When I first started trying to reduce my grocery budget two and a half years ago, I was pretty dubious about the value of coupons. I just didn’t see how saving $.20 here and $.50 there was really going to make such a big difference in my budget’s bottom line.
Then I got a bit more coupon savvy and realized that when done “right,” coupons can save me far more than just a couple of nickles!
Here are my five principles to using coupons the right way.
1. Buy the smallest size
I’m starting out with this principle because it kind of goes against everything we are taught to believe about bargain shopping. How often have you heard that you pay less per unit when you buy the bigger package?
Well, first of all, this isn’t always true. Check that per unit price on the barcode at the store — or tote around your calculator. I was surprised to find that the smaller package was often cheaper — per unit — than the larger package.
And second of all, using a coupon on a smaller item gives you a lower out of pocket — and therefore all but guarantees you a lower per-unit cost.
2. Combine the coupon with a sale
One of the BEST ways to lower your out-of-pocket expenses is to use your coupon on an item that is already on sale — which it more than likely will be every 12 weeks or so.
Let’s say you want to buy some mayonnaise. Normally, the jar costs $3.50. On sale, it costs $2.50. With your $.75/1 coupon, you pay $1.75 — a 50% savings off the regular retail price. Yes, it’s true that you could still use the coupon on the full-price item, but your percentage of savings would be much lower.
One of my favorite ways to combine a coupon with a sale is on a BOGO. The store has salad dressing on sale Buy One Get One Free. And you have a Buy One Get One Free coupon. Guess what that means? TWO FREE SALAD DRESSINGS!
3. Combine the (manufacturer) coupon with a store coupon
Not all stores offer store coupons, but if they do… voila! Double your savings, instantly! Two of my favorites are Target and Whole Foods, but keep an eye out for store coupons at your local grocery stores as well.
This principle, which is also known as “stacking”, is pretty much self-explanatory: Take your $.50/1 manufacturer’s coupon for pasta, combine it with a $.40/1 store coupon for pasta, and you’ll get that box of pasta — which is, of course, already on sale — pretty close to free.
(Note that Whole Foods does not yet have a national coupon policy, so your mileage will vary when it comes to stacking store and manufacturer coupons.)
4. Shop at a store that doubles coupons
I know this tip isn’t possible for everyone, as some areas of the country are just not “doubling coupon” friendly. But if you have a store that doubles — or even triples! — coupons, familiarize yourself with that store!
Spend some time reading the circulars — or just find the bloggers that do your local match-ups. You don’t have to shop at the doubling store every week, but paying a visit there occasionally will no doubt maximize your coupon savings.
5. Combine coupons with store incentives
Remembering that the goal is to have the lowest out-of-pocket total, it is wise to use your coupons in combination with other store incentives. The most common of these incentives are catalinas, ECBs (at CVS) and other forms of store “cash”.
But, what if you really need some toilet paper, and you can’t wait for the smallest size to go on sale at a store that doubles coupons and offers other incentives?
Then, hey, buy the toilet paper. This isn’t supposed to drive you crazy! (That would definitely be the WRONG way to use coupons!)
You don’t have to use all five principles at once. You don’t even have to use three of them at once.
But if you can use one or two of them most of the time, and three or four of them on occasion, then I have no doubt that you will be able to cut your spending on food & other household items by at least 30-50%.
Okay, fellow couponers: What did I miss? What are your principles for using coupons the “right” way?