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Couponing Makes Cents

This article was written by in Frugality. 31 comments.


Over the next couple of weeks, six finalists will be auditioning for the opening of “staff writer” at Consumerism Commentary. Each will be providing two guest articles to share with readers. After the six writers have shared their guest articles, readers will have an opportunity to provide feedback before we select the staff writer.

This article is presented by FruGal, a consultant for a prominent online educational program.

Chances are, I have something in common with either you or someone you’re close to. That’s right, I recently found myself unemployed. After a five-year employment with a steady organization and what I thought was a prosperous future, I woke up one morning to find myself blindsided by the news that I no longer had a job. Luckily, being a financially-conscious individual, I’ve always been wise about investing a percentage of my earnings in various places, such as high-interest savings accounts. While this left me with enough money to “survive,” I knew that there were some concrete steps I was going to need to take in order to ensure I was making the most of my hard-earned dollars and, in believe it or not, cents.

Cents you ask? Yes, cents. Coupon-clipping has changed my life. What has long been considered a hobby of a let’s say, more “seasoned” individuals (a.k.a. senior citizens) has truly become all the rage with today’s average consumer. As a 28 year-old single female, I may not be your “average” coupon clipper, but my point is coupons are a smart move, no matter who you are.

Coupons have long fascinated me, but it wasn’t until recently that I began to master the art of this ever-growing practice. Spend just a few minutes online, and you’ll probably find quite a few useful web pages where people dedicate their whole site to the art of coupon clipping, complete with weekly store deals, coupon links, and much, much more.

I’m excited to share with you just a few simple steps you can take TODAY (well, maybe this Sunday) to STOP seeing your hard-earned money dwindle each week, and START seeing incredible savings in your everyday expenditures.

1. The good old Sunday newspaper is an excellent place to begin your new-found hobby of clipping coupons! On Sunday morning (or perhaps Saturday if the early edition is available where you live like it is In my city), head out to your local grocery store or gas station and pick up a copy of the Sunday paper for generally around $2 or less. Your $2 will go far based on the incredible savings you find inside. (Also check out your local paper on Thursday, as they often have coupons and promotions.)

Inside your $2 treasure, you’ll find a wide array of coupon inserts from companies such as SmartSource, PGBrandSaver, and others. Note that your coupon inserts may vary from ones you’d find in other cities, but regardless, you’ll find endless deals inside.

2. Now that you’ve got your coupons, what do you do with them? Get out your scissors and start clipping! There are tons of different organization systems that you can use, such as keeping a three ring binder with inserts. What I find works best for me is a plastic file folder organizer with tabbed letters of the alphabet. You can find these at any office supply store, and again, the couple of dollar investment you make will be well worth it in the long-run.

Once you’ve clipped all of your coupons it’s time to file them into your folder. I clip just about everything, even if I think I might not use it, because you never know. You also might find yourself giving coupons that don’t apply to you to your friends and family members. Find a system that works for you, but I usually file by the brand name of the item, rather than the general category. That way if I’m going through my sales circular for next week (see the next step) and see that Cheerios are on sale, I can simply flip to the “C” section and pull my coupon!

3. The key to successfully using your coupons is in the timing. You don’t want to go to the grocery store and simply buy items because you have coupons for them. Instead, check out your local grocery stores’ sales papers ahead of time. Prior to your weekly grocery store trip, go online to your store’s website. Most stores I’ve ever shopped at post their weekly circulars on their site. Some of them even have copies of the next week’s sales circular just past the checkout near the exit, so pick it up on your way out to start planning for the next week. Once you know what’s on sale, match up those items that are on sale in the circular with those items you have coupons for.

Of course, you won’t have a coupon for every item you want to buy, but you’ll definitely begin to see some significant savings in your weekly spending. Once you become a coupon-clipping “expert” you’ll begin to see your grocery bills decrease more and more, with strategies such as clipping coupons on the web, taking advantage of stores that double (and sometimes even triple!) your coupons, buying multiple copies of your Sunday paper, and using online resources to plan out how to maximize your coupons at different stores each week if you’re super ambitious.

