Money Health

Couponing: A Beginner’s Guide

couponing
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If you’re looking for ways to save more money every time you go to the grocery store, coupons are key. Couponing helps you save on items you already buy, and it doesn’t take as much time or effort if you know a few tips and tricks like these.

1.   Find Your Coupons

There are lots of quick and easy ways to find coupons, both online, in the mail, and at the store. Here’s how where to find them:

  • Newspapers: If you get the Sunday paper, there’s usually an insert in that. Otherwise, some free local papers have coupons too.
  • Mail: You can get coupons sent to you in the mail by the manufacturers of the products you use regularly. All you have to do is visit their website, go to their “Contact Us” page, and ask to be added to their coupon mailing list.
  • Store flyers: These can be found at the store or in the mail. They usually list out what’s on sale for the week, and they also contain coupons if you flip to the back pages.
  • Product packaging: Manufacturers sometimes stick coupons on the packaging of new products to incentivize you to buy them and come back for more.
  • Manufacturer websites: Most major manufacturers have printable coupons on their websites that refresh on a monthly or weekly basis.
  • Coupon websites – There are many online coupon websites where you can search for what you want, including Coupons.com, Savings.com and SmartSource.
  • Couponing apps – Nowadays, almost every major grocery store chain has an app that you can download to get coupons and claim rewards. To save even more, download a rebate app like ibotta to get cash back from your purchases.

2.   Prepare Your Coupons

Search through your couponing apps and download any coupons you think you might use. Visit manufacturer and couponing websites and print out offers that appeal to you. Then, look through your newspaper and local store fliers and cut out the coupons for items you use regularly.

Make sure you only cut out coupons you’ll actually use. Saving unnecessary coupons takes up space, and it can be a waste of time—so be smart about which coupons you keep. For example, if you see a coupon for a brand of cereal you don’t usually buy, don’t waste your time clipping it.

On that note, it’s also important that you know which coupons you have and use them whenever you go to the grocery store. Otherwise, you might as well not clip them.

The best way to make sure you use your coupons is by having them organized all in one place. There are plenty of tools that can help you do this: from binders with clear plastic pages to alphabetized folders made specifically to organize coupons. A quick online search or a trip to your local office supply store could give you some ideas on how to organize your coupons.

3. Plan Your Trip and Start Shopping

Once you have all of your coupons ready, it’s time to pre-plan your trip to the grocery store. Create a shopping list based on the items you have coupons for so that you don’t miss out on savings.

Focus on going to just one store per outing to save yourself some time. If you can go to a store that you know well, even better. When you shop at a familiar place, it’s easier to find the items you need quickly and maximize your efficiency.

Remember that on top of store coupons that you can only use at a particular chain, you can also bring along manufacturer’s coupons. These coupons are provided by the manufacturer of a product rather than a chain of stores, and almost any store you go to will accept these types of coupons. And don’t forget to grab the store flyer as soon as you walk in the door to check if there are any additional savings you can scoop up.

4.   Use Your Coupons Wisely

With coupons in hand, your next trip to the grocery store should be a little cheaper than the last one. But if you want to save even more money, try some of these advanced couponing techniques:

  • Only spend on what you actually need: Just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean you need to use it. If you spend money on unwanted items you’ve essentially wasted your hard earned dollars.
  • Use coupons on things that are already on sale: Think of it as getting an additional discount on a discount. But note that not all sales are valid with a coupon, so you may have to choose between two different options.
  • Double up or combine your coupons: Some grocery stores may offer double coupon days as an incentive for shopping there. Note that date on your calendar and try to make this the date you always do your food shopping.
  • Combine manufacturer coupons with store coupons: Just like using coupons for things that are already on sale, this isn’t always allowed. So check the fine print on the coupons or ask the store if it’s allowed before you start shopping.
  • Buy in bulk: Typically, buying in bulk results in a lower price per unit. But it only makes sense to buy in bulk if you can use everything you buy before it expires. Household items like paper towels won’t go bad if you buy in bulk. Bulk produce, on the other hand, will go bad in a week.

It only takes a little time and effort to start couponing—but before you know it, couponing will become part of your weekly routine. Start small, work it into your shopping habits little by little, then watch your savings grow.

Sarah Li Cain is a finance writer specializing in topics such as loans, real estate, investing and banking. She's appeared in publications such as Transferwise, Wordpress, LendingTree and Vistaprint.