Have you ever been grocery shopping and just before ringing you up, the cashier asks, “Do you have any coupons?” A “yes” answer can make you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot, especially if you have multiple coupons that can save you a bunch of money on groceries.
If you’re not familiar with couponing, it isn’t too late to learn, even though the coupon game is changing with the advent of more digital coupons. How do you begin couponing? Read on to learn more about how you can save some money on future grocery bills.
What Is Couponing and How Do You Do It?
Most people usually think of a coupon as a printed ad that can be cut out to get a discount on products or services. Couponers typically clip printed manufacturers’ coupons from newspapers, magazines and flyers they receive in the mail to save money at store checkouts.
Today, though, couponing primarily is done via digital platforms, with digital coupons overtaking paper coupons in 2020 for the first time, largely due to falling newspaper circulation, Supermarket News reported.
In 2020, 73% of shoppers used digital coupons while 71% used paper coupons, according to CouponFollow.com.
With the change in the coupon landscape, is couponing still worth it? Does couponing actually save money? Yes to both. CouponFollow.com projected that the savings from digital coupon redemption is projected to surpass $90 billion this year. And that doesn’t include paper coupons.
How do you begin couponing to take advantage of those savings? Couponing isn’t difficult, but it requires organizational skills and a commitment of a decent amount of time on a weekly basis. You’ll need to set up a system to gather your coupons, sort them so that you can easily find the ones you need when you’re looking for them, and finally, remember to use them. You’ll need two systems, actually: one for paper couponing and the other for digital.
Paper Couponing: Getting Started
How to coupon is the big question. Before you can develop that system, you’ll need to find a source for your paper coupons. Start looking for them in these places:
- Sunday newspapers. They contain “books” filled with coupons to clip, primarily for groceries and household items, such as cleaners and detergents.
- Weekly store ads. Your local grocery store ads, often found in the Sunday newspaper, sometimes contain coupons to clip, such as $2 off a $6 purchase from the dairy department. The circulars generally are available at the store’s entrance. Tip: If you don’t subscribe to a newspaper, check out the ad on the store’s website so that you’ll know what coupons there are in advance and can plan.
- In-store coupons. Your supermarket might have a machine located near the entrance that dispenses coupons if you swipe your store loyalty card. While the sheet of coupons that prints will contain some offers open to everyone, that machine knows your purchase history — because of your card — and will tailor some of the coupon offers just for you.
- Checkout coupons. When you pay for your groceries, the store clerk might hand you some paper coupons along with your receipt, and those coupons could include offers based on what you just bought. For example, if you purchased three cans of soup, you could receive a coupon for $2 off your next purchase of five cans of the same brand.
- In the mail. Depending on where you live and your local stores, your weekday mail could contain coupons.
And then, of course, there are online coupons to download and print. A variety of websites offer paper coupons, and they include:
- The Krazy Coupon Lady
- P&G Good Everyday, for Procter & Gamble items
- Lozo.com, an aggregator of coupon sites
Organizing Your Paper Coupons
Once you’ve clipped your coupons, you’ll need to organize them. They don’t do you any good sitting in a pile on the kitchen table. You might have seen what’s known as an “extreme” couponer at the store when you’ve been shopping.
Extreme couponers often shop with a binder filled with plastic sleeves containing hundreds of paper coupons. They label the sleeves by type of item — condiments, for example — and put each coupon that falls into that category into a sleeve. With this method, you’ll easily see your coupons for ketchup, mustard and relish quickly. If you have more than one coupon for French’s mustard, for example, put them in the same sleeve, with the one expiring first on top.
An easier and less expensive way for beginning couponers to organize their finds is by storing them in a simple small accordion file found at most dollar stores. Label each tab and slide your coupons in. If your couponing takes off, you’ll want to expand to a binder system or another method that makes it easy to view your great volume coupons.
The disadvantage with the accordion file is that you’ll need to take out the whole batch and thumb through it if you’re looking for that mustard coupon. If you have a small collection, that’s fine. If you have a large pile, it becomes more difficult to locate that coupon you know you have.
