I started by reading the free e-books at http://www.couponmom.com (which is free to become a member of) to understand the strategies behind it all. That site is not for the faint of heart - it's a bit complicated. My approach has been simpler because, frankly, I don't have the time to go from store to store looking documenting prices. I started out that way and discovered that Kroger base prices are cheaper than Harris Teeters, but HT's sale prices are better and they double coupons at a higher rate (more on that later). I have been also told that http://www.thegrocerygame.
The basic tenets of my approach are this:
1. Plan your meals
Do your best to plan your meals, at least in general. Plan two to three dinner menus for the week based on what is on-sale for meat and veggies at the grocery store. Make enough at each meal to have at least one night of leftovers, if not more. If you're making a ton (like soup) consider freezing the leftovers to eat on nights you are pressed for time.
Plan what you are going to take for lunch based on what is on-sale as well as what you have coupons for. We take a lot of PB & J - but also leftovers from dinner, or something we can make sunday night and partition into lunch size leftovers like ziti, for example. HT had a buy two get three free sale on cold cuts last week, so we're having sandwiches this week.
We have the same things for breakfast all the time. For example, I often take a light english muffin with peanut butter or cream cheese, a small bag of fruit like grapes or strawberries, and coffee in the car with me to work. I try to buy multiple packages of all of these things when there is a sale, or when I have a coupon or, preferably both. I freeze my english muffins in freezer bags and they are still good to toast later. The light english muffins don't go on sale all that often, so I tend to buy a lot when they are on sale. Cereal sales are great too - when they do triple or super double coupons you can get some as low as 25 cents per box. I never pay more than $2 for a box of cereal of any type in a few months.
2. Get a newspaper delivered
You can just get the Sunday paper if you're getting the News and Observer. Take the "SmartSource" and the "RedPlum" coupon circulars out and write the date at the top of the circulars. Save them. Also save any special coupon circulars like from General Mills or Proctor and Gamble (P&G) and put the date at the top of those.
3. Take advantage of special loyalty or rewards programs at your store
Everyone should have a discount card on their keychain for these stores. If you don't - do it ASAP! If you forget your card they can look it up by your phone number. Also, Enroll in eVIC at http://www.harristeeter.co
4.Print coupons online
Sign up to get emails from Couponmom.com – there are printable coupons on this website and links to other websites with printable coupons. Couponmom will email you when the coupons are “restocked” so you can print new ones each week. You can also specify which items you use the most often and couponmom will give you a heads up when coupons for those things are coming out in your area. Many of these coupons will print out saying "Do not Double or Triple" at the top. But they always seem to double and triple at HT for me with no problem. I wish I had realized this sooner! Some of these coupons can be printed more than once so if it's an item you'd like to stock up on, try to get a few.
Also, sign up for Upromise (google this) – you can link coupons directly to your grocery store card online. The amount of the coupon will be kept in an account that you can transfer to your child's 529 account for college. You will not see this amount deducted from your bill at the store though just FYI - it's just a way to help you save. You can use Upromise at multiple online retailers. Just be sure to check which coupons you signed up for before heading out to the store so you don't foregt about them . These are usually restocked each month.
6. Find coupons for your favorite items and brands
If you are loyal to certain brands, check their websites for coupons and ways to get special orders. You can print coupons from the Stonyfield Farm website for example, and Pampers has a special program where you can enter product codes from things you buy and get “points” toward special coupons and deals on diapers. Luvs diapers coupons are hard to find, but if you sign up on the website you will get some mailed to you. We also get $5 coupons for Hills Science Diet dog food on their website.
7.Save your printed coupons you get when you check out at the grocery store.
ALWAYS check these and the bottom of your receipt in case there are deals you didn't know about on your eVIC card. Last week, I had a coupon print that was $1 off my next order. No specific product to buy. Another was for free YoCrunch yogurt (nothing to buy with it).
