STEP 3 – Getting in the Game
Steps 1 and 2 have been accomplished! You’ve been collecting coupons, both on the Internet and from the Sunday newspaper inserts. You are becoming “coupon conscious”, looking for coupons in products, on products and in the store, anywhere coupons can be found. You are finding a system to organize your coupons that works well for you. Great!
The question you may have next is, “Now what do I do?”
Time to get in the game!
Pick a few stores and learn their coupon rules and store policies really well. I recommend one major grocery store and one drugstore to start with. Why a drugstore you may ask? Because you can often find great deals on toiletries, personal care items and other items at the drugstore. Many drugstore chains have their own discount/coupon program which allows you to save a bundle when combined with manufacturer coupons. (Hint: My favorite drugstore is CVS!)
Follow these steps:
- Read and print out the store’s coupon policy (see “Know your store’s coupon policy” below).
- Read the store’s 101 on how to shop there, either a 101 that I have available or one that you have found elsewhere.
- Become very familiar with the store’s website, and make sure to sign up for any loyalty cards and money saving programs they have available.
- Find a coupon blog that is following your store(s) of choice and sign up for their daily updates. Many coupon blogs will match up the sale items for the week with coupons you can use to get the lowest possible price. Make sure to check out the weekly coupon matchups that are available on the coupon blog you have chosen.
- Get good at using coupons and stacking (combining store rewards/coupons with manufacturer coupons) at your chosen store. Practice, practice, practice! It will take time to get comfortable with your store’s coupon policy and coupon stacking rules. You should aim for a 15-20% savings for at least the first month or two. By 4-6 months you should be able to save as much as 40-60%! This is NOT an overnight process. Don’t get discouraged!
Know your store’s coupon policy:
- Store cards: If your store offers a loyalty card then make sure to get one! Many stores only give the sale prices and deals to those who have store cards. They are free so there is no reason not to get one!
- True value of the coupon: Some stores will double or even triple the face value of your coupons. You will want to find out if your store doubles or triples coupons. If they do, then find out what the maximum double and/or triple value is and how many they will double or triple of the same coupon. Meijer in my area, for example, will double coupons up to $0.50. That means that coupons with a face value of $0.50 and under will automatically double. So at Meijer a $0.50 coupon is actually worth $1.00, a $0.35 coupon is worth $0.70 but a $0.75 coupon will not double because it is over $0.50 (which is the double limit) and is only worth it’s face value of $0.75. Also, my Meijer’s store policy is that they will only double the first two like coupons. So, if I had 10 of the exact same coupon for $0.50 off shampoo, only the first two would double to $1.00. The rest would stay at $0.50 if I bought them all together. By learning your store’s coupon value policy you will be able to get the very best deal.
- Stacking coupons: Many stores will allow you to use one store coupon (the discount is provided by the store) and one manufacturer coupon (the discount is provided by the manufacturer) per item. Be dough savvy and hang on to your manufacturer coupons until there is a sale and/or a store coupon at the same time!
- Internet coupons: Find out if your store accepts Internet coupons. Most do without a problems as long as you have not photocopied them, although some stores do not allow coupons for FREE products that come from the Internet.
- Competitor coupons: Some stores will accept competitor’s coupons!
- Expired coupons: Some stores will accept expired coupons – it sometimes pays to ask!
Plan your trip:
- Weekly Ads: Read the weekly store ads to see what is on sale and which stores have the best prices on the items you need. If you don’t get the weekly ads delivered you can usually view them on the store’s website.
- Coupon Matchups: See if you can match coupons to the sale items to get an even better deal! Many websites do this for you, including ours! If you would like to do them yourself, you can use our Coupon Database to find exactly what you are looking for.
- Price match: Some stores, like Walmart, will price match. This means that if grapes are on sale for $0.99/lb at Meijer, you can tell the cashier at Walmart that you would like to price match the grapes. Tell them they are on sale at Meijer for $0.99/lb and they will sell you the grapes for $0.99/lb versus their higher price. Walmart has a price match policy that you will want to get familiar with if you plan on price matching there. Target also has a price match policy you can check out here. Meijer will price match general merchandise products only.
- Make a List: Don’t go to the store without a list. Lists remind you what great deals you came in for and keep you from buying items you don’t need (that are likely not on sale).
- Rainchecks: If your store is out of the sale item, get a raincheck! If the cashier cannot provide one for you, go to customer service or and ask for a raincheck for the item you wanted to purchase. They will fill out a piece of paper with the item details and price. Then you can come back another day (usually no more than 30 days later) and buy that item at the sale price by giving the cashier the raincheck. This also gives you more time to gather coupons for the item or use coupons you already have. You can still use a coupon if you are using a raincheck!
Things to Remember:
- 10/$10 promotions: During these types of promotions you normally do not have to buy 10 items to get the $1 price! The only exception is if the ad states that you must. Those times are rare.
