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October 22, 2018

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The ultimate beginner’s guide to extreme couponing

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AP Photo / Jessie L. Bonner

Monica Knight, a dental hygienist and mother of two, shows her coupon binder at her home in Boise, Idaho. Knight, a used to spend spent $600 a month on groceries. Thanks to extreme couponing she’s down to $100-150 a month. Photo taken Tuesday, June 28, 2011.

Tips

If you send a nice note asking for coupons to the contact email on the company’s website, some companies will mail them to you.

Buy a cheap black-and-white laser printer for coupons. It is an invaluable tool and can save couponers hundreds of dollars a year in ink compared with fancier printers. A solid model that can last years should cost about $100.

If you find a killer deal but have no use for the item, consider donating it to a charity or food bank.

Most couponers bring their entire stash of coupons to the store every time they shop. Some, however, transfer only the coupons they plan to use to a smaller, more manageable coupon folder or organizer. The danger in leaving some coupons at home, though, is you might find an unexpected deal and be out of luck.

Always join stores’ loyalty programs. Card members receive extra savings and coupons.

Some stores accept expired coupons instead of doubling coupons.

You’ve probably seen them on television or maybe landed behind one in a checkout line: extreme couponers, armed with binders of coupons, pushing carts overflowing with groceries.

To the casual couponer, extreme couponers’ methods may seem over the top. To impetuous shoppers, crazy.

But extreme couponers know what they are doing. While they may spend hours clipping and prepping each week, the payoff can be great — hundreds of dollars worth of goods for a $20 bill or two. How do they do it?

Step one: Locate coupons

There are many sources for coupons, and extreme couponers use them all. The key to getting the best bargains is collecting as many coupons as possible for the items you use.

Newspapers

Newspapers remain the best source for coupons.

Buy or subscribe to every newspaper that includes the inserts on the days the coupons are given. Your grocery savings should far outweigh the cost. It might even be worth buying multiple subscriptions or copies.

Ask friends, family, neighbors and local businesses to give you inserts they don’t use, or trade coupons with friends.

Which inserts?

Smart Source, Red Plum and P&G.

Online

Most extreme couponers supplement newspaper coupons with online coupons. There are hundreds of websites that claim to offer free coupons, but some are more reputable and reliable than others.

Which websites?

Try Coupons.com, CouponNetwork.com, ValPak.com, RedPlum.com and SmartSource.com. Facebook also is a great source for coupons. For non-grocery items from retail stores, RetailMeNot.com can’t be beat.

Magazines

Many magazines and periodic publications — including The Sunday — include valuable coupons from manufacturers and retailers. But be sure to subscribe or buy strategically, as the costs can add up. Better yet, order a subscription when they go on sale, typically around the holidays, or from a discount website such as Groupon or Living Social. In the case of The Sunday, the decision is easy — it's free.

The best magazines for couponers?

All You Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, Better Homes & Garden Magazine and Shape

In stores

If you are an observant shopper, you can snag extra coupons as you shop. Tearpads are coupons that hang from market shelves or displays, and blinkies are electronic coupon machines, also on grocery store shelves and displays, that automatically print coupons when one is removed. Manufacturers also sometimes include sticker coupons, known as peelies, on the fronts of products. In addition, most grocery stores give customers printed coupons, called catalinas, with receipts. The coupons typically are customized based on what you buy.

Automatic rebates

Many stores run weekly promotions that offer a free product, cash or credit if you buy certain items. For example, buy 10 General Mills products and receive one free, or buy two boxes of diapers and receive a $5 gift card. The qualifying products usually are on sale, so this is a great way to combine offers and coupons, and save big.

Use a coupon matching site

You don’t have to go at this alone. There are hundreds of bloggers focused on coupon shopping, and the couponing community is quite friendly. Let them help you. Various sites post daily deals that can give you a heads up on the best buys available. Bloggers list stores that are running sales and promotions, and suggest which coupons to use to get the sweetest deals.

Which sites? KrazyCouponLady.com, CouponMom.com, PassionForSavings.com and MyVegasMommy.com to get started.

If an item you want is out of stock, ask for a rain check to guarantee the sale price.

Many extreme couponers use a spreadsheet program to create their grocery lists. Columns and rows allow you to note which coupons to use for each item, list how many of a certain product you want to buy and highlight price matches or sales. A spreadsheet also can help in the checkout line as it can help you easily confirm you bought everything you wanted and used all the coupons and deals you intended to.

Don’t take peelies off items you aren’t buying. It’s bad form. Also, only take as many tearpads and blinkies as you realistically plan to use, as they are finite in number.

Step two: Keep your coupons organized

There are a few basic methods for organizing coupons.

1. Clip every coupon.

2. Clip only the ones you plan to use.

3. Leave the coupon inserts intact and clip as you go. This will require bringing a pair of scissors to the store.

No matter which method you choose, there are two primary ways to organize your coupons.

In a file folder

Buy an accordion-style file folder, and place unclipped coupon inserts into each section, categorized by date. For example, one section would include every insert printed on May 31; the next, every insert printed on June 7. If your stash gets rifled, don’t worry. Each insert lists a publication date on its spine.

The upside: The benefit of the file-folder method is you don’t have to clip each coupon, which means you won’t waste time cutting coupons you don’t use. Every week, simply drop that week’s inserts into your binder. The downside, however, is that planning your next market trip takes much longer, as you must clip and organize all of your coupons then.

In a binder

Buy a three-ring binder and fill it with plastic baseball card inserts. Each week, clip the coupons you think you may want and store them in the pockets of the plastic inserts. Organize each sleeve by category.

