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.

By Tania Anderson |  July 29, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Grocery Deals , Tuesday Tips
Previous: Cool Store: ALDI | Next: A Coupon Cheat Sheet

Comments

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Sometimes I have a handful of coupons and forget to hand them to the cashier or hand them over when it's too late. Then I take them to the customer service desk, and they give me cash for the coupons.

Posted by: Sherry | July 29, 2008 8:53 AM

Do not, I repeat, do not use couponmom.com unless you want to be inundated with dozens of spam email a day.

Posted by: Donna | July 29, 2008 9:51 AM

Thanks for the links to other coupon sites.

I had been using SmartSource, but I never seem to get coupons for things I actually buy. And since I moved from DC, I'm finding my Sunday paper coupon selection is utter cr*p.

Good to know about CouponMom, but that's what a Hotmail account is for - signing up for stuff that generates spam ;)

Posted by: Chasmosaur | July 29, 2008 10:34 AM

Actually Chasmosaur, that's what I did, it was a gmail account, I only checked it once or twice a day , but it was always overwhelmed with spam that it became ridiculous to try to sort through them all. I ended up having to close the account all together. I use smart source too and wish they had more of a selection, but I'll take smart source over couponmom any day. Also if you've never used Couponmom it is very cumbersome and takes a lot of patience to sort through all of their offers. Good Luck.

Posted by: Donna | July 29, 2008 2:45 PM

Do stores really accept online coupons? I've stopped trying online coupons, because it seems the stores never accept them. (BTW, I don't live in the DC area, but in Pittsburgh.)

Posted by: AmyLou | July 29, 2008 4:34 PM

I've been using coupons for 30 years and regularly save 40-70% off my bill for just twenty minutes of work per week. I don't bother with online as none of my stores allow them. Sunday coupon books vary in value from one week to the next. If you notice a really good week go to the grocery store on Monday and get 2 WaPo Sunday papers for $2. I did that recently and got 3 boxes of brand name dishwashing detergent for $.75 after I used the coupons and in-store rebates/sales.

Posted by: navysis | July 29, 2008 4:49 PM

I've never had a problem using on-line coupons. I hope you people didn't just jinx me.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 29, 2008 5:11 PM

My neighborhood coffeehouse attracts Sunday newspaper readers, many of whom leave their papers - coupons and all - when they're done.

Posted by: Lonely Pedant | July 29, 2008 5:28 PM

Can we go back to the part of the story that read "I want to use them but I don't know how."

Unless you're telling me you're new to this country, I have a hard time trying to understand, even for the story's purposes, how someone writing about shopping tips can say "I don't know how" to us coupons. The article lost all credibility, as did the all other columns.

As for the part that "I want to use them but I don't know how. So I tapped the expertise of Stephanie Nelson", uh, you had to a "coupon professional" to learn how to use a coupon? You can't ask a neighbor, a co-worker, or a store employee? I understand you might want to contact a coupon professional for advice for the general public, giving tips and secrets (if there is such a thing involving coupons), but you really needed to contact a coupon profession to learn how to use a coupon?

Posted by: Dungarees@gmail.com | July 29, 2008 6:00 PM

I use the internet coupons @ Giant, you have to go through the self-service lane though. Walmart won't take the internet coupons either. I wish the stores would post their coupon policies. I've saved a minimum of 2500.00 each of the 2 past years@ Giant with my coupons. My office is small and we trade coupons for the different hings needed- one needs diaper coupons-one needs soymilk etc.

Posted by: Queenbee | July 29, 2008 6:02 PM

The problem with coupons is that it is one more stress that is completely artificial. The hours I could spend looking at circulars, trying to decide whether the coupon makes sense and how it is used to maximal benefit, snipping it out, putting it where I'll be able to find it later, finding it later, doing comparisons in the store, etc. (multiplied by the number of stores I shop at) is time I could use to do other things that I much prefer.

Posted by: donl | July 29, 2008 6:36 PM

Hey, here in Ohio, I get away with using expired coupons all the time. Has anyone else had this luck?

Posted by: kween bee | July 29, 2008 6:56 PM

Chasmosaur-
I completely agree with the coupon selection in the Washington Post being utter cr*p. I even emailed them regarding the issue and was given some nonsense about them not being able to control who puts coupons in the paper. One weekend I had NO grocery coupons (SmartSource, RedPlum or P&G)... I checked the CouponMom site and saw all of the Sunday coupon circulars I was missing. If anyone could tell me where to get grocery coupons in the Sunday paper in Northern VA I would be very grateful!