- Know when to hold ‘em: Don’t always go out and use your coupon immediately! Say you have a $0.50 off peanut butter coupon. If you use that coupon right away when it’s not on sale, say at $2.50, you aren’t getting the best deal. Wait until the peanut butter goes on sale, say for $1.50, then use the coupon. If your store doubles coupons then you could get the peanut butter for as low as $.50 with a $0.50 coupon! If there is also a store coupon available as well, you could combine your $.50 coupon with the store coupon with the sale and get free or almost free peanut butter! Matching sales with coupons is definitely the way to go. Combining sales WITH coupons WITH ANOTHER promotion (rebates, double coupons, store coupons) is a super dough savvy way to shop!
- “One per Purchase”: Most coupons say “one coupon per purchase” somewhere in the fine print. Uninformed cashiers may occasionally try to tell you that that means you can only use one coupon per transaction/day. This is NOT true! One per purchase means that you can only use one coupon per item purchased. So if you are buying 10 items and have 10 coupons for those items – you can definitely use them all!
- Make a Price Book: This is KEY: Start paying attention to prices and keep a list of items you regularly buy with the best prices for those items. This will help you when you see that maybe something is on “sale” for 10/$10 but the regular price is actually just $0.99. You would definitely want to wait for a better sale before stocking up. Remember, just because an item is on sale and you have a coupon for it does not mean it is a rock-bottom deal and you should stock up.
- Understand unit prices: The cost per unit of the bigger box of cereal may be less than the smaller one, but with coupons and sales the smaller box is oftentimes a better deal, especially if you are getting the smaller box for FREE!
- Shop early: It is a good idea to get to the store as early in the sale week as you can. You may want to ask your store when their next shipment comes in if they are out of an item you want. Some stores get two or more shipments a week, although you may want to get a raincheck on your first trip just in case you never make it back to the store that week.
- Watch the monitor and cashier: When checking out pay close attention to the screen to make sure everything rings up at the correct price. Also, make sure that the cashier scans all of your coupons. Coupons sometimes get stuck together, get dropped or the cashier will scan the coupon but not realize that it didn’t actually go through correctly. Kindly point out that they missed/dropped/incorrectly scanned your coupon so they can fix it.
- Check your receipt: BEFORE leaving the store look over your receipt to make sure everything rang up correctly and all of your coupons were scanned properly. If there is a problem you can take your receipt to customer service immediately so they can fix it. If you leave the store and come back at another time then it might not be fixable. If the cashier missed a coupon and you notice right away it’s easy to find the mistake, but if you come back later after several other coupons have been added to the cashier’s stack or the stack is gone then there is no way to prove that they have missed a coupon.
Build your stockpile:
- Start slowly: Don’t feel the need to use every coupon you have as soon as you get started or you will blow your budget! A stockpile takes time. Set aside a part of your weekly grocery money for stockpiling and do what you can with what you have. It takes many months to build a good stockpile.
- Keep a big picture mentality: If an item goes on sale for a great price (or is free) then buy more than you need for just the week. Typically sales go in 6-12 week cycles so you only need to buy at least enough for 6-12 weeks to save money. However, if you have a lot of coupons for a sale item and it has a long expiration date, you may want to purchase more than a 6-12 week supply.
- Know how much you use: Start paying attention to how many bottles of shampoo, packs of diapers, boxes of cereal, etc. you use. This will help you to have a better idea of how much you should buy and not go overboard! Again, start really paying attention to expiration dates so as not to waste. Many like to arrange their products according to expiration dates on their shelves and check them regularly to make sure things get used or donated before they expire.
- Donate it: Every couponer will sometimes go overboard and buy too much of something. If there is no way you will use something before it expires then consider donating the item to someone you know in need.
- Keep track of what you spend: Figure out how much you are spending right now on groceries. Keep track of what you spend every week from here on out using coupons. At first, as you build your stockpile, you will not notice much of a difference. As your stockpile grows, you should see your grocery bill go down considerably. After several months, your new weekly grocery budget goal should be as low as half of what you are spending now!
- Keep your stockpile organized: Serious couponers have two things in common: They stay determined and organized! Keep your items organized in your pantry, on shelving units or in bins. Organize your products by date, keeping the earliest expiring items in front. You can have a lot of product, but make sure it is not overtaking your home! Go through your stockpile regularly to make sure you are using things up before they expire. Keep things nicely organized and you will be amazed at how nice it is to have your own little store right in your own home!
That’s it! Three easy steps to becoming so dough savvy:
- Start collecting coupons.
- Organize your coupons in a way that works for you.
- Learn the coupon rules and policies at the store you choose and get in the game!
Again, your ultimate goal should be to cut your grocery bill at least in half. It will take a while to get there, so do not get discouraged! If you want to eventually save thousands a year you need to stay determined and organized. It takes some time in the beginning – as with everything there is a learning curve. You will become quicker the more you practice. Don’t give up if you make mistakes along the way. Everyone does! Just keep at it and soon you will wonder how you ever got along without the sweet savings that come with coupons!