Coupon 101: Getting Started

by
Mar 24, 2002 (Updated Jan 15, 2003)


The Bottom Line Use Coupons, Shop Smart!

Getting Started
Ok.. So, you want to use coupons but where to start? The
first thing you need to do is build up your stash of coupons.

Sunday Supplements section of your Sunday newspaper is the logical place to start. These are the shiny glossy pullouts from Smartsource and Valassis. They can be rather slim pickins at times but often you can hit gold with a great coupon in the newspaper. Ask your friends and family who don't use coupons to save their Sunday supplements for you. Make friends with people who own convenience stores, or work at the newspaper. They often will give you multiple copies of the supplement sections at the end of the weekend. If you have your paper delivered, ask your paper carrier for the extras.

Next, turn to the internet...

Manufacturer Websites
Are there specific products that you use on a regular basis. Go to the manufacturers website. For example for diapers, hit Pampers, Huggies, Luvs, Etc. Sign up and get on their mailing list. See if they offer coupons or sales on their website. Manufacturer coupons sent directly from the manufacturer are often the real golden ones, high value of at least $1 off.

Coupon Websites
There are a whole bunch of different websites found on the web that offer coupons. These sites are often changing, but many offer either for the coupons to be mailed to you, or for you to print them off online. Common ones to use are:

http://www.smartsource.com
http://www.customcoupon.com
http://www.valupage.com

Start Clipping and saving
Clip for the types of PRODUCTS that you use but don't be specific to brand. This way you have more options on hand for when a product goes on sale. Plus, you'll get to try some new things and maybe your "favorite" brand is not the best one.
Clip all of the real high value coupons and coupons for free products, or B1G1F (buy one get one free). If the coupon is for more than $1 off then its a keeper. If its not for a product that you use, or care to try, then you can use this high value coupon for trading purposes.


Get Organized
Find a method that works for you. I've tried several and still trying to find "the perfect" system.

Some methods include:
-Binder Method of Organization
-A recipe box or An Accordian style envelope divided into categories
-Nested Ziplock Bags
-Month by Month (filing by expiration)
-Alphabetical by brand
-Organized by Row of the market (if you always shop the same store).

Use the categories that work for you. Below I have provided a sample list of some suggested categories. You may prefer to combine some of the smaller sub-categories into one. For example, combining catfood & dogfood into "Pet". Since many of the coupon holders have 12 or less categories you might need to do this. Or you might want to put in subdividers into the coupon holder, I've used index cards before.

Sample Categories

Baby Products
Baking (cakes, muffins, etc)
Beverages
Body (lotions, make up)
Bread
Candy
Canned Goods
Cat Food
Cereal
Cleaning Aids
Cookies
Crackers
Dairy/Cheese
Deodorants
Dessert
Dog Food
Feminine Hygiene
Film
Frozen Foods
Hair
Household (film, batteries, light bulbs)
Instant Dinners
Jar Items
Laundry/Detergent
Meat
Medicines
Mouth (Toothpaste/Brush/Mouthwash)
Oil/Shortening
Pantyhose
Paper Products
Pasta
Plastic Bags
Rice
Snacks
Seasoning Mixes
Soaps
Soup


Its important to Stay Organized and keep up with a system. Organize your files on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Toss out expireds or mail them to bases or coupon funds that accept them as a charitable donation. Many military bases can use coupons for up to 6 months past their expiration date.


Start Using Coupons

Always take your coupon holder with you to the grocery store. You may even want to keep it in your car, or your purse, diaper bag, etc. If you coupon holder is too enormous (as mine is quite large). Make up a small stash of coupons to have on hand at all times. For example, if you have a baby you can keep a couple diaper, wipes, bath products, formula (if you use it), snacks, juice, babyfood, etc) coupons on hand.

Shop the Sales!
Since you are getting the Sunday paper to pick out the SS coupons, pull out the sale flyers as well. Check both the grocery store flyers and also the flyers for the pharmacy chains (Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, Eckerd, etc) and also for the department stores (Kmart, WalMart, Target, etc).

Use your coupons on a sale items and get things for pennies or even free. By matching your coupons to products that are on sale you are saving twice on the same product. Its called a Double Play

Buy in multiples
The more coupons you have for an item, the more you can save by stocking up on a product at the low sale price. You can only use one coupon per physical item in your grocery cart. So if you are buying cheerios and have 10 coupons for cheerios you can't apply all 10 of those coupons for 1 box of cereal. But if Cheerios are on sale and you have a bunch of coupons for Cheerios, then use them. If you want to buy 10 boxes of Cheerios you'll need 10 coupons. Stock up! Bear in mind that some stores have rules about how many coupons you can use for the same product or limits on products during a sale. Check your stores coupon policy and keep it legal.

Can you Double?

Find out if the stores near you double and what the rules are. This means that your 50 cent coupon could really be $1 off making it "gold". Most stores have a cap on how high they will double. Around me they don't double coupons up to $1. So, I can double coupons that are $.99 and save $1.98 off of a product. Sometimes this makes a product free, or even them owing you money! Again, it depends on the store their policies for this. Some will actually credit your grocery bill the full amount, others might just give you up to the cost of the item itself. Either way, the product is FREE. If you are shopping a sale and using a double coupon you have just made a Triple Play.

Check with your stores as some stores even offer a TRIPLE coupon special day!

You're not alone!
Many people use coupons. You can meet people locally or over the internet to trade, swap, or share coupons. There are even coupon auction sites. These sites are always changing and new ones popping up everyday!. Search using google and other engines to find sites for coupons and coupon users. Check out community sites like EZBoard, YahooGroups, and MSN and start meeting other coupon queens.

I'd be glad to point you in the direction of some great coupon communities when you are ready to start swapping, sharing and trading!

Or, if you prefer a magazine you can subscribe to coupon and refunding publications, such as Refund Express or Refunding Makes Cents.

Want to meet other couponers locally, start a group. Post a flyer at your local grocery or inquire to see if a group like that already exists. If you are involved with a Mom's group they may even have a coupon club of their own. Local coupon exchanges can be a lot of fun!

At the store
Dress comfortably (sneakers, etc) you may be here for a while. Compare prices to the sale items and your coupon stash. If you coupons are kept in an organized fashion it will make it so much easier to do this. If you have a young child with you, they can even help you.

Its also important to be organized when you check out. Don't be a shopping clerks worst nightmare. Be upbeat and cooperative. Have all your coupons ready and tell your clerk you will be using coupons. Make sure the coupons are all facing the same direction so they can be easily scanned. In the case of Free item coupons, know what the cost is for the item. The clerk is going to have to write the cost of that item on the coupon and looking it up (especially on a large grocery order) just delays your checkout.

Don't forget about Valupage If your store takes valupage you can use this to get coupons printed out at the time of checkout for future use. I recommend cutting out your valupage barcode and laminating it. Keep it in your coupon holder or on your keyring. www.valupage.com

Remember, using coupons is not something to be ashamed of. You are being a savvy shopper!. I've had so many people be impressed watching my total of grocerys go from over $300 to under $100 after using coupons. You can do it too!!

Happy Saving!

Feel free to ask me any questions you might have about being or becoming a Coupon Queen!



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