Wield Grocery Coupons Like A Pro

Becoming a committed coupon wielder is one of the best ways to reverse the damage of rising costs and shrinking portions. Nancy Rivera Brooks has slashed $250 from her family’s grocery bill this year by using a handful of tricks to get the most from her coupons…

  • Make A List: Bet you never guessed this would be the first item. Always, always, always make a list. Any gain from coupons is easily offset by wasteful list-free shopping.
  • Know Your Prices: You can’t tell if you’re getting a good deal if you don’t keep track of prices. Diehards rely on spreadsheets and pounce with coupons when prices plummet.
  • Stockpile!: If it isn’t perishable, buy without shame. Reach high and aim for your pantry ceiling.
  • Get Organized: Highlight coupon expiration dates to avoid checkout counter letdown.
  • Be Selective: Coupons don’t automatically mean savings. Compare discounted prices against other brands and generics to make sure you’re getting the best price.
  • Use Multiple Coupon Sources: The Sunday paper is still the most popular coupon source, but that shouldn’t keep you from checking sites like CouponMom.com, TheGroceryGame.com, and MyCoupons.com.
  • Combine Coupons: Mix manufacturer’s coupons with store coupons for extra savings.
  • Leverage Loyalty Programs: We don’t like grocers tracking everything we buy, but we do love the savings they offer loyal customers. We always happen to conveniently forget our card at home, and cashiers are always more than willing to swipe through their spare discount card.
  • Pay Attention: Look for “redeem now” coupons stuck on products for extra savings.
  • Be Shameless: Dented can? Ask the manager for a discount.
  • Ask For Coupons: Take a minute to whip-up a gushing letter of praise for your favorite brand. They’ll send you coupons as thanks.

All this work to buy cheap food really makes us reconsider foraging. Is that berry poisonous? No? Boom, lunch! We don’t live near bushes, so share your expert coupon-wielding tips in the comments.

Confessions of a dedicated coupon clipper [The Los Angeles Times]
(Photo: Getty)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. I'm a tweeple too! says:

    re: forgetting you club card

    Ralph’s & Vons (my local grocer chain) files by telephone number, if you forget your card see if keying in your telephone number works. Also go to your grocer website, I’ve registered and I get coupons electronically added to my club card – I either have them auto added as specials or I go to their web pages log in and click the special coupons and they automatically electronically add…

  2. JulesNoctambule says:

    My husband jokes that when I die, he’s going to have my headstone inscribed with ‘Wait, wait — I think I have a coupon!’.

    Jokes aside, we managed to save over $900 last year on groceries through a combination of coupons, sales and smart shopping (and yes, I did save our receipts for the thrill of totaling it all!). Considering we buy the bulk of our grocery purchases at the local farmer’s market, I think we did rather well between the two of us when it came time for the supermarket items.

  3. ShortBus says:

    Saving $250 over the course of 221 days doesn’t sound that impressive. If you’re spending more than an hour a week clipping coupons, you’re working for minimum wage.

    @JulesNoctambule: Saving $900/yr definitely seems more worthwhile.

  4. r4__ says:

    At Target (the one I tried this at, at least), dented cans aren’t salable due to fear of botulism. So the person you ask for a discount will just call someone else over to find a non-dented one.

  5. JulesNoctambule says:

    @ShortBus:

    It certainly was! We also take the amount saved at each shopping trip out of our checking account and put it into savings instead, so at the end of the year there’s a nice little bonus waiting. I highly recommend it.

  6. moviefan2020 says:

    Has the grocery shrink hit coupons? It seems that there are less coupons available in the Sunday paper. Any one else notice that?

  7. moviefan2020 says:

    Whoops – Grocery shrink RAY – :)

  8. pda_tech_guy says:

    Shop at Ralph’s (or kroger), I dont know about Kroger, but out in the west coast where we have Ralph’s, they offer double coupons every day. meaning, if your coupon says 1 dollar off, you actually get 2 dollars off! I saved $47.00 this week with a combination of Sunday Paper coupons and Club Card discounts. My bill went from $157 to $110, and I have the receipts to prove it. I go grocery shopping twice a week, so lets see, lets say I save on average $100 dollars a month, times 12, that is $1,200 a year that I save on groceries, and all for being a cheap ass!

  9. RandomHookup says:

    Yeah, $250 a year isn’t much of a savings for using coupons. I would think $250 a month is more like it. Heck, I’ve easily averaged $250 a week in free groceries sometimes…most of it ends up donated or sold to my neighbor for next to nothing. But I’m ready for the coming food crisis.

  10. v12spd says:

    Dont always count on the cashiers card to swipe the same as yours. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen rock bottom sale prices in the flyers for Jewel, with card of course, and when the cashier swipes their employee card a different/higher price shows up for them. They remedy the situation quickly if you notice it, so its not a scam or anything, the employees just get different discounts I suppose. So just keep an eye on that screen and make sure you throw that card in your wallet to save yourself the hassle.

