Couponing for beginners: 11 tips that will save you thousands

Here are 11 tips that can help your food storage grow and your money spent dwindle.

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  • Editor's note: A version of this article was originally published on Anita Fowler's blog, Live Like You Are Rich. It has been modified and republished here with permission.

  • I have been couponing for over a decade. I have saved thousands of dollars with coupons. I wish I would've been meticulous about tracking how much, but an estimated guess would be that I have easily saved over $25,000 in the last 10 years. I save about $200 to $300 a month with coupons, which is over $2,400 a year.

  • Before I got started, there was a lot I had to learn. These were the days before the popular TV show "Extreme Couponing" came on TLC. I didn't have as many resources as there are now. Now is a great time to learn to coupon because of all the technological advancements that make matching sales and coupons so easy. Not to mention the huge amount of printable and online coupons and discounts available.

  • Have I convinced you to start couponing? If so, let's get started. The following information is useful for beginning couponers, but if you are already a seasoned pro, you may want to check out this article here.

  • 1. Coupons have expiration dates and must be used before they expire

  • They also have other restrictions that need to be followed such as size, quantity, brand, make, etc. Just think of it this way: The Big Print Giveth, the Small Print Taketh Away. Read and follow each coupon carefully.

  • 2. Coupon websites that match sales with coupons are the best way to go when planning your shopping trip.

  • They do most all of the work for you. They find the sales and then find any available coupon for the sales and match them up. It's awesome! A few that I have been using with a lot of success are:

  • Favado.com — The coolest thing about Favado is that it is an app for smartphones and can go with you into the stores. It lists the sales and coupons that correspond to the sales for the grocery stores in your area.

  • GrocerySmarts.com — This is another great all around match-up site. With Grocerysmarts.com you can highlight just the stock up prices (I'll mention more about those below). You can also easily list all the grocery stores in your area on one page. Awesome, especially for price matching.

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  • TheKrazyCouponLady.com — Another website that you can often find awesome, typically unadvertised and great deals on.

  • Ibotta — An awesome app that allows you to earn cash back and works for just about any popular grocery store, some retail stores and even some theaters. When you buy something being sponsored by Ibotta and the store you bought it at, you will earn cash back. At the end of your shopping trip, to redeem an item, you need to follow a quick process of learning a fact, watching a short clip or answer a question. After that, you simply take a quick photo of your receipt and the product you bought and the cash will be credited to your account.

  • Checkout51 — Another free app similar to Ibotta, but it can be used with any store. I've tested it, and it works great! Plus, unlike Ibotta, it isn't store exclusive, which is great for people who live in smaller towns and people that don't shop at big chain grocery stores. You can get cash back on milk, eggs and other everyday groceries. I use this and Ibotta together and sometimes get items for free!

  • 3. You can print off coupons online

  • Most coupons can be printed two times per computer. If you have a laptop and a desktop you can get four coupons to use. You simply either need to hit the back button after a coupon is done printing and it will reprint or you will need to go back and re-select the coupon and print again. These are some of the best resources to find online coupons:

  • Coupons.com — is the largest database of online printable manufacturer coupons. You can often just go to coupons.com and find items that you may have on your grocery list and print them off there. A more efficient use of time is to search on hotcouponworld.com for the items on your grocery list instead of sifting through all of the coupons on coupons.com.

  • HotCouponWorld.com — is a huge coupon search/database that can search for almost every coupon out there in the USA. Once you are at HotCouponWorld.com, click on the coupon database and search for items that you need. It will show you if there are any coupons out there (printable, insert, etc.) available for that certain item. (The database doesn't work with smartphones. You will need to use desktops or laptops to search for coupons for specific items.)

  • 4. If you use over five to 10 coupons each shopping trip, buying a Sunday newspaper subscription will save you money.

  • I have tried both couponing with and without the newspaper. I saved much more by having a newspaper subscription. I actually paid for all four of my newspaper subscriptions in the first three weeks I had them by using the coupons I found they contained.

