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Coupon Savings

Save Money on Groceries: Coupons  
by Michelle Jones,

As a frugal mom of 4 with over 20 years of experience shopping on a budget, I have tested just about every level of grocery coupon use that a person can do; from all, to some, to none, and back again. Coupon use will vary depending on people's circumstances. I have known many people who refuse to use coupons because they feel they just don't have time. As a working mom myself, who barely has time to shop for groceries, let alone clip grocery coupons each week, I truly do understand.

Yet, not using a grocery coupon on an item that you're going to purchase anyways is just like throwing money away. Yes, it does take a little time each week to clip the coupons and take them to the store, but just like earning money takes time, so does saving money!

Anyone who wants to save more money on groceries can make good use of coupons, it's just a matter of doing it. Try to think of them as cash and you might be a little more motivated to use them on a regular basis. When you purchase an item that you regularly buy and could have used a coupon for (but didn't), it really is just like throwing money away. Do this over and over again and we're talking hundreds of dollars each year. As soon as you start looking at coupons as cash it should be a lot easier to make more time for them.

You may think you don’t have time to use grocery coupons, but if you have time to watch one extra TV show per week or read one newspaper… you have time to save money with coupons. If you’re extremely pressed for time just grab your Sunday paper and clip out only the coupons you can use this week. If you want to clip out all the coupons you can easily clip them out while watching your favorite TV show on Sunday night, even if you just do it during the commercials. Try it, you’ll see! It really doesn't take as long as you may think!

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Tip # 1 - Be careful when shopping at grocery stores that require a membership card to get items for their special 'SALE' price, which is just about most of them these days.  Especially when new cashiers are in training, they just simply forget to run it through.  I've never had a problem before now but twice in the last 6 weeks I've had to ask the cashier to refigure my bill because the card didn't go through and they charged me full price for everything!  (This was especially bad since 75% or more of everything in my cart is usually on sale, not just one or two items.)  And yes, it is inconvenient to ask for the refunds and wait for the total to be figured, but both trips resulted in a membership card credit of about $17.00 each!  On the second trip, I had even asked the clerk to check the receipt because I saw an item wring up at full price, she checked it and said, "yes it's there."  But when I got home (always check your receipt before leaving the store, which I usually do!), I put the groceries away and was looking at the receipt and saw I had been charged full price for everything.  Back to the store I went (don't worry, it's very close to my house!).  I tried to be really nice and so did the store manager but I could tell she was not thrilled at having to refigure the bill and give me a cash credit.  I'll do whatever I can to make sure this doesn't happen again, and will never leave this particular grocery store without checking my receipt first, but good grief!  Super Wal-mart is looking better and better to me all the time, and they not only take coupons, they price match too!!!

(Editor's Update:  It happened again--the cashier did not scan my grocery store "saving card!"  This time, the grand total of my refund was over $28!!!  And no, I'm not giving up on this store, they have the best prices in town... everyone makes mistakes.  These are particularly frustrating mistakes, but I can handle it, I have four children and this is nothing!)

Tip # 2 - This may be a surprise to you (it certainly was to me), but grocery clerks do not always know their own store's coupon guidelines!  Recently, I had some special store coupons I wanted to use with matching manufacturer's coupons.  Since I was fairly new to this store I stopped by the customer service desk first to make sure it was okay to do this.  With no employees attending the desk, a cashier happened to be walking by and asked if I needed assistance.  I asked her about the coupons and she said "No, you can only use one coupon per item!"  Later, as another cashier was ringing up my groceries I mentioned it to her and told her I thought it was okay to use a store coupon with a manufacturer's coupon, and she said "Yes, it is!"  And, I would say in MOST cases it's going to be okay... a store coupon is not the same as a manufacturer's coupon, it's really just their own sale price!  However, if you want to make sure your store will honor both coupons at the same time before you try it, just be sure you speak directly to the manager!

Tip # 3 - If you have time (or even if you don't) you can also create a price log in a small notebook to record the best price of your favorite products at each store, as well as the coupons you receive throughout the year. This will help you learn the sale trends and know what the best grocery bargains really are. Here's our FREE Printable Price Log to help you get started!