Since I’ve begun steadily clipping and using coupons, I’ve seen my grocery bills more than cut in half each week. Not only does this give me some degree of personal satisfaction, but it also lets me know that I have a bit more money that particular week to go out with friends, or buy that bestselling novel I’ve been wanting to read. Or better yet, maybe I should just get it from the library for free.

So, Consumerism Commentary readers, what do you think? Are you an avid coupon-clipper like me? Do you have any tips to share on how to stretch your dollars and cents even further at the grocery store? If you get a little thrill from looking at the bottom of your grocery store receipt and seeing your savings, I’d love to hear from you!

This is a guest article by FruGal, one of six finalists interested in being Consumerism Commentary’s staff writer.

Photo: Roadsidepictures

Updated September 8, 2011 and originally published November 9, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

FruGal currently serves as a Professional Development Consultant for a prominent online educational program and as a Social Media Specialist for a Luxury Real Estate company in Atlanta. You can follow her on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar evolutionofwealth

How long would you say you spend on coupons each week? It sounds as though you do a lot of planning to coordinate your coupons. I didn't know how long something like this would take.

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avatar FruGal

I'd say it's a solid hour or two each week, which includes both going through the papers and clipping/organizing the coupons, as well as actually planning out which coupons will work for that particular week. It definitely gets faster as you get the hang of things, and is well worth it in the end for the savings you'll see!

-FruGal

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avatar Michele

I am trying to learn couponing. I have subscribed to various coupon bloggers websites and they do most of the work for me! They have the sales and the stores and even a link to click that particular coupon.

I do need to find the time to find some bargains of my own.

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avatar FruGal

Michele,

I think that's a great strategy. Why spend lots of time searching for deals when people are already doing it and making the information readily available to you. :-)

-FruGal

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avatar JoeTaxpayer

The “time is money” people often miss the fact that for most people, they can't simply turn time into an hourly rate of income.
On Sunday morning when the paper comes and I am sitting at breakfast, cutting up the coupon pack, it's not like it's wasted time. The combination of those coupons and the web-based (like coupons.com advertised here) add up to a lot of money.
My score this week was based on a buy $30 get $15 back deal at my local supermarket. After coupons, it was $6 I paid for;
10 cans Progresso Soup ($2.59 ea or more)
4 jars Ragu sauce ($2.19 ea)
2 16oz FF Wishbone dressing
1 16 oz bag Chex
1 container frosting

I saved about $30 on the above, which it would take nearly $60 to clear. I'm considering tracking and posting my coupon/supermarket deal savings for 2010. Last I did this was over 12 yrs ago and that year's savings were over $2200.

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avatar Steve

How much per hour would you say you earn? And not when comparing vs. the “list prices” of the items, but vs. the generic versions you might have bought if you were still frugal but slightly less lazy, in those cases where the generic is just as good as the brand name.

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avatar Heidi

I can tell you that since I started couponing several months ago, my benchmark has been that I must BEAT the price of generics (which I had been buying at my local Winco for some time) with my brand name coupons – which happens quite often.

Also, when I can beat the price of generics with my brand name coupons – I buy as many as I have coupons for, can afford and have space to store. Ideally, I would buy enough of that item to last me until the next rock bottom price sale comes around.

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avatar Robert

I especially love coupons when ordering pizza or buying in bulk. Saves a ton and they're very simple to use.

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avatar FruGal

Hi Steve,

It really varies week to week but I'd say I save at least $25 – $30 (usually more) at the grocery store, after spending 1 – 2 hours on couponing. I definitely stick to generic if it's a better deal and save the coupons for another time.

However, I'd say this has paid off much more in other ways, such as beyond the grocery store. I've come across (and used) countless coupons for every aspect of life, including free oil changes, meals out (often buy one get one free where I can split the bill with a friend), department store coupons, etc. I'd have to say I save well over $100 a week with the use of various coupons.

I think JoeTaxpayer (below) has a great idea to track his savings over the course of a year. I'd love to see what my overall savings add up to!

-FruGal

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avatar FruGal

Hi Joe,

That's a great idea about tracking your coupon/supermarket savings over the course of a year. It's impressive that over 12 years ago you saved that much! Imagine what that $2200 would translate to today! I'd love to try doing this some day!

I also like to think about not only the savings I'm getting by using coupons on groceries, but how much I'm not spending by eating out regularly and most often opting for the cheaper (and often healthier) version at home.

