Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP® Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management Rutgers Cooperative Extension
A common way for families to save money is to reduce spending on variable expenses such as food, clothing, entertainment, and meals eaten away from home. For many decades, coupons have been a “tried and true” way to save money at the supermarket. They are also widely used by other types of merchants including restaurants, theme parks, and department stores. Would you like to increase the amount of money you are saving by using coupons? Consider the following small steps:
- Get Organized - Use an expandable coupon organizer or envelopes to sort coupons by date, categories, and expiration dates. Develop a filing system that works for you.
- Clip and Save - Scan Sunday newspaper advertisements for store and manufacturers’ coupons and ask your neighbors for their unwanted papers. Also check free online coupon sites that provide access to coupon codes and/or printable coupons for thousands of merchants. Some examples include www.coupons.com, www.CoolSavings.com, www.smartsource.com, and www.GrocerySmarts.com. Another way to get links to coupons or special product discount codes is to follow retailers on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
- Make a List - Make a shopping list based on store specials and needed items. Attach coupons for items on the list with a paper clip so that they are readily available. Build in a dollar amount for impulse purchases so they are planned in advance instead of causing you to spend more than budgeted.
- Compare Alternative Brands - Make sure that the price of a national brand product with a coupon meets or beats the store brand (private label) price. Even with a fifty cent coupon doubled to $1 off, a store brand could be less expensive and may actually be identical to a corresponding national brand. Store brand products typically cost 20 to 30 percent less than national brands.
- Be Loyal - Take advantage of shoppers’ rewards membership card programs. These programs are generally free and provide many benefits including product price discounts (without the need to clip coupons), rewards points for a certain amount spent, and cash-back programs. Rewards cards are offered by supermarkets, drug stores, clothing retailers, office supply stores, and more.
- Double Your Savings - Shop at stores that double, or even triple, your savings. Be sure to check the “fine print” of their offer for restrictions such as doubling no more than a $1 coupon face value.
- Make a Double or Triple Play - A double play is where you combine savings from a store’s weekly sale price (or store coupon) with that of a manufacturer’s coupon. A triple play is where you also receive a refund, rebate, or prize from the manufacturer in addition to the first two discounts.
- Don’t be a Hoarder - No matter what the coupon value, only shop for products that you need. Remember, a bargain is only a bargain if you can actually use the purchase.
- Make the Time - The savings realized by using coupons can be substantial. Spending 15 minutes finding and organizing coupons could save $20 a week or $1,000 a year. Viewed as an hourly wage, this is equivalent to earning $77 per hour ($1,000 divided by a total of 13 hours of time).