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  • 5. Coupons come in the mail and newspapers

  • The main mailer is a booklet/insert full of coupons that comes in the mail each week and it is called Red Plum. In some areas, Red Plum also comes in the Sunday papers. The abbreviation used for Red Plum on most all couponing sites is RP. Smart Source (SS) comes in the Sunday papers. Proctor and Gamble (PG) also comes in the newspaper, usually in the Sunday paper before the first of each month.

  • Side note: another few abbreviations are BOGO which means buy one get one free, OOP means total out of pocket money you will need to purchase the products, MM means it is a money maker. A money maker, in most cases, means that by buying the item (which is free) you will have extra money through its purchase to use toward another item in that same purchase. For example, if you are going to buy deodorant that is a MM, it means that the deodorant (say it is on sale for $1.25) has coupon(s) $1.75 that you can use on it which exceed the cost of the deodorant. By purchasing deodorant and applying the coupons to it you will make 50 cents which will apply to something else in the same transaction.

  • 6. Each paper has a date on its tiny spine that you will be able to see if you look closely.

  • When you see on the match-up sites that there is a sale and a coupon, they will tell you where to find the coupon. If it is an Internet coupon, there will be a link to the correct site. If it is a newspaper coupon, they will state it by using the abbreviation of the insert and date on its spine. For example, it will look like this: Huggies 2.00/1 Jumbo Pack SS 1/12, meaning that in the Smart Source insert that was delivered on Jan. 12, you can find a $2 off one package of Huggies diapers. Inserts that are mailed don't always have the same date stamped on them as the date they arrived because they arrive on different days for different people. They are typically stamped with the date of the upcoming Sunday.

  • 7. Make sure to buy multiples of the items you will use that are on sale and have coupons to go with them.

  • Extreme Couponing is when you stock up on items that are rock bottom in price. This is how you are going to save the most money. All three resources/websites I mentioned above use a scale to show how good of a deal the sale/coupon matchup is. If they are listed as a stock up or 5-star deal, then buy multiples because most items only go on sale with coupons every three or six months.

  • 8. The easiest, most efficient way to coupon is not to clip coupons until you are sure you are going to use them.

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  • I use an accordion binder and slip the coupon inserts into it when they come on Sundays. I keep all the Red Plums together, the PGs together, and the SSs together in one or two sections. I order them newest to oldest. I also keep my printed coupons and loose random coupons that have come in mailers, magazines, etc., in their own sections as well. Once an insert is a few months old, I quickly scan through it. If the majority of coupons are expired, I take the inserts and recycle/trash them.

  • 9. Start at one store and get familiar with the coupons, clearance section, rewards programs, restrictions, etc.

  • Once you feel like you understand that store, try mastering another in your area. Here are some helpful links to get you started:

  • a. How to coupon at Target

  • b. How to coupon at Kroger aka Smith's, Ralph's, Fry's etc.,

  • c. How to coupon at Walmart

  • d. How to coupon at CVS Pharmacy

  • e. How to coupon at Walgreens

  • 10. Monitor your expenditures

  • You can go broke saving money. That is right. You can go broke saving money. Moderation and slowly building a stock pile is the way to go. Couponing can be a thrill and give you a rush when you walk away from the store with discounted and even free stuff. Just realize you paid taxes, gas to get to the store, money on the newspapers, paper, ink and time.

  • Couponing is one of the best ways to save on groceries and other household items, but it can get expensive if you try to build a stock pile overnight or are in the stores every day.

  • 11. Read my 17 Mistakes Couponers Make and How to Avoid Them here.

  • This list is both for the novice and the experienced couponer. It will give you some great guidelines and help you avoid many pitfalls couponers make.

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Anita is a resourceful wife, mother, author, and friend. She writes about a variety of ways to create a rich life (both materially and non-materially) on any income on her blog Live Like You Are Rich. She is also the co-author of "Living a Rich Life as a Stay-at-Home Mom."

Website: http://livelikeyouarerich.com

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