Monday, April 11, 2011

Learning to Use Those Coupons

One of the most frequently asked questions is how do I get start saving money. When I talk to people about how to use coupons and save I usually get things like, oh, “they never have coupons for the stuff I buy”, “it takes too much time” or “it’s just too confusing”. Those are poeple who just haven't learned the value of couponing yet. Anyone can save even a little bit and it’s easier then you think. Here are some ways to get started:

1. Have an Open Mind!

This is the most important part of saving money. Without an open mind, or willingness to try new things/brands you will have a much harder time. You may have to throw brand loyalty away. Try new products when coupons come out- you just may find something new that you like! Manufacturers put higher value coupons out with a new product in hopes of getting you hooked on it. Also, check out a variety of stores sales, not just one. Stores all have "Loss Leaders" Deals so good, they get you in the door and then hope you buy all your other groceries at once. Shop the Loss Leaders at a few stores and you will get better deals.

2. Gather/Organize Your Coupons. Without coupons, this just isn't possible.

The first few weeks as a new couponer, you will come across some deals that you don’t have the coupons for yet. Don’t worry about missing out on some deals. Know that there are plenty of them. Concentrate on using the coupons you do have on hand, and building up your coupons and keeping them organized.

3. Change the Way You Shop: You will no longer be shopping for the week, you will now be shopping the sales to stock up.

You are now going to shop the sales. When an item is at a great sales price, match it up with a coupon to get a better deal. Once an item is available at a rock bottom price, it’s time to stock up. Buy 4 or 6 of the item so you have enough to last your family until the next time the price drops low. This simple money saving technique is referred to as stockpiling and it is the key to saving money. make sure your coupons are organized as it is easy to look through the sales ads and your coupons when things are ready to go!

4. Start Small: Don’t try to become the extreme couponer all at once.

Taking on too much too soon can overwhelm you and burn you out very quickly. Trying to learn all the ins and outs of every store around you will just leave you frustrated. Don’t do it. Start small with the store you shop at most often. Learn how the deals work at that store and get the best deals there. Then move onto another store.

5.Learn the Stores Coupon Policies:

Each store has it's own set of rules regarding coupon usage. Some double, some don't. Some accept printable coupons, some don't. Ask your stores, or check online to find your stores policies to make sure you use your coupons properly at each. This will also help you in making the most out of your coupons. You may have to make a few transactions so you can double more coupons on those great stock up sale prices!

6. Use Coupons on the Smallest Size Possible:

This may sound odd, because we are always taught the larger value size is the best deal- FALSE!! When you get a coupon, check to see what the size restrictions are. In most cases it **oz and up. If you buy the larger size at $4.50 and have a .50 coupon, it will drop it down to $4.00 (or $3.50 if you can double)
If you can use that same coupon on a smaller size priced at $1.75, you could get it for $1.25 or .75 if doubled. Say you needed 3 of the smaller size to equal a large one. 3 at .75 or 1 at $3.50- you do the math- the smaller one is the better deal. This is why it helps to get more than just one copy of a coupon. ALWAYS check the unit price- this is the best way to check whether it is a deal or not. I always have a calculator with me at the store to do some quick math! Many coupons may even be used on trial sized items, as long as it is not excluded on the coupon. There are also some great apps for phones right now to help out with sales/unit pricing/% off sales, etc.

7. Keep a Price Book:

This is a great tool to help you keep track of sales and prices with out your head spinning!
Off the top of your head . . . Do you know what a good price for canola oil is in your area, how often it goes on sale, and which grocery store usually has it at the best price? If not, a price book could be a helpful tool to add to your savings know-how.
Create a price book to track how much you spend on each item that you purchase, and you'll soon know when something is a good buy, and even how much you need to buy to last until the next sale.
Ready to get started? Here's how you will need to head the pages of your price book. Start by going through several weeks of sales flyers, and jot down the prices of items you general buy. Once you have those down, you will start to see what prices are good, and which are great! Stockpile when you can when prices are at rock bottom!
Price Book Headings
Item -- Size -- Unit Price -- Sales Price -- Date of Sale -- Store Name

8. Eat What is in Season:

Fruits and vegetables we all know are better eaten and better priced during their growing season, but did you know other items also have "seasons"? March is frozen food month, and will have tons of coupons and deals on frozen foods. Cinco De Mayo will find you lots of deals on Mexican foods. Seafood sales are prevalent during lent. Snacks/soda deals are always found around Superbowl, Memorial Day and July 4th. Baking items around the holidays.... You get to see a pattern after paying attention for a few months.

9. Sale Psychology:

Yes, stores do use tricks to get you to buy items! Most expensive items are at eye level. Check top and bottom shelves for lower priced alternatives. Just because it is in the sales ad doesn't make it a deal. Learn your prices and you will find that out quickly. 3/$5 sales- in most case you can still just buy one at $1.67, unless noted in the ad. End caps generally are good deals, but not always- again, learning your prices is a great way to determine if it truly is a deal or not.

10. Make a List:

Sounds basic, but try to make your list at home giving you time to look through the sales and match up your coupons. An organized shopping trip goes much smoother than an unplanned one, and there is less chance of just throwing extra things in the cart. Plan your meals around the sales that week as well!

11. ALWAYS Take Your Coupons With You:

You never know when an unadvertised sale or clearance item may be found and you have a coupons for it in your organizer!

12. Rain Checks are Your Friends:

If you ever get to the store and the product is sold out, GET A RAINCHECK!!!! This works great in your favor, as you actually have more time now to find additional coupons for that item!

ABOVE ALL, Keep it Legit- use your coupons properly and you will have no problems.
I hope you made it all the way through this post- it is long, but important! I am here to help you save money! Feel free to contact me any time and I would be more than happy to answer any questions!

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Thanks so much for your comments! It reassures me I am not talking to myself :)