Image via WikipediaWith the recession hitting harder all the time, more and more people are turning to sale shopping. Now I don’t mean going to a department or specialty store and buying stuff just because they sent you an advertisement about their huge spring sale. I mean buying the things you need and use only when they are on sale (a good sale—not that $0.12 off stuff). Furthermore, I’m talking about clipping coupons and using them in conjunction with store sales. (Usually manufacturers will release coupons 4-6 weeks before their promotional sales.)
I’m going to talk mostly about grocery and pharmaceutical items, as those are what you’ll most often find coupons for. So where do you find these coupons? Well, the best and most obvious source is your local Sunday newspaper. Where I live, that costs $1.50. That’s usually well worth the savings you’ll make in coupons, but of course, why spend it if you don’t have to? One of my roommates has the Sunday paper delivered because he likes to read the sports and news sections. He used to just toss the coupons and adverts, but now he passes them on to me. Before we had this arrangement, I had a similar one with a coworker. She would clip the coupons she wanted from her husband’s paper and then give the rest to me. When I was done, I’d pass it on to another coworker. Most of the time there are double inserts, so there was usually plenty of coupons to go around. Plus, the three of us tended to buy very different items, so it worked out well. You might also ask a neighbor who gets the paper delivered if they’d be willing to share the coupon inserts. The worst that can happen is they say no.
Other coupon sources include various online coupon sites (SmartSource, Coupons.com, RedPlum, P&G E-Saver, etc.) and forums (DealCatcher, BigBigForums). In my experience, though, the online printers sometimes don't have much of a selection, and the forums are hit-or-miss. Check out the ones above--I've found those to be the best--and see what works for you.
What to clip
Some coupon connoisseurs would tell you to clip coupons only for the items you already buy. I'm a little more generous with the scissors. Following that rule wouldn't provide much excitement for someone like me that only buys store brands, generic items, and absolute necessities. Most coupons are for name brand items. And if a coupon (+ sale maybe) would make the name brand item as cheap as or less expensive than the generic item you usually buy, then there's no reason you shouldn't clip away. Same goes for items that you usually consider too expensive to buy—a coupon might move them into your realm of affordability. So the rule is that you may clip coupons for:
things you normally buy
things you don't normally buy but foresee needing in the near future
things you would like to buy but usually don't because without the coupon/sale, they're too expensive
Once you've clipped all the week's coupons, you need to sort them. Start by separating food/grocery coupons from pharmacy/non-food coupons. If you have babies or pets, you might want to make a separate piles for them too. Now for the fun part—date organizing. This is important so that you don't miss coupons' expiration dates. Filing your coupons may seem unnecessary at first, but once you're a few weeks in, you'll be wishing you'd organized sooner.
There are several very good options for organizing your coupons. My favorite is to use a mini filing system like this one. You can usually find these for a dollar or two at an office supply or dollar store. Look for one with 12 “files,” one for each month. You'll want one mini-filer for each of the piles you made in the last step. Label the files January through December.
Alternatively, if you have lots of coupons and 1-month files are too confusing, you can label the files January 1, January 2, February 1, February 2, etc. and just have six months per mini-filer. If you choose this method, the “January 1” file would contain coupons that expire 1/1 through 1/15, and the “January 2” file would contain coupons that expire 1/16 through 1/31, and so on.
In the interest of saving trees, I like to look at the store circulars online each week. Many stores, like Shaw's and CVS, let you browse their online circulars and print only the deals you're interested in, saving both paper and the time it would otherwise take you flip back and forth looking for the deals you circled.
Using the same rules you used for clipping coupons, mark the sales you want to take advantage of, and print the list. Then take out all the coupons from the soonest-expiring file in your organizer and look for coupons that match the sales. Then, assuming you didn't find coupons for ever sale, do the same for the next-expiring file. When you find a matching coupon, take it out and write “C” next to the sale on your list. You may also want to note here any qualifications; for instance if the coupon is for $1 off two, write “2” next to the “C” so that you know you need to buy 2 when you're at the store, without having to rummage through your coupons. This sounds more time-consuming than it actually is. The whole process only takes 5-10 minutes.
Lastly, if there's anything that you really need to buy that week that's not on sale, check to see if you at least have a coupon for it. If you do, write it in on your list with a C next to it, and you're set to shop.