The basics • Generally, there are two types of coupons – manufacturer coupons and store coupons. Both types of coupons are available in newspapers and magazines, in stores, and from multiple online sources – for free. If you’re not sure what type of coupon you have, check the numbers under the barcode. Manufacturer coupons always start with a “5” or a “9” – store coupons never do. • You need to learn where to shop. Look for stores that double coupon values, honor competitor coupons, offer digital coupons, or that have loyalty programs that give you in-store discounts, bonus gift cards, or free items with purchases. • Forget about brand loyalty or you’ll miss the best deals. • Break the habit of shopping for what you “need” and develop the habit of shopping for what’s on sale. • Learn to plan your menus after you know what is on sale. • Successful couponers are experts at “coupon stacking,” which is the practice of using both a manufacturer and store coupon on the same item. Like everything else, there are a few rules you should know - you can only stack one manufacturer coupon with one store coupon, and stores don’t accept photocopies of coupons (in fact, it’s illegal to copy them). • Couponing is not hoarding. Remember that unless you actually use something you purchase, you haven’t gotten a bargain. Find coupons • Not surprisingly, the key to successful couponing is finding the best coupons, and your ability to save money is going to be extremely limited until you have a reasonably large cache of coupons. • When you’re just starting out, one good strategy is to only collect coupons with high values (e.g., $1 or more off 1 item), buy-one-get-one-free coupons, and buy-this-get-that-free coupons. • Probably the best source of coupons in this day and age is the Internet. For manufacturer coupons, visit sites like RedPlum.com, Coupons.com and SmartSource.com, or go straight to manufacturer websites. For store coupons, check store websites. Facebook has also become a great source for high-value coupons. • Don’t forget to check the newspaper. When clipping from the paper, clip all the coupons you might possibly use – even if it’s not for a brand or item you normally buy. What may not be a “normal” purchase, might still be something that you can get for free or nearly free if you’re prepared. Be organized • Once you get going, you are going to be dealing with a massive number of coupons. Organization, therefore, will be a key to your success. Getting organized takes a lot of time when you’re getting started, but it will save so much more in the long run. • Pick an organization method that works for you. Here are a few examples: the check file method, the file box method, and the binder method. • The binder method is perhaps the most common, and it’s as simple as buying a three-ring binder and filling it with plastic trading card inserts. To keep everything zipped up and tidy, you can find a designer tote online or make one yourself. Make sure that you can easily scan through your coupons to see what you have when trying to match coupons to deals or when shopping. • Divide your organizer into useful categories – if they don’t make sense, you will find yourself wasting time, missing savings opportunities, or both. Here are a few suggestions: Baking, Breakfast, Canned Goods, Drinks and Juices, Drugs, Frozen Food, Household, Milk & Dairy, and Produce. You may also want to make sections for things like Hot Deals, Rebates, and Restaurants. In time, you will find the categories that work best for you. • Put a zipper pouch in the binder for things like a calculator and small pair of scissors. • Never leave home without your binder. You never know when you’re going to run across a great deal. Take a long view • If you want to save money, you will have to change the way you think about shopping. For example, instead of seeing grocery shopping as a daily or even a weekly ritual, you need to think of it as a monthly, quarterly, or even annual endeavor depending on the shelf life of the items on your shopping list. • The goal is to create a “stockpile” and learn to shop from yourself. Each family’s stockpile is going to be a different size and contain different products. Creating a stockpile for your family will take some hard work and perseverance, but the payoff is well worth the effort. • What can you stockpile? The easy answer is just about anything with a reasonable shelf life. Here are some examples: paper products, storage products, medicines, soaps, cleaners, cereals, personal hygiene products, water, and frozen products. • Don’t go nuts – stockpiling should not require you to convert an extra bedroom into a storage closet, though you may consider buying a small freezer for the garage or basement if your budget will allow it. • Pace yourself – stocking piling is a process, not an event. If you try to build your stockpile too quickly, you’re likely to break your budget, which defeats to the whole purpose. Shop the cycles • Learning to shop sales cycles is really just an exercise in common sense – products typically hit rock bottom prices right before and right after the relevant season. You also need to have enough foresight to collect the right coupons even if there isn’t a current sale on a product knowing that there soon will be. • Some products cycle on a regular basis. For example, toilet paper and cereals cycle about every eight weeks. And be prepared for sales that are unique to your local stores to stock up on things like fresh meats that you can prepare and freeze for a longer shelf life. • Here are a few products that typically cycle on a seasonal basis: o Late Winter/Early Spring – allergy medicines, tissues o Late Spring/Early Summer – condiments, BBQ sauces & marinades, lemonade, grilling products o July & August – back-to-school products o Late Fall – soups, oats, hand soap, sanitizers, cold remedies, tissues • Start watching the sales cycles – local and national - and create a price book. After you have done this for a while you will figure out when a product cycles and when it reaches its lowest price during the cycle. Be prepared • The most important piece of advice: never go to the store without a shopping plan. If you do, it is very unlikely that you will achieve major savings. • Each week target what is free, nearly free, or priced well below retail and try to match those items to coupons that you have on hand. If you find matches, those are the items you should stockpile that week. • Before you head to the store, organize your coupons according to what you are buying, and group same category coupons together. Make a list of what you are buying along with the amount of the coupon you have for each item. At the bottom of the list, note the total of the coupons you have so you can make sure the right amount is discounted from your pre-coupon total. • When checking out, pick a lane that doesn’t have a lot of people in it. If someone gets in line behind you, warn them that you have a lot of coupons. Watch the screen as the cashier rings you up to make sure your prices are coming up correctly, and do the same as your coupons are being scanned. Catching mistakes when they happen is a whole lot easier than trying to fix things after the fact.
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