Tip # 4 - When items are on a buy-2 for one-price sale, such as 2 boxes of cereal for $4.00, it is usually not necessary to buy two to get the sale price. If you use the item regularly and will need to buy more before they go on sale again (possibly in just a few weeks) go ahead and buy as many as you need.  And save even more by matching the sale with a coupon!  But if you only need one box of cereal, or whatever the item is, then just buy one. The money you save by not purchasing that second item (just because it’s on sale) may be needed for something else that you might need more, such as milk, bread, produce, chicken, fish or meat.

Tip # 5 - When matching sales with coupons, the same rule applies; sometimes it’s better to just buy one sale item instead of the two or more the store is hoping you’ll pick up. And if you have two coupons it’s okay to use both on a buy-2 for one-price sale, because you are purchasing two items!  It might even be worth purchasing an extra Sunday newspaper to get a duplicate set of coupons; if a certain week has a lot of great coupons for products that you use often!

Tip # 6 - Double coupon offers are great but in our local area we currently have only one store that offers double coupons--and only up to 65 cents--and, they are also one of the more expensive grocery stores.  The double coupons are nice, but then when you buy grocery items that generally do not have coupons (such as milk, bread, meat, produce, etc...) you will more than pay for that double coupon savings.  So, if your "double coupon" store is similar to ours (i.e. on the high-end) use the coupons on their sale items when you have time and purchase everything else at a lower priced store of your choice.

Tip # 7 - One of the best ways to save more money with grocery coupons is to match them with items that are already on sale. Look through your weekly grocery store sale flyers (they are often first published in the Wednesday newspaper and are also available at the front of the store for free) to find matching items that you'd like to purchase. If you don't have time to look through the weekly sale flyers just clip your coupons from the Sunday paper and match as you go!

Tip # 8 - Grocery stores generally do not list everything they have on sale in their weekly sale flyers (though I’m hoping some day they will start!), so, while matching your grocery coupons to the store flyers is a huge help, there will also be some additional sales you may want to match with. You have two options here, simply bring your coupon organizer with you to the store each week, OR, clip the coupons from the Sunday paper and take all of them (that you care to use) to the store. Your coupons will most often match with sale items during the grocery store’s current sale for that week!

Tip # 9 - Another way to maximize your savings while matching coupons with weekly sales is to shop at more than one grocery store. Since the stores do not run the same sales each week, you can often double your savings just by shopping at two stores instead of one. Now I'm not suggesting that you drive all the way across town to save a few more dollars, especially with the high cost of gas, but if the stores are close to each other or you can combine your grocery shopping errands with other trips, it may not cost you any extra in gas. And, if you've been using my Coupon Savings tips you already know that we're saving a lot more than just a few dollars! ;o)

Tip # 10 - If you're unable to shop at more than one grocery store each week to maximize your coupon savings (or if the stores in your area are too far apart, considering the extra cost of gas) just be sure to shop at a store that offers price matching. Let's say you have some great coupons for several items that are only on sale at the 'other store.' By asking for a price match, you'll not only get the best sale prices for both stores (without having to make a second trip), but you'll also be able to match those sale prices with your coupons!

Tip # 11 - When the end of the month is drawing near I always like to take a quick look through my coupons for any that might be expiring soon. Manufacturers set many of their coupons to expire on either the first or last day of the month, so keep an eye out for both dates and take any that you need to the store this week; before they expire!

Tip # 12 - Many grocery items remain on sale for much longer than a week, giving you plenty of time to match them with coupons or even do a little stocking up without coupons.  So check the sale dates (they are usually located right on the shelf sale tag) to decide whether you need to purchase the items this week, or if they can wait.

Tip # 13 - Waiting to purchase these items that are on extended sale will also help you avoid over-stockpiling and keep your weekly grocery budget in check.  And, by postponing the purchase you may find that you don’t even need the items that are on sale!

Tip # 14 - Groceries are not the only items that have coupons!  Carefully look through those department store inserts in your Sunday newspapers and you’re likely to find some great offers, especially during the holiday season. This past week we received 2 coupons for a $10 ToysRus gift card (with a $75 purchase), a $10 JCPenney men’s wear coupon (with a $50 purchase), a $5 coupon for Bed Bath & Beyond (with a $15 purchase), a $10 coupon for Belk (with a $10 purchase), and a 50% off coupon for any one regular priced item at Michael’s craft store!

