How to Get the Most Out of Your Coupons

 I recently received a question about couponing from one of My Nesters -- our lovely baking enthusiast over at Sweetly Made.

She said " I guess my biggest coupon question would be how to use them to get the biggest savings. I check my weekly ads, print & clip coupons and occasionally stack coupons (at Target) but I have never saved more than $35 on a shopping trip. What can I do differently to guarantee that I get bigger savings? I don't have any local stores that double or triple coupons either. Thanks a million."

I have to say, I was flattered that she wanted my opinion. I am nowhere near an expert, but I will share with you what I have learned so far in my couponing journey. I have also done some research in the area, so I'll share those tips as well.

To start with, you should understand some basic coupon lingo.

One Per Purchase: This little phrase can a be a tricky one. What it actually means is one per item. One coupon for every item you are purchasing. They just have to print that so you can't use multiple manufacturer coupons for a single item. This can be frustrating if your cashier or even store manager also misunderstands this. I have not had any trouble with this so far, but I have read that contacting the corporate office can clear up this confusion.

One Per Transaction: This means that no matter how many of that item you are purchasing, you can only use one coupon. If you want to use more than one coupon, you will have to separate your items into individual transactions. I have never done this, but those who are serious about couponing often separate their groceries into 4-20 transactions.

One Per Customer: This means that you can only use one coupon per time you enter the store. If you are really serious about using multiple coupons with this stipulation, you will have to exit the store and enter again. Most stores will then consider you a "new" customer. If you have a loyalty card that is required to use the coupon, this method may not work.

Now that you know the couponing language, it's time to move on to the tips and tricks of the trade.

Stack Coupons and Sales: Stacking coupons is the bread and butter of couponing. You can only use one manufacturer coupon per item. You can also use a store coupon on the same item (Target, Albetrsons, Safeway, Walgreens etc.). This will help you maximize your savings. If you can stack coupons you will save, but if you can stack coupons at a time when that item is heavily discounted, you might even get it for FREE!

Finding and tracking those sales can be tricky, but keep reading and I'll tell you where I get my insider information!

Bigger is Not Always Better: When you are shopping without coupons, it seems logical that you should buy the larger box of rice instead of single serve packets. That way, you are paying less per unit. With coupons, the opposite is actually true. If you have 5 $1.00 off coupons for rice, you will maximize your savings by purchasing 5 smaller and cheaper packages rather than 5 larger, more expensive boxes.
Does that make sense? I hope so!

Often this is how people can get things for free. Unless the coupon states Travel Size Not Included you can stock up on tiny travel size items for FREE. If you have a $1.00 off coupon and the travel size item is only 97 cents--it's FREE and you might even make money. Which brings me to our next point...

Shop At Coupon Friendly Stores: Wal-Mart has a reputation for being a hassle when it comes to couponing, but if you can deal with the occasional grouchy cashier, Wal-Mart is worth your while. Wal-Mart just released a coupon policy stating that they will now give you the overage for your coupons. That means if you buy a travel size item that costs 97 cents, and you use a $1.00 off coupon, you will get 3 cents back in cash or deducted from your total. That can really add up!

The only downside of Wal-Mart is they don't offer regular store coupons like Albertson's or Safeway. To get really good deals at Wal-Mart, you have to watch for rock bottom prices and clearance sales. That's why it's also good to have a store in your area that has store coupons and twice the value (or double/triple) coupons. Doubling coupons are promotions from the store, and they generally do not make twice the money from the manufacturer. They will give you twice the value ($2.00 off instead of only $1.00) of your coupon simply to receive your patronage.

I know that Sweetly Made said she does not have stores in her area that will double or triple her coupons. Albertson's is very obvious about their twice the value coupons. They advertise it well. Other stores, even local Mom and Pop stores, sometimes double coupons all the time or on specific days, but they may not advertise. It is always worth asking. I have read stories about women asking their local stores if they offered a coupon doubling day. They even got the policy started! You can make a difference if you simply ask. Most small businesses aim to please. They need to know what their community members are looking for.

Practice, Practice, Practice!: Don't expect to be perfect, and don't expect to save 90% on your first run to the store. In fact, don't expect to save 90% in your first few months! It takes a lot of time and learning to get the hang of couponing. I am absolutely still learning, and I try not to beat myself up about it. Just remember, no matter how little you save, it's more than you were saving before you started using coupons at all!

The final tip I have for you is the HOLY GRAIL of my couponing experience. I may have bored you to death with my previous blabbering, but you've made it to the crown jewels. The Krazy Coupon Lady is an incredible resource. They not only have great tips for beginners and a HUGE printable coupon database, they do all the work for you! Every week they update the sales for many major chain and grocery stores. They tell you what is on a great sale and what coupons are out there to match it up. They basically hold your hand every step of the way.

Just go to their site and click on the store that you want to shop at. The sales will be listed along with any online printable coupons (links included) and in paper coupons that can be stacked for a great final price. They have icons next to the sales to tell you if the sale is good enough to stock up now or wait.

I always check their website before I head to the grocery store. I let them do the work for me. There have been a few times that prices have been different in my store or an item was not sold in this area. That is bound to happen, but I still consider them a valuable source of information.

I hope this helped at least a little bit. I am sorry it is so drastically LONG! I will continue to update you will any tips or tricks I pick up along the way. We can all learn together. If you have any tips or more questions please let me know in the comments below!

- - Happy Savings! - -

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