Welcome back to Couponing Basics. If you have been following along in the series, you know we’ve talked about setting a good foundation for savings, couponing myths, the best sources for coupons and coupon organization.

Today, I’m going to share my 4 coupon rules for getting the rock bottom price.

*Ready? Let’s see how low we can go! *

**Rule #1: When using a coupon, BUY THE SMALLEST SIZE**

When I teach this rule in my couponing classes, I always get a lot of raised eyebrows when I say this. I mean, come on – aren’t we all taught that bigger sizes cost less per unit?

Why buy 12 ounces of ketchup for $1 when you can buy 24 ounces for $1.75?

Well, first, because the “bigger-is-cheaper” thing is actually a misnomer. Yes, often times, the cost per unit is lower on bigger sizes. But not always. In fact, if you start paying attention to the per unit price, you will see that the SMALLER size is often less expensive than the larger one.

(I’m half-convinced that stores started this rumor so they could upcharge on bigger sizes and fool all us unsuspecting shoppers.)

But second, **the goal with strategic couponing is to spend as little money out of pocket as possible**.

So, if you have a coupon worth $.35/1 Hunts Ketchup and the 12-oz bottle is $1, your out of pocket will be $.65. With the 24-oz bottle, your out of pocket will be $1.40. In fact, if you have two $.35 off 1 coupons, you can get TWO small bottles for $1.30 – and still spend $.10 less than the 24-ounce size bottle.

**Rule #2: Wait to use your coupons on a sale item.**

In my experience, 85-90% of the time that you find a coupon for a particular item, that item will go on sale shortly thereafter. This is the one-two punch of marketers. It’s how they get their product out in front of us.

We start to pay attention when there’s a coupon. We really pay attention when there’s a sale. And savvy couponers know to wait for that inevitable sale so they can pay even less out of pocket.

Let’s go with that ketchup bottle again. It normally costs $1, but this week, it’s on sale for $.75. Now with your $.35/1 coupon, you are paying just $.40 for a bottle.

Either way, you save the same $.35 by using the coupon, but **when you wait for the sale, your out of pocket is lower** as well.

**Rule #3: Combine a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon, when possible**

Not all stores offer store coupons, but if yours does, this is a great way to lower your out of pocket even further. Many local and national grocery chains have eCoupons that you load onto a store loyalty card.

Target has printable coupons (limit 2 per IP address). Whole Foods has printable coupons, which you can also find in the Whole Deal newsletter at the front of the store. (Learn more about Whole Foods savings strategies here.)

Back to our ketchup example. Let’s say Target has a $.50/2 coupon for Hunts. And you have two of your $.35/1 manufacturer coupons.

And the bottle of ketchup is on sale for $.75, rather than $1.

Put that all together and your bottle of Hunts now costs just $.15 – an 85% savings off full price. Just for buying the smallest size, waiting for the sale and stacking two coupons together.

**Rule #4: Combine coupons with other store incentives.**

Like store coupons, not all stores offer “incentives”, but when yours does, your out of pocket plummets!

A store incentive can be earning an Extra Care Buck at CVS, or a Register Reward at Walgreens.

It can be something like Buy-4-Save-$4, with instant savings at the cash register. Or maybe the store is giving out a free item when you spend a certain amount on a related item (like buy 4 boxes of cereal, get a gallon of milk free).

It might also be a catalina offer, where you will get a coupon good for a certain amount of money off on your next transaction.

So now that you know what a store incentive is, let’s go back to our belabored bottle of ketchup. Let’s say your store is having a promotion – Buy 10 bottles of ketchup, save $5 off your order.

So you buy 10 bottles and pay only $5 after the cash register savings – or $.50 a piece. If you happen to have 10 of those $.35/1 coupons, you get to pay just $.15 each.

Now, when it gets really exciting is if that bottle of ketchup also happens to be on sale. Say for $.85 a bottle. Guess what that means? FREE ketchup!

Even better is if your store has a coupon on this particular brand of ketchup – and yes, the universe does align like this, all the time! In which case, you might even be able to turn your 10 bottles of ketchup into a money-maker.

Bear in mind that while putting all four of these rules together will net you the absolute lowest price (even money-making price), you may not always be able to apply all rules simultaneously. That’s okay. Aim for two of them. If you can throw in a third or even a forth every now and again, you’ll be golden!

Stay tuned next week when I cover stockpiling – that’s when we’ll talk about whether we really need 10 bottles of free ketchup, and where to store them anyway.

Have you noticed that coupons are getting more specific on which sizes they can be used for? I see a lot more ETS, and the recent Post coupons were for larger size boxes (18 oz or bigger).

ok, so i really dont understand the “buy the smaller size” idea for the exact opposite reason you are explaining it.

please help me understand.

In my mind, using all this reasoning, i would still rather pay a little bit more out of pocket to get double the product. if i know i need ketchup, and it is on sale now, why not get the larger bottle because the chances of it going on sale/getting another coupon exactly when i run out or need more again will be unlikely so paying less/ounce makes more sense than getting one small bottle free and then paying full price next time…? (this assuming i dont have multiples of coupons etc)

am i missing something? (i’m really asking, not being cynical) 🙂

Let’s say the small bottle of ketchup is on sale for $1 with 16 oz. and the large bottle is $1.80 for 32 oz.

Then let’s say you have a $.50/1 coupon.

The small bottle will be $.50 for 16 oz, which equals $.03 per oz.

The large bottle will be $1.30 for 32 oz, which equals $.04 per oz.

Your out of pocket and your “real cost” – i.e. per oz. – is 99/100 times going to be lower when you get the smaller size! I know it’s counter-intuitive, but it (almost) always works out better to get the smaller size.

Hope that helps, Baila!

thanks 🙂 much better!

If the prices for the large and small size are close, I calculate to make sure the smaller actually does have a lower unit cost.

Also, I sometimes do buy the larger size even if the smaller size has a lower unit cost. If the cost for the larger size with the coupon still ends up being lower than my target (buy now) price, I do buy it especially if it’s something that I use a lot of.

I absolutely love learning these little tricks. I feel like I’m taking a college course in economics. Thank you so much.

YAY! Thanks so much, Sylvia! I hope it continues to work.