Okay, so you've decided to try to save money and look into the wonderful world of coupons...but, how do you start? What are the essentials? Will all stores take coupons? How many can you use? Can you combine them? Relax, it's really quite simple although a little time consuming at first, but once you get the hang of it you'll wonder why you didn't start doing this sooner!
The Coupon Commandments
1) Buy the Sunday paper! This is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Almost every Sunday (holiday weekends are slim pickings) the newspaper is full of coupons. Red Plum and Smartsource are the most common inserts and they contain a huge variety of coupons from groceries to toiletries to cleaning products. You will also see coupons for medicine and sometimes even rebates and other special treats. Buy multiple papers, or even better, get friends and familiy who don't utilize their coupons (yes, these crazy people do exist!) to save you their inserts. The more coupons you accumulate, the better.
2) Surf the internet. There are loads of coupons you can print online. Now some stores don't take IP's (Internet Printables), but many do. I suggest you set up a separate email address to use for this purpose because a lot of sites you print coupons from will spam you with different offers, but trust me, the coupons are worth it. I have a separate email address that I use specifically for submitting to these sites so my regular email is not clogged with crazy spam emails. You'll find a list of my favorite websites on the side of this site under links for printable coupons.
3) Start a coupon organization method that is easy for you. I have a separate post that deals specifically with organizing your coupons that is a must read. Everyone organizes their coupons in a different way and you just have to find the way that is easiest for you.
4) Always bring all your coupons with you to the store. Yes, if you have a huge amount like I do it can be a little burdensome, but it's the only way to make sure you don't miss out on unadvertised specials or clearanced items.
5) Always be on the lookout for coupons. You may never have noticed them before, but almost everywhere you can buy something, there are coupons to be had. The grocery store is the most logical place to look. Check turnstiles at the entrance which usually hold coupons as well as sales fliers, displays with special promotions, peelies on merchandise, tearpads by items, and of course those blinkie machines set up by items all over the store. Your local drug stores have coupons in and on their displays as well as on merchandise. Also look by the beauty counter and the pharmacy counter for special coupons. Even gas stations have coupons by some of their items inside their little convenience stores.
6) If there is a product you really like, write a letter or email, or even call the company to tell them. Most of the time their gratitude is expressed by offering to send you some coupons for the item you praised.
7) Clip coupons for things you may not even think you'll use. Yes, this sounds like a complete contradiction to the whole saving money thing, but it's not. Sometimes you will see a sale on an item you don't use, but that you can get for free or almost free with a coupon that either someone else you know can use or that gives you a reward for purchase. A perfect example is a blood glucose monitor I recently purchased. I am not a diabetic, but my sister-in-law is. It was on sale for $19.99 and I had a coupon to get it free. On top of it being free and being able to give it to my sister-in-law it also generated $10 in Extra Care Bucks (ECB's) that I could use for a future purchase at CVS for things I actually needed. So my sister-in-law got something free she could use, and I got $10 to spend on items I could use! (More on CVS shopping later!)
8) Look for store specific coupons. Product manufacturers put out coupons regularly, but so do certain stores. Let's use Target as an example. Target regularly publishes printable coupons on their website that you can use at their stores. The best part? If the coupon doesn't specify otherwise, you can combine a manufacturer's coupon and a store coupon to double your savings! For example, recently Target had a store coupon for The Good Life Recipe cat food for $2 off. Combine that with the manufacturer's coupon also for $2 off and you just saved $4 on a bag of cat food! Grocery stores such as Publix do this regularly also. Always check the fine print on the store coupon to make sure it can be combined though.
You know where to find your coupons now, but where can you use them? Most grocery stores take coupons, and if you're lucky enough to live where stores double or even triple coupons you can save even more! But, those of us in Florida are out of luck as this state no longer offers coupon doubling. Many major chains like Target and Wal-Mart take coupons and let's not forget your local drug stores such as CVS, Walgreen's, and Rite-Aid. If you have Big Lots nearby, they do have wonderful deals, but they do not take coupons. Something most people don't realize is that Dollar General does take coupons and this can lead to big savings and even some free items! Even stores like Macy's and Kohl's regularly put out coupons on their websites and weekly sales ads.
If you are unsure of your store's coupon policy, call them or check out their website. Most stores have a customer service department that is happy to help you with any questions you might have. Remember, coupons are a good thing and most stores realize this. Manufacturer's reimburse the store for the full face value of the coupon plus 8 cents handling fee so the store is not losing any money by honoring your coupons. You're actually doing them a favor by patronizing their store and buying their merchandise!