You’ve seen them in the grocery store. You may have even been annoyed when you got behind one in line. You may even think they are absolute loons. But if you came to this page, you are at least curious about how these binder wielding force users save so much money with coupons.
Now I have been to the dark side spending hours finding the best deals, but I have come back from that dark couponing place to take a much more moderate view of the practice. There are multiple ways to use coupons and you have to decide how far you want to go.
Levels of Couponers
To help you find the level of couponing that is most comfortable for you, I am going to walk through the levels of couponing (or not couponing) so you can understand. After we get through the different types of couponers we will walk through the weapons you need to do this effectively. To make this more fun I am going to continue down the Star Wars metaphor.
Level 1 – Force Denier
This person HATES coupons. They hate the idea of coupons and they might even hate looking at prices in the grocery store. They go to the nearest store buy their groceries, check out and go home.
Whenever I see a force denier I cringe at the price of their grocery bill. If you are one of these people, those of us who are fully aware of the couponing force find your lack of faith… disturbing.
There is hope for you. You can start using the force and learn to do this without eating up every minute of your spare time.
Level 2 – Padawan
If you have a coupon or it is easy to find you will use it. You aren’t going to go out of your way to make a plan with coupons but if someone wants to show you the path you might follow it.
If this is you then you can step up your game one more notch and really get some savings.
Level 3 – Jedi Knight
This is where the savings start to really add up. You have made it through the trials and found a spot that is comfortable without taking too much time.
This is the level where I hang out. I don’t want to spend more than 30 minutes getting ready for any shopping trip and I definitely do not clip all my coupons as soon as I get them.
Level 4 – Jedi Master
You carry a coupon binder or are seriously thinking about it. You know where to go to get coupons and you wield your talents with amazing precision.
You may have been tempted by the dark side but have decided to use your powers for good so that everyone can enjoy the savings.
Level 5 – Dark Side Force User – aka Darth Vader
The power of the dark side is extremely tempting. What it does to people is scary. Wielders of the dark side don’t care about anyone else capitalizing on the deal. They will devour every item on the shelf even if their store has a cap on how many coupons you can use in one visit, they go back and forth to their car and check out multiple times till they run out of coupons.
If you pulled every single coupon out of the coupon machine on an aisle, even though it made you wait several minutes between coupons, then you my friend have turned to the dark side. You might need to take a break and start to remember that other people need to get in on the deals too.
You can break these into many different levels but there are really only two strategies for couponing. The first is used by level 1-3 and the second is for the upper level coupon users.
Half Coupons – Half Discount Store
So this is how I do my couponing. I do most of my shopping at Aldi (if you don’t have Aldi use Wal-Mart). Everyday needs like eggs, flour, sugar, etc. are just purchased straight out. I then check the weekly ad and coupon matchups at other websites to get the absolute best deals at my local grocery store (I use Bi-Lo which is 3 miles from my house).
To supplement this I also check the deals at the national chain pharmacy in my town (CVS). Chain pharmacies are great for getting super cheap prices on items such as deodorant, toothpaste, and other not fun to buy items. They are also the cheapest way to buy diapers.
The key to this strategy is buying enough of an item to last until the next time it or a similar item goes on sale. The rotation for most grocery stores is that a type of grocery item will go on sale every six to eight weeks.
To give you an example, I buy Chex mix on a buy one get one free deal for $0.25 after coupons (yes that is possible). You want to have enough coupons so that you can purchase enough chex mix to last you until it, or an item like chex mix, goes on sale again.
This means buying multiple newspapers each week and maybe having multiple places you can print coupons (home, work, friends house, etc.) You also have to have a way to keep all these coupons organized.
Where to Get Coupons
Circulars – This is your traditional, buy the Sunday paper and cut, type coupons. They come out almost every weeke, except holidays. If you are going to maximize your savings you need to get these coupons. You can subscribe, pick up at a local store, but the best place I have found is the dollar store.
Printable Coupons – This is slowly becoming the primary way to get coupons. There are a bunch of places to get printable coupons but your standard places are Coupons.com, RedPlum.com, SmartSource.com, and your grocery store website.
Digital Coupons – Many stores will let you load your digital coupons onto your rewards card to be used at checkout. Even better is if you can use cash back coupons that pay you after you make your purchase. Most at the register e-coupons are through the store but you can get cash back digital coupons from Savingstar and iBotta.
Organizing Your Coupons
Coupon organization is key, no matter which of the two strategies you choose. While printable coupons are easy with print and cut you need to keep the circulars from the newspaper in a good system. The two main systems are:
The Binder – I really don’t like cutting coupons so I am binder averse. It is, however, the most effective way at getting the best deal. Why? Because when you see a random special or clearance item you have all your coupons right with you.
Whether it is alphabetically, by category, or by date, just pick a way to organize your coupons in what used to be baseball card pages and start clipping
The Folder – Instead of clipping every coupon you can just put each weeks coupons in a folder. DO NOT CUT THEM OUT. Just put the entire circular in a folder and write the date on them. The coupon matchup websites will tell you which date to go to and which circular to look in to clip your coupon.
The coupon directions will look something like this -.55 05/31/15 SS. This means go to the circular from May 31, 2015, the Smart Source circular and cut out the 55¢ coupon for your item. Not all the coupons, just the one you need. Now repeat this for every coupon you need and go to your store to use it. This takes me a total of 30 minutes to get a shopping trip ready and can usually save me about $20-$40 per trip over just buying the generic brand for all items. That is a pretty good rate of return.
For my folders I rotate out circulars after four months. By then almost every coupon has expired.
Know Your Store
You have to know the coupon policies of your store and where to pick up the matchups that work with each weekly ad. Below I have listed the most recent updates to the stores that I personally know. I am working with some couponing sites to help get you information on other stores. If you have a specific store you would like to to see on the list below contact me or leave a message in the comments.
How to Coupon at Grocery Stores
How to Coupon at Pharmacies
The best way to do this is to pick one grocery store and one pharmacy. Deepending on where you live I tend to choose a store that is closest to me. So CVS and Bi-Lo are where I shop with coupons and then I purchase all every day items at Aldi. In the coming weeks you will be seeing updates to all the stores above and I will be adding guides for new stores.
Get to the Clipping
So now you know about couponing and you have figured out your store. You just need someone to match the coupons up with the deals in the weekly ad. You can do this yourself or you can head to CouponMom.com and pick up your list for free. There are other great sites out there but none of them cover as many grocery stores as Coupon Mom. With all the guides above I will be making a recommendation about where to go to get the best list on the guide page.
On this quest to spend less money couponing is a great way to reduce the outgo in your budget. If you have any questions about how to start couponing or if I just blew your mind and you need someone to help you figure it out. Contact me or leave a comment and I will be happy to help.