I will mention that I have noticed that our grocery bills are cut nearly in half. Recently, I went to the grocery store and spent about $25, while my "savings" printed on the receipt were over $30! When I was not using coupons, and only shopping the sales, I would still spend $50 every week or two, easily.
Here are some things that have been working for me:
- I buy two newspapers each Sunday. I buy mine at CVS, using the Extra Bucks coupons and I use my Green Bag Tag (they scan it every time you either bring your own, or don't use a bag and carry items out) which collects one dollar for every four scans of the tag. So hey, I get a dollar a month to buy my newspapers there! We'll go home to check out the coupons, and if we find anything that is considered a "staple" in the household, we may go out & buy more newspapers at the gas station at the end of our street, depending on how good the coupon/s is/are.
---- When you buy your newspapers at the store, always double-check to make sure there are actually coupons in it. Some people will take the coupons out of the papers that are freely available to pick through. Likewise, I never buy papers from machines on the street since those are unsupervised as well, and inevitably picked through. Check for SmartSource, RedPlum and Proctor & Gamble coupon inserts, along with any others you might want/need, like Michael's or Joann's.
- I go through the ads right away, and clip out any coupons I know I will use before they expire. I do this immediately for two reasons: one, to know what I have available to me, and two, so I can determine whether or not I want to go get more Sunday papers. I only clip out coupons I know for sure that I am going to use; I save the rest of the coupons in the event that I find a good sale on which to use them.
- Organization is a big part of having a good coupon system. I use 4x6 photo sheets (the full-page type that fits into a binder) - something like this is perfect. I separate all of my coupons by categories and file them away. I use categories like Breakfast, Meats, Dairy, Paper Goods, Personal Care, First Aid/Medicine, Pets, and more. This helps me to be able to find what types of coupons I need.
---- If you don't want to be seen as "one of THOSE people," take time to organize your coupons based on what you are buying, too. It's helpful to the cashier to put your coupons in order before you hand them over. This helps reduce confusion all around, and you can keep an eye on things as they're scanned. Be sure to look over your receipt after you're done - we've stepped off to the side to check over our receipt only to find the cashier missed a coupon. We'll ask for the coupon, then take it and the receipt to customer service to have it corrected. Not all cashiers are great with taking coupons.
---- SAVE all of your extra coupons - whether you think you'll use them or not. I keep mine in page protectors in a separate section of my binder. I use a whiteboard marker to write the date and the inserts that I've saved on the outside of the page protector. You may find stupidly good deals on some things later on and be kicking yourself if you no longer have the coupon(s)!
- Watch for sales! One of the best resources by far is the web site Coupon Mom. No, I'm not a mom (unless you count my animals) but it's a fabulous resource nonetheless! If you click on the tab that says "Grocery Deals by State," you'll find links to lists for weekly circulars to your local grocery stores, as well as national chains like Wal-Mart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, and more. They sort the weekly sales into a list and match it up to coupons from previous weeks' newspapers. This is incredibly helpful when planning out your shopping trips and figuring out how much you are going to spend.
- Know your stores' coupon policies, and how to use your coupons. Most stores will take one store coupon and one manufacturer's coupon per item. For example, I can use a $1 off Target coupon on paper towels, and a $.75 off manufacturer's coupon (found in the Sunday paper) for a total of $1.75 saved on paper towels. Some stores will accept competitors' coupons - so if Publix has a better price on paper towels, I can use the Target coupon there (it counts as a store coupon) along with my manufacturer's coupon, and get a better final price in the end.
---- Many stores will let you use one manufacturer's coupon per item, even if they are "buy one, get one free." Yes, you can use a coupon on the free item! Keep an eye out for coupons that say "$1 off one" or "$2 off any" of an item, because these are great for the BOGO sales. One recent score we had was Kraft's new Homestyle Mac & Cheese. We had $1 off of one package, and it was BOGO at Publix for $2.50. Since we get two, and used two coupons for a total of $2 off, we paid a total of fifty cents for the two, or twenty five cents each.
---- Some stores that print out rewards or store coupons will treat those coupons like manufacturers' coupons. A good example of this is Walgreens. You can often get "Register Rewards," which spend like cash in the store. However, you can only use one manufacturer's coupon per item you are buying, so if you have four items and coupons for all of them, and intend to pay with Register Rewards, you will need to find another item that doesn't require a coupon ("filler") to be able to use the RR. Walgreens will often have items that are "free after Register Rewards" so you don't need a coupon for it, but you will pay the amount and get that same amount back in Register Rewards after your transaction is finished. We needed filler one time, so we paid $2.50 for a ThermaCare heat pack (in order to be able to use our $10 RR's) and got that $2.50 back in Register Rewards after the transaction finished. It all seems confusing, but it's pretty easy to get into. Basically, you can put in a $10 "investment" and then keep rolling over your Register Rewards, not having to spend any actual cash.
- Don't be afraid to stock up. We will pick up items that we might not need right now, but we know we will use. I have three extra half-gallons of almond milk sitting in the back of my fridge, because I know I will use it, and with a recent sale I was able to get them for $1.50 per half gallon, instead of the usual $3.19. We go through at least a carton per week, so we might as well keep these extras on hand; they won't expire before we use them! Similarly, we keep our eyes open for good deals on personal care items, paper products (paper towels, tissues, toilet paper, etc.) because they get used up one way or another. We've since only made one of the packages of Mac & Cheese, but we have plenty of extras in the pantry, and we know it'll get eaten eventually.
---- Always check clearance sections of stores when you go. You can often still use coupons on clearance items! It never hurts to take a look.
- There are a ton of great discount sites to use! Web sites like Groupon, WeShop, Restaurant.com and more will offer discounted rates or prices for things people commonly use. I recently got a CVS $10 gift card for $4 on WeShop. I constantly get $25 gift certificates to local (not chain!!) restaurants for $2-$3 from Restaurant.com as well. Sometimes there are stipulations - for example, Restaurant.com usually has "minimum $35 order" to be able to use the $25 gift certificates. So you come away having paid a total of $13 for a $35 meal. Not too shabby when you're on a budget!
I hope this is some useful information; I'm backdating it so that it will show up at the top of my journal if anyone ever wants to go back & take a look at it. Feel free to ask any questions or share any input, links to sites you like to use, or methods you've found that you like as well. :)