  11. RandomHookup says:

    @moviefan2020: You’re right that there don’t seem to be as many coupons on Sundays. One trick is to go to “off 2″ coupons, making you buy more.

  12. bnelson333 says:

    Being shameless is something a lot of people forget about, or are too shy to try.

    E.g. once I was buying new tires for our bikes (4 total) and asked the guy how much he’d knock off if I bought 4. He ended up taking about $20 off the total.

    It never hurts to ask, the worst that can happen is they say no and you pay the price you were going to pay anyway.

  13. balthisar says:

    Someone here turned me on to thegrocerygame.com. Let me return the favor. Go there, try the $1, four week trial, and you’ll be a committed couponer, stockupper, and sales tracker. Heck, they pretty much do everything but clip the coupons for you.

    I used to blow off coupons/sales/etc, saying that they were just for people that needed to squeeze every penny (I’m lucky, and don’t squeeze out of need). But by using the site’s methodologies, I’ve save real, significant money I can use for other purposes.

  14. balthisar says:

    Oh, I’ve meant to add, it also disciplines me to do my shopping on Tuesday nights instead of weekends, freeing up my weekends. And instead of going out to eat on the weekends, we go out after grocery shopping, and avoid the crowds and enjoy price specials.

    Finally, we’ve always stocked up, and only went for groceries when it was time to restock (three to four weeks). It meant buying fruits and veggies in larger quantities, and while we didn’t have much waste, the quality suffered after a few weeks. Now the weekly shopping means we always have fresh fruits and veggies.

  15. @strega: the point isn’t about forgetting your card… the point is that Carey doesn’t like having the grocery stores tracking what he buys.

  16. julieannie says:

    It’s kind of hard in my area because we have no stores with loyalty programs or cards. The closest bonus I get is in my Entertainment book I have a coupon to get $5 off a $50 gift card. That’s why I keep ending up at Aldi instead.

    @moviefan2020: I’ve definitely noticed a cutback. Two things in my paper keep getting smaller- the coupons and the job listings.

  17. Cyclokitty says:

    I don’t use many coupons — they’re not that popular in Canada. Definitely not double coupon days… sheesh that would be amazing!

    Since I do most of my grocery shopping trips by bike, I ride to the store a few times a week. It’s a little tricky balancing out the groceries in panniers and basket, but I do take advantage of every sale possible.

    When I do gather coupons I am always surprised by how much it adds up in savings. One month I received a number of coupons for toiletries, paper towels, and several for Glad bag products. Saved about $10 because I stocked up on sandwich and freezer bags, toilet paper, shampoo, soap, dish soap etc etc! But, once again, most often the only chance I get to gather coupons is if one comes attached to a product or in the mail. I rarely see any in the newspaper.

    @balthisar: Totally with you here. It’s so much easier not shopping on Saturday. I stock up on the non-perishables and canned/bottled groceries whenever possible.

  18. kinamoto says:

    If you’re concerned about stores tracking your buying habits, there’s no rule that says the application for a store card has to involve real information.

  19. AmericaTheBrave says:

    I used to pay to use the Grocery Game, but canceled because she’s actually getting her lists from The Coupon Mom, which is free. Save your $10 every 8 weeks and just use the Coupon Mom site.

  20. youbastid says:

    @pda_tech_guy: Ralph’s no longer doubles coupons that are greater in value than 50 cents. It broke my heart.

    @ShortBus: Clipping coupons takes about 10 minutes each time. I save, on averave, $10 to $20 every time I go grocery shopping, which is about 2x a month, and I’m only shopping for 2 people.

  21. HooFoot says:

    Coupons are a scam. They’re almost always for expensive, brand name, processed food. You can save more money by buying generic brand names staples, plus fresh vegetables and meat and cooking your own meals from scratch.

    And be careful of some of those coupon printing software programs that are available for free online. They are full of spyware.

  22. @ShortBus: meh. I clip while watching Sunday night TV (Simpsons, etc.), which I’d be doing anyway.

    My clipping noticeably falls off int he summer when there is no good Sunday night TV.

  23. StoneKitten says:

    I’d rather work a few extra hours and shop at Whole Foods.
    Healthier bod equals a happier Copper.

  24. StoneKitten says:

    @HooFoot: damn straight.
    oh wow let me save money on high sodium, high fructose MSG laden crap.

  25. eelmonger says:

    Doing everything on this list and only saving $250 a year sounds like a big waste of time. People have to remember that while saving money is good, your time is extremely valuable too. Clipping coupons is fine and doesn’t take much time, but if it costs me $50 a year in savings to not maintain a coupon spreadsheet, I’m OK with that.

