Save Money With Coupons (Without Going to Extremes)

Saving money is awesome, but shows like Extreme Couponing can make it seem overwhelming. However, there are some quick and easy ways to go about it that can cut your grocery bills without making couponing a full-time job and without filling your house with items you’ll never use.

Screencap of the Coupons and Shopping folder from my email, with subfolders for flash sales, the Galleria, groceries, online only, Orange Plaza, and the pharmacyBefore you start, you’ll want to get organized. Depending on your tolerance for a messy inbox, you may want to either set up a separate email address to use for coupons or set up filters within your existing account. If you go for filters, make multiple folders so you can find what you need quickly. I have mine mostly sorted by location since the weird layout of my town means I rarely go to multiple shopping centers in one trip, but you could sort them however you want. Make sure you add the store/coupon email addresses to your contact list; it’s really annoying to get home from the store to find a 20% coupon that got caught in your spam filter. This also makes it easy to clean out your old emails; every time you go into a folder, take a few seconds to delete all the emails that are more than a week old.

You also need to pick a place to keep physical coupons that you’ve clipped or printed out. It can be an envelope stuck to the fridge with a magnet, a pocket in your reusable tote bag, a fancy accordion-file coupon wallet; whatever works for you. Just make sure it’s easy to remember to take them with you! Coupons don’t do you any good if they’re still stuck to the fridge while you’re at the store. Also make sure to clean it out periodically and dump the expired coupons and flyers in your recycling.

Ready? Let’s start saving!

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  • No matter what method you use, only clip coupons for items you actually need or, at the very least, items that you know you can use in the near future. I can pretty much always use more pasta sauce or cereal because we go through those pretty quickly and they’re easy to store, but if you just opened a 20-pack of toilet paper, it’s probably a waste of storage space to buy another one just because you can get 50¢ off. Trust me, there will be another coupon later on when you start getting low.
  • Sign up for every free store loyalty card you possibly can, even if it’s a store you rarely visit. If a store charges for their rewards program, make absolutely sure you’ll get your money back in discounts and coupons before you sign up. Use a spare keychain to hold all the little cards so they aren’t cluttering up your house/car keys, or use a smartphone app like Key Ring, which as a bonus will automatically load scannable coupons for some stores. If your favorite stores ask for your email address at checkout, give it to them! They’ll send you coupons and notify you in advance when sales are coming up.
  • Once you’ve signed up for the loyalty cards, register them on the stores’ websites. Lots of stores allow you to save coupons directly to your rewards card; the discount will be applied when your card is scanned at the register without having to waste paper or worry about leaving the coupons at home. Most stores will then email you when new coupons are available, so you can either check them out immediately or just log in quickly right before you run to the store.
  • Register your grocery store and pharmacy cards at SavingStar, then pick out the coupons you want. These work differently than most coupons; rather than taking money off at the point of sale, your savings get banked and can be redeemed when you have a balance of at least $5. You can have the money sent to your bank or PayPal account, issued as an Amazon gift card, or donated to AmericanForests.org. Frequently you’ll see the same coupons here as on the grocery or coupon websites, but since they’re applied differently, you can use both and double your savings!
  • If a store has a kiosk where you can scan your card to print coupons, use it! I always do this at PriceChopper and CVS, and I usually wind up using at least one of the coupons.
  • Sign up for emails from your favorite brands or periodically check their websites for coupons. You may also want to follow them on social media sites to learn about upcoming promos and special deals, though that can make your feeds a bit cluttered.
  • If you use the ShopKick app, some stores will offer discounts and coupons within the app. Just be sure not to activate them too quickly; they tend to only be valid for a short period of time to minimize people using them more than once.
  • Print out coupons from the internet. Many stores will have their own coupons online and/or links to manufacturer’s coupons. (Target usually has awesome coupons!) You can also get coupons from websites like Coupons.com, RedPlum, RetailMeNot, and ValPak. (Just be sure your store takes printed coupons; I’ve run into a couple of places that refuse to take any of them because of the fear of fraud.) Some of these sites even have apps you can download to save paper.
  • Pick a time every week to look through the coupon inserts in the newspaper or in your mailbox. My flyers come in the mail on Friday or Saturday, so I usually glance through them while I eat lunch. To save time, only look at the ads for the stores you usually go to and just recycle the others; it probably isn’t worth it to go out of your way for one or two items. (However, if you notice that another store consistently has better deals, it might be time to change your routine!) At the very least, keep the flyers where you can grab them on your way out the door.
  • Check over your coupons as you’re making your shopping list so you can make sure to note what you have a coupon for and if you have to purchase multiple items to get the discount, especially if the coupons are just saved to your card. If you have the coupons in hand you can always look over them as you shop, but having it written down may save you some backtracking inside the store when you realize five aisles later that you needed three boxes of pasta, not two.
  • The absolute easiest way to save money is to just look on the shelves to see what’s on sale and to be willing to mix things up a bit when you can. I usually buy the biggest jug of orange juice they make because it works out to be the cheapest per ounce, but this weekend my grocery had the smaller carafes at a much lower price than usual, plus they were running a promo where if you bought three carafes you’d get an extra 5¢ off per gallon of gas at the local gas station they partner with. Sold! Technically I spent $1.50 more on that trip than if I’d just bought the jug, but I also got nearly twice as much juice, so I won’t have to buy it next time.

