Coupons are a great asset to your grocery budget and can help to save you a lot of money when used to their full potential. In this post, I am going to share with you how to best use a coupon so that it has the maximum impact and saves you a ton of money.
We’re going to cover:
- What is a coupon and where to find one?
- What is couponing?
- Manufacturer coupons and how they differ from a store coupon.
- How to maximize their full potential and possibly get paid to shop!
- Sales cycles to watch out for, months in advance.
- And how couponing can change your life, forever.
First, let’s answer a very vital question. One that without an answer, could render this entire post obsolete.
How To Get Coupons?
A coupon is a money saving voucher, often in paper or digital format. They help to reduce your out of pocket expense at the cash register. There are online coupons available for some grocery stores as a simple “clip to card” type of service. That being said, I am specifically focusing on paper coupons in this post.
Savings coupons can be found in any number of places, not limited to:
- Sunday newspaper inserts.
- Coupon websites such as coupons.com, specific retailers or manufacturer websites carry them as well.
- Ebates asks to apply virtual promo code coupons to your online shopping carts.
- Groupon asks you to buy money saving vouchers; this is also technically a coupon.
- You can also find them in stores. Inside weekly ads, on products, shelves or in the store’s reward program.
What is Couponing?
Couponing is a sport that has gained serious traction and popularity over the years, especially with the TLC TV show, “Extreme Couponing.” With the popularity of using coupons, comes more stay at home parents trying to stretch a single income or budget.
However, most people quickly realize that couponing is nothing like what the TV show lead them to believe. It’s much more work than simply cutting pieces of paper out of free coupon inserts.
That being said, the adrenalin rush felt at the register after putting in so much time and effort into a good haul is as addicting as any drug or runner’s high. Using food coupons to save money can become a natural part of grocery budgeting.
What is a manufacturer coupon?
Manufacturer coupons are money off vouchers for a specific product, that they manufactured. It will have everything you need to know listed on it. Including the expiration date, size of the product and any specifics needed to know. It also tells you how many items you are limited to buying. Most importantly, it says exactly how much the value of the coupon is for.
Most coupons are limiting you to per purchase, meaning per item, because every item is a separate purchase. The most common limitations being that you can only buy up to 4 of the same product.
How does it differ from a store coupon?
The only real difference between a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon is that a store coupon is made by the retail company and manufacturer coupons are made by the product companies. It’s really that simple. You can tell the difference just by looking at them. A store coupon may sometimes have a store logo, but they never have a mailing address.
Manufacturer coupons have mailing addresses. They also have cashier instructions and instructions for the store. This helps so that they can mail the coupons back to the manufacturer. They get reimbursed face value plus a few cents for their time. This is how stores get paid for accepting coupons.
How to maximize the full potential of a coupon
It’s really hard to look at a coupon for $0.45 off a box of cereal and think that it will have any significant impact on your grocery budget. A few cents here or there with a coupon will not help you save money. So how can you turn that few cents off into something worth your time and efforts?
Couponers can turn that same $0.45 off coupon and save double, triple or more by using it to it’s maxed potential. So you know that it has to be possible, but how?
Here’s how they do it:
To put it as simply as possible- they stack deals like a burger.
I created this image for an easy visual aid.
Sale price is just the starting point, or in this case- bottom bun. After that, you can add in or take away any other “optional topping.” The more you can add, the more ways you can save money, but even if you just have coupons, you can still stack some good savings.
What’s really great is that you can use a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon on the same product. But you cannot combine more than one manufacturer coupon per product, or more than one store coupon per product. This leaves you with a 1:1:1 ratio, 1 product: 1 manufacturer coupon: 1 store coupon. It’s tricky to learn at first, but it’s completely legal.
Store rewards and promotions are also great for ways to save money in addition to the coupons. Using two examples- Walgreen’s has a store rewards program that gives you points, valued like cash. Another store is Kroger, where their store rewards are cents off a gallon of gas or money off when you spend X amount in a section of the store. Like spend $40 in the baby aisle and save $10 instantly.
Discounted gift cards or Catalinas can help you to save money before you ever even enter the store or start your transaction.
Catalina’s are the coupons or strips of paper that print at the register when you go to pay. They are named after the Catalina company that makes them and just one of the terms couponers use.
When you follow along with the right promotions, you can get the right items in your cart to trigger a Catalina for money off your next transaction.
Discounted gift cards can be bought from websites like Raise, and when you buy a gift card for a store you are about to shop at, you save money right off the bat.
Rebate apps like Ibotta, Checkout 51, or Savingstar are all great for getting money back after you’ve paid. The best part is that you can use all three on the same transactions, and it doesn’t matter how you paid for your cart, so long as your receipt is valid and you follow the instructions of the app.
Mail-in rebates aren’t normally seen for “regular food,” but you can often find them for alcohol purchases. In fact, there are 14 states that are No Beer Purchase Required states. This means you can redeem an alcohol rebate without ever purchasing the alcohol!
Money Maker Deals
Not every transaction can give you overage; aka be a “money maker.” In fact, stores are making it more difficult to make money from transactions, but there are work-a-rounds.
While some stores (like Walgreens) won’t accept a coupon for an item if the face value exceeds the sale price of the item, other stores, will mark the coupon down to match the price of the item, simply making it free.
Walmart is one of the only stores left in the country that will leave the coupon face value and give you the cash difference (overage.)
One of the most effective ways to use a coupon is to learn about sale cycles and watch for the proper times to stock up. Sales cycles repeat like clockwork and rarely disappoint, by shopping when items are at their lowest, you save the most.
For example, exercise equipment and health foods go on sale in January because of all the New Year’s resolutions, and TVs go on sale around then because of the Superbowl the following month.
Natural cleaning supplies go on sale in April, due to spring cleaning and Earth Day.
Cereal and sandwich foods go on sale in August because of school starting. When holidays get close, you can expect turkey, ham, and processed foods like canned items and boxed stuffing’s.
It’s surprising how much you pick up on when you learn how to do couponing.
You notice more sales patterns and can pick out the gimmick sales from the sales that are truly worthy of utilizing.
You become more aware of price per units and can do toilet paper math.
Maximizing that $10 in your wallet is possible even without coupons because you know how to stretch it.
Couponing is not just a sport, but a lifestyle change.
One that affects you mentally for life because you can never see items at a grocery store the same way again. You also hold your money to higher standards and in times of financial distress, can remain calm as you plot ways to save money with or without coupons.
It’s a truly eye-opening experience, and I highly recommend it for anyone in need of a monetary change in their life.
Nicole is a blogger at StruggleTodayStrengthTomorrow and has been an avid couponer for several years. Starting with when her Army husband was stationed overseas and continuing for many years after. She loves saving money so much she now runs her own blog about budgeting where she teaches others to save money and pay off debt.