  26. snoop-blog says:

    @HooFoot: Agreed. The only way you can say that you saved money is if you only buy name brand stuff, and so the coupons made the name brand stuff cheaper. Generics are better deals without the coupons even.

  27. mythago says:

    @HooFoot: there are also coupons for non-food items where you wouldn’t want to buy the ‘generic’ brands – like deodorant, or tampons.

  28. timmus says:

    Coupons, for some people, are a classic example of opportunity cost. If you work at home you might make more money writing a manuscript or working with a client than messing with coupons. A lot of people forget that time is a nonrenewable resource.
    [en.wikipedia.org]

  29. imwm says:

    @HooFoot: If you don’t know what you’re doing, that is correct. If you look out for sales, double coupons, combine it with loyalty programs like CVS Extra Bucks, you can profit.

    Yesterday alone I got 2 sticks of Sure deodorant, 8 bags of Bliss chocolate, and 6 bottles of Perrier free.

  30. snoop-blog says:

    Wasn’t the lady in the pic in the Black Hole Sun video? She is scary!

  31. JulesNoctambule says:

    @Copperplum: I cook from scratch and avoid HFCS, and yet I use coupons. In fact, I manage to save quite a bit of money with them, all while not buying things like Hot Pockets or Kool-Aid.

    Seventy-five cents off organic pasta that’s already on sale plus Harris Teeter will double the coupon? Hell yes. I get to be a food snob *and* save money! Let me tell you, it’s the best of both worlds.

  32. TonyTriple says:

    Does anyone remember when coupons were good for just ONE of a certain item instead of requiring the purchase of TWO or more? When did it change? Where’s the Coupon Shrink Ray?

  33. I use coupons mostly for non food products. I go through obscene amounts of shampoo, body wash, tooth paste, toothbrushes and conditioner. If it wasn’t for coupons I’d be stuck with the crap brands or going without. With them I get most of my stuff for free or nearly free. It’s worth the time and effort.

  34. MaliBoo Radley says:

    I got about 50 dollars of my grocery shopping today. I had a coupon for Kroger. With every new or transfered prescription I brought to the pharmacy, I got 20 bucks of groceries. Since I just came from the doctor, I had 2 prescriptions that qualified. In addition to some coupons I already had and some bonus card purchases, I ended up spending 14 bucks on on 62 dollars worth of groceries. It was a good day.

    Generally speaking, I only use coupons for non-food items, since I eat mostly organic and non-processed. But I do save a lot of money on sundry/toiletry items!

  35. Anticitizen says:

    Just would like to add this.

    At some stores (I’m looking in Safeway’s direction here) the employees get a 10% discount off corporate brand products.

    At my little store here, we generally don’t care, but if you visit a store where things are uptight, it’s actually against policy to have the checker use their card for you, and they could potentially get suspended or terminated.

    Reason for this? The 10% discount.

    Plus, as the first commenter said, we can do it by phone number. Just make sure you call the number on the bottom of the receipt if you are a new club member. That’ll get them to link your phone number to your card within 24 hours, rather than a month or so.

  36. allthatsevil says:

    @radleyas: I have those same coupons and two prescriptions to transfer. I love Kroger’s! I’ve saved $50 on one trip in the past, using a combination of their coupons, manufacturer coupons, and their sale items. And it was all stuff we use, not crap we’d never tried before. Too bad I’ll be moving up North to an area with no Krogers.

    You can also sign up on kraftfoods.com (for free) to try new products for free, and then review them. They’ll either send me a full-sized product in the mail, a coupon to get it free in the store, or sometimes both. You have to have an account on their site (also free), and then somewhere on the site you can sign up to review their products. I don’t remember where it is on the site, it might be one of the options when you create your profile. That’s how I found out that South Beach Living meal bars are disgusting, and the South Beach Living dark chocolate-covered soy nuts are really good.

  37. StellaSquash says:

    I routinely get free toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, etc… with coupons.

    I only use the food coupons on things I’d buy anyway. Healthy or not, I’m buying bush’s baked beans and with coupons I can get a can for 25 cents.

  38. My grocery store sometimes has coupons right in their circular to cut out, saying that they’ll TRIPLE any coupon in a certain catergory, and it changes weekly. A couple weeks ago, it was health/beauty stuff. I have a ball, then!

  39. *category, geeesh — my bad, yo.

  40. ShortBus says:

    @kinamoto: Stores got wise to this about 2 days after “rewards programs” were invented. Now they just cross-reference your membership number to the credit cards(s) or checking account number that you use to pay.

    Problem solved (unless the shopper never uses anything but cash, of course).