Posted by: JDinVA | July 29, 2008 7:55 PM

Are there any stores in the DC area that double coupons?

Posted by: Ashley | July 29, 2008 7:55 PM

I love coupons, and I use them whenever I can or whenever I remember them, but I'm always debating whether using the coupon is a better deal than buying the store brand? To me, if I shop mostly by store brand, I feel like I'll save more $. I will use a coupon for new or exciting things that the store does not have in its own brand.

Posted by: MB | July 29, 2008 8:25 PM

The Coupon Mom isn't the only one offing a lot of nice coupons, hints, tips or deals. My favorite site is Coupons Rebates & Refunds:

http://alccoupons.blogspot.com/

NO SPAM EMAIL from Ginger. If you want to sign up for the daily updates via Feedburner you can. She doesn't send any emails unless you write her directly.

Posted by: Edna | July 29, 2008 10:48 PM

I don't really have any more ideas to add. I've always found good coupons in my Sunday inserts. I cut out the ones for products that I like and use.

Posted by: Little Red | July 29, 2008 10:58 PM

Another great website for Grocery Coupons is http://www.ecoupons.com

Take a look at this video:

E-Coupon Comeback
With the economy sinking and gas prices soaring, people are searching for new ways to save a buck. If you already threw out the coupons section of your Sunday paper, online coupon websites can point you to savings with the click of a button.
http://q13.trb.com/news/local/cyberguy/stv-cyberguy-061108,0,6582477.htmlstory

Posted by: Michael | July 29, 2008 11:42 PM

Super Fresh Markets is offering a super saving triple coupon promotion starting this Friday. All coupons up to 99 cents are tripled for the sales week. So by using those 85 cents coupons and less, you can see the savings adding up, if you shop smartly.

This is a great way to make your own bargains.

Posted by: weo | July 30, 2008 8:17 AM

To find more ways to cut costs and live better, visit www.eversave.com today. Find articles, tips, coupons and more, all in one place.

Posted by: Eversave | July 30, 2008 9:09 AM

My FAVORITE site is www.thecouponclippers.com. You pay, but you only buy what you really need and it takes less time. A $1 coupon might cost a $.05. The $.75 coupons are a real deal if you go to a store that doubles.

For the person who suggested that you don't need training using coupons, you obviously, don't use coupons. It is truly an art at getting the best deals. I thought you just handed them over, but you don't. You match with sales, learn the coupon rules, etc. Like which stores give you credit when your coupon is worth more than the item. Some stores will give you the credit to buy other things. Most people don't know that.

Posted by: kvbrinkley | July 30, 2008 9:29 AM

I notice that many coupons in the DC paper are for $1- so no doubling or tripling. Harris Teeter just had a 3 day tripling promo. I think Super Fresh is the only other store that doubles. I am going to look at my coupons for triples. I don't always do coupons but it is good to get free Colgate toothpaste as I did this week at Rite Aid and free Pert Plus shampoo - plus a rebate for the cost of the shampoo(even though I didn't actually have to pay for it) on the bottle- at Safeway last week.

Posted by: Andrea | July 30, 2008 9:40 AM

I agree--couponing is an art, but the savings can really add up. The only trouble I've ever had is at Shoppers, in the self check out lane. Half the time the machine won't accept the coupon, and someone has to come and do an over-ride. If I have a lot of coupons, I stand in the regular lines.

I recently read on a couponing website that you really save if you wait for 4 weeks before using your coupons. Someone found that to be the cycle in a lot of stores for reducing prices. Has anyone tried this?

Posted by: wdc | July 30, 2008 10:41 AM

I use slickdeals.net drugstores/forum. They list the weekly & monthly deals for the local drugstores and they just added threads for some local grocery stores, although the grocery store threads are not as evolved as the drugstore threads. Slickdeals also has a list of all unexpired coupons that are currently available along with a list of printable coupons.

Buy the double pack of the Sunday paper for $2. Some of the free weekly local papers like the Gazette have coupons. This week the Gazette had the Red Plum insert & their were plenty of free copies at community oriented places in my neighborhood.

CVS used to be excellent but their extra care buck deals have dwindled tremendously in the last few months.

