's not expired. Few stores will take expired coupons, so make sure everything checks out before YOU check out..
  6. FIND OUT IF YOUR STORE DOUBLES OR TRIPLES COUPONS: This is much simpler than it sounds. Most times the store flyers will tell you, or you can simply ask a manager whether they double or triple coupons and what amount they double up to. The two main stores I shop at (Safeway and Superfresh) always double coupons up to $0.99. That means if I have a coupon for .75 cents off, the register will automatically double it's value to $1.50 off. Also remember, not all stores are the same in this, not even stores in the same chain are the same, so make sure you know the policy before you get to the check-out line.
  7. USE COUPONS DURING SALES: Items in grocery stores go on sale regularly, so try and save your coupons for when that particular item goes on sale. This is something else that you get better with in time and with patience. Using a coupon with a sale can get you an item much MUCH cheaper than you would have originally paid for it.
  8. FINALLY; USE LOYALTY CARDS: Most grocery stores have some sort of loyalty or savings card that you can scan at check-out to get sale prices on items. These are great cards to keep in your wallet, they can save you so much money. They are all free (I have yet to see one that costs) and only take up a small space in your wallet. Check with the customer service counter in your store to see about signing up for their loyalty program.

This is the bare bones of couponing. I hope to expand each bullet point into it's own blog entry over the next couple weeks for an in-depth guide to saving the most money when you go to the grocery store. I know at first read it seems like a lot, but most of it is just simple planning before you get into the store and watching your savings when you get into the checkout line.

Feel free to post questions/tips in comments. If there is something you want me to address in future blogs feel free to tell me!

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