How to Use Coupons {Save $, Shop Smarter Series #3}

In the first post in this series on “How to Save Money and Shop Smarter”, I shared with you my tips on how to create a grocery price list, so that you know the best possible price of each item that you regularly buy. In the second post I talked about using the weekly grocery store sales flier so that you knew when items you want to buy are on sale, and how to create a stockpile of 8-10 weeks of supply of that item- so that you never buy it a full price. Today we are going to take your grocery savings one step further, by combining sales prices with a coupon to get the absolute best rock-bottom price! Here’s how to use coupons:

A Real-Life Example

A 14 oz. box of Quaker-brand cereal is regularly priced at $3.59. This week it is on sale for $1.99, but I have coupons for 50 cents off a box, and my local grocery store doubles coupons up to $1.00, so when I combine the sale price with my coupon, I can get the $3.59 box of cereal for only 99 cents. The terms of the deal is that I am limited to 4 boxes per variety- so I can buy 4 boxes of Life, 4 boxes of Oatmeal Squares, and 4 boxes of Cap’n Crunch (assuming I have 12 coupons) and save a total of $31.20 on 12 boxes of cereal.

Are you getting the general idea here? The key is to buy what is on sale, combining the sale price with a coupon when possible, and buy enough to last you until the next time the item is on sale.

My Coupon Binder

Page of coupon book

I use a three-ring binder for my coupons- for both regular grocery items as well as for health & beauty items and paper goods and cleaning supplies. I have divided my binder into sections- Beverages, Baking, Condiments/Oils/Dressings, Dairy, Grains/Pasta, Meat/Seafood, Pet Supplies, Produce, Snacks, and Soups/Canned Goods.

tabs for coupon book

In each section I have several sheets of plastic page protectors that have 9 pockets each (the kind meant for trading cards). I often need to fold the coupons in order to get them to fit into the pocket- but I make sure that I can read what the coupon is for, the value, and the expiration date. Within each section, I try to keep similar items together, so when I am looking for yogurt coupons, for example, I can flip to the Dairy tab, and then see within the dairy section the page that holds just my yogurt coupons.

My Coupon Bag

coupon books

When I head out to the store (grocery, Target, and drug stores) I always take my coupon binder into the store with me- just in case I spot a good deal on something that I might be able to pair with a coupon, so I got into the habit of keeping my binder in a cloth bag which I can grab on my way out of the house. In my coupon bag I carry my binder, my envelopes with my pulled coupons for my current shopping trips, my clipboard with my shopping list and a pencil. Before I leave my car to head into the store I will take my wallet out of my handbag, and put my wallet and car keys into my coupon bag so that I only have one bag to manage while shopping. If I am in a store with a grocery cart- I put my bag in the place where a child can sit, and I pull out my clipboard so I can quickly scan my shopping list.

Where to Find Grocery Coupons:

Save While Grocery Shopping2 How to Save Money on Groceries (Part 4) Where to Find Coupons!

Newspaper Inserts

This is certainly my primary method for finding coupons. But unlike some Moms who are really into couponing, I do not buy multiple copies of our local newspaper- I buy only the papers that our family would normally receive because we want to read them anyway- which in our house is the local newspaper for our area as well as the NY Times. But that’s not to say that I only get newspaper inserts from just my paper….

  • My husband let some of his office-mates know that I was trying to use coupons to cut down on our grocery expenses, and he asked them if they wouldn’t mind giving him their inserts from their weekend papers, when they were done with them. He now regularly has three friends who bring in their inserts (sometimes with coupons that they wanted already cut out- which is fine!) and leave them on his desk. They were happy to do it- they were just throwing them away anyway- and I really appreciate it!
  • My Mom who lives in another state is also happy to save her inserts for me- and in true great-Mom-fashion, she actually cuts out all of the coupons and mails them to me weekly! Even better- she shared this idea with one of her retired friends, and her friend does the same! One of the interesting things I’ve noticed is that my Mom’s inserts will sometimes have coupons for the same items that are in my inserts- but often at different (better prices).

So I regularly receive coupons from 7 different Sunday papers- which is great!