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Of course, with these tips you won’t fill your grocery cart to the brim and then walk away after paying less than a dollar for the whole shebang like they do on TV. You also won’t have a basement full of extra toothpaste and laundry detergent that you couldn’t possibly use in a million years, because the goal here is to save money on what you need, not just to game the system. On a good trip you can probably save 10-20% off your bill, which is totally worth the few minutes it takes to scan the ads and online coupons.

What are your tips for saving money when you shop?

Published by

[E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

9 thoughts on “Save Money With Coupons (Without Going to Extremes)”

  1. WHat? What? Set up folders for your coupons by shopping plaza? MIND BLOWN. Seriously, so smart. Game changer.

    I tend to know the lowest price for something- so that when I’m out, if there’s a sale, I know whether or not it’s a deal. I especially compare our “all the time things” at Costco vs. regular store- sometimes its cheaper, sometimes it’s really not.

    I also just learned that if you do Amazon Subscribe and Save, and have five items ship at once, you save 15% off the whole order.

    1. It only occurred to me fairly recently and I love having it set up this way. It used to take me forever to scroll through everything to try to track down an email I could have sworn I saw a few days ago, but now it’s so much easier. Of course, it’s gonna be annoying to rearrange the filters when we move, but it’ll be a one-time annoyance rather than an every-time-I-go-shopping annoyance. Totally worth it.

  2. I’m big on online shopping – I use a combination of eBates and an app called Honey (it’s a Chrome plug-in that will automagically apply a bunch of promo codes for you to find the best one). If nothing good comes up, I’ll always do a search for a promo code. I wait for sales and get some savings emails (Brads Deals, etc.) to keep an eye on anything I’ve been waiting to get. So, I usually end up getting stuff for at least half off, and then I get eBates and rewards cards points too (my mantra is to never carry a balance so I make money off of the bank).

    I do some groceries this way, but I usually like to compare foods, and a lot of what I get ends up being the brands that don’t do coupons/online ordering. But I go to the cheaper stores for all of the basics, so if I splurge on the good stuff, it still works out!

  3. If you have an Ulta near you, join their beauty club. That way you can get coupons for things like 20% off purchase or $3.50 off a $10 purchase, and you also get points you can either apply to one of their prizes or toward your purchase. Since the Ulta close to me carries certain lines of product that I use that are unavailable at the Target in my area, I get them at Ulta, and they have really good sales at least one a month.

    Also, if you figure in things like time cost or other things (mine is an extreme dislike of crowds during weekend shopping), it makes sense to go this route.

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