Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers Cooperative Extension
Coupons are a major money saver for families and are more popular than ever due to the reality TV show about “extreme couponing.” The Internet has also made it easy to obtain coupons to supplement those found in newspapers. Below are some small steps to use coupons to save money at the supermarket:
Buy Sunday Newspapers (At Least Sometimes) - Several companies with names like SmartSource and RedPlum distribute newspaper inserts with manufacturer’s coupons. Product manufacturers such as Proctor and Gamble also produce coupon inserts. There can be weekends where Sunday newspapers have three or four inserts and weekends with none (usually on or around major national holidays such as Memorial Day). Ask your neighbors and/or coworkers to pass on their coupon inserts after they’ve clipped what they can use.
Get Coupons Online - Many people print their own coupons online. Thanks to Web sites and smart phone QR codes, it has never been easier to obtain manufacturer’s coupons. Some coupons can just be printed off while others require shoppers to register with an e-mail address. There are often limits on the number of times and dates that online coupons can be printed out. They can be obtained from manufacturer’s Web sites or sites that aggregate the offers of many companies with coupons (e.g., RedPlum). A helpful source of information about couponing is www.becentsable.net, a website run by the authors of Be CentsAble, a book that describes dozens of household money-saving ideas. Online coupons must be printed out and should include a bar code and an expiration date. Photocopies of online coupons are generally not accepted.
Double-Check Product Packaging - Some manufacturers include coupons on or within the packaging for their products. They may be affixed to a product and require peeling off or they may simply be printed on or enclosed within the product packaging itself. Coupons that can be peeled off a product are a nice unplanned bonus and can generally be used immediately at the time of purchase. Shoppers should only peel a coupon off a product if they buy it so as not to deprive other shoppers of the instant savings that they are due.
Review Home Mailers - Sometimes coupons arrive in the mail unannounced in mailings from product manufacturers, supermarkets, or coupon “aggregators” that send a collection of coupons together in an envelope (e.g., ValPacks). Most aren’t for food items but these coupons may be valuable for other purposes such as home improvements, septic service, car maintenance, florists, and restaurant meals. Taking a few minutes to review ValPack coupons and picking out those you can use could save hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. You can also search http://www.valpak.com/ with the name of your home town for free downloadable online coupons from local merchants.
Stack and Make “Double and Triple Pays” - Use more than one coupon on a food item to get it at a greatly reduced price. The book Be CentsAble calls this “stacking.” It is generally acceptable to combine a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon to buy one product. The manufacturer’s coupon can be clipped from a newspaper insert or obtained online. You cannot, however use more than one manufacturer’s coupon for the same item. Another way to save money is to make a double play. This is where you combine a manufacturer’s coupon with an advertised store sale. Even more lucrative is a “triple play” that combines a sale price plus a coupon plus a product rebate or prize of some sort.
Be Patient - Food prices have their cycles and savings may just be a matter of time. Sometimes it pays to wait for items to go on sale and use coupons to stock up when prices are at their lowest. That convenience food entrée that costs $3.29 per package this week could be 5 for $10 next week. That $4.79 box of cereal could later be 4 for $10. Use your coupons when food items are on sale to maximize your total savings.