8.Use a coupon database (or multiple databases)
After you have all your coupons, check the coupon databases on CouponMom.com when the new prices come out. For Kroger, it's Sundays. For Harris Teeter, it is Wednesdays. You should log in as a member to do this and find the North Carolina stores on the pull down lists. These databases list what is on sale AND what coupons go with those sale items. It tells you which coupon circulars (by date and by type of circular) the coupons came from. The idea is to buy things when they are on sale AND with a coupon to get the lowest prices. Make your shopping list based on what you need and will use, and based on this information. Write a little “c” on your shopping list next to items you have a coupon for.
FYI - Sue Stock makes a list like this every Wednesday called Wednesday Deals you can check out and she keeps a database of all the coupons that come out in the newspaper. You can look up coupons by brand name, and she lists the date and kind of circular the coupon came in (Smart Source, Red Plum, etc.) She also lists expiration dates and prints the ones about to expire in bold.
Not all of your local specials will be on coupon mom, so it's a good idea to look through the weekly specials on the grocery store website and see if you have coupons for those items. This is especially true for printable coupons. Check out Couponing 101 to find more sale and coupon match ups, especially with printable coupons!. Harris Teeter has a nice function where you can click on the sale items you are interested in and it keeps a list for you that you can print or email to yourself.
9.Get a coupon organizer.
You can get them at office supply stores. Keep your printed coupons in there sorted by type of item. Keep any coupons you clipped from the circular but didn't end up using the previous week in the organizer. Have a section in the front for coupons you plan to use that day. Leave the back section open to use as a place to store the coupons you ACTUALLY use at the store. As you pick up the items and put them in your cart, move the coupon you plan to use to this back pocket. (You will almost always end up not using all of your coupons in one trip that you planned to use, either because the store is out of an item or you found a better deal by buying something on sale or that is the store brand.) This way, when you get to the check out, you have a pile of coupons for things that are actually in your cart ready to go. You can also count your coupons more easily – you may need to do this because many stores have a limit on number of coupons allowed in a visit. HT lets you use as many as you want but will only double up to 20 per day.
10. Save BIG with triple or super double coupons!
Pay attention to your grocery store emails and the coupon mom data base as well as this blog: Sue Stock – http://projects.newsobserv
11. Learn and live the coupon rules
Kroger will double coupons every day that are up to 50 cents off (meaning if you have a 45 cent coupon for Cheezits, you can get 90 cents off at Kroger. If you have a coupon that is for 55 cents though, all you get is the 55 cents off.
Harris Teeter doubles coupons every day up to 99 cents. So that 55 cent Cheezits coupon is worth $1.10 off at Harris teeter. That $1.00 coupon for Cheerios though is only work $1.
When Harris Teeter does triple coupons (usually it's for one week only at a time), it's for up to 99 cents. So if you have a 75 cent coupon for Coffee, you would get $2.25 off of that coffee. But if you have $1 coupon for that same coffee, you would still only get $1 off.
When Harris Teeter does super double coupons, it's for up to $1.98. So that $1 coupon you have for the coffee doubles to $2. The 75 cent coupon only doubles to $1.50 though – basically the usual doubling rules are the same, you just get to double those $1 and $1.50 coupons as well as the ones under $1.
As I've said before, I've found that printable coupons that say Do Not Double or Triple almost always DO double or triple. (Really detailed note, you'll notice that some coupons say, Not to be doubled or tripled, or something similar at the top. I've been told that some of those WILL still double if their serial number starts with a 5. If it starts with a 9 though, you're out of luck.)
There is a difference between a “store coupon” (put out by that store) and a “manufacturer's coupon” (put out by the company that makes the product). You can usually "stack" a manufacturer's coupon on top of a store coupon, meaning you can use both at one time. There aren't many “store coupons” out there - Target does these though and you can stack them. I recently had a coupon for $3 off pampers for a Target “store coupon” plus $1.50 off “manufacturer's coupon” so I got a total of $4.50 off the package.
