A Coupon Cheat Sheet

Earlier this week I offered some tips on how to use coupons. Yes, I was one of the many people out there that have never used coupons. I can proudly say that I used my first set to buy this week's groceries. I saved $4.50. Not bad for my first time, right? My goal is to get my weekly grocery bill for my family of four (minus one who does not yet eat solids) down from $170 to $100.

In the meantime I've compiled a cheat sheet for the coupon policies of different stores in our area. Here's what I found out:

Most grocery stores, including Safeway, Giant, Harris Teeter, Shoppers Food Warehouse and Whole Foods, accept all manufacturers' coupons. Some do not take coupons printed from the Internet for free items. Stores like Giant, Safeway and even Whole Foods generate their own coupons. Many of them spit out when a customer presents their savings card with a purchase. I've just started paying attention to these coupons and they're not bad, offering at least $1 off certain items that I typically buy.

Many of the grocery stores will also double the value of coupons. Safeway and Giant, for example, will double any coupon that's under 50 cents. Harris Teeter will double the value of any coupons that are 99 cents and below. The store limits this practice to 20 coupons a day per customer.

Speaking of Harris Teeter, the store recently launched eVic, a free program that notifies customers via e-mail when an item you regularly buy goes on sale. The program requires you to have a VIC card and then once you sign up for e-Vic, you'll get an e-mail listing the deals every Wednesday. If you follow Coupon Mom's strategy, you then find and clip out coupons for the items that have gone on sale and get double savings.

Target and Wal-Mart accept manufacturer coupons but not competitor's coupons. Target also generates a good amount of their own coupons. You can print them out directly from Target's Web site and the store also sends coupons in the mail. I've even received just general "$10 off your next $50 purchase" type coupons from Target. Wal-Mart will honor a competitor's price on the same item if you bring in the advertisement for that competing price.

CVS generates its own coupons through its ExtraCare card, which is free to customers. You present the card every time you make a purchase and you'll get 2 percent of that purchase in the form of Extra Bucks, which is money you can spend in the store. For prescriptions, you get a whole Extra Buck for every two prescriptions filled by CVS. The store also accepts manufacturer coupons.

Now for the electronics stores. Circuit City does accept most competitors coupons, including those from Best Buy. A sales associate says it would be a case by case basis when it came to competitor coupons but 90 percent of the time they do accept them. Best Buy does not accept any competitors' coupons but they do generate their own that get sent to Rewards Zone cardholders, which is the store's free club card. Customers present the card with every purchase and collect points that then turn into a coupon down the road.

Because most coupons are specific to size, wholesale stores don't accept most standard manufacturer coupons because of the bulk size items that they sell. But they do produce their own. BJs Wholesale Club makes them available on their Web site for printout. And they're pretty substantial coupons, which I deem more than $1 off. Costco coupons come in the mail in a booklet twice a year. In between those booklets, different manufacturers and vendors will also send coupons directly to members.

So at which stores do you have the most success with coupons? Which stores need help when it comes to coupons? What's the best deal you've gotten using a coupon?

Shoppers Food Warehouse, by the way, has posed an interesting challenge to shoppers. Purchase your weekly groceries at a competing store and then purchase that same list of items at Shoppers. If your Shoppers bill is not lower, the store will double the difference back to you. I wrote in a recent post that Shoppers was no cheaper than Giant when I did a cost comparison. So this might be an interesting challenge. Send me an e-mail if you try this experiment at shoptoit@washingtonpost.com.

By Tania Anderson |  July 31, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Grocery Deals
Previous: Tuesday Tips: Using Coupons | Next: Tuesday Tips: Tackling a Child's Bedroom

Comments

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The problem is that the bulk of coupons are for mass produced crap and they don't help much if you're trying to avoid that stuff and make meals from fresh ingredients. Where are the coupons for X dollars off potatoes, or broccoli, or scallops? You'll never see them unless they have a brand attached - $2 off Kraft salmon fillets. Appetizing...

I'll concede that they can help with things like paper towels and laundry soap, but even then, you need to clip them and wait for the store to also put those items on sale to really get a deal - those sales rarely correspond to the same week a coupon for a certain brand is put in the circulars.

All said and done I'd rather spend a little more buying whatever is fresh that is on sale and know what I'm eating, than spend time every week obsessing over coupon management and coordinating them with what is going on sale, so some company can turn me on to their flavor of processed food.

Posted by: puddin' head | July 31, 2008 10:13 AM

I agree that coupons for food products are lacking, but I mostly use them for non-food products such as health and beauty, household products and pet food. One little email to Nestle Purina complaining about them shrinking their packaging netted me several $2.00 off coupons. It is worth it to me to spend what little bit of time it takes to sort and organize coupons and sales ads to save some money.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 31, 2008 11:55 AM

i love cvs coupons. yes it takes planning and patience, but i have combined their coupons, my coupons, and their sales to get stuff like laundry detergent and toilet paper for a few dollars (like 3 dollars for 2 100oz laundry detergents; or $4 for 48 rolls of toilet paper). so it may be a bit of work, but the savings do add up.

Posted by: anonymous | August 7, 2008 2:33 PM

I've been a faithful coupons for years due to my dad. Although I did ok, it wasn't until I went onto www.hotcouponworld.com that I consistently started savings more than 50% of my groceries. I even saved 90% on a recent order at Safeway, which I've always considered one of the most expensive stores to do grocery shopping.

The folks at hotcouponworld.com will say, "pull out your Huggies coupons, because there is a sale at Harris Teeter" or CVS or Target.

I'll take all the free shampoo, conditioner, soap and other health and beauty products as well as many many free bags of cat food and cheap dog treats, free Electrol dishwashing detergent and cheap toilet paper that coupons allow.

Its worth clipping coupons because I can afford to keep my part time job and stay at home with my DD, even with the high cost of living in the DC metro area.

Posted by: Judy | August 11, 2008 10:54 AM

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