Personal Finance

Step-by-Step Extreme Couponing Guide to Save on Groceries

clipping couponEveryone loves to save money. So if I told you there was a way to potentially save upwards of 75% on your grocery bill, you’d probably want to know more, right?  Then read on and welcome to the wonderful world of extreme couponing, a method of collecting and using coupons to get the deepest discounts on the things you buy each week.

You’re already thinking that using coupons at checkout is nothing new; you do that when you come across one every so often. That’s nice for you. But if you could be saving money on virtually everything you buy instead of a random 30 cents off a pack of razors or a candy bar here and there once in a while, wouldn’t you want to know how to do it?

Extreme couponing is about mounting a full scale campaign of savings through collecting coupons from multiple sources, knowing when and when NOT to use those coupons, and figuring out which stores have the best deals upon which you can apply a coupon to get the maximum savings possible. The result could be hundreds of dollars in your pocket.

Sounds easy, right? It certainly is, but it will require some work on your part. After you read this step-by-step guide to saving significant amounts of money on your groceries you’ll wonder why you never did it before. It may seem a bit daunting to the uninitiated at first, but once you get the hang of it you’ll never go back to the supermarket without coupons again.

Step 1: Collecting Coupons

The first step is always the most important and, in this case, that means you need to start finding your coupons. There are a wealth of sources and outlets out there to find great deals. But be warned, this part is going to take a little bit of time. When you get your first handful of coupons, don’t rush right out to the supermarket and expect to save a ton of cash, or at least not at first.  Rather, you need to amass a collection of coupons over a course of weeks and months and use them at the optimal time to save the most money on your grocery bill. This way you’ll be armed to the teeth with coupons for just about anything and everything in front of you and that’s when the real saving begins.

As you first get started, you won’t immediately be saving loads of cash. You have to ease into it, work your way up there, this is the toughest part and it can frustrate most beginners because they simply don’t have the time and patience to monitor all of their many sources of coupons. But if you’re not discouraged that easily, then you’re ready to enter the world of extreme couponing. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, you need to start finding and collecting those coupons.

You’re going to start where you likely already find the coupons you use – by looking in your own mailbox. Chances are, if you’re like the millions of people who get those annoying sales pages in the mail, up until now you’ve considered them nothing more than junk mail and probably tossed that stack right into the recycling bin.

STOP! You’re going to want those (and since most folks are just like you and toss those aside, grab up the stacks that your neighbors have carelessly tossed out as well). There are also the many glossy inserts that come with your Sunday newspaper every week, most of these originate with three different companies: Smart Source, Red Plum, and Proctor & Gamble. Each service has a vast range of coupons for a whole litany of products.

To receive all of the coupons these companies send out, you’ll either want to subscribe to the Sunday edition of your local paper (or papers if you happen to live in a large city with more than one), or you can get up in the morning and head down to your local newsstand and buy four or five copies to score multiple coupons.

Then, of course, like anything and everything else out there, you’re going to find a lot of coupons online and you have a ton of websites and resources available to you. Start with, that’s your first stop for the largest variety of products with eligible coupons each week. Then go check out for even more coupons, applicable at 50,000 different stores. If you’re looking to save exclusively at one of the major supermarket chains in your area, then go directly to their website as they’ll have all kinds of valid coupons available.

You will also want to invest in a decent printer because you are going to be printing…a lot. These days, some stores even have mobile apps where you can skip this part and just show the QR code on your smartphone. The Target chain offers the Cartwheel app, for instance. It’s so easy to use that it will pop up on your phone the minute you walk into the store. Scour all of these sources early and often to begin amassing your collection of coupons.

Step 2: Sales are Your Best Friend

I know, this step isn’t any kind of revelation, but it will be one of the most important aspects to keep in mind when you get started on your extreme couponing journey. More to the point, you will begin to adjust your shopping patterns right from the get-go and target only the items that are already on sale. When you go to the supermarket and you walk up and down the aisles, only buy groceries that have that yellow or red tag underneath them with a marked down price.