If you miss a Sunday coupon circular, I've been told you can get them again in either the Wednesday or Thursday papers, but I haven't tried this. When this happened to me, I advertised on Craig's list and picked them up (two copies actually) for $2 (the cost of the sunday paper) from someone locally. Keep in mind that if you see many coupons you would plan to use in the Sunday paper, you can always figure out if it would be worth it to buy two papers to get additional coupons. Subscribing to the newspaper is cheaper though and you CAN only subscribe to the Sunday one (not the whole week ) if you want. The N&O is allowing subscribers to get multiple Sunday papers delivered for only $1 extra per paper now - you can check out their website to sign up if you want this deal.
At the store, pay attention to the type of item that coupon is for – it may be a specific type of a product – like not all Colgate toothpastes but only Colgate Total Advanced Fresh. When you get to the store, you should check to make sure that using that coupon will get you the best deals for what you need. If all you need is plain old toothpaste, not this fancy stuff, the plain toothpaste may be cheaper than the fancy one even if you have a coupon for the fancy one. I've been told by a friend who works at a grocery store that sometimes you can buy the plain old toothpaste with the fancy coupon, but you'll have to roll the dice to find out. You can always put the item back.
12. Live and Learn the SALE rules
If something is 2 for $5 it will ring as $2.50 if you just buy 1. Same for any other such offer (e.g., 10 for $10 – you buy one, it will ring as $1 – don't feel you need to buy 10 of them to save unless it's something you use all the time and you want to stock up!) Occasionally there are 10 for 10 deals that require you to buy all 10 like HT's deal this week on store brand items. You can mix and match but you need to buy all 10 to get the deal. There's also a deal this week that you'll get $4 off General Mills cereals if you buy 4. You can use coupons with these deals for extra savings.
Buy one, get one free (otherwise known as BOGO) – most of the time if you just buy one of these it will ring at half price. If you're unsure you can always ask. When there are buy 2 get 3 free deals at HT, you actually do have to buy all 5 to get the deal.
Just because something is on sale doesn't mean it's on sale for it's lowest price or that another brand or the store brand isn't cheaper. Compare the prices before you buy. Make sure cheaper product is what you want though – for example, some breads are 100% whole wheat and others are just “wheat” - the “wheat” ones are cheaper, but usually aren't 100% whole grain. If you have particular feelings about a type of product, try to find coupons or wait until it is on sale to stock up.
13. Don't Get Carried Away...
DON'T buy things just because you have a coupon unless you REALLY think you will use it and it is REALLY cheap. I usually look over my cart one last time before heading to the check out to make sure I don't need to put anything back. The only other exception to that rule is if the item is FREE because it's on sale and you have a coupon. Then, you might as well get it, even if all you do is donate it to a local food pantry. I get free items kind of frequently because it is on sale and a doubled coupon exceeds the amount it costs during the sale.
14. Double Check Your Savings
When checking out, make sure all the sales you had planned on and coupons ring up correctly. If you notice any problems you can always go to customer service to get it fixed. Sometimes this will get you an item FREE. Keep in mind that you may need to wait until the whole receipt is printed out to be sure this happens. The receipts can be somewhat difficult to read - usually you'll see the VIC savings right underneath the item, then the coupons will show up later. Meal of the week deals usually show up a little strangely, with some items showing up free and other items showing up at a discount.
15. Be aware of special promotions
Harris Teeter is doing a promotion this year that if you spend $75 per week for 16 out of 18 weeks before the holidays you can get two $50 gift cards to almost any store you want. I almost didn't hit my $75 mark during triple coupons, but ended up needing to pick up something extra just before the price week ended. If you think you might not make the $75 in an upcoming week, put off purchasing something you need that you know won't change prices (e.g., I put off buying oatmeal which is cheapest when you buy the HT version, so I could make $75 the next week - I knew it would be the same price whether I bought it this week or next, and it wasn't a desperate need). I'm not saying to buy extra stuff just to make it, and you do get two by weeks. But just be aware of "when" you are spending. You don't need to make the 75 all in one trip either, just within the same week.
15. Don't forget to re-organize when you're done
After shopping, be sure to refile your unused coupons and throw out any expired ones. Then brag about your savings! ;-) Hope this is helpful to people - I know that I have had a blast seeing how much I can save. It does take time, but it has cut down tremendously on our bill. We also stock up on things when they are cheap and have less to buy later.