Rite Aid's rebate program is outstanding because you can use coupons and sometimes get back more than you paid, plus you enter your receipt information online. I always enter my receipts as soon as I enter the house to avoid misplacing them.

Which brings up rebates. Read the requirements closely, follow them to a T, make a copy before you mail it, and keep a log to know when you mailed it & when you should receive your money.

SuperFresh is 1 of the best stores for doubling, since they double up to .99, and sometimes they triple. This seems to happen during the last or first week of the month. My only problem with Superfresh is that I grocery shop on Friday mornings & on almost every trip they have not updated their computers to reflect the new pricing. This can be to your advantage because their policy is to give you the item free if it's mispriced. There have been many times when the clerk has tried to give me the difference, but I insist on receiving a full refund as stated in their policy. It's a hassle, but I never leave Superfresh without checking my receipt.

I had to unsubscribe couponmon. Too much junk too frequently.

Posted by: Tina | July 30, 2008 10:44 AM

Safeway in the District doesn't accept internet coupons either.

Posted by: Dublin Traveler | July 30, 2008 12:06 PM

Safeway in the DC metro area doubles coupons up to 50 cents. Harris Teeter doubles coupons up to 99 cents, and about once a quarter has a triple coupon deal. I believe Giant still doubles coupons as well. I do not believe that Shopper's doubles coupons -- nor does Wal-Mart. The poster that reminded people about Rite Aid's single check rebates is correct -- watch those sale circulars, use coupons with the sale items that have rebates, and you can get them to pay you to take the item. I just bought dishwasher detergent there -- paid $2.99, will get a $2 rebate, and gave them a coupon for $2.25 ... meaning that they paid me $1.26 to take it -- and if you do the rebates on line, you don't even spend the $$ for a stamp.

Re: internet coupons. Harris Teeter in Arlington accepts them. Safeway is spotty about accepting them, but I often argue. When one cashier told me that it was a corporate policy that Safeway didn't accept them, I e-mailed corporate. The answer was that there is NO -- repeat NO -- corporate policy at Safeway against accepting internet coupons ... it's up to the store manager. I don't know if Giant accepts them or not ... I shop very infrequently at Giant.

Posted by: Arlington | July 30, 2008 1:29 PM

CouponMom.com does not send out unsolicited emails (spam). Its privacy policy states that they do not sell or share email addresses. If visitors sign up for advertiser links, they will get an email from that advertiser but can unsubscribe. However, CouponMom.com's service is FREE to users and you do not have to sign up for any advertisers at all to use the service. When you sign up you can print a FREE ebook and print free coupons without registering, directly from the Welcome page. That's not spam. We would be happy to address the concerns that are posted here--just contact us at info@thecouponmom.com and please send us an example of emails you've received.

Posted by: Stephanie | July 30, 2008 2:12 PM

Can anyone tell me if Shoppers Warehouse and Wal-Mart take coupons? I've heard they do and I've heard they don't.

Harris Teeter is a good store for doubling (and the infrequently tripling) however there aren't that many of their stores.

As for the person who posted "...completely agree with the coupon selection in the Washington Post being utter cr*p. I even emailed them regarding the issue and was given some nonsense about them not being able to control who puts coupons in the paper. One weekend I had NO grocery coupons (SmartSource, RedPlum or P&G)...
I agree it's frustrating that there occasionally is no coupon section but the Washington Post doesn't give the coupons away, it's the individual stores and companies, the advertisers. You might not like the selection but what do you expect the Washington Post to do? Pay for the coupons that YOU like and want? Each of us wants different products and some of the coupons distributed are to get you to try new products or buy multiple products (see how many coupons are for buy 2 and save...) instead of only one item; it's to get you to buy what they want you to buy. Not always what YOU want to buy or what the Washington Post would like them to offer in the way of coupons.

Seems like instead of complaining to the Washington Post that they don't have the coupons you want, you should write the companies and manufacturers and tell them that they should be offering coupons or discounts. You might not like their answer any more than you liked the answer from the Washington Post, which doesn't control the coupon selection.

Posted by: Germantown mom | July 30, 2008 8:07 PM

What is the double pack of the Sunday paper for $2? Is this something different than the regular Sunday paper for $1.50 at the newsstand?

Posted by: Henry from Arlington | July 30, 2008 8:11 PM

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