If you decide to track your savings for 2010, will you post it online, or is this just something for your personal knowledge?

-FruGal

-FruGal

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,365 (Platinum)

That's a great point about the value of time. If you get paid $50 an hour at work, that doesn't mean that every hour of your life is worth $50 and any time spent doing some activity must recover that cost of time spent.

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avatar Steve

Would you say couponing is one of those things where your bang for the buck starts off high and goes down from there? Or is it one of those things where you get more out of it the more you do?

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avatar Joe Taxpayer

FruGal – I have a blog covering a number of financial topics, Frugality one of them. I'd track it for all to see, probably once per month. Thinking I'd track both the 'sale' component and coupon/rebate component to get the total savings.

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avatar FruGal

Sounds good, I'll be sure to be on the lookout for it should you decide to do that. I'm sure a lot of your readers would enjoy it!

-FruGal

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avatar FruGal

I agree!

One helpful strategy I use when buying in bulk is to make sure I look at the “price per unit” of items I'm buying, which is found at the bottom of the tag on the shelf. Lots of times buying in bulk saves money, but there are definitely occasions when I've learned that that's not the case, and sticking with the regular size actually is a better deal.

-FruGal

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avatar FruGal

Steve,

I've definitely gotten much more out of it the more I've done. While it's easy enough for anyone to do, there is definitely an “art” to couponing that takes some time to master. I've used coupons for as long as I can remember, and got heavily into it within the past year – and I'm still learning new tips and tricks to save money every day.

-FruGal

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avatar Yana

Hi FruGal! I used to do coupons much more than I do now, and they are worthwhile without a doubt. I just don't like doing it. We get the newspaper free, and my husband took over on cutting them out. I don't use very many from the newspapers, though, because these days we buy much less food due to work hours. What I DO do is use CVS coupons and their card. We used to have Long's, but it converted to CVS. A very bad change as far as an attractive store and quality perishables (eggs aren't good anymore, and I bought them there all the time previously). CVS has great coupons. I got one in e-mail today for $3, and went and bought dish soap on sale (6 bottles) and bar soap – but they had a woefully inadequate selection at high prices, so I bought just enough to last until I can get to Target. On my CVS receipt today is a coupon for $5 off $15. It's only good for 3 days, so I'll have to go back and buy something we need anyway on sale. Last time I did this, I bought Yuban coffee, regularly $11.99 on sale for $6.99, and I had a coupon for $5 off $20. So I bought 3 cans. Had their “bonus bucks” coupon too, so got out really cheap. Usually there is something on sale that you're going to need anyway, and with coupons like this, you can really save a lot of money.

As an aside, Northern 3-ply toilet paper – the only TP worth mentioning in polite company! Usually very expensive, but get that on sale at CVS for $6.99 for a double roll (gimmick) 12-pack and use a coupon. That is something to stock up on ;)

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avatar ¢entsiblelife

I'm not an avid coupon user. We have some ingredients we avoid, and I've found most coupons are for products I wouldn't buy anyhow.

We do stock up via sales, use coupons when we can, etc. but mainly we purchase whole foods which are more expensive. I know the prices for say a 5 lb. bag of apples, so I know a deal when I see one. If you don't have a memory for it, use a grocery price book, it's a real time and money saver.

Great point about not being able to earn your wage during downtime. Though for me my downtime is the only time that I earn money.

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avatar LuluGal

I use coupons too but I do not spend too much time on doing that. Our Sunday paper has recently gone up to $3 from $2 so that has made me a little upset. I spend about 15 minutes on Sunday cutting my coupons and filing them away. I use a small photo album and categorize by category.

I used to cut almost all the coupons just in case…but now I only cut for the stuff that I know I use. Then I combine my coupons with CVS extra bucks by taking about 10 minutes a week to go through the CVS ad and put all the coupons for that week in a CVS tab in the album. When I make my shopping list during the week I put coupons in a Walmart tab. That way when I head to those places the coupons are already organized and I can just pull out the correct ones for that store.

I save more than $3 every week in coupons so it is worth the cost of buying the newspaper. Plus now that I can check which coupons are in the paper I can avoid wasting money on the paper if there is nothing I want.