Tip # 15 - Holiday sales are great for using up coupons and picking up extra items for your local food bank or a neighbor who's in need.  If you don't have a local food bank you can contact your area churches, Rescue Mission, Salvation Army or the American Red Cross, any of these non-profit organizations can give you more information on how you can help and what grocery items are needed the most.

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Readers' Tips...

"All you Shoppers out there! I know you have all gotten used to the time consuming project of cutting out those coupons, however if you can get a neighbor kid, grandchild or one of your own to help you cut those out, it's for sure worthwhile! I gave our neighbor kids and some that I used to baby-sit for those jobs, and they did so good. When we were all done I would pass out cookies heated in the microwave and fresh cold milk for a thank you they didn't forget. Also, does anybody ever do rebates? I used to do very well with those, and REALLY SAVE! Or save the labels for a send in for a free item, is good too. I know it's time consuming, but you sure do get a big payback with free food coupons." Christine from Missouri

"I've just come across your Web site and think it's Wonderful!  So many hints, suggestions, etc... it's Great.  When I go grocery shopping, I write my list on the back of one of those 'return envelopes' that we're always getting in the mail, then stick the coupons needed for those items inside the envelope.  This way I have both the list and coupons right at my fingertips.  This is especially helpful when you have to buy multiples of an item, or more than one item from a brand, and can't remember... just check the coupon.  I always mark "C" beside the grocery item to remind me that I have a coupon for it.  Hope this helps others, I know I find it very helpful.  Thanks a lot for the wonderful web-site, please keep up the great work." - Barb K.

(Editor's note: I also recycle envelopes this way, Barb, see my tip in the Grocery Planners section of our newsletter, and I love your idea about putting a "C" next to items that you have a coupon for! :o)

"I live in the Midwest, and there is a mega store similar to Wal-Mart that offers discounts and coupons for in-store use for new and transferred prescriptions and refills. I save on average $15 a month using these coupons. They also happen to have very competitive grocery and general merchandise prices." - Sarah Dewey

"Here is a tip that may be on your website, but I didn't see it. Often we get coupons we can't use, but they allow us to get things for free, or we get coupons for stuff that we would get for free but have already stockpiled. What we do in that instance is get the item anyway and put them in a box for the local food bank. When we get a box full, we drop them off at church. If you don't go to church, just contact the church closest to you and ask them if they take donations for the food bank. It's a way to give back while still being budget conscience. Hope you can use this. God bless." - Andrew M.

"I keep all my coupons in a 3 ring binder. I have photo pages in it and each coupon type is in its own pouch--such as baby, cereal, deodorant, cold meds, dog food, cat food, makeup, light bulbs, batteries, dairy, shampoo. I have 30 different categories, but it makes it quick to find the coupon I need. I ALWAYS have my binder with me. WHY?? You never know when you may see something on an unadvertised sale, or in a mark down cart. Once, while in the next town after a storm I passed the small (only) grocery store which was putting up a sign advertising a 60% off sale due to electrical failure. I turned around, and bought tons of stuff for near free between the sale price and the coupons--items such as fish sticks, ice cream, yogurt, milk, butter. I added it up and saved around $100 for items I would have bought anyway." - April of Missouri

"I have recently found that some stores (where I live we have Smith's or Kroger), offer downloadable coupons to their stores "saving's card."  You go onto their website and you can choose the coupons that you use and they automatically load to your shopper's card.  When you are checking out, and scan your card, the savings show up on your receipt." - Rachel

Here are two tips on saving with rebates at Walgreens...

"Purchase rebate items from stores such as Walgreens and send in the rebate. The best return method is to choose a Walgreens card that can only be used for Walgreens items. They will give you a 10% higher rebate for choosing to re-visit their store. Then use your rebate savings on the next rebate item you would like to purchase. The end result is you continue to roll over x amount of rebate dollars without having to dip so far into your checking account. It works like phone time it just keeps rolling over." - W. Richards

"I shop at Walgreens when things are on sale and try to take advantage of their Easy Saver rebates each month. But often there would only be one item I cared for and it didn't seem worth the trouble…until now!  They've gone online with their rebates and it's so very easy.  I go to their site, type in the information, and in a few days I usually get my money deposited on my Walgreens gift card.  And because I do that rather than ask for a paper check, I get a bonus 10%!  No stamps, no envelopes, no circling, etc.  So even a small rebate under $1 is worth the 60 seconds it takes to enter the rebate." - Theresa S.

