According to Nielson, couponing in general has been back in style since 2009. Before that, coupon use had dramatically decreased, but since the Great Recession of 2009, coupon use has grown by more than 27%, with most coupons being used at conventional grocery stores.
Alongside this growing trend of everyday people using coupons once in a while is another trend of Extreme Couponing, made popular by a show on The Learning Channel. Extreme Couponers have been known to hoard large amounts of food, toilet paper, and other essentials because they stock up when they can get more for their coupons. These coupon users can save up to 90% on their grocery bills, but what they do takes dedication and tons of time.
"The extreme couponing shows don't really focus on all the time, effort and money - yes, MONEY (most extreme couponers actually purchase those stacks of coupons they use at checkout) - that go into extreme couponing. An average person doesn't have 8-10 hours a day just to plan a trip to the grocery store," says Karen Hoxmeier, founder of MyBargainBuddy.com.
If you’re just an everyday person looking to trim a few bucks from the grocery bill, you can use some extreme couponing approaches – just without the extremes!
Here are seven tips to get you started with couponing to save on your grocery budget:
- Look for basic ways to save first
Before you clip your first coupon, get the basics of saving on your groceries down, first. One essential step is to actually plan your meals so that you cook with what you have and don’t eat out as often.
Another good step is to get a grocery rewards credit card. You can pay it off every month to avoid interest charges, but grocery rewards cards can give you some serious cash back rewards just for buying the groceries you were going to get anyway. It’s an easy way to save that shouldn’t be missed.
- Buy multiple newspapers
Extreme couponers aren’t content with just one copy of the local Sunday paper, where most of the coupons are. Instead, they usually buy multiple newspapers – the rule of thumb is one per person in your household.
More newspapers equals more coupons, so you’ll definitely want to take advantage of this deal, as long as the cost of the newspaper itself isn’t prohibitive and as long as it runs good specials. Another option is to ask for the coupon sections from the newspapers that friends and family members aren’t going to use.
- Organize your coupons
One huge part of good couponing is organizing your coupons. It’s worthless to clip tons of coupons only to have most of them expire before you get around to using them. There are lots of different methods of coupon organization – binders and baseball card holders are two popular options – so you might want to research online and try out a couple of different options so that you can figure out what works best for you.
"The most important element to cutting your grocery spending is planning ahead. An organized shopping list, combined with careful meal planning, and strategic shopping for deals and coupons can cut your grocery bill in half every week," says Stephanie Nelson, founder of CouponMom.com.
- Know the store’s coupon policies
If you’re going to use coupons to the extreme, chances are likely that you’ll run up against opposition from cashiers and managers who don’t necessarily know their store’s coupon policies.
Before you shop, do some research about stacking manufacturer’s coupons with store sales and coupons, doubling coupon savings, and other options that can help you save even more money. Printing out the store’s policies from its website and carrying a highlighted copy with you might save you time when it comes to (politely) arguing with managers and cashiers about whether or not you can use coupons.
- Make some space
Many couponers will tell you that the best thing you can do is buy when items go on sale, which means you’ll need some room to stock up. The amount of space you have will determine, in part, how extreme your coupon experience gets. But even in a small apartment, you can probably find some spare space in the tops of closets, under beds and other furniture, or by installing extra shelving in the kitchen.
- Buy only what you’ll use
Even when you’re stockpiling items, though, you’ll definitely want to make sure that you’re only buying what you’ll actually use. What’s the point in buying fifteen cans of beans if everyone in your house hates beans? Unless you’re buying items with coupons specifically to donate them to a local food kitchen or another good cause, buying items that you won’t eventually need or use – even when you get those items for next to nothing – only wastes your hard-earned dollars.
"I prefer taking a sensible approach. Only buy items that are on sale, try to stack those items with a coupon and if you don't need it, don't buy it. You'll save 100% with that last tip," says Hoxmeier, who turned her love of couponing and bargain shopping into the website, MyBargainBuddy.com
- Check out online resources
The Internet is full of great resources for couponers, including lots of popular blogs. If you don’t have time to be completely extreme by cataloguing hundreds of clipped coupons, consider signing up for alerts when coupons are published for items that you buy every day at your local stores. Checking out the online resources for coupon clipping and using is one of the first places you should start when deciding how extreme you’re going to coupon for your family.
Josh Elledge, founder of SavingsAngel.com wrote in an email statement, "You will not want to limit yourself to just one or two retailers. The lowest overall shopping bill comes from hitting several local stores and picking up only the best deals at each of them."
Saving money on your grocery bill with coupons isn’t rocket science, and it’s something that many shoppers do on a daily basis. Sure, you have to spend hours clipping and organizing coupons to save 90% on your grocery bill, but you can pretty easily shave off 10%, 15% or even 25% by just taking the time to clip, organize, and use your coupons using tips like these.