  41. Sherryness says:

    I used to do the coupon thing big-time (considering starting up again) – and what I did to avoid letting a coupon expire was to not only file all coupons alphabetically, but then also file by expiration date if I had more than one of the same kind of coupon. That way I would always use the soonest-to-expire first.

  42. Amelie says:

    @Copperplum: Too bad you don’t notice the “Healthy Coupon” booklets at Whole Foods and other stores. The last one I got had $1 off coupons for Stoneyfield Yogurt, Barbara’s Cereal, Kashi Cereal and Organic Valley dairy products.

  43. DantePD says:

    Coupons are a scam?

    Okay then, I won’t tell you how awesome it was to get 4 regular sized bottles of Pert Plus for $1.25 (all tax). You sure as crap can’t do that with store brands. :P

  44. guilliam says:

    I LOVE coupons! In the last week I got 6 Free Lady Speed Stick deoderants and 5 Schick Intuition razor refills for $9.99 (regular price is $9.99 EACH)!! Plus many others but those are my best deals this week!

  45. Paul B says:

    @ShortBus: I use 3 different cards with different names, and have never had a problem in any of the stores I shop (Kroger,Farm Fresh,Harris Teeter). What you describe would prevent you from lending your card to the person ahead or behind you, which happens all the time.
    And just a tip for those not paranoid enough about privacy(thanks kinamoto for reminding me),it’s only a matter of time before your health insurance company is able to access these records via HIPAA. And adjusts your deductables accordingly.

  46. sabrinad says:

    I’ve been doing The Grocery Game for about 2 months now, and have saved roughly half on all of my groceries and toiletries. In fact, now that I’m stocked up, I mostly hit up the free stuff and fresh produce.

    As for those complaining that coupons only give you a discount on bad food — guys, no one is twisting your arm and forcing you to buy the MSG-brand Corn Syrup Surprise! even if it is a quarter for a month’s supply. You aren’t forced to buy things you won’t or don’t want to use just because you have a coupon. The entire point of this exercise is to be aware of what you are using and what you are buying, and work it to your best advantage — not to buy crap just because it’s on sale. And if you think that only junk food is on sale with coupons, you must not have looked at your Sunday paper in a while — I get lots of organic and health food items. And quite a few really nice personal care items that I wouldn’t be able to justify otherwise that, with coupons and sales, come out dirt cheap.

    Not to mention, maybe the best side effect I’ve noticed of using coupons is that I no longer sleep-walk through the supermarket, grabbing whatever. I have tried new brands for things I use, and new things I hadn’t used before (because I got them for free!), and I am now a black-belt at unit price comparisons. I don’t get surprised at the checkout anymore, and I don’t spend more than I am prepared to spend.

    And now, this week’s lists just came out so I have to go check out what I can get for free this week — that which I don’t use myself gets donated to a local shelter. Beat that with a stick.

  47. jjason82 says:

    “Leverage Loyalty Programs: We don’t like grocers tracking everything we buy, but we do love the savings they offer loyal customers. We always happen to conveniently forget our card at home, and cashiers are always more than willing to swipe through their spare discount card.”

    I have never seen a cashier do this for anybody. Ever.

  48. BiZarRroBALlmeR says:

    The trick is use the coupons when the food is also on sale. Like cereal. Hold on to those Post coupons and when the store offers a 2 fer 1, slap a coupon down, and pay 2.25 for two boxes of delicious breakfast food. All about timing.

  49. SigmundTheSeaMonster says:

    For those that pay by check, PLEASE have your checkbook & ID ready BEFORE the clerk totals up. Nothing I hate more is waiting in line behind someone that waits till total, then digs out the checkbook…then looks for ID…(rant over)

  50. drjayphd says:

    @jjason82: Happened to me yesterday. I didn’t have a CVS card, so the cashier swiped hers and knocked about $.50 off a price I was going to pay anyways.

  51. alice_bunnie says:

    @balthisar: I just started The Grocery Game a few weeks ago, and I’m already noticing the savings. I’ve already made back a few months worth the subscription price.

    @AmericaTheBrave: Coupon Mom is nothing like The Grocery Game, IMHO. I started with Coupon Mom, then decided to try The Grocery Game. Coupon Mom’s seemed like nothing more than a list of what’s in the flyer with a list of coupons that she happened to have. The Grocery Game also lists unadvertised sales, and also is a much more sophisticated website, which is much easier to use and work with. Also, TGG doesn’t spam your mailbox like Coupon Mom’s does! Glad I’ve got Gmail now. :/

    @HooFoot: Coupons for health and beauty, toilet paper, etc are a big savings even if you don’t buy all the other crap. I’ve gotten shampoo for free, and some almost as good as free.

    I spend less than 1/2 an hour a week clipping coupons and making lists for shopping. If you want to save money, sometimes it takes time. If you don’t want to save the money, don’t do it.