Internet coupons

There are several websites that offer printable coupons, and the offering changes monthly:

Some other places to find printable coupons:

  • Become a “fan” on the facebook page of some of your favorite brands such as Nabisco, Kraft, International Delight, etc. They often offer coupons right from facebook.
  • Check out the web pages for your favorite brands for coupons as well. Some sites such as P&G have mailing lists where you can sign up and they will mail you high-value coupons several times a year.

One thing that I would note about printable coupons- in the beginning I would go out to all of these sites and print off a ton of coupons- but over time I have learned to only print the high-value coupons that I know that I will definitely use. The rest I wait to print when I know of a deal in which I want to use them. That has saved me a great deal of printer ink and paper- not to mention the wasted time of cutting out and filing a bunch of printable coupons that I never used.

In Store coupons

While shopping, be on the lookout for “blinkie” coupons, the ones distributed by the little machines that are hanging onto the store shelf.  Also check out the product packaging for “peelies” which are the peel-off coupons on the outside of the package. Yesterday I found a great deal with a “peelie”. Ronzoni Quick-Cook pasta was on sale for 95 cents, and the boxes had “peelies” on them for 50 cents off the box, and since my store doubles coupons up to $1.00- I was able to take home 4 boxes of this pasta for free!

Register receipts

Always check the bottom of your register receipt to see if you qualified for any future deals because you used your loyalty card. This is where they will notify you that you have 10% off of your next order, or a free turkey etc. Also- next to most registers is a separate receipt machine (called a catalina machine) that also prints off in-store coupons that can be used for a future shopping trip.

Product Packaging

Before throwing away (recycling) any product packaging- look it over to see if there are any coupons printed on the inside of the box. I find them all of the time for aluminum foil, kids yogurt, and granola bars.

Free samples

Many times not only do you get a free sample to try, but the manufacturer also sends along some great high value coupons. Last month I ordered a sample of the Bounce dryer bar (which I love, by the way), and it came with a coupon for $2.50 off a future purchase. Nice!


There is a great magazine that is targeted to couponers called All You. I receive the magazine, and I have signed up to get daily alerts from their web site for coupons and free samples (they have a free sample of the day program). I have also found that many of the current Women’s magazines such as Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, and Better Homes and Gardens also are offering coupons.

Know Your Grocery Store’s Coupon Policies:

Shop Rite Coupon Policy 1024x832 How to Save Money on Groceries (Part 3) How to Find The Deals

Do they accept coupons?

And if so, do they accept all types of coupons- ones that come from newspaper inserts, magazines, as well as printed from the Internet? Different stores have different coupon policies- and if you are unclear of yours, you should ask for a copy of the policy at customer service, or ask the store manager to share their policies with you. When I first started couponing a year ago, one of my local grocery stores would not accept coupons printed from the Internet. Luckily for me, they changed that policy and began accepting them.

Does your store double or even triple their coupons?

Both of the local grocery stores near me will double the amount of the coupon up to a face value of $1.00, unless the coupon specifically states “do not double or triple”. So in many cases, a coupon with a face value of 75 cents off, is more valuable to me than a coupon for $1.00 off of an item.

Does your store allow you to “stack coupons” if there is an available store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item?

My local Target is an example of a store where I can find coupons for an item on their website- let’s say for $1.00 off Quaker granola bars, and at the top of that printed coupon it says “Target Coupon”. In addition, I can usually find a manufacturer’s coupon for the same Quaker granola bars for $1.00 off as well, and Target will allow me to use both coupons together to reduce the price of a box of those Quaker granola bars by $2.00.

Does your store offer a customer loyalty card?

Save While Grocery Shopping4 How to Save Money on Groceries (Part 3) How to Find The Deals

If so, then you need to apply for one at customer service if you don’t already have one. Many times, the sale prices offered by a store in their weekly circular are only available to customers using a loyalty card. And at different times of the year, the store will track the money spent by a customer using their loyalty card, and will offer a discount on a future purchase, or a free turkey at the holidays, etc. Having a loyalty card costs you nothing, but can save you a great deal of money!

Does your store participate in any coupon programs where you can “load” the coupon directly onto your loyalty card?

An example of a program like this is Cellfire. These are great, but the only drawback is that they work for just one item- where if I am using paper coupons I can buy as many as I have coupons for!

Rather Watch than Read?

 So what do you do? Do you clip and use coupons at the store?

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