Tuesday Tips: Using Coupons
I always seem to get behind that person in the grocery store check-out line who's using coupons. One by one the cashier swipes those little pieces of paper across the scanner and slowly $1 is taken off here and 50 cents is taken off there. Next thing you know, the customer's grocery bill has gone down a few bucks in less than a minute. Coupons have always been a mystery to me. I want to use them but I don't know how. So I tapped the expertise of Stephanie Nelson, known as The Coupon Mom. Based in the Atlanta area, she feeds her family of four, including a teenage boy and a tween boy, with $100 a week. She's also made a business out of helping people use coupons through her free site, CouponMom.com. Here are a few of her tips:
Tip #1: Practice strategic shopping. This is the art of buying what's on sale and then using coupons to get a further discount on those sale items.
Tip #2: Be brand flexible. That means being willing to try new toothpaste or new toilet paper as a way to use a current coupon. It's worth it if you can save $1 off a household essential.
Tip #3: Your diet won't resort to junk by using coupons. The real savings in coupons is in non-food items like paper towels and window cleaner. Then use your hard-earned money for vegetables, fruits, meats and fish you normally would buy. "There are plenty of coupons available for the healthiest of eaters," Nelson says.
Tip #4: Make your shopping list first and then clip the coupons you need either through coupon Web sites or from the newspaper. Aside from CouponMom.com, some of the most popular sites are Coupons.com, CouponMountain.com and Eversave.com.
Tip #5: You don't need extra storage in your house to use coupons. Nelson limits her stockpile of goods to one storage shelf. She keeps a 6-week supply of most items but nothing more. So don't build an addition to your house just so you can take advantage of good deals with coupons.
Tip #6: If you have a coupon that you just can't pass up but your supplies are getting a bit overloaded, consider donating some to charity. Nelson says nearly half of her site's users claim to donate many of the goods they buy with coupons. "You can be generous for less than $1," she says.
Tip #7: Keep them organized. Buy a plastic coupon organizer and keep it in your car. That way you never forget them and you can easily retrieve them at the checkout.
Tip #8: Sign up for your store's saving card to receive coupons on the mail. Many people in this blog have mentioned valuable coupons they get from BJ's and Costco. Also CVS has a savings card that earns you dollars that you can spend in the store. I personally like DSW's savings card, which sends me a $10 coupon every few months.
Tip #9: Know your store's coupon policy. Some stores double coupons and other stores, including Giant, have stopped accepting Internet coupons. (I'll have more on this later this week.)
Tip #10: If you're new to coupons, be patient. It may take a few trips to the store before you really have the system down pat.
So what are your tips for using coupons? Where do you find coupons and how do you use them? Which stores have the best discount cards? The Coupon Mom challenged herself to spend $100 or less on her family's weekly groceries. Can you do that? Anyone interested in trying it? Post a comment below.
Speaking of saving money... here are this week's under $1 back-to-school sales:
Staples: Slider pencil case for 1 cent, two-pocket plastic report cover for 20 cents, mini staplers for 25 cents each, Bic five-pack highlighters or Bic ballpoint pens for 99 cents, free Pentel EnerGel gel pens with rebate and free electric pencil sharper with rebate.
Office Depot: Glue for 1 cent, 12-inch ruler for 5 cents, composition book for 30 cents, 1-inch poly binders for 50 cents, 12-pack of colored pencils for 50 cents and free four-pack of dry erase markers with mail-in rebate.
InkStop: two-pocket portfolio for 5 cents, 4 ounces of school glue for 8 cents, 150 sheets of filler paper for 15 cents, 24-pack of crayons for 27 cents, one-subject notebook, 1-inch poly binder with pocket, stretchable book cover, zipper pencil pouch and pencil box for 99 cents each.
Kmart: Four 24-pack of crayons for $1 and 10-pack of pencils for 33 cents.
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