Reader Q&A: Getting Started With Coupons

Today’s question comes from Elana and it’s all about coupons. If you’re on the fence about taking the couponing plunge, you might find some encouragement in my answer!

Reader Q&A

What are these “inserts” you often mention – i.e. SS, P&G, etc.? I am assuming they are from the newspaper, but I’m not sure. I’m considering ordering the paper, but I don’t have a lot of time to spend looking through coupons. I guess it gets easier and quicker the longer you do it. What is your best source for coupons?

I remember how overwhelming the whole “couponing thing” seemed to me at first. It was as if it was some kind of advanced science, complete with its own jargon, acronyms and equations.

Rest assured: While there is a learning curve to coupons, its much shorter than you may think.

What are all these inserts I keep mentioning?

Every Sunday, there are two or more coupon “inserts” in the newspaper. Here on KOAB, I refer to those inserts by an abbreviation of their publisher’s name:

SS = Smart Source, comes out every week, sometimes even two different versions per week

RP = Red Plum, ditto SS

P&G = Proctor & Gamble – comes out once a month, usually the Sunday before the 1st of the month, and the coupons are good for that month only

GM = General Mills, comes out once every several weeks

If you are just getting started, I’d say the best way to start building up a stash of coupons is with a newspaper subscription. To find delivery deals in your area, just plug in your zip code to the Discount Newspaper Finder. We got ours for $1.75/week – and I definitely MORE than save that much in coupons!

You can also get great manufacturer coupons by printing them online. They aren’t the same ones as in the inserts, though, which is why I always recommend starting with a subscription to the Sunday paper.

How do your organize your coupons?

I’m all about easy! If it is complicated or requires a lot of weekly maintenance, that’s just not going to work for me. So I “organize” my coupons using the no-clip system, which I’ve talked about in detail here and here. In a nutshell, I just label the inserts with the date and file them by month in a hanging file box; I only “clip” a coupon when I need it for a specific shopping trip. (If you haven’t read my no-clip tutorial, check it out for a much more detailed explanation.)

But if you don’t clip the coupons when you get them, how do you know what’s in the inserts?

Simple! EITHER I go looking in my Coupon Database for a particular coupon because I see that there’s a good sale one week — the coupon database tells me exactly in which insert to find the coupon I need. Since my inserts are filed by month, I just flip to the right month, grab the correct insert and clip the coupon.

OR, I find out about a coupon through a coupon match-up post, like the ones I do every week for CVS and Target. In addition, most cities have deal bloggers who are posting the coupon match-ups for their local grocery stores. My favorite Kansas City blogger, for example, is Kansas City Mamas. She covers HyVee, Hen House and Price Chopper.

If you do some Googling, I’m sure you will find a frugal blogger doing match-ups for your city. Not everything will be kosher, but you can quickly sort out that which you don’t need. If you don’t locate anyone in your city, shoot me an email. I’d be happy to help you find someone.

How long is this really going to take?!

I spend no more than 30-60 minutes a week on my “couponing”. That includes making my monthly menu plan, making my weekly grocery shopping lists, and making lists for the stockpiling trips at stores like CVS and Target. It also includes pulling and clipping all relevant coupons and organizing them in my coupon envelopes, so I’m ready to go when I hit the store.

I do NOT run around to 10 different stores. If there are *AMAZING* deals one week, I might hit three stores. Usually it’s one or two. Sometimes I don’t shop at all, other than a quick stop for milk, eggs and some fresh produce. I don’t use coupons every trip. I’d say about half my trips are big coupon trips – with multiples of each item to stock up. The other half are basic fruit-veggies-dairy-bread type trips, with few or no coupons at all.

The biggest time couponing savers for me are: (1) using the no-clip coupon system and (2) stocking up when my family’s necessities are at their rock bottom prices. Not only do these things save me a ton of time, they also save us a lot of money every month. Win-win.

Note that as I said above, there is a learning curve to couponing, so while you’re figuring it out for your family, you may spend a little more than 30-60 minutes per week.

Tell me, fellow couponers. How long do you spend on your coupons each week? Did you find that there was a learning curve? Or were you able to jump right in?


  1. Sorry couponing still confuses me. I don’t know where to start, despite all your explanations. For ex: I need Pasta. I look online for coupons but it never seems to be worth while, or no coupons are available. Also, don’t you have to collect multiple inserts for multiple items. Meaning I would like to buy 8-10 boxes of pasta at a time to save myself a trip but usually you can only print (or get in inserts) one coupon.

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