A couple of my real-life friends wanted me to write down my tips for using coupons. If anyone has any more tips, feel free to add to my list.
I'm not a coupon queen, and I don't have an expert system. I clip coupons from the Sunday paper, and I receive e-mails a few times a week from couponsurfer. With the e-mail coupons, I select the coupons that I'm interested in, and I print them out.
Coupons aren't for everyone. If you are trying to decide whether or not to use coupons, determine if the money you will save using coupons is worth the time it will take to clip and organize the coupons. I happen to have more time than money, so to me it is worth it to spend time going through coupons, cutting them out and then sorting. Since clipping and sorting coupons is pretty simple, I usually wait to do the coupons while I'm watching TV. That way, I still get something done but I'm enjoying myself.
All of the work into cutting out coupons is wasted, though, unless the coupons are sorted. If you cut out coupons and then fail to use them thanks to poor sorting, then all you've done is waste your time.
I've used a few systems for organizing coupons. Currently, I do the standard baseball-card sheets for my coupons, and I store the sheets in a 3-ring binder. Because I subscribe to a coupon service with my e-mail, I frequently get the same coupon with only a different expiration date. To conserve space, I keep all copies of the same coupon together, filed with the most recent to expire coupon on top. This method may not work for everyone, though. Some people prefer to sort their coupons based on the coupon's expiration date.
When I prepare to go shopping, I always cut out and file my coupons before I go through the sales papers and make my lists. That way, I've recently seen many of my coupons as I flipped through my binder. I've had many an "a-ha!" moment while going through the sales papers thanks to viewing my coupons before. When I see a sale on an item that I also have a coupon for, I move the coupon to the front of my binder. That way, when I am at the store, all of the coupons I know I will use are at hand and I don't have to spend time at the store flipping though my binder. In this front section, I also place coupons for items that I know we will need soon, so I can watch for unadvertised sales. I have also placed coupons that are especially good (more than $1 off) and coupons that are expiring soon in the front sheet.
In addition to coupons from the Sunday paper and e-mail, I also have coupons that are loaded onto my shopper's card for Kroger. I get coupons loaded onto my Kroger card through Shortcuts and Proctor & Gamble eSAVER (these sites can also load coupons onto shopper's cards for other stores, I just happen to prefer Kroger). After I select and load the coupons onto my shopper's card, I print out the list of the coupons on my card and I keep the list in my binder. When I am making my shopping list, I glance over the printed out sheets to check for any additional deals. The coupons on the shopper's card can be used in addition to a paper coupon, so the savings can really add up - especially if the item is on sale.
If you are interested in a one-place site for coupons and store deals, you might want to check out Coupon Mom and Southern Savers. Both of these sites are free, and operate on the premise of buying when an item is on sale in order to have it when you need it. This type of shopping can be initially difficult on a shopping budget, because you will buy items in a greater quantity than you would for regular shopping. However, in the long run, this will even out because you will have paid less for the item. You might only shop to stockpile one category at a time, or do a pantry clean-out (eat based on what you have on hand) while you are building up your supply.
Even though coupons are a great money saver, there is a catch. Just because you have a coupon for an item doesn't mean that the item is a good deal. There are many times that the generic brand is still cheaper than the name-brand with the coupon. Take your calculator with you when you shop and calculate if that "sale" is really a sale. There may be a generic or a different size that is a better deal than the sale or what the coupon is good for.
It is also helpful to understand how coupons work. Items typically go on sale in cycles. If you keep a price book, you can chart the sale cycles of items in your area. Frequently, an item will go on sale either the week a coupon is issued, or 4 weeks after a coupon for it is issued, which is typically the last week the coupon is still valid. Stores can issue coupons for merchandise they carry, as can the manufacturer's of the product. In some instances, such as with Walgreens and Target, you can use the store coupon in addition to the manufacturer's coupon.
There are many websites and blogs that detail how to use coupons more efficiently than what I've detailed here. But these are the things that have worked for me!
To read more great tips, check out We are THAT Family.