"I am an avid coupon clipper. I have saved so much money doing this! But, it became very frustrating digging through my little coupon organizer to find what I needed. Then, I got smart! I now carry a binder. Inside are photo organizer pockets. I labeled each pocket with things like cheese, crackers, canned fruit, etc. You can also label the pockets in the order you normally shop. I have been stopped by so many people that think it is the greatest system. One other tip is that I make a shopping list and don't deviate unless there is just an awesome sale I can't pass up. I don't get sucked into picking things up on a whim. Happy couponing!" - Jennifer of Puyallup, WA

"Hi Michelle! I am loving your site and just wanted to share a tip of mine when shopping @ Walmart and price matching. When making my grocery list and planning my menu, I wait until Wednesday. I have gotten all my sales flyers in the papers. I sit down with them and a notebook and plan my menu for the week by what's on sale at the different stores. After my list is made, I go through the ads again and beside each item i have on my list, I jot down where it is on sale and the price. When I get to the register @ Walmart, I put all my non-price matching up first and then a divider up for my price matching. EVERY cashier @ my local Walmart knows me as the "Price Matching Queen." By separating my price matching from my regular price purchases, it cuts down on the confusion and possibility of missing something. They appreciate it more b/c it's all in one place and it actually takes less time. On average more than 1/2 of my groceries are price matched. The people waiting behind me usually don't like me, but a quick apology and wit about having to save money usually smoothes things over. I have a family of 7 and one income, so it has become NECESSARY to price match. Sorry for rambling, just wanted to share my experience! Thanks!" - Stacy Horner

"My daughter-in-law takes the ads with her to Walmart for price matching, she has a notebook that she lists the stores and items so that the clerk can find the item quickly if she needs to verify. - Rusty

"Many people put their coupons in groups, but I have found that by putting them in alphabetical order is the best way to go. So I can easily find any item in my coupon holder by simply looking for the brand name, such as Crest, One dog food, Pepto, etc. I have tried other ways, but they do not work for me. The key is organization! Also, look through your coupons a couple times a month to make sure that none have expired. Happy couponing!" - Pamela Dean

"Hi Michelle, I also live on a budget even though it is just my husband and myself. But we are both on disability so you know we have to be thrifty. I find that if you walk the isles of your local drug stores with your coupons, you can save a bundle. I found soups, dish soaps, and especially spices on sale. So scan those drugstores every week." Cindy Cromer

"I have a tip! This has to do with coupons, in general. When you go in with coupons, still LOOK at the regular price of the off brands. A lot of times, I go in with 1 dollar off the name brand stuffing (for instance). When I get in the store though, I can find it 3 dollars cheaper if I buy the other brand. Don't devote yourself to your coupons. Some just aren't all they are cracked up to be!" Cassandra Spade

"Hope this tips help save you time when cutting out coupons. I use a 6-inch metal ruler to tear my coupons out. I just place it on the edge of the coupon and hold it down and tear the paper along the ruler. I can cut out my coupons in about half the time. I store the ruler in my coupon organizer so it doesn't get lost." - Susan of Winter Haven, Fl.

"It can be very frustrating to get to the check out and realize the store's coupon policy has changed. There you are with a fistful of great savings and the cashier tells you the limit is now 1 doubled coupon per customer. Save yourself time and frustration by getting the store's coupon policy in writing and keeping it in your coupon binder, box or envelope. Each month check at the service desk to make sure the policy has not changed." - Lisa

"Try to make saving fun or even a game. I enjoy contests with co-workers and family and friends. Be it to loose weight or to sell more at work. It works. And for finding good deals, sales and coupons. Ask and they might tell you." - Lucia Orozco

"My favorite resource for grocery coupons is our local grocery store, Kroger. Each Sunday they sell two newspapers (regular and early editions) bound together for $3.00. Both contain the same printed coupon inserts." - Michelle :o)

"If your grocery store has a web page and sends out email blasts, SIGN UP! You can get some exclusive coupons in some of their email blasts! - Anita W.

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