No matter what method you employ, be mindful of the expiration date. Sort your coupons frequently to find those that expire in the next 10 days or two weeks, and dedicate a sheet in your binder or a section in your accordion file to coupons expiring soon.
Digital Couponing: Getting Started
Clipping digital coupons is easier than paper coupons — no scissors required, no little pieces of paper to keep organized — but it isn’t any less of a time commitment.
If you don’t have online accounts with your favorite grocery stores, create them now on your home computer or tablet or by downloading the store’s app. The same goes for big-box stores like Target as well as drug stores like CVS and Walgreens.
On the store sites, you’ll find dozens of coupons to sort through, and then you’ll “clip” them to your account. You can wade through the coupons one by one or do a targeted search if you’re looking for something specific.
The clipped coupons will stay in your account until you use them or they expire. To use them, you’ll present your linked loyalty card at the register — or in the case of stores like Target, enter your phone number on the terminal — and watch your savings come off before the final amount due is tabulated.
You also can locate digital coupons you can have scanned at the store on the SnipSnap app.
Organizing Your Digital Coupons
A downside to digital coupons is that they are scattered throughout cyberspace on one website or another. A couponing journal can help. Start with a small notebook to record the coupons you’ve clipped. Dedicate pages to specific items.
For example, create a page labeled “Shampoo” and record the coupons you’ve clipped by product, amount, store and expiration date. Your entry will look something like this:
Pantene. $2. CVS. 10-1-22
Cross off the entry as you use or expire it. Use standard notebook paper for this task, and be sure to alphabetize the pages as you go.
Now That You’ve Started
Now that you’ve begun your couponing journey, these additional tips will prove valuable.
Match Your Shopping List With Expiring Coupons
You might not have salad dressing on your shopping list, but you have a great coupon for $2 off your brand that expires this week. Buy the dressing this week while you can benefit from the discount and have it on hand when you run out.
Buy Only What You Need
You don’t need that salad dressing this week, but it’s a staple and you know you’ll use it. But what if you see a coupon for black olives for $2 off and notice in the store circular that the same brand is on sale for $2.59. Use the coupon, and you’ll get olives for 59 cents.
It’s a great deal — if you like olives or have a recipe that requires them. If the can sits on the shelf for three years and you wind up tossing it, it wasn’t a good deal.
If you have two $1 off manufacturers coupons for the same brand of laundry soap, you can’t combine them to get $2 off one bottle. But that doesn’t mean you can’t double dip on the savings in some instances.
It’s called coupon stacking, and if you’ve got a manufacturers coupon and a store coupon for the same item, you certainly can “stack” them as long as the store allows it.
Here’s how it works. You have a $3 off coupon for that detergent, and it costs $12.99. But the store, on its app or in a paper coupon, is offering $4 off if you spend $12 on any laundry care item. Bingo. Combine them, and you’ve saved $7 on that jug of laundry soap.
Read the Fine Print
Before you put that item in the cart, read the coupon requirements to be sure you have the right size and quantity. The coupon might be good only on a tube of toothpaste that’s 3.5 ounces or larger, for example. The 2.7-ounce tube you have in your hand won’t qualify.
You also might need to purchase at least two of the same item for the coupon to work.
Don’t Pay More Than You Need To
You have a coupon for $1 off a jar of national brand peanut butter and clip it, intending to use it. But when you get to the store, the peanut butter is $4.99. The store brand you usually buy is $3.69. Use the coupon and you’re spending 30 cents more than you have to.
If you’re perfectly content with store brand peanut butter, don’t stray from it just because you have a coupon.
The savings with coupons can be significant. Even if you save just $10 a week while grocery shopping, that’s $520 at the end of the year — $520 you can put in savings to build an emergency fund, put toward the down payment on a car, invest in stocks or add to your retirement account. And the reality is, if you make maximum effort, you can save a whole bunch more.
You now know how to coupon. Start off small — maybe aim to redeem five to 10 coupons — in your first weeks and see how your bill for groceries and household goods will drop. That likely will inspire you to become a full-fledged couponer.
Kathy Evans contributed to the reporting for this article.