I was a "couponer" long before couponing became "popular." I know some of you are now scratching your head and thinking to yourself, "Is couponing popular?" If you've been living under a rock then you may have missed the whole couponing “craze” that's been happening across the country.
For years couponing was stereotyped as an activity reserved for "poor people" and old ladies. But recently, a popular cable network aired a show that has re-introduced couponing into our popular lexicon.
While I don't endorse "extreme couponing", aggressive couponing tactics or clearing the shelves at your local grocery store, I have saved a significant sum of money using coupons to buy the foods and supplies we eat and enjoy.
Here are some of my favorite tips new couponers:
- Stay organized. Find a “system” that works for you. Some couponers have a binder, while others have an envelope for each store that they shop at. Some people clip all of their coupons and sort them by category (diary, toiletries etc.), while others leave their coupon inserts (the booklets in the newspaper) whole and only clip coupons as they plan to use them. I used to clip everything, but now keep my inserts whole and clip as I go. Do what makes sense for you!
- Learn one store well. When you first start couponing you might be tempted to shop at all the stores and get all the deals. Start small and choose one store to learn completely. The drugstores can be a little confusing at first because each of them has their own rewards program. Once you learn the store policies and how the programs work you can branch out to other stores. If you start shopping at multiple stores at once you might confuse their programs and end up getting frustrated.
- Stereotype your cashier. In my personal experience, younger male cashiers tend to be less "freaked out" by coupons. Once you find a coupon friendly cashier, go to him/her exclusively and always make sure to tell them how much you appreciate them taking the time to check you out. If the store allows it, I sometimes give away my freebies to the staff. A candy bar here and a bottled Starbucks drink there, keeps everybody happy.
- Practice makes perfect. When you first start using coupons you will make mistakes. You'll hand your coupons to the cashier in the wrong order, miscalculate prices and accidently buy the wrong size products that aren't on sale. Be patient with yourself (and with your cashiers) at first. The more you shop the better you’ll get.
- Double check your receipt. If you think that something rang up incorrectly (and it wasn't your miscalculation) take your time and examine your receipt before you say anything to the cashier. I like to take everything out to the car so I can carefully look over my receipt. It would be pretty embarrassing to tell your cashier he/she missed a coupon or put in a price incorrectly because you were rushing and didn't read the receipt correctly. If you purchased the correct item and it didn’t ring up the right price, don’t be afraid to take the product back to customer service and ask for the correct price.
- Stay under the radar. Follow the “rules” at all times. If the ad says "one per customer" don't try to buy 5! You don't want to be recognized as a couponer who breaks the rules. If you're buying 100 deodorants or clearing the shelves of all the toothpaste, you will look suspect and may get some negative or unwanted attention. If the store allows me to purchase many of the same product I try to shop across several locations so that I don't clear the shelves (I know this isn't always possible in small towns, but in more metro areas there are sometimes 2-3 of the same store within a few miles radius).
- Use coupons proudly. Coupons can save you a lot of money. I actually get a perverse amount of pleasure out of buying a whole basket full of items and paying almost nothing. Coupons aren't illegal (in fact the manufacturers want you to use their coupons, that's why they distribute them!). Don't let others "shame" you for using your coupons. If I have a big order with a lot of coupons I let the customer behind me know that I have a bunch of coupons and it may take a little longer to check out. If he stays behind me then huffs and puffs about having to wait, that's what he gets for not heeding to my friendly "warning!" Don't be embarrassed or ashamed to use coupons!
Share your favorite coupon tips in the comments!