1. The Basics
Where to Find Grocery Coupon Matches (updated every Wednesday)
Where to Find Drugstore Coupon Matches (updated every Monday)
Where to Find Retailer Coupons and Sales (updated every Tuesday and Thursday)
3. Advanced (but not difficult!)
5 Easy Steps To Start Couponing
1. Subscribe to the Sunday newspaper, which comes with coupons. Sunday newspaper coupons are often called the “insert.” If you don’t want to subscribe, you may receive coupons from the three major coupon distributors — RedPlum.com (RP), SmartSource.com (SS), and PGeSaver.com (PG) – in the mail. If not, check out our Coupon Database.
2. Quickly flip through the inserts and clip any coupons that you are absolutely sure you will use no matter if the item is on sale this week. (I used to recommend clipping every single coupon and filing by category but that is not as efficient as this method). If you are short on time, skip Step 3 and just file the insert by distributor and date. For example, RP 11/11/12 or SS 11/25/12.
3. File the rest of the inserts in one folder, noting the publication date. (i.e. Feb. 28, 2010).
4. Look for sales in the store circulars that arrive by mail or in your inbox if you have signed up for store email lists. Circle sale items that you want to buy. Make your grocery list based on what items are on sale. Get an even bigger discount by matching sale items with your coupons. This is called coupon “matching” or coupon “stacking.”
Now you know which items are on sale and you have saved lots of coupons. You just need to pull the right coupons from your files. Check the Coupon Database for the coupon publish date, then pull it from your files.
To help you find coupon matches, we publish the best matches from 15 grocery stores around the country every Wednesday. See the most recent grocery coupon matches here.
To get an idea of how much you can save by coupon matching, check out my extreme couponing adventure.
5. Take your coupons to the store and buy when the item is on sale! It always helps to be especially nice to the cashier when you are using a lot of coupons. Sometimes their cooperation can make a big difference in your total bill.
How to Motivate Yourself to Use Coupons
It’s easy to fall off the coupon clipping wagon. Heck! It’s hard to GET ON the coupon clipping wagon. Here are a few ways to make it a cinch.
- Turn coupon clipping into a game.Appeal to your competitive side by seeing who in your household or pool of frugal friends can save the most on their groceries.
- Set a time limit. Part of the reason I put off coupon clipping is that in my mind the task will take forEVER. Instead, set the kitchen time for 15 minutes and madly tear through the newspaper coupon inserts and websites to print coupons. I find it easier to focus and get started on a task if I have a firm deadline.
- Create a reward. Tell yourself that if you can save $10 on groceries by using coupons, you’ll get to spend $5 on a fancy latte or frozen yogurt. Save the other half. Sets appropriate dollar amounts for your situation and chose a reward that motivates you.
- Clip with buddies. Sounds ridiculously domestic, right? But I like to think of it as harnessing girl power. Gather your frugal friends for a coupon clipping gab-fest! Set out a dish for coupons folks want to swap.
How else do you motivate yourself to clip coupons?
UPDATE: One reader said she gets her kids involved! Whatever money she saves from the coupons they clip go toward whatever they are saving for (currently, a Nintendo Wii). Here’s her video about it.
How to Organize Coupons
For a long time I organized my grocery coupons by stuffing the entire insert into a manila file folder and marking it with the month and date the flyer arrived with the Sunday newspaper. (If you get your coupons in the regular mail, look for a teeny tiny date printed at the very top of the crease on the cover).
But that used a lot of folders.
The folders took up space and it was a waste to mark them up, even if I could cover the date with a sticker and mark them up again. Did I need to use so many folders and stickers?
It occurred to me that I could just as easily mark my weekly coupons with a single sticky note and paper clip, see above. After marking the date on the sticky and securing it with a paper clip, I shove the coupon insert into a drawer by my desk, where I can grab them and flip to the insert I need.
Why do coupon clippers file the inserts by date?
