Coupons can be a quick and easy way to save money at the grocery store. According to the Promotion Marketing Association's Coupon Council, the average family can save up to $1,000 per year. To get those savings, most families need only spend 20 minutes finding and clipping their coupons, making coupon clipping a worthwhile measure - especially when the cost of groceries is rising. (For more tips, see 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices.)
Where to Find Coupons
Coupons come in several varieties, but the most common is the manufacturer's coupon. A manufacturer's coupon gives a discount on a particular product; such coupons are printed and distributed by the makers of the product in question. Most stores will accept manufacturers' coupons because the company printing the coupons will reimburse them for the discount.
Stores will also offer their own coupons. While a store's coupons might give a discount on a specific product, these stores can also discount your overall expenses at a particular business. Lastly, coupon codes have become increasingly popular; entering a coupon code while completing an online purchase will provide a discount that can range from free shipping to a percentage off of the normal price.
Not all stores accept coupons, even if they come from manufacturers. Typically, stores that sell in bulk or offer lower prices routinely refuse coupons. Processing coupons can take time and money on the part of a store. Refusing to accept coupons can be a simple way for a business to cut costs.
Where to Clip
Most people think of the Sunday paper as the main source of coupons. While the local newspaper is a good source of coupons, coupons are also sent directly to your mailbox. Local businesses often group together and send out coupon books to the community. Companies, such as Valpak, also mail out coupons on the national level. These thick envelopes typically contain coupons for restaurants, professional services, groceries and more. While Valpak and its competitors normally send out their coupons unsolicited, it is possible to specifically request these coupons online. (For more on saving, read our related article The Fundamentals Of A Successful Savings Program.)
Stores and manufacturers also send coupons to customers who specifically request them, usually through a company's website. Receiving coupons from these companies is as simple as searching online for your favorite brands and finding links for offers or deals on their websites. There are also many websites that collect coupons online, making it a matter of simply printing out a discount and taking it to the store. Sites such as Coupons.com and RedPlum bring together thousands of manufacturer coupons, allowing users to simply search for the particular items on their shopping lists. (Stay safe while shopping online; read Shopping Online: Convenience, Bargains And A Few Scams.)
Additionally, there are thousands of websites that allow any user to list coupons he or she may have found, and to trade those coupons for others that might be more useful. It is also possible to purchase coupons, usually for a fraction of the savings a coupon makes possible. Many auction websites, such as eBay (Nasdaq:EBAY), list coupons for sale. There are also websites that sell coupons for specific geographic locations. It's also possible to buy coupons from a local seller, rather than going online; there are people all over the country who trade and sell the spare coupons clipped from their Sunday newspapers.
Making Full Use of Coupons
Finding the right coupons for specific products isn't hard, but using those coupons to their full potential can be a little more difficult. While using coupons on a regularly priced product might save a few cents, combining coupons and sales can substantially increase your savings. Making the most of a coupon in this way requires a solid knowledge of normal prices. Many stores will raise a product's price before putting it on sale, reducing the savings a buyer might expect while offering the illusion of a good deal. The simplest way to avoid this tactic is to maintain a price book - a list of the normal prices of commonly purchased products.
Creating a price book can be easy, as most families purchase the same items and brands on a regular basis. It's just a matter of writing down the prices paid on those items. After that, it's easy to tell when a sale is a good deal, making it possible to combine coupons and sales for the best overall prices.
Even though coupons are supposed to offer you savings, it's still possible to lose money with coupons. Many shoppers clip coupons that offer good deals, whether or not they normally use the product being discounted. Shoppers purchase an item because it's a great deal, but never actually use it - turning savings into a loss. It's key to avoid unnecessary purchases, even with coupons, as it's not a deal if you don't use the product. (For more money saving ideas, see Five Money-Saving Shopping Tips and The Beauty Of Budgeting.)
Dedicated coupon clippers can wind up with hundreds of small slips of paper to track; those coupons have to be compared with the week's shopping list and have to be used before the expiration date. Managing this makes coupon organization crucial. There are more than a few ways to organize coupons, although coupon binders are especially popular. (Learn more about organizing your finances in Get Your Finances In Order.)
A coupon binder uses pages similar to those used to organize baseball cards. Coupons slip into the pages, making it easy for a shopper to flip through and see what he or she has available when planning a shopping list. Other products marketed as coupon organizers include small accordion folders that make it simple to organize coupons by their expiration dates and conveniently-sized coupon day-timers.
Playing the Coupon Game
Experienced coupon clippers have turned saving money into something of a game, seeing just how much they can save. Especially popular is seeing just how little can be spent on a shopping trip to certain stores that allow customers to combine manufacturer and store coupons. Some chains are well-known for maximizing coupons for their customers because they routinely issue more coupons when a customer makes a purchase, creating a snowball effect and making it possible to spend only a few dollars on a full cart of purchases. (For more personal finance tips, see Top 6 Most Common Financial Mistakes and The Indiana Jones Guide To Getting Ahead.)