I've been getting lots of questions lately about how the whole couponing works, with the main question being "Does it really work?" Yes, people, it works! It takes commitment and an hour or two per week, but if you are willing to do that, you'll save serious money. It's got a very little start up cost; most of you have scissors, and an empty binder or shoebox lying around. You can get fancy with it if you want to, but you just gotta find the right method that works for you.
To begin, you'll need to start collecting coupons. The biggest quickest way to do this is to buy the Sunday paper, preferably multiple copies. I typically buy two, take them home, and see what's in them. If it's a big coupon day (like 3 or more inserts) I'll go back to the store and buy two more. I have friends who buy four or six papers every Sunday regardless, but I haven't felt the need to do that every week. Spending $1.50 per paper will definately be worth your money. You can also ask family members and friends who aren't couponing to save the coupon sections for you.
The second way to get coupons is to go online and register at manufacturer's websites. All you provide is your name and address, and email address, and they'll send you a coupon booklet in the mail, and once a week they'll send you an email with recipes and coupons that you can print out. Here's a few of those sites:
The next thing you need to do is figure out how you're going to store and organize your coupons. As I said earlier, I use a 3-ring binder fitted with those baseball-card organizers. This way, I have all of my coupons where I can see them. They're not hiding behind each other or stuck to each other. I can fit multiple coupons in the same slot (if I've bought four papers, then likely I have four of the same coupon). Then, within the slot I organize the coupons by expiration date. In every single paper, there's going to be Pillsbury coupons, and I cut them out faithfully, so it helps to organize by expiration date so I don't lose any coupons this way.
Then, within my binder, I have them divided by category/aisle. My main categories are: non-perishable, frozen, dairy, soup, baking, pharmacy, health&beauty, baby, and pet. This way its a quick flip to that section when I'm on that aisle or when I'm looking in the sales papers.
A few of my friends do the shoebox method, which works equally as well. I just find that it's easier to carry a binder into the store than a shoebox. And the binder also eliminates the hazard of dropping the shoebox and spilling all your precious coupons all over the store. Here's a link to Laura's blog, where she has a recent post about how she coupons: Laura
Now that you've got coupons, it's time to search the sales papers! If you just straight up use a coupon on an item without looking to see if it's on sale, you will save money, yes. However, if you take that coupon and combine it with a sale, you'll maximize your savings.
If Cheerios are B1G1 (buy one get one), stores don't give you an actual "free" item, but you pay half price for each box. So, technically you are buying two boxes of cereal, not getting one free. If you had two $0.50 off one box, you could use two coupons, and you'd get $2 off your B1G1 (one dollar off each box). However, if your store doubles coupons, you'd get $4 off your B1G1. Which means you'd pretty much get both boxes for free, or very very little. And many times, with a sale and a doubled coupon, you can come out on top, or with an "overage." These are called money-makers in the couponing world. I've gotten lots of things this way! If you end up with an overage, it's sort of like a bonus coupon; the extra pennies (or dimes!) roll over to the next item. Last week Wal-Mart actually paid me to take a few items!
It takes a little bit of time to go through your sales papers to find items on sale, and match them up with your coupons. And if you get really into it, you'll start comparing sales papers from store to store, to really find the deals. However, this only works if the stores are close together, so you don't spend your 'savings' on gas and time driving from store to store. There are a few websites out there that will do the coupon-matching for you, so all you have to do is go online and look at the list. One of these is The Grocery Game. I have a few older posts that explain this in detail. It really works! The main thing about the Grocery Game list is that it has all sale items, including close-out items. Grocery stores can't possibly fit every item on sale in their weekly flier- they typically just print the ones that will either bring in more shoppers, or make them the most money.
Another good site is SouthernSavers.com. She does a good job of posting sales from a number of stores, both grocery and drug. Another good place to check is MoneySavingMom.com. The Money Saving Mom will make multiple posts every day about various sales and freebies. And, of course, there's CouponMom.com where you can print out hoardes of coupons for free!
The key to couponing is that it helps you build up your pantry and freezer so that you should never have to pay full-price for an item again. It's all about stockpiling. Sales run in cycles, about every 3-4 weeks. So, when an item goes on sale, I try to buy enough that I think I will need in the next 4 weeks, so I don't have to go out and buy it full price. And if I've bought multiple papers, I can use coupons on top of the sales, to get all the items at rock-bottom price. Here's a few photos of my pantry and freezer, to show that I've got a good stockpile going. If something happened where I couldn't go to the store (or we ran out of money), I wouldn't worry as much because we've got enough food stockpiled so that we could probably go two weeks without going to the store.
As you can see above, we don't have a spare inch of space left in the freezer, so I'm having to hold off on frozen items for a while. Hopefully in the next few months we can use our savings to buy a chest freezer.
And let me tell you folks, nothing tastes better in the world than FREE FOOD (or at least food you got really really cheap!)