Savvy coupon clippers file their inserts by date because bloggers who spend time matching coupons with sales to find free and heavily discounted groceries (called coupon matching), list the coupon you need to get the deal by the date it was published. Here is an example from Bargain Briana.
Carnation Evaporated Milk $0.94
$0.50/2 Carnation Evaporated Milk 11/14/2010 RP Insert (exp 12/31/2010)
Final Price: $0.69/each
The price of the milk is $.94, plus there is a $.50 off two coupon in the Nov. 14, 2010 Red Plum insert. With the coupon, the final price is $.69.
Other ways to organize coupons, as suggested by readers.
These suggestions are for if you only clip coupons as needed, i.e. the least amount of clipping of all methods:
- Grab a sharpie and write the name of the insert and the date at the top
- Staple each insert along the fold at the top and bottom
- Use a clothespin to keep each insert together
- Put each insert in it’s own hanging file
- Buy a cheap file box and sort coupons by date
- Punch each insert with a 3-punch hole, and file in a 3-ring binder
These suggestions are for folks who clip coupons they plan to use later:
- Buy a cheap file box and sort coupons by category
- Make your own coupon binder using baseball card holders and a large 3-ring binder
- Purchase a coupon organizer and use its filing system
How to Use the Coupon Database
Why should I use the Coupon Database?
Because it brings thousands of grocery and drugstore coupons together in one place. No need to visit Coupons.com, then SmartSource.com, then”¦My Coupon Database pulls from dozens of coupon sources and is the most complete database of coupons that I know of!
How do I use the free Coupon Database?
1. Go to the Coupon Database. (It’s in the drop down menu under Coupons.)
2. Browse the grocery and drugstore coupons.
3. If a coupon is underlined, click on it to print. If a coupon is not underlined, the Coupon Database will tell you which insert to pull from your stash to find the desired coupon. Voila! It’s that easy.
How do I narrow down a coupon search?
Narrow down your search by typing a word like “bread” in the Description box, or by choosing a specific Coupon Source. You can also search by the date the coupon was released, the value of the coupon, or how long ago a coupon expired.
What do the terms in the Coupon Source drop down menu refer to?
These terms tell you where the coupon came from. Most of them come from a specific store flyer.
Insert = coupons that come in the Sunday paper.
Cellfire ecoupons = mobile coupons you can print out.
Magazine Coupons = various coupons that you can find in mags like Glamour, All You, and many more.
Why can’t I see the entire Coupon Database on my screen?
I’m annoyed, too. For some reason, we cannot change the width of the Coupon Database so it fits horizontally into the screen.
What are the links at the top of the Coupon Database?
The Getting Started, Organization, and Store Coupons buttons take you to posts on BargainBabe.com that explain these topics!
How do I print coupons from the Coupon Database?
To print a coupon, click on the link under Source Name or Description for the coupon you want. It should be underlined. The link will take you to the coupon source or retailer’s website. You may need to install a coupon printer, but once it’s installed you won’t ever have to do this step again.
If there is no underline under Source Name or Description, it means there is no direct printing available. But you can use the Source Date and Source Name to find the coupon in your newspaper insert, store flyer, or magazine.
Even if you already receive coupon inserts in the mail or with your Sunday newspaper, like EllieD, you can use our Coupon Database to print multiples of coupons.
Does it cost money?
No! The Coupon Database is completely free. I pay a monthly fee to have My Coupon Database on BargainBabe.com and receive a small fee when you print a coupon. Thank you for helping me make blogging my full time job!
UPDATE: Reader Renee says My Coupon Database has been a huge help. She writes:
Thank you for organizing and sharing the coupon database. You have saved my family so much money ! Your site is a blessing to us.
Buying and Trading Coupons
- You can buy coupons on CouponsandForms.com, thecouponmaster.com and thecouponclippers.com (though technically you’re paying a processing fee because buying coupons is illegal). These are safe sites to buy from. I have used all but The Coupon Clippers.
- Never buy printable online coupons because they could be fakes. Make sure you are buying hard copies of coupons from the Sunday paper or other hard copies, like those received through the mail.
