Learn how to save money with coupons with this beginner’s guide!
Clipping and using coupons (otherwise known as “couponing”) is a great way to save money on everyday expenses. It takes dedication, but is well worth the effort and time.
I get tons of questions from friends and family about couponing (I can get a bit obsessed with it, and they know it!), so I’m starting a resource section on WhatMommyDoes, beginning with this Beginner’s Guide to Couponing. I will expand on different parts of this guide as I have time.
List of Supplies Needed to Start Saving Money with Coupons
You only need a few supplies to get started on your coupon journey. I recommend the following basic couponing supplies:
- Manufacturer’s Coupons
- Grocery Store Sales Flyers – Where you will find the deals.
- Accordion Coupon File or Coupon Binder or Folders – See below for the method that suits your personality.
- Paper Clips – These are for clipping coupons to sales inserts before you head to the store.
How to Begin Couponing
Before you can start couponing, you need to identify a way to obtain manufacturer’s coupons and store sales flyers.
The easiest way to do this is to subscribe to the local Sunday newspaper. Coupon inserts and store sales flyers (grocery and pharmacy) can be found in most local Sunday newspapers across the country. You can also print these out online – here are a few different coupon printers all in one place.
Some sales flyers will come in the mail independent of the newspaper, but all of them should come with the newspaper subscription. If all else fails, you can just get one from the store, itself, or from the store’s website.
Set up a Filing System
A small accordion file is a great place to organize coupons. It’s hard plastic organizer made specifically for coupons or similarly sized documents like checks works well. A good organization method is to clip all coupons you think you’ll use and file them into categories that make sense to you.
Here are some great ones I’ve found online:
Note: If you think a small accordion file will serve your purposes, I suggest dividing your coupons into categories that match the aisles at your most frequented grocery store. I describe how to do that in my post How to Organize Coupons.
If you have a ton of coupons and want more filing flexibility (and the ability to see all of your coupons at a glance instead of having to rifle through an accordion file), an actual coupon binder with plastic sleeve organizers inside is the way to go. You can buy one of these pre-made or make a coupon organizer yourself with a three-ring binder, empty plastic inserts, and cardstock (more on this later).
Some people like to keep entire coupon pages on hand until they need a particular coupon (to avoid having to clip all the coupons no matter what). If you do this, then a file folder system will work – either get a small file box for this purpose or you could even put folders inside of a three-ring binder.
Settle on a Couponing Method
Some people find that it’s easier to clip all the coupons (or what they know they’ll use) and chuck the rest of the coupon flyers. Others swear by the “hold on to the entire insert and write the date on it” method.
I’ve done both and can honestly say both methods are a hassle! Don’t be fooled into thinking couponing is easy – it’s actually time-consuming (takes 2-3 hours per week to do it right).
I used to employ the method where I didn’t clip anything and just wrote a date on the insert, but honestly I thought it was more of a hassle to later have to find each coupon I needed and clip it out, only to have to pick up that same insert the following week to get another coupon. Kinda frustrating.
Instead of clipping coupons exactly when they’re needed, I like to clip all the ones I think I might use and throw out any non-applicable ones (like pet food coupons since we don’t have a pet or sweet snacks since we typically avoid that aisle). Then I just file all of those coupons in a coupon binder filled with plastic inserts, organized by the order of the aisles at my favorite grocery store (more on that later).
How to Identify Grocery Deals
You might be wondering how you find grocery store deals and how to determine which ones to act on.
The best deals are ones where a coupon can be used to purchase an item that is also on sale. For example, using a coupon to purchase an item advertised as Buy One, Get One Free results in tremendous savings off of the original purchase price. The Buy One, Get One Free special reduces the item to fifty percent off, and the coupon only increases the savings.
When in doubt, it is a generally good rule of thumb to buy the smallest size of the product that the coupons works against. That’s because the smallest size will have the lowest price (and likely won’t be much more, if any, than the per-unit cost of the larger size). Keeping that in mind, a coupon used against the lowest priced item will result in the higher savings percentage.
Armed with a good supply of coupons, compare the unexpired coupons against current sales flyers for stores in your local area. First, briefly look through the stash of coupons, then browse the sales flyers for those items. Identify which items are the best deals that week, focusing on the very best deals and ignoring regular specials that are likely to repeat in the near future when a coupon may be available for a particular item. Regular specials repeat fairly often, but excellent deals (ones where a coupon is available to use against a sale item) occur less often.
After a few months of perusing sales flyers, it will become simpler to spot the excellent grocery deals amid the regular specials. Some couponers develop a price list of frequently purchased items to aid in identifying the better deals.
Important: These days, you can find blogs that do all of this work for you. Some serious serious couponers out there take the time to compare grocery store sales (advertised and unadvertised) with available unexpired coupons and make them available to the public.
However, for some reason, I am partial to the way the deals are presented on The Grocery Game. It’s a paid service that I think is totally worth it – I’ve been using it almost since the day I started couponing, and I love it. For a small fee, all of the sales flyer / coupon comparison stuff I described above is done for you and presented in a way that it can be sorted many different ways. You have the option to sort deals by savings percentage, product category, coupon date, final price to you, or my favorite – by aisle – to make shopping easier.
The Grocery Game costs $10 every 8 weeks for access to the sales & coupon match ups for one store (that’s $1.25 per week). Every additional store costs $5 every 8 weeks (so 2 stores cost $15 and 3 stores cost $20 every 8 weeks). Considering I can save 50% on my grocery bill, that’s a small price to pay for such a convenience.
At one point, when I had a couponing addiction – LOL – I subscribed to 3 stores. But now that I coupon at a reasonable level, I find that a single store is enough. In addition to grocery stores, they do big box chains and drug stores, so if I were ever to add another store again, it would likely be Target or Walgreens or RiteAid.
Couponing is a long tail game. At first, the results will not be very dramatic because the coupons on hand will not match many sales items; however, collecting coupons really begins to pay off after a month or so.
At the one month point, you should be able to take advantage of several excellent deals at multiple stores every week if that’s what you want to do.
Somewhere around the 8- to 12-week mark, you will have gone through a complete coupon cycle where most of of your original coupons will expire, and you will be completely armed at that point.
Develop a System to Sort + Purge Expired Coupons
Most coupons are valid for anywhere from a few weeks to several months. In order to ensure the coupon file is current (i.e. the coupons aren’t expired), it’s a good idea to set aside a few minutes once a week or so to purge expired coupons. I’d say this takes approximately 5-10 minutes of your time each week.
Is there anything I didn’t cover in this introduction to couponing that you’d like to see covered? What in-depth topics would you like to see? Don’t worry – more to come soon!
This post is included in the Complete Guide for Stay-at-Home-Moms, a collaborative effort by over 50 mom bloggers