Want to be a coupon queen

 

By Jessica Fisher

You’ve probably seen her before. She stands in the checkout line in front of you and hands the clerk a stack of coupons. You roll your eyes, wondering how long is this going to take? You look to the tabloid covers to kill some time. But, when you hear the numbers, you pay a little more attention to the transaction at hand. Before money saving coupons, her total was over $100. She leaves, having paid about twenty bucks. What just happened here? And why does your cartload cost five times as much as hers?
 
This mystery woman is one of a growing number of consumers who use coupons wisely to lower their grocery bills. Amongst their friends they are known as “coupon queens.” They’ve learned that in a tough economy you have to do battle to keep your family afloat. And instead of swords and cannons, they’ve mastered the power of the coupon to keep high grocery bills at bay.
 
You may be skeptical. Coupons are just for junk food, right? The generic costs less than the fancy name brands, don’t they? And those couponers end up buying things they wouldn’t normally buy.
 
Well, not necessarily. Manufacturers of all brands, from organic, soy-based veggie burgers to nuclear-orange, cheesy puffs, know that consumers want to save money. And most are willing to offer the public an incentive to buy their brand and not the competitor’s. Oftentimes companies and grocers work together to release coupons and hold sales on the same products simultaneously. When those money-saving coupons are combined with sale prices, the final cost can be drastically lower than that of the off-brand. And many shoppers with coupons discover good products that they might not otherwise have considered buying.
 
It’s really not that difficult to become a “coupon queen,” or king, as the case may be. Just a few tips and tricks will get you saving in no time.
 
** Gather coupons. There are a number of sources to help you build your arsenal.
 
Newspaper Insert Coupons – Purchase the paper every Sunday to get manufacturer coupons. A rule of thumb is to buy one paper for every person in your household. Multiples of the same coupon allow you to stock up on an item when it’s on sale.

Internet Printables – Coupon websites, like www.coupons.com and www.redplum.com, regularly offer coupons to print from your home computer. Likewise, manufacturers offer them straight from their homepages or via email newsletters. Kraft, Pillsbury, and Kelloggs are just a few of the brands that do. Check your favorite companies to see what they have to offer.  A number of bloggers, like www.moneysavingmom.com and www.freebies4mom.com, also post links to the hot coupons each week. (Check the sidebar for more sources.) Usually, you can print each internet coupon twice per computer, so print the maximum allowed.

Direct-from-the-Manufacturer Coupons – Product packaging from items such as oatmeal, cereal, and croutons often have coupons on them. Keep scissors handy in the kitchen so those can be clipped before you ditch the box.

Junk Mail – Don’t toss it until you’ve sifted it carefully. Grocery stores often send large value coupons, like $5-10 off a purchase. The week’s sales ads are also delivered in this type of mail. Save these as well. You’ll want them for reference when matching coupons to sales.
 
Free Samples - Sign up for any free samples that sound interesting to you. Not only is this a great way to try a new product, it's also a wonderful opportunity to get a few nice coupons as manufacturers often include them with their samples.

Store circulars, promotional magazines, tearpads, and in-aisle coupon boxes – When you shop, check the horizon for coupons throughout the store. You don't have to use them during that trip. Save them for when you can couple them with a sale for maximum savings.

Friends and Family - Put the word out with your acquaintances that you’ve started to clip coupons. Most people are all too willing to help you out.

** Organize your coupons.
Once you’ve got a stash of coupons, you’ll need to organize them. Don’t go spending a fortune on fancy binders and boxes. A simple accordion wallet can be purchased at an office supply store for a few dollars. Divide your coupons into categories that will work for you and help you find the right coupon when you need it. (Ex: beverages, canned, dairy, frozen foods, household cleaners, meats, medicine, paper products, toiletries, etc.)
 
** Match coupons to sale prices.
Most people go shopping at this point, buying things that they want or need and using a coupon if they have it. They might even let the coupon dictate what they buy. Often, they spend more than they need to by doing so.
 
You won’t see excellent savings unless you match a coupon to a good store sale. Make it a habit to read your store ads every week. They often come in the mail or can be easily obtained at the front of the store. Read the ad carefully before you shop. Write down products, sizes, and prices and match them with the coupons in your arsenal. If your store offers double coupons, take advantage of it. Oftentimes, you can get many sale items for free. Some stores will even pay you the overage if the coupon value is higher than the price of the item. They pay you to shop!
 
** Stock up.
Buy multiples of an item you know you’ll use at a really good deal instead of buying just one when it’s full price. Provided that you have a little storage space in your kitchen, this “anticipation buying” will reap big savings over time. If you know you buy yogurt every week, buy enough for several weeks when you see it at a really low price and you have coupons to further lower the cost. This enables you to further stretch your buck and maximize your coupon use.
 
** Adjust your mindset.
You’re on a mission to save money. But, there’s a mental battle to be waged as well as the one fought with scissors and coupons. Peer pressure, product loyalty, and too many good deals could get between you and a low grocery bill. Unfortunately, critics lurk in grocery stores, as well as playgrounds and your inlaws’ house. Be willing to withstand a few raised eyebrows from the people in line behind you.  Keep an open mind about trying new products; you may find something that your family loves. Don’t be so loyal to your favorite cereal, if you can get a competitor for a lot less money. Exercise caution when you find yourself overspending on “really good deals.” Make a budget and stick to it. With savvy coupon use, you’ll find that you have more than you need for the same price – or less – than you were paying before.
 
With a few snips of the scissor and some wise planning, you could find yourself saving boatloads of cash at the grocery store. Your savings can go toward paying down debt, saving for a rainy day, or simply enjoying more of the good life for less money. You’ll find that it’s easy to be a coupon queen!
 

Jessica Fisher is a wife, mother, and freelance writer, making her home in San Diego. She regularly writes about fun, frugality, and her grocery shopping tips at www.lifeasmom.com.

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