- Be wary of buying coupons on eBay.
- Trade coupons online at ecoupons.com/grocery. Mail in 25 coupons and you’ll get 25 of your choosing in return.
- Trade directly with other frugal fellows at refundsweepers.com, swapsavers.com, or couponforum.com
- Start a coupon train by mailing envelopes of coupons to friends each week
Form Letter to Request Coupons
I started by searching for my favorite brands online. I found that many — like Kashi and Stoneyfield — offered limited numbers of product coupons for customers who joined a “loyalty” club or signed up for a newsletter. Since I already had an email account dedicated specifically to couponing, I opted in, immediately gaining access to the companies’ printable coupon databases.
But not all companies offered printable coupons online. For example, Bolthouse Farms and SunButter — who make several of my kids’ favorite foods — didn’t have an option like this. Getting coupons for these products forced me to go to extreme measures.
My Letter-Writing Campaign
Since I couldn’t get to the coupons, I decided to make the coupons come to me. I looked up the contact information for these companies’ PR reps, then sent off emails. I didn’t really request free coupons, per se — rather, I beat around the bush. Here’s a template for what I said:
Dear use name of PR rep if possible,
My family and I are huge fans of insert name of product. We buy it almost every time we go to the grocery store. The _____ flavor is my daughter’s favorite.
I used to clip coupons for it in my Sunday newspaper, but haven’t been able to find any recently. Do you have any idea where I could find some? We’d love to continue to be able to buy your product, but, as I’m sure you’re well aware, times are tough and every penny counts.
Thank you so much for your help,
The response was instantaneous and unanimous. Every company that I sent a letter responded by asking me for my mailing address so they could send me coupons of their products. One company went above and beyond my expectations, sending me three coupons for free products, as well as several coupons for $0.75 or more off (which, of course, my grocery store will double).
Joining a Coupon Train
A reader named Kali left an intriguing comment about how she motivates herself to clip coupons, which, you may remember, is not one of my favorite activities. I talked to her recently about a growing trend called coupon trains.
What is a coupon train? It’s simple circle of coupon clippers who send their excess coupons to each other, around and around.
How much time to you spend each week on the coupon train? About an hour. But that’s not an more then I would normally spend clipping coupons for myself.
How does it work? You have somewhere between 5 and 10 coupon clippers. I know there are ones that go across the country. Smaller generally works better. The larger the train, the more coupons that get through, but it takes longer for the train to come visit each station. Everybody sends an envelope every week. The idea is you send a new one each week, and you get one envelope each week. Generally you send the coupons to the next person on the list unless you know someone is on vacation, or if someone had a baby, you can send them specialty coupons.
I’ve been in two coupon trains. One failed completely. It was a large one. It was all over the East Coast, up the entire seaboard and it took forever. People forgot. In my opinion from what I’ve seen 5-10 people works the best. It also helps if there’s wide range of people in it. If everyone is a mom with a 2 year old, everybody wants the same coupons.
Doesn’t the cost of postage outweigh the savings? It’s 44 cents to mail an envelope. Letter size envelope can only take 3 ounces. For every envelope I probably spend $1.25 on postage. I may buy a bigger envelope at the post office, which is $.50. But if I’m pulling $20 worth of coupons each week and I’m spending $2, I’m still saving. People who don’t use a lot of coupons would not be happy with this.
How much have you saved from the train? My biggest one is shaving razors. I got a buy one get one free coupon. They usually run about $7 apiece. And sometimes they stuff extra razors in the bag. I’ve gotten $4 off Claritin, BOGO free pizza. I’ve probably saved well over $100 a month.
How many coupons do you receive in your train? Probably at least one letter size envelope that has at least 100 coupons, on a slow week.
How many do you use? It really depends on the week. I pull $10-$20 worth of coupons from the envelope.
Do you use all coupons you take? Almost always. I’m very picky about my coupons.
How many coupons do you have to add to the train each week? I usually add about 100 per week. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes more.