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avatar vcmcguire

Thought I’d share my CVS trick. You mentioned getting a coupon that’s only good for 3 days. I go to CVS about once a month, which means I won’t be back again til my coupons expire unless I make a special trip.

So when I first walk in I go right to the register and buy something small, like a pack of gum, and get all my coupons. Then I go do my regular shop (toilet paper, batteries, dental floss, etc) and I can use my coupons right then and there. That way I don’t have to keep track of when they expire, or make a special trip to the store.

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avatar Kathy

This adds a bit to your newspaper cost but I use the grocery game (http://www.grocerygame.com). Sales run in cycles and this website tracks what coupons are good each week. Since grocery stores quit doubling coupons it's not as good as it used to be but I still am able to get awesome deals. Including I usually get toothbrushes or toothpaste for free or almost free. Last week I got 4 boxes of Frosted Flakes (I have 2 teenage boys) for about 50 cents each. Pasta can be 50 cents or a dollar. Anyway with an unemployed husband and 2 boys it really isn't even a choice anymore. Before unemployment I was able to use much of what I got to feed homeless shelters. I could go on and on but I really encourage people to use them.

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avatar FruGal

Hi Yana,

Thanks for your comment! I'm part of CVS' ExtraCare Rewards Program but I don't frequent the store much, I'll have to check out their deals.

-FruGal

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avatar Guest

Hi,

Just wondering if you have a local Farmer’s Market in your area. If so, do you shop there and how do you like it?

There is a great one close to where I live with high quality fruits, vegetables, etc. at very affordable prices. The only difficulty is that they don’t carry a lot of items I usually tend to get at a traditional grocery store, so I usually only go every couple of weeks to the Farmer’s Market.

-FruGal

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avatar Guest

Hi,

Just wondering if you have a local Farmer's Market in your area. If so, do you shop there and how do you like it?

There is a great one close to where I live with high quality fruits, vegetables, etc. at very affordable prices. The only difficulty is that they don't carry a lot of items I usually tend to get at a traditional grocery store, so I usually only go every couple of weeks to the Farmer's Market.

-FruGal

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avatar FruGal

Hi LuluGal,

I like that you bring up the point of not wasting money on the paper if there’s nothing you want. A few times when I first got started I got the paper only to find out there weren’t any coupons at all! From what I’ve read online, it seems as if on most holiday weekends, coupons aren’t included. Good to know!

-FruGal

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avatar FruGal

Hi LuluGal,

I like that you bring up the point of not wasting money on the paper if there's nothing you want. A few times when I first got started I got the paper only to find out there weren't any coupons at all! From what I've read online, it seems as if on most holiday weekends, coupons aren't included. Good to know!

-FruGal

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avatar FruGal

Hi Kathy,

Thanks for sharing this resource. I think it’s great that sites such as The Grocery Game exist in order to save consumers both time and money. That’s interesting that your grocery stores quit doubling coupons, both of the major ones I shop at continue this practice. I know that can really make a difference so that’s disappointing to hear.

Take care!

-FruGal

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avatar FruGal

Hi Kathy,

Thanks for sharing this resource. I think it's great that sites such as The Grocery Game exist in order to save consumers both time and money. That's interesting that your grocery stores quit doubling coupons, both of the major ones I shop at continue this practice. I know that can really make a difference so that's disappointing to hear.

Take care!

-FruGal

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avatar Steve

I have the opposite approach, that is, we go to a farmer’s market or farm stand about once a week, and a grocery store every 2-3 weeks or so. The only other thing we need is milk, which we can buy at a convenience store (they sell it at the same or less price than the grocery store as a loss leader).

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avatar Steve

I have the opposite approach, that is, we go to a farmer's market or farm stand about once a week, and a grocery store every 2-3 weeks or so. The only other thing we need is milk, which we can buy at a convenience store (they sell it at the same or less price than the grocery store as a loss leader).

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avatar Kathy

There are other sites that are free out there too for coupons. I like Coupon Mom and Short cuts. And though you aren’t asking about eating out we did (before job loss) use restaurant.com for discounted certificates – BUT make sure to use Coupon Mom’s code to get these certificates for CHEAP. We are still able to go out but only with coupons. I also trade coupons with coworkers and that increases my stash!

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