The upside: The hard work already will be done when you are ready to go shopping. The downside is you must keep on top of your binder as you’ll have to go through it regularly to discard unused, expired coupons.

Step three: Plan a shopping trip

Not every retailer is created equally. When it comes to extreme couponing, choosing the right store to shop at can make a huge difference in your final bill.

Plan your trip

The key to getting the best shopping deals is combining coupons, sales and offers. That takes planning. Extreme couponers rarely, if ever, shop on the fly.

To get the biggest bang for your buck and make your trip as hassle-free as possible, go to the grocery store with a game plan.

Double coupons

Learn each store’s double coupon policy. Some grocery stores double or triple the face value of coupons, while others double or triple up to a certain amount. Many markets also limit the number of coupons that can be doubled. Beware: Coupon policies can vary, even among different locations of the same store chain.

Price matching

Take advantage of price matching. Many stores match sale prices advertised by competitors. Simply bring the ad showing the lower price to your preferred store and the cashier should honor the deal.

Competitor’s coupons

Likewise, many stores accept competitor’s coupons. That can help you maximize your savings, especially if you use a competitor’s coupon at a store that doubles or triples coupons, or is running a sale.

Bill credits

Find out if your grocery store credits money to your bill. Sometimes, stacking coupons can add up to savings that are greater than the price of an item. Some stores will credit you the difference, other stores won’t. Shop at stores that do.

Don’t forget about drugstores

Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid offer some of the best deals around, both on over-the-counter medications and personal-care items, as well as on food, toys, candy and other goods. Be sure to join each retailer’s loyalty program and pick up the coupon booklets they offer at the front of the store.

Step four: Shop at the right time

Always match coupons to sales and special promotions. Don’t waste your coupon savings on items that are full price.

Know the sale cycle

Stores usually follow a fairly steady calendar for markdowns. Non-seasonal items typically go on sale every eight to twelve weeks. Pay attention to the cycle to earn more savings. Also, try to time your purchases to coincide with holidays and clearance sales.

Example: Snack foods, for example, are marked down in advance of the Super Bowl. You can also snag great deals on clearance candy after Valentine’s Day and stock up on heavily-discounted holiday items in January for the following year.

Know when to stock up

Buy in bulk when savings are 60 percent or greater. When that happens, buy at least eight weeks’ worth of a single item to last you until the next prime buying period.

When to buy

Timing your purchases can help you save money, as certain times of the year are better to buy specific items. Some sales are tied to the introduction of new models, while others are long-standing traditions, such as January white sales. Sales sometimes occur when a season is coming to an end and inventories are thin but other times take place during the height of a season when retailers hope to pull shoppers into the store with good deals so they buy other items as well. Here’s a look at the best time to buy these items:

January: Bedding and linens, toys, treadmills and ellipticals, TVs, paint, men’s suits, pools and hot tubs

February: Humidifiers, indoor furniture, treadmills and ellipticals, video games

March: Digital cameras, small consumer electronics (MP3 players, DVD and Blu-ray players), TVs, winter sports gear, luggage, jewelry, perfume

March is the best time to buy frozen food because it’s Frozen Food Month. Manufacturers celebrate with big price reductions.

April: Laptop computers, desktop computers, lawn mowers, spring clothing, cars, vacuum cleaners

April is the best time for thrift-store shopping. Stores typically are flush with merchandise from people spring cleaning, which translates to bargains for thrift shoppers.

May: Athletic apparel and shoes, camping and outdoor gear, carpeting, lawn mowers, mattresses, cordless phones, mattresses, refrigerators

June: Carpeting, computers, indoor furniture, summer sports gear, swimwear, pots, pans, dishware, cell phones, tools

July: Camcorders, home decor, ranges and stoves, bottled water

August: Air conditioners, backpacks, dehumidifiers, outdoor furniture, children’s play equipment

September: Bikes, digital cameras, grills, lawn mowers, shrubs, trees, and perennials, wine, sunglasses

October: Bikes, winter coats, jeans, washers and dryers, camping gear

November: Baby products, GPS navigators, toys, TVs, electronics, pajamas and slippers, sneakers, wedding dresses

December: Bikes, home appliances, televisions, small consumer electronics, toys, scarves and gloves, golf clubs, air conditioners, champagne

Step five: Utilize these tips while in the store

Stack, stack, stack

Earn the biggest savings by using multiple coupons for every item you buy. Grocery stores typically don’t accept more than one manufacturer’s coupon per item, but you can stack manufacturer’s coupons on top of store coupons.

Shop small

Some coupons limit savings to a specific size and variety of product — a box of Honey Nut Cheerios that’s 21.6 ounces or larger, for instance. Other coupons don’t specify size or type. For those, buy the smallest size possible, including trial sizes. A $1 coupon could make a trial-size bottle of shampoo free, and you could potentially earn money back if you stack the coupon with a sale or price match.

Let coupons dictate your menu

Plan your family’s menu according to what’s on sale. That doesn’t mean you can’t supplement bargain goods with your favorite full-priced items, but you’ll see your shopping bills drop most dramatically if you plan your meals for the week based on the sales offered.

Learn the rules

Before you start checking out, ask the cashier or a manager whether the store limits the number of coupons that can be used in a single transaction. If it does, you may have to split your items into multiple transactions to be able to take advantage of all your coupons. If that’s the case and your grocery store credits overages, be sure to split your items so you are left with a positive balance to cover any overages and don’t lose out on savings.

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