While over $317 billion in coupons were distributed in 2008, only $2.6 billion were redeemed. Aside from the fact that an overwhelming majority of grocery coupons aren't redeemed, falling into the manufacturer's intended coupon trap may not save you much. Seasoned couponers know that to get the most for your clippings, you'll have to put in a bit more elbow grease.
1. Limiting Limits
Ever notice that the fine print limits the number of items you can buy with each coupon? What you may not know is this only applies to the exact same barcoded product. If your limit on Betty Crocker frosting is four per coupon, you can still buy more than four as long as they aren't the exact same. And don't forget the rain check if they run out of an offer prematurely.
2. Score a Double or Triple
Coupon Queens never use a coupon conventionally. They wait for their coupon item to go on sale and stock up to the limit. This may mean making a meal plan after shopping rather than before, like most of us do. The best time to shop is during a double or triple coupon event (usually held 3-4 days over a weekend) and while catching your item on sale at the same time. This is how the pros pay next to nothing for their deeply discounted grocery items.
3. Make a Master List
It's next to impossible to discern what's a good deal if you have no frame of reference. While prices fluctuate more than the weather, make a general list of the items you buy most frequently and how much they cost at regular price. Double-check it at two or more stores to get a solid average.
4. Store Shopping Card
The entire reason behind the preferred shopper cards is not to award you grocery discounts. Merchants want to spy on your purchases and stock their shelves accordingly. Most of us surrender our personal information without a second thought to get buy-one-get-one free mandarin oranges. Another upside to giving out digits is mail-out coupons tailored to your specific purchases. Kroger sends offers based on your particular shopping habits--I received $1.00 off Lactaid milk (my preferred calcium source) and the same amount off a Jello pudding 6-pack. Grocery coupons are sent to me for the products I need and buy frequently.
5. Look Outside the Sunday Paper
Most of the offers in the Sunday massive delivery are for new products or convenience foods. Unless you were going to buy the product anyway, steer clear from trying new-fangled goods and stick to rice and beans. To keep your purchases focused on buying what you need, consider purchasing coupons on eBay--especially for big-ticket items like diapers and razors. For a small price, you'll be guaranteed an offer that will save you money rather than gambling with the paper.
6. Comb Recycling Bins
If you don't know where to find them, start one up at work. Be the green office advocate, but don't forget to skim a bit off the top. Literally. Forget saving the cost of one paper, with a recycling program you can collect more than one coupon to use.
7. Coupon Worthy Newspapers
Rather than buying a daily subscription for your local paper (which you won't read anyway) buy only the papers that include coupons from major manufacturer's Red Plum, Smart Source, Proctor & Gamble, and General Mills. The Grocery Coupon Guide lists a publication schedule for these manufacturers--just call your newspaper to ask which of them are included in the daily issue.