I used to be obsessive about coupons. I’d clip everything that came into the house via the newspapers (I get two), the local throwaways, and that fat stack of tabloid pieces the mailman stuffed into the box once a week.
I’d cut out the coupons for everything except baby food (I don’t have a baby) and adult diapers (I’m not quite there yet) and spend several hours sorting by category and expiration date, and then filing them in the nifty red coupon organizer that lived in my purse.
My obsession started back when supermarkets doubled and sometimes even tripled coupons, and when the coupons themselves were for amounts from 50 cents to a dollar off. If I used coupons on sale items the savings were even greater. Sometimes an item even wound up costing almost nothing. It was a fantastic thrill to watch the total in the register drop and drop as the checker swiped each coupon across the scanner. It was as much fun as winning a slot machine jackpot but without the risk of losing.
When my local stores stopped multiplying the value of coupons, some of the fun was gone, but I kept at it anyway. And when online coupons became the thing, I printed out and used those, too. At some point, though, the coupons for items I wanted were fewer and fewer, and the cents off became lower and lower. I began to lose interest because the whole thing had started to make me feel as if I were wasting my time.
Once in a while, I still come across a coupon for free stuff, and get that thrill back again. But otherwise, I’ve devised some strategies that work better for me than spending those hours poring over newspaper supplements and being a file clerk in my own kitchen. Extreme couponers are still out there, and bless their hearts, but I’d rather take a nap.
Here are some of the strategies that work for me:
Use Grocery Store Club Cards
Thousands of grocery stores across the country offer cards that give you special prices if you’re signed up for them. There’s some debate over whether or not the prices are just generally lower in stores that don’t have club cards at all, but if your usual store has them, you’re really missing out not to use one.
In return, the stores do require you to give them some personal information that they use to track your purchases and use in general marketing research, but unless you’re in the witness protection program, the information they ask from you isn’t any more invasive than what a 4-year old could find out about you online; it’s worth it for the savings you get.
Get Rain Checks
Don’t fret if a sale items sells out. In many cases, the store will give you a rain check so you can get the item at the same sale price when it’s re-stocked. To get the rain check will usually take a few extra minutes at the manager’s counter, but it can definitely be worth it.
Pay Attention to Unit Pricing
The “economy” size sometimes isn’t. Many shelf tags list the price per ounce or per unit under the sale price, but the print is so small you may not have noticed. In other stores, you have to do the calculation yourself. You’d be surprised to find that sometimes you do better buying two small jars instead of a large jar of the same item.
Buy Store Brands
I used to turn up my nose at house brands, thinking that a nationally known brand is somehow superior. But that’s so not so! At least buy and compare one to the other once to see if you can tell the difference.
For products like aspirin and other pain relievers, the store brands print on their packages the national brand whose active ingredients they share, and if you compare boxes, you’ll see there’s no difference at all.
Be Careful at the Checkout Counter
All kinds of treats are displayed at checkout counters in order to entice you into impulse buys. Hang tough! Supermarkets use other tricks, too. Be wise to them and keep to your shopping list.
If You Are Still Clipping Coupons
Read them carefully. Beware of ones that require you to buy an item you don’t use in order to get the coupon price on something you do want.
Mind expiration dates. Some extend out for several months and it’s sometimes worth it to wait to use them until the item is on sale, but don’t keep them on ice so long that they expire.
Keep them somewhat organized. You don’t have to use the Dewey Decimal System, but tossing them into the bottom of your purse isn’t going to help you much.
Make sure they’re worth the bother. Before you spend even half a minute clipping and filing a coupon, think if it’s worth the 10 cents off two cans of something. Your time has value, too.
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