How did you find a train to join? Through TheGroceryGame.com, but a lot of other places do it too. People form them on Craigslist, soccer moms at schools organize them. TheGroceryGame has a specific forum for it and encourages it. It does not cost money to join. Most of them are (paid) members of the site but I do believe the actual message board on TheGroceryGame is free.
Do you know the people in your train? No, not personally.
Do you have safety concerns? I did at first, but my train is very careful to only send out the addresses to the people who need them. In my train, everyone potentially only has one other person in your train who knows your address. Plus the person who receives your envelope.
Anything else you want to add? They’re not any more work – if you normally clip coupons. It’s not a huge commitment.
How to Spot a Fake Coupon
A long time reader who shares coupons with me almost everyday emailed me a deal that was highly suspicious, which gave me the idea for this blog post. Here are nine telltale signs of a fake deal. The fake coupon she sent me is shown above.
1. The deal is too good to be true. In this case, the coupon was for a totally free 12-pack of Coca Cola without any purchase. Yeah, right. Red flag.
2. The expiration date was six months out for a totally free deal. Major red flag. In general the better the deal, the less time it is available.
3. The coupon is a pdf, which are especially easy to manipulate and tamper with. Not all pdf coupons are fakes, but this is a yellow flag.
4. The coupon has someone else’s name or email address on it. Identifiers like these mean the merchant wants to limit coupon sharing and may ask for identification. Then again, they may not. No flag, but embarrassment potential.
5. The coupon has no expiration date. I’ve seen plenty of legit coupons with no expiration date, which is a major oversight (read: idiot move) by merchants. You can argue until your face is blue that the coupon is valid, but a merchant may not honor it anyway. Yellow flag.
6. The coupon has a fake logo or the wrong font. Merchants and brand owners are extremely careful to use consistent fonts, colors, and logos. If something looks off, it may have been doctored with software like Photoshop. Red flag.
7. The coupon was scanned from paper. It can be difficult to tell is an online coupon is a scanned image. Look for hazy tone, unexplained lines, marks, or blotches. Paper coupons are not meant to be scanned and emailed across the globe. Many merchants do not accept online coupons because of this practice. Yellow flag.
8. The coupon did not have a UPC code, which means it can’t be traced. Red flag.
9. The coupon is from the Internet, which makes it slightly suspicious because online coupons are easier to fabricate. Many stores no longer accept any kind of Internet coupon because of scammers. Yellow flag.
19 Ways to Save Without Using Coupons
No matter how I find ways to cut my grocery bill, it always seems too high. Sound familiar? I put together a list of my favorite ways to save on groceries in hopes of digging up a few more dollars. Please add your tips by leaving a comment.
1. Shop on a full stomach and with a list so you’re less inclined to buy extras.
2. Buy ahead of need. If it’s on super sale get an extra cart. Who cares if other people give you the stink eye?
3. Be a freezer diva. Like, I can totally stuff more meat into my freezer than you can!
4. If you stock up, make sure the items you buy freeze well. Bargain hunting can bite you in the bum.
5. Coupons, coupons, coupons. Clip them from the mail and print them online.
6. Don’t be fooled into thinking any one store – even Costco – has the best prices on everything. (If they did, we would all shop there and everyone else would go out of biz.)
7. Compare prices on the 20-30 things you buy most often. Once you know which stores typically have the best prices on each of those items, you’re set. (In my neck of the woods, Trader Joe’s has the best prices on milk, eggs and butter. Albertsons super sales have the best prices on meat, and ethnic grocers have the best prices for fruit and veggies. Everything else is a toss up.)
8. At the end of the month if you run out of grocery money, eat out of your pantry and freezer. Get create with recipes or turn to leftoverchef.com.
9. Check meat prices with the butcher. The pre-packaged stuff is not always the lowest priced.
10. Eat veggies in season. They are more likely to be on sale.
11. Check out your local farmers. How important is price v. benefit of eating locally grown food v. value of organic produce to you?
