GET IN A SET ROUTINE. Most of what we do in our lives is part of a routine. Whether it is brushing our teeth, watching television or going to work, we do most of our everyday activities without giving them a lot of thought. To be a successful couponer, couponing will need to take its place in your life to the same extent as these other activities. That is not to say you have to work at it daily, rather, it has to become such a part of your life that you do it automatically. Failure to integrate couponing into your life, in most cases, will result in this becoming just another fad in your life that you will soon abandon.
GET ORGANIZED. Couponing is much simpler when you are organized. Not only is it easier, you will find that your savings are greater too. Organized doesn’t just mean neat. The purpose of being organized is to allow you identify what coupons you have so that you can take maximum advantage of them. You need to set up a system for adding coupons, removing coupons and storing your coupons. There are many ways to do this but the key is to set up a system you will actually use.
Decide what storage system you will use. Several options for storage are accordion files, coupon boxes and notebook binders.
You must decide whether you will cut out your coupons as you obtain them or cut the coupons only as you need them.
You must decide how you are going to file your coupons. You can sort by category (such as canned meats, canned vegetables, cereal etc); you can sort by aisle (this method works best if you shop mostly at one store); you can sort by the coupon’s issue date or by its expiration date or; you can sort by source and issue date (such as Smartsource insert dated (insert date here) or Redplum insert dated (insert date here).
You must establish a set routine for removing the expired coupons.
COMBINE COUPONS WITH SALES. Anybody can use a coupon at the store. A true couponer uses her/his coupons to the fullest advantage by using coupons when the product is on sale. Combining a coupon with a sale results in maximum savings. To take advantage of this, you must either learn your stores sales cycle or (in this days of the internet) you must find a site where someone else has done this homework for you. There are many sites devoted to specific stores that will tell you when a product is on sale, if there is a coupon for that product and if the combination of the sale and the coupon is good enough for you to stack up at this time.
MAKE USE OF ONLINE COUPON SITES. The web abounds with sites for getting advice on the best way(s) to coupon as well as sites from which you can print online coupons. You should take advantage of these sites.
Sites for general advice. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of websites that will help you become a better couponer. Review as many as you can. If you only pick up one nugget of information from each one, you will be a better couponer for it. Some sites are better at conveying information than other sites. Some sites have better information. Find several you really enjoy and refer to them often. Not only will these sites educate you, they will also offer you encouragement and motivation.
Sites for specific store coupon information. There are many sites that take all the guess work out of using your coupons to their fullest advantage. These sites review the advertised (and sometimes the unadvertised) sales prices at specific stores and tell you if there are store or manufacturer’s coupons that can be used on those products. If you are store loyal, these types of sites are a must to use. Find the ones for your favorite store and use them weekly.
FREE Online printable coupon sites. There are several sites on the internet where you can search for and print out free coupons for specific products. Many of these sites have manufacturer’s coupons exclusive to that particular website. Several of these sites are coupons.com, smartsource.com and redplum.com. If the site is truly free to use, you should bookmark it and use it regularly.
STOCKPILE. As discussed above, the best way to save money using your coupons is to combine a coupon (or coupons) with a sales price. When you find an item on sale at its lowest price (again use the websites that do this research for you) you will want to buy as many of that product as you need to last you until the product hits its lowest price again (products usually hit their lowest price once every 12 weeks for most stores). There is little in the world of couponing that is more encouraging than looking at the groceries you have stockpiled knowing you bought the product at 70% to 100% off. (Yes, you can get many items for free if you combine a coupon with the products lowest sales price).
PLAN MENUS AROUND SALES. If you plan your menus around the items that are on sale, you will realize a much greater reduction in your food budget than if you plan a menu and then look for coupons or sales. Again, more savings equals greater satisfaction which equals a greater likelihood that couponing will move from chore to way of life.
DON’T GET DISCOURAGED.Give it time. Becoming a successful couponer takes time for most people. Don’t let the unrealistic expectations created by Extreme Couponing get you discouraged. Within a month or so, you should be seeing your grocery bills cut by 30% to 50%. After you have established your routine, and begun building your grocery stockpile, you should easily see savings of 50% to 65%.
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Perhaps you’ve seen one of those television shows wherein a shopper uses an incredibly large amount of coupons to bring her grocery bill down to just a few dollars and cents at checkout. “If I can do it, anyone can do it!” this person exclaims, and we do want to believe her. Who wouldn’t want to save money at the food store? However, the people who save the most money generally spend quite a bit of time gathering coupons, organizing them and strategizing their shopping trips. Getting the kind of savings by using coupons that you see on TV may not be possible right away (and you may not have quite as much time to invest in couponing), but using coupons will save you money. Start small and then build up as your schedule and desire permit. Use the following 10 tips as your guide to making coupons pay:
1. Pick a store. Choose the food store that you most often shop at to focus your couponing skills on first. It can be too overwhelming for a novice couponer to keep track of all the sales at all the stores in their area and coordinate trips to all of them. Usually, stores also have a minimum purchase amount to obtain sale items.
2. Familiarize yourself with your store’s coupon policy. Every store has its own rules regarding coupons. Stay up-to-date on the store’s rules and you avoid wasting your time planning purchases around coupons that your store will not honor.
3. Sign up for coupon websites. Open a free email account just for this purpose. If you search “couponing,” some of the top sites should come up. Join their mailing lists to receive free, printable coupons. Also join sites for products that you use regularly and know you’ll be buying. These companies appreciate brand loyalty and regularly offer coupons for their products on these sites; diapers, cereal and laundry detergent are just a few that come to mind.
4. Have a simple system. Most serious couponers have large, impressive-looking binders jam-packed with coupons in clear plastic sleeves–leave these systems for the future couponing you. Just starting out, all you really need is a small accordion file or plain envelopes (whichever you already have on hand will do). Don’t make the mistake of spending your future coupon savings on today’s coupon organization system.
5. Link your system to your store. Use one file slot or one envelope for every aisle in your chosen store. File your coupons according to aisle and also write your shopping list by aisle. Keep one envelope or file slot open for the coupons you know ahead of time that you’ll be using, but always bring all of your coupons with you every shopping trip.
6. Start clipping. If you’re already receiving coupons with your newspaper, start with those. Perhaps a friend, relative or neighbor has coupon inserts that they don’t want or need. If you choose, you may want to start purchasing the Sunday paper for the coupon inserts. However, if you’re just getting started, don’t buy multiple copies of the paper for the inserts or coupons from a clipping service. If you do not make use of these extra coupons, then you’ve wasted money instead of saving it. The coupons you will have on hand just from the paper and from the web will be enough to get you started.
7. Stick to a schedule. Choose one day/evening a week to “work” on couponing, i.e., clipping coupons, printing coupons from websites, filing, checking your store’s circular, etc. This ensures that you’ll never miss a great deal.
8. Keep track of your time. Be sure to note exactly how much time you’re spending on couponing and shopping and compare this time spent to the amount that you spent just on shopping alone. This gauge can help you decide if using a lot of coupons is worth your time and effort.
9. Keep track of your savings. This combined with tip no. 8 will help you to decide whether or not coupons pay for you. If you’re really not saving that much money and spending more time than you’d like trying to, maybe couponing isn’t for you.
10. Purge regularly. Nothing is more frustrating than having a great coupon (which will double!) matched to a great store sale item, only to find out at checkout that this great coupon has expired! Incorporate a check of expiration dates into the schedule that you have established to be sure that this never happens. Keeping coupons in order of oldest to newest (within their respective file) can also help.
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