Start practicing now and go to the store and put only these items into your cart. The good news is that the supermarkets place different items on sale each week so you’ll get to buy a variety of things on each visit. Forget about planning your meals and shopping lists ahead of time, from now on you’re only buying the items that have been reduced. It could be a jar of pickles, a certain kind of mustard, maybe some cuts of beef are on sale. If the store has tagged it, you bag it. Getting into this habit will help you develop shopping patterns that will allow you to get the most bang for your buck when you amass enough coupons to really start saving.

coupon organizerStep 3: Get Organized

You’re finding coupons left and right, printing them, cutting them out, and collecting like crazy. But you can’t just show up to the store with a whole pile in hand and hope you can match up what you have at the store. No, you need to get organized first and that means developing a smart filing system in which to keep and collate all of your coupons.

You have a few choices; you can either go with one of those file boxes with the dividers and tabs inside or try storing them all in a binder. The first one can be easier to maintain, by marking each tab with certain descriptions based on how you want delineate your coupons. You can organize them by store or by item description. If you’re really hardcore and there’s one specific supermarket you exclusively shop at every week you can break down the folders by aisle and store the applicable coupons for items in each one. That’s how you know you’re really a seasoned veteran!

The binder option uses a simple binder and clear pages that can hold your coupons, somewhat similar to the way collectors carry their baseball cards. The advantage you have with the binder is that you can take it with you to the store with everything arranged.

Whichever system you choose, once it’s up and running you’ll begin to catalog all of your coupons in a manner that is simple to maintain. This will become more important as your collection begins to grow, so be sure you have a good arrangement worked out. That way you’ll be able to find the coupons you need when you need them, without having to rummage around over and over.

Step 4: Make Your Shopping List

You may now be wondering, didn’t I say not to make a shopping list before you went to the store from now on? Yes, but that was before you had a collection of coupons in hand and you were still in the old mindset of buying items whether or not they were currently on sale. But now that you’ve developed different shopping patterns and you have your file box or binder filled with coupons, it’s time to start planning your shopping trip.

The way it works is actually very simple, just grab one of those weekly circulars for your local supermarket (or supermarkets, if you live in a large city with a few chains to choose from). These circulars are an extremely helpful resource because you can see what each store has on sale every week before you show up. Pages and pages of markdowns, two for one deals, and bulk sales discounts, all of them in glorious color.

Read through the circular and see which deals are the best, find the items you need or want, or check to see if they have an item on sale that you’ve been interested in trying out. Whatever they are, list all of the items you want to buy. Then check that store’s website for any printable coupons that might be applicable to some of those products. Next, go look in your file box or folder to find any coupons you already have that could apply to these sale items so that you can get an even deeper discount on them. Take it slow or go as big as you want. The more coupons and deals you can match up, the more you’ll obviously save.

You can even set some criteria for yourself to see if the savings are really worth using the coupon. This part is important: When to use the coupon. If you find an item at a sale price that can be dramatically reduced even further by using your coupon, then by all means go for it. But maybe that sale item is already marked down 40, 50, even 60%; do you really want to use the coupon for it?

If you have multiple copies of that coupon then it’s probably fine to use for just a modest savings, but if you’re on the last one, maybe you should save it for another time. When you use your coupon is one of the most important components of extreme couponing and knowing the best time to apply that coupon to an item will take some trial and error. Everyone’s first inclination is to get as much of a savings on a product as possible, but it might make more sense to think ahead so you can save even more money later on.

Once you’ve completed your audit of the week’s sale circular and matched all of the applicable coupons to the items on your list, then you’re ready to head out to the store! But before you head out, make sure you’ve made your proper distinctions between Store Coupons and Manufacturer Coupons. You’ve likely combined multiple coupons on the same item but just be sure you’re not combining two of the same type of coupon. When you go to the store to buy that can of soup that’s been marked down from $3.95 to $2.95 you can then apply a Store Coupon to it as well as a Manufacturer Coupon to bring that price down even further.

In general, you cannot apply a Store Coupon twice or a Manufacturer Coupon twice on the same item. So be sure you check your coupons to see which one you have for that item. There is one caveat here, if you’re buying a two for one item or a buy one, get one free deal, then you can use multiple Store and Manufacturer coupons, applying them to each item in the deal.

