We’ve all witnessed the old lady at the grocery store holding up the line at the cash register while digging in her purse saying, “I have a coupon for that.” I used to think those ladies were crazy for clipping coupons to pinch pennies. But clipping coupons isn’t crazy; it’s cool, and it pays more than pennies.
I was skeptical the first time I committed my time to flipping through the weekly coupon book I receive in mail with the weekly ads from grocers and retailers. I used to just throw it in recycling without a second look. But when I was saving to buy a house, I committed to a lot of different ways to save money. Long had I saved money shopping online with Ebates, but never had I moved my money around so it could make more money for me. I started monitoring my income and spending and set savings and budget goals with free, online budgeting software. I transferred credit card balances from cards with high rates to cards with lower rates. And I started keeping a grocery list and sticking to that list when shopping. But when I first started clipping coupons, I went about it all wrong.
After clipping coupons I used to stuff them in an envelope, which I then stuffed deep into my desk drawer to be forgotten. I kept stuffing the envelope without going through its contents, so when I was moving into my new house, I finally went through the envelope to discover more than just a bunch of expired coupons. I had missed multiple opportunities to save money in my last trip to the grocery store alone. But now I have a system, and it seems to pay. On my last grocery trip I saved on an almost $40 total. I do that twice a month, which saves me every year. Here’s how I’ve been clipping coupons to save real money.
1. Never use a coupon on an item at full price
I follow my father’s first rule of grocery shopping: “I buy what’s on sale.” In our middle-class, American household, if it wasn’t in the ad, we weren’t eating it. And the special occasions that violated the rule were few and far between because my father often worked holidays. We had grilled cheese and tomato soup on Thanksgiving multiple times, which didn’t bother me because grilled cheese and tomato soup was and remains a favorite of mine. That probably wouldn’t have been the case if that tomato soup was made with water instead of milk, though, and that grilled cheese made with oil instead of butter. As a kid I didn’t consider that people might not be able to afford milk or butter. I just thought they were required for grilled cheese and tomato soup until I couldn’t afford them myself.
Now when I’m clipping coupons, I do so after flipping through each of the grocery store ads. I circle the items I need or want in pen and use pencil to indicate the items on sale that I’ll eventually need. Then I go through the coupon book clipping coupons for the items I’ve circled. That way, I’m get a discount on an already discounted item. I never use a coupon on an item at full price, but that doesn’t stop me from clipping coupons for items I know I’ll need.
2. Always clip and keep coupons for necessities
Laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, toiletries—these are things we all need and, typically, a manufacturer’s coupon can be found for all them regularly. You should never have to pay full price for necessities. I always clip coupons for laundry detergent, dishwasher soap, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrushes, bath soap, milk, eggs, protein-packed snacks and Newman’s Own Family Recipe Italian salad dressing. I’m a fourth-generation Italian-American who has tried many Italian salad dressings, homemade and otherwise, and Newman’s Own Family Recipe Italian is the best. And all profits go to charity. I keep those coupons so when the items do go on sale I have a coupon to use to compound my savings.
3. Keep your coupons with you at all times
Old ladies have purses into which they stuff their coupons, but men aren’t going to stuff their wallets in a similar fashion. Most of us use a vehicle when we shop, though, so store your coupons there. That way you’re always prepared to take advantage of the extra $2 off laundry detergent when you happen to see it on sale at the store. I keep my coupons in the grocery bag I keep in my car, so when I feel the urge to get a few discounted donuts after 6 p.m. I can take advantage of some coupons for items that are on sale.
4. Practice proper coupon etiquette
Don’t be the old lady digging for coupons at the cash register. You should have an idea of what coupons you’ll be using before you even get to the store, so keep out so you can see them and match them with the items you’re purchasing. You can choose self-checkout if you like, but I prefer going to a cashier. Never put a coupon on the belt at the cash register. Simply hand them over to the cashier, who will take them all off your bill at the end of the transaction anyways.
5. Review your receipt before you leave the store
So you don’t get all the way home to find a coupon missing from your receipt, review your receipt before you leave the store. I look mine over as I walk to the exit because I have been guilty of losing money at the grocery store in the past because it’s seldom worth your time to go all the way back to the store to find the same cashier who has likely forgotten all about you and wants anything more than to try and solve an unfamiliar problem so you can save a buck. If there’s an issue, catch it early, and save yourself and others some aggravation.
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