Coupon myths and misconceptions: “Coupons won’t save me that much money.”

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Coin Towers Last week, I launched a series entitled “Coupon Myths and Misconceptions.”  My goal is to challenge common reasons why people don’t use coupons to save money.  Remember – I am new at this myself.  I don’t have all the answers (but I do have some of them!).  And what I don’t know, I’m learning right along with you.   

Today I want to explore the myth that coupons won’t make that much a difference in your grocery bill.  Just a few months ago, that was what I thought, too.  The truth is, there is a correct way to use coupons and an incorrect way.  When done correctly, coupons CAN save you money – BIG money.

So let’s start first with the wrong way to use coupons.  I call this “willy-nilly coupon usage.”  Coupons will not save you money if:

  • You clip coupons sporadically (i.e., you’re inconsistent)
  • You throw your coupons in a junk drawer in hopes you’ll remember about them (i.e., you’re disorganized)
  • You do not pay attention to store sales (i.e., you’re oblivious)
  • You do not combine your coupons with store sales, store coupons, rebates, etc. (i.e., you don’t know store coupon policies)
  • You do not plan your grocery trips (i.e., you’re an impulse shopper)

In other words, if you clip one $0.35-off coupon for peanut butter and then use it at any old grocery store, you are likely not going to get the biggest bang for that coupon’s buck.  Even worse, you could clip it, forget about it, and then pay full price when you need the jar of peanut butter.   

So how do you maximize the value of your coupons and maximize your savings?  After considering my best shopping trips, I came up with the following list of seven easy ways to make the most out of your coupon savings:

  1. Get the Sunday paper every week.  On any given week the coupons might be fantastic – or non-existent.  As the weeks progress, however, you’ll end up with a well-rounded stash.  One thing I’ve noticed is that coupons seem to match seasonal trends.  For instance, I found lots of hot cocoa coupons a few months ago.  Now?  Not so much.  But I’m starting to find hot dog coupons.  In my post a couple weeks back, I shared a few other ideas for acquiring coupons.      
  2. Make sure your coupons are organized.  A few days ago, I discussed my current coupon organization system.  Your  coupons are just not going to work for you if you don’t have any method in place for organizing and retrieving them.  If you’re just starting out, consider at the least getting a stack of business-sized envelopes and writing categories on them (dairy, frozen, haircare, etc.). 
  3. Combine your coupons with sale prices.  Remember that coupons are only one piece of the pie.  You’ve got to pay attention to store sales, too.  You might remember in my post earlier this month that I reported coupons saved me $300 and store sales saved me another $400.  To illustrate this point a little further, I found a real-life example for you.  In last Sunday’s SmartSource, there was  $1-off-1 Neosporin coupon.  I found this item advertised in three circulars (maybe it’s the season for bumps and bruises?).  Consider: a) Walgreens’ price is $3.99; b) Rite Aid’s price is $4.99; and c) Target’s price is $3.50.  Given these three options, your clear winner is c) Target where you’d pay $2.50 after the advertised price and your coupon.
  4. Combine your coupons with other offers.  In addition to sales, stores and manufacturers may offer rebates on certain products – and a lot of times the rebates may make the items free.  Think rebates are a waste of time?  To-date for 2009, I’ve received over $120 in rebates.  Not bad for two-and-a-half months!  You might also look for stores that double or even triple coupons.  In my neck of the woods, most stores do not double on a regular basis, but a couple (Kmart and Albertsons) will double from time to time.  In fact, just yesterday I was able to get yogurt for free at Albertsons by playing my coupons on a double coupon deal!   
  5. Know store coupon policies.  Cliche, perhaps, but knowledge really IS power.  For instance, many stores will allow you to use a store coupon (generally found in weekly ads) AND a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item.  I did this myself recently and paid $0.29 for a large box of Kelloggs Raisin Bran.  I also did that this week at Walgreens and ended up with free shampoo.  Some stores will also permit you to use two coupons on a “buy one, get one free” sale (because you are purchasing two items, regardless that one is free).  Many stores have their coupon policies available on their websites.  You can also phone or email customer service for clarification.  Don’t miss out on a great opportunity to save!
  6. Track your savings.  In my pre-baby life, I worked at a bank and became a bit of an MS Excel geek.  So I recently decided to set up a spreadsheet to track shelf costs, coupon savings, store savings, and my out-of-pocket costs.  I was floored at the results.  I recommend you find a way to track your savings – either regularly or periodically.  When you see those savings rack up, it’s a great motivation to continue!
  7. Change your mindset.  In our household, the new question is “do we have a coupon for that?”  Save in one area, and you’ll want to save in others.  As you start couponing, I imagine you’ll discover this for yourself too.  You just get to a place where you do not want to pay full price for anything.  You start looking up ways to save on restaurants, on your home electric bill, on buying that new car.  For me, it’s because I simply do not want to negate the great savings I managed with our grocery costs.

When you have that first successful shopping trip – not where you save $1 or $2, but 50% or more off your bill – you’ll understand that saving power coupons really do possess.  Couponing does not cramp my lifestyle.  It’s actually (dare I say it?) fun, exciting, and rewarding!  Yes; we’re spending less money, but we’re also purchasing more food and household items than ever before.  And getting better stuff than we would’ve in the past, too. 

Watch for the next post in this series next Monday.

Photo credit Sanja Gjenero