One more thing to keep in mind before you start shopping, be aware of double and triple coupon promotions that the supermarkets advertise from time to time. These could also help you decide when it’s the right time to use a certain coupon. If you have one that offers 75 cents off an item and another that offers 35 cents off that same item, you may want to hold off on the first one until the store runs another double or triple coupon deal. That way you’re getting up to $2.25 off instead $1.05 off that item. You’ll need to be on top of the store’s sale routines and promotion cycles, which sounds tough to do but the more you work at this the savvier you’ll become about which coupon to use when.

Finally, don’t buy something just because you’ve got a coupon for it. This is about saving money, remember? You’re not saving any money by buying something you or your family is never going to eat or use. If it’s just sitting in your pantry untouched and then thrown away because it’s expired or become inedible or unusable for whatever reason, then you’ve wasted money. That’s not what extreme couponing is about.

pile of couponsStep 5: Go Shopping

This is it, the moment you’ve been waiting for. You’ve put in a lot of work to get here so be sure you enjoy it. But like every other step on our list, there are a few rules to abide by. The first one is the most crucial – you took all this time to make a plan, so stick to it. You’ve got your list of items, you’ve got your valid coupons to apply to those items, that’s all you’re buying today.

Don’t go off script and throw a few other items in your shopping cart that aren’t on your list. Believe me, you will be tempted. Do not give in to those temptations and impulse buys, they will eat into your savings and the goal here is to keep as much money in your pocket as possible. The easiest way to resist the siren’s call of those products that are off-limits is to target only the aisles where your selected items are located.

If you know the store like the back of your hand already than this should be simple enough to do, but in case you’re like most of us who still wander around trying to find the toilet paper aisle no matter how many times we’ve shopped in that store, then grab one of those handy store directories they often give out at the front of the building. If your store doesn’t offer them, there’s usually a directory posted somewhere or just ask someone at the customer service counter for a map. You want to get in and out of the store as fast as possible, not because you’re doing anything wrong here, but because you want to make sure you save as much as you can without spending one more dime than necessary.

Once you’ve grabbed everything on your list then it’s time to hit the checkout aisle. You may feel just a twinge of anxiety carrying a huge stack of coupons for a carriage filled with a few hundred dollars of groceries. Don’t panic and don’t worry, the person at the checkout isn’t judging you and neither will anyone else behind you in line. You may want to soften the blow of the extra time and work you’ll be subjecting the clerk to with a kind word and an early warning that you’ve come armed with a lot of coupons before they start to ring up your order.

Some stores prefer to scan all the items then proceed with the coupons, others enter the coupon per item. If it makes you feel better, check with the store policies before you unleash the full firepower of your couponing skills upon them, so you’re well-prepared ahead of time. Another pro-tip to consider is to make certain that all of your coupons are valid, none of them are expired, and you haven’t combined coupons that can’t be paired together.

If you still feel self-conscious for whatever reason, pick a time to shop that has the least traffic. Go very early in the morning or later in the evening when there are bound to be less people. If you decide to go at midday or around 6pm when everyone is getting off of work, just know those are some of the peak hours and you’ll have longer lines to wait in.

Our Final Thoughts

Having read through all of these steps now there’s really no denying that extreme couponing isn’t for the fainthearted. Between searching and gathering coupons from multiple sources, auditing store circulars, and matching up the right coupons to the items you want, this can be a lengthy process and a good chunk of your day devoted to finding the best deals possible. Just remember, I said it was going to take some work to really get those deep discounts but you can rest assured it will be time well spent, especially when you start to see how much money you’re saving every week.

Once you get the hang of it, the process will take less time and you’ll figure out the best shortcuts and quicker ways to decide on what items you want to buy. You can also begin to stockpile items so you won’t have to purchase them as often. If you can find some great savings opportunities on buying certain items in bulk, then go for it and you won’t need to put it on the list the next time a good deal comes around…or feel free to do so and add to that stockpile even more.

The great thing about extreme couponing is that there really is no right or wrong way to do it, your methods and routines are going to be the best solution because you’ve designed them. These steps are just a good guideline to help you get started.

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