Secrets of extreme couponers
You, too, can shop like those extreme couponing pros who spend next to nothing and leave the store with a full shopping cart -- or two. And you won't wind up with boxes of croutons you'll never use piled to the ceiling.
Amateurs can save big without getting too extreme, says Andrea Woroch, savings strategist for Kinoli and creator of CouponSherpa.com.
"While extreme couponing looks exciting on TV, it won't work for most families," she explains. "Extreme couponers average more than 20 hours per week couponing, buy many multiples of products, spend many hours each shopping trip and need space for stockpiles worth thousands of dollars."
Woroch says brands and stores have repeating sale cycles, so don't think you have to buy a lifetime supply of a product when taking advantage of a good deal. Just get enough to last until the next sale.
Learn these advanced saving strategies of extreme couponers to get everyday items very inexpensively or even for free.
Extreme couponers seek out generous stores
Shop stores with the fewest coupon restrictions. "Savings add up quicker at stores with the most generous coupon policies," says Woroch. "You can learn about a store's coupon policies in detail on their website."
Stores with generous coupon policies:
- Double or triple coupons. If these multiplied discounts come only on certain days of the week or month, plan your shopping trip around them.
- Accept their competitors' coupons.
- Allow "stacking" -- using a store coupon, a manufacturer coupon and a competitor coupon all for one item.
- Let you stack coupons on each item in a "multiples" sale, such as 10 for $10 or buy one, get one free, or BOGO.
- Subtract from your total bill any coupon overages, when savings total more than the price for an item.
- Provide a rain check not only for any out-of-stock merchandise but also for related rewards such as a gift card offered if you buy two of a sale item.
Extreme couponing tip: Get two or more Sunday newspapers to clip duplicates of coupons for cashing in on "multiples" sales. Search for additional printable coupons online using store and brand websites and savings sites such as SmartSource.com and RedPlum.com.
Extreme couponers combine savings and plan
"Never shop without a plan because that's just overspending. It takes just 20 minutes per week," says Lisa Reynolds, RedPlum's mom-saver-in-chief.
Stack your savings by scanning store circulars each week. Match sales with your coupons to create a shopping plan using a tablet computer, Excel spreadsheet, or pen and paper. Try a free online coupon and savings aggregator, such as CouponMom.com, to match store sales with coupons.
Extreme couponing tip: Chisel down prices -- sometimes to nothing -- by stacking coupons, especially in a "multiples" deal. For example, a BOGO juice is $2.97 and you have two 50-cents-off manufacturer coupons that cut the cost of two bottles to $1.97. If your store doubles your coupons to $1 each, you'll buy the two juices for 97 cents. Stack on two competitor coupons for 50 cents off, and you'll have 3 cents credit. If your store doubles those coupons to $1 each, your credit increases to $1.03.
Extreme couponing means being organized
"When you look at all the categories of coupons and increasing face values, you can save thousands of dollars per year. Many stay-at-home moms consider clipping and organizing coupons their part-time job," says Stephanie Nelson, creator of CouponMom.com. You need to be organized whether you have thousands of coupons or just 50, she says.
Decide what works best for you -- maybe some kind of folder, a binder or envelopes for your coupons. "If you get flustered shuffling through an envelope or folder in the store, use a binder with baseball-card plastic sheets to display coupons at a glance," Nelson advises.
Extreme couponing tip: Organize and label groups of coupons before a shopping trip, using envelopes or paper clips to sort for separate stores or transactions.
Extreme couponers search high and low
Strategize carefully before each shopping trip, but stay on the lookout for an unplanned deal. Take steps in the store to pay as little as possible.
- When the coupon doesn't specify a size, buy the one that's smallest and least expensive.
- Cruise the clearance aisle for marked-down brands you use, then see if you have coupons for them.
- Look for "blinkies" -- flashing coupon dispensers on store shelves -- and other in-store coupon displays.
- At checkout, watch for a machine that spits out "Catalina coupons," named for the marketing company that pioneered them. Grab them for your next store visit or transaction.
- Shop high and low in store aisles because experts say eye-level products are always most expensive.
- Separate your items into two or more transactions if you have more than one coupon for spending a certain dollar amount such as $5 off a purchase of $30.
- Go early in the week for the best supplies.
- Ask for deal and reward rain checks when a product is sold out.
Extreme couponing tip: Never leave home without your coupon binder or folder.
Adopt the personality traits of extreme couponers
Be mindful of these personality traits that will help you save while leaving the "extreme" behind.
- Precision: Plan and organize each trip so math miscalculations or misplaced coupons don't ruin your savings.
- Patience: Take your time to look for the precise items needed to take advantage of a sale or coupon. Stop and do the math with a cellphone calculator to make sure you're buying the size that offers the best deal. Impatient spouses or children can hamper your success.
- Flexibility: Try new brands, shop for produce in season when it's least expensive and be open to new recipes to use items offered with special deals.
- Vigilance: Use an eagle eye at the register to ensure prices are ringing up properly, coupons are being redeemed as they should and that you receive rewards you have earned.
Extreme couponing tip: Remain determined. When something goes wrong, stop the process and do whatever is needed for maximum savings, whether it's grabbing a different size of a product, calling the manager, returning something you've already paid for, separating items into multiple transactions or putting some back.
Extreme couponers make the most of rewards
Use coupons to make the most of a retailer's rewards program. "Always use the loyalty card to get the special advertised prices for cardholders. Otherwise, you're just paying more," says Nelson. "Once you understand how a rewards or loyalty program works, use your coupon-stacking skills, taking into account many stores will also give you back rewards, so many products are free or close to it."
Reynolds advises, "If a rewards program is difficult to understand or use, you will have a hard time saving, so don't use it."
Extreme couponing tip: Shop the same stores over and over again because that's how you learn to take the fullest advantage of their sales cycles, coupon policies, store layout and rewards programs.
Extreme couponing do's and don'ts
"If you saw a dollar lying on the ground, wouldn't you pick it up? That's what a coupon is. Savings is within everybody's reach with coupons," says Reynolds.
"But remember the adage, 'You get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar,' when dealing with employees, the cashier and the manager," advises Woroch.
More couponing do's and don'ts:
- Don't shop at peak times when you could jam up aisles or registers in your quest for savings.
- Don't clear shelves of a product.
- Do have coupons ready at checkout.
- Do know store policies, so you'll use coupons correctly.
- Do check carefully for expiration dates on your coupons.
- Do track store sales cycles.
Extreme couponing tip: Treat every coupon as you would money in your wallet.