For the month of October, I’m running a getting started with coupon series. This series is comprehensive and will walk you from the very beginning and have you couponing like a pro at the end! I’m covering a wide-range of topics for this series including stockpiling, food inventories, coupon policies, shopping plans, courteous couponing, getting over checkout jitters and more.
Earlier today, I created a “How to use Coupons” button in my sidebar. Click on this button at any time to read the previous posts in the series:
Using Coupons: Know your Options!
In my last post, I shared that there are two kinds of coupons: store and manufacturer. Store coupons are very limited in that you can only use them at one store, but manufacturer’s coupons you can use at any store that will accept them (which includes most grocery, drug, and nationally-based chain stores). For today’s post, I’ll be referring primarily to manufacturer’s coupons.
You might remember that at the beginning of this series I shared this goal of couponing:
The goal of couponing is simple: to avoid paying full price for the items your family needs and uses by buying them when they are on sale with coupons.
I like to think of the manufacturer’s coupons I have like having a hand of playing cards. Now I’m not a card player, mind you, but one thing I do know about card playing? There is strategy involved. Calculated risk. Players think carefully about which cards they play at what time. Using coupons smartly is like that. So you got a high-value $2 coupon in last week’s paper? Great! But pause a moment before you clip it and run to the first store to use it right away.
Consider instead that you have three stores in your area, and they have that particular item advertised:
Store A: Has the item on sale for $3
Store B: Has the item on sale for $4
Store C: Has the item on sale for $4, and is running a buy one, get one free sale.
Here’s how that coupon would look:
Store A: you’d pay $1, not bad.
Store B: you’d pay $2.
Store C: you’d pay $2, but end up with 2. In some instances, stores will let you use two coupons on a buy one, get one free sale in which case you’d get both for FREE.
All things being equal, Store C might be your best option.
One way you can explore your options is by taking the time to explore different grocery stores as you have the time and ability. The store you once thought was too expensive might have a coupon policy in place that allows you to do things you couldn’t at another store. Or you might discover the store that’s an extra 10 minutes drive has prices that are well worth the extra gas.
Beware: The Lowest Price may NOT Be the Best Deal!
Now two years ago when I wrote similar getting started lessons, I would have just told you, “go with Store C, no contest!” This is one of those times I’ve changed my opinion. Here’s why: the lowest price may not always be the best deal in terms of the bigger picture.
Taking our example above, here are some scenarios where I would say Store C might not be the best option:
- If Store C is a much greater driving distance than the other options. (So you’d spend more time and gas getting there.)
- If Store C is notorious for not stocking their shelves well for hot sales.
- If you wish to keep your shopping trip to one store, and everything else is priced better this week at Store A.
- If Store C’s offer is really about getting a coupon you can use for a future visit (for instance, buy one now, get a free one next time), and you don’t regularly shop at this store.
- If Store C’s offer limits you to 4, and you really want to buy more than that.
- If Store C offers other food/services that will be too much of a temptation for you and you know you’ll come out spending more than you should. (In-store Starbucks *cough*.)
You might often hear couponers emphasize that getting the lowest possible price is the best deal, but I beg to differ. Not always so! Be smart about this! Your time? It matters! Your gas? It matters! Hey, even your stress level? Yes, that all matters!
Simple Tips for Maximizing your Coupons
Now that you know how to use coupons correctly, how can you make sure you’re getting the best “bang” for your coupon buck? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Know your coupon policies! Some people might think coupon policies are limiting or boring, but I beg to differ! Knowing your coupon policies means knowing all the potential ways you can save at a store. For instance, did you know Albertsons lets you use coupons greater than the value of the product (aka “overage”)? Or that Walgreens will let you use up to two manufacturer’s coupons on a buy one, get one free sale? Sometimes you’ll find a nugget in a coupon policy that will surprise you. (And pay attention regularly, as coupon policies are subject to change at any time, and without warning.)
- Collect multiple copies of coupons. I do get four copies of the Sunday paper delivered to my door, because I like to really stock up when I find a good sale. When it comes to printable coupons, such as ones from Coupons.com, you can generally speaking print up to (2) copies of each coupon per computer. However, sometimes you might have luck finding similar coupons on a number of sites! For instance, you can often find similar Betty Crocker coupons on Coupons.com, SmartSource.com, Pillsbury.com, BettyCrocker.com, and Boxtop4Education.com. You should be able to print out (2) copies of each coupon per computer, per site!
- Focus on the coupons that will make the biggest difference for you. I don’t clip or use but a fraction of the coupons I receive each week. Yes, you heard that right! I’m only concerned in using the ones that matter to me. (More on what I do in the upcoming post on organization.)
As you become more acquainted with couponing at the stores in your area, you’ll no doubt find your ability to hone in on the best deals will improve.
Using Coupons as Part of your Savings Strategy
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but coupons are not the main way I save money! When combined with store sales, they help take the edge of rising food costs and keep my food budget on track.
Saying, “I’ll only buy an item if I have a coupon” is a foolish statement indeed! There are many additional, wonderful ways to save that I will discuss in another post. Do not be limited by your coupons, but use them as an added tool towards your goal of saving money. If you’d like to read more on this particular topic, check out my post on savings diversification.
Here’s how coupons benefit me when I used them as part of my savings:
- By getting multiple copies of the Sunday paper, I’m able to really stock up when I find a good sale.
- They help me afford “nice to have” items or name brand items I would’ve passed by otherwise.
- Even a few high value coupons may save me enough to more readily afford items on my budget that are hard to save on (think organic produce, nuts, etc.).
- By paying attention to what coupons are popping up, I’m more attune to what sales cycles I’m likely to find at the stores.
I think you’ll find you have the greatest success with couponing if you see them as an added layer of savings to your shopping trip, but not the be-all-end-all way you save. When you realize this, your ability to use coupons in conjunction with other promotions and sales will only help your efforts.
Today I’d love to hear your stories, comments, and questions! Can you think of a time when the stars perfectly lined up in your favor with a coupon or sale? I’d also love to hear if you agree with me or not on my feelings of their being more factors than price in getting the best deal?