12. Grow your own herbs, which can be super expensive.
13. Write the manufacturer of products you love, explain how loyal you are and ask for coupons.
14. Check your receipt. Clerks and machines make mistakes all the time. If you catch an error ask them nicely to make it up to you.
15. Go vegetarian when possible. Protein from vegetarian sources like soy and beans is about a $1 cheaper per person per meal than animal protein.
16. Join the loyalty program at every grocery store.
17. Treat food as a discretionary item, not a necessity. Grocery stores are packed with luxuries. Hello organic milk? Fancy cheese? Prime rib?
18. Snoop around until you find the day-old bread rack. Freeze/eat within 12 hours or prepare for an invasion of green mold.
19. Shop based around meals you plan to make that week. Mid-week trips to grab one missing item can result in many extra purchases. Gum is on sale!
20. Invest in re-usable grocery bags. Many stores give you a discount for bringing your own bags.
Embarrass Your Husband by Saving So Much
I needed potatoes. So on our way home, my husband and I stopped by Stop & Shop to grab the one ingredient I needed to make my mom’s beef stew.
$102 later we walked out of the store.
“You should do the grocery shopping more,” my husband said. “You’re a better shopper.”
“Are you kidding? We just spent $102,” I said. “You would have come home with a $3 bag of potatoes.”
No matter who is the “better” shopper, we did score some amazing deals to the tune of 33% off our total bill. I’m proudest of the 20-ounce boxes of Raisin Bran we snagged for $1 each. Here’s how we did it.
$2.99 per box of Stop & Shop brand Raisin Brand (20 ounces each)
Save $1 per box as part of a weekly sale
Save $5 for every five boxes we bought (which works out to $1 off per box)
We bought 10 boxes for $1 each! There were only 10 boxes on the shelf so we took them all. They expire in July 2012 so we have PLENTY of time to eat everything.
Having cleared the shelf, I sympathized with Extreme Couponers who have been maligned for doing the same thing. I really got a thrill getting so much cereal that I love to eat for a great price!
The best part was seeing my husband’s face at checkout.
“This is so embarrassing,” he said, loading our cache of cereal onto the counter.
I laughed. “You mean because we are getting a great deal?”
My Incredible Stop & Shop Score!
For $6.16 I obtained some three dozen coupons online, including shipping. Yesterday, I used half of them at Stop & Shop to score big.
On the advice of long time reader and coupon savant Evie, I purchased coupons online at CouponsandForms.com instead of using TheCouponMaster. (CouponsandForms is a nominally better site, but the minimum purchase is $5, as opposed to $3 at TheCouponMaster.)
Loading so many of each item made me feel like I was on Extreme Couponing. Would the cashier accept all my coupons??? Oh, the drama!
My cart rang up to $65.67 but I paid just $40.43. That’s 39% off!!!
Everything in the picture was purchased on sale and with a coupon – except for the deodorant, which I had I coupons for but they didn’t ring up and I didn’t notice the mistake until I had loaded all the groceries in the car, returned the cart, and strapped the baby into her carseat. I would like to go back today, return the deodorant, and re-purchase them to make sure the coupons go through (I have extras.) My total savings would have been even bigger had I noticed this error.
The deals I got:
- Contadina crushed tomatoes 32 oz on sale for 4/$5
- I purchased four and used a $1/4 coupon
- Final price: $1 per can
- Goya black and pink beans on sale for $.79 each
- I purchased 25 and used six $1/4 coupons (I meant to buy 24)
- Final price: $.54 each
- Nestle Morsels were on sale 2/$5
- I bought 10 bags of chocolate chips and used 10 $.50 off coupons
- Each coupon doubled to $1 off
- Final price: $1.50 each!
- Old Spice deodorant sticks on sale for $2.99
- My $1 off coupons did not ring up for some reason
- I need to go back today and clear things up
These sale prices end TODAY at Stop & Shop so hurry out if you want to take advantage of these deals. If you shop at another grocery store, check out our weekly round up of grocery coupon matches. We link to the best matches for 15 different grocery stores around the country.