Most strategic shoppers rely on grocery coupons to help save on groceries. However, industry statistics show that a very small percentage of shoppers are heavy grocery coupon users. I have been a "heavy" coupon user for over a decade, and I am used to other shoppers watching me in the checkout line and making comments like, "You sure like coupons, don't you?" I always smile and say, "Actually, I really like money. Using coupons is one way to have more of it!" Best of all, coupons are FREE money.
There are plenty of free grocery coupons available, if you know where to find them. In fact, in 2005 manufacturers issued 323 billion coupons with a face value of $375 billion. We used less than 1% of them, a savings of about $3 billion, leaving over $370 billion of savings on the table. Because 88% of those coupons came from the Sunday newspaper, the key to getting your share of those savings is finding an easy way to use Sunday newspaper coupons.
I understand that coupons may seem too difficult to use. However, an average coupon user saves approximately 12% per year on their grocery spending, which translates to roughly $12 per week for the average household. An organized coupon user will spend about 30 minutes per week managing their coupon savings, which is the equivalent of earning at least $24 an hour (after taxes) for pretty easy work. If you can find a coupon organization system that works for you, you can expect to save several hundred or thousand dollars a year. You will find that the savings you realize will justify the time spent organizing coupons.
Your first step is to get a good coupon organizer. You do not need to spend a lot of money on a fancy coupon organizer to save with coupons. In fact, the best organizer I've ever had cost me $3 at an office supply store. To save the most with coupons you should have a coupon organizer that makes it easy for you to find coupons when you need them. Otherwise, you will end up getting frustrated with coupons and may give up on them quickly.
Your next step is to learn how to use the online coupon database available at couponmom.com called "The Virtual Coupon Organizer." Think of it as the Dewey Decimal System of grocery coupons. It lists all of the coupons that came out in the Sunday newspaper that are not expired. Because the coupon offers in the newspaper vary by city, there are 30 different versions of the Virtual Coupon Organizer (VCO) for 30 states. If your state isn't listed, use a nearby state's VCO for a very close guide to what you can expect to find in your newspaper circulars.
The key to saving the most with coupons is to save all of them every week. In an average week, there may be 100 coupons between the two weekly circulars in the newspaper (one is labeled "SmartSource" and one is labeled "Valassis"). If you were to cut out and organize all of them every week, it would take quite a bit of time. If you were to cut out only the coupons you think you might use and throw the rest of the circular away, you will miss out on future deals when an item goes on sale which matches one of the coupons you threw away. Even if it was an item you wouldn't have planned to buy, it could end up being free with a coupon. If you don't use the item, you could always donate your freebies to charity to help others at no cost.
The Virtual Coupon Organizer allows you to access all of the coupons in the circulars without cutting out and organizing all of them manually. Simply write the date on the front of each circular each week. Cut out the coupons you know you'll use and file them in a small coupon organizer, and save the rest of the circular.
When you make your weekly shopping list, you can search the Virtual Coupon Organizer to see if there are coupons for the items you need. For example, if you need toothpaste, you would enter the word "toothpaste" in the search box at the top of the Virtual Coupon Organizer. You will get a list of every toothpaste coupon that has come out in your Sunday newspaper circulars that is not expired. Each coupon will show the date it came out, so all you need to do is go to your circular collection, find the circular with that date, and cut out the coupon you need for each item on your list. Voila! No expired coupons to sort out and no searching through your coupon collection to see if coupons are available for the items you need. In just a few minutes you will have the right coupons cut out and ready to go.
Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on ABC News' Good Morning America. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her website at www.couponmom.com.
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