Coupons

Last week, I began reviewing the steps needed to get started with couponing or return to it after a hiatus. With the economy, inflation and supply chain issues creating a perfect storm of budget strain, many people are re-evaluating their budgets and finances.

We always want to pay the best prices possible for the items we’re buying, even when faced with rising prices and other factors we can’t control. Simply having a coupon in hand for an item isn’t enough — we must also pay attention to pricing cycles at our stores in order to use the coupon at the best time so it takes the biggest “bite” out of the price of an item.

For example, imagine a coupon for $2 off toothpaste. The week this coupon appears in the newspaper, the toothpaste in question is likely to sell for $3.99 or more. Couponers know toothpaste is an item that’s often very inexpensive or free with coupons, and we’ll hold onto that coupon and wait for a better sale before the coupon’s expiration date rolls around.

This timing game is played whether the coupons in question are paper ones from the newspaper, printables from the internet or electronic offers.

One of the best developments of learning to coupon in the digital age is you do not have to cut and carry all of your paper coupons anymore. Gone are the days of cutting every single coupon that appears in the paper, then toting them around in a large binder or box. With the help of the internet, we utilize both searchable coupon databases to find specific coupons we want to use, as well as coupon matchup lists outlining exactly which coupons to use at a specific store.

I have both a coupon database and matchup lists on my blog, JillCataldo.com, and there are numerous other coupon bloggers around the country using the same systems. All of these assume you’re using the “clipless” method of keeping your newspaper coupon inserts intact each week. It’s much less labor-intensive to only cut the coupons we need to use for a specific trip.

When your coupon inserts arrive in the newspaper, label the cover of each one with the current date. For example, for an insert you received May 29, you’d write “5/29” on the cover. (Hint: Your coupon inserts actually do have the insertion date printed in small text along the spine, but it’s difficult to read. I like to use a marker and write it large so I can see it.) I like to use an accordion file to organize each insert, using one pocket in the file for each month’s coupons. Then, when it’s time to locate a specific coupon, use the website or database of your choice to look up that coupon’s location.

If the coupon website you’re using states your cereal coupon of choice is in the “4/10 SS,” that’s the April 10 SmartSource coupon insert. You then will pull that insert from your file, cut the cereal coupon, return it to your file and move to the next item on your shopping list.

When you’ve gone through the list, you’ll have a small stack of coupons clipped, and that’s all you need to take to the store with you. It’s much easier than cutting every single coupon and rummaging through them before each trip.

With regard to electronic coupons, I take a slightly different approach: “Load and hold.” I’ll look at the offerings from each of my retailers weekly, and if I see ones I’m likely to use in the future, I’ll load them and wait. Electronic coupons might change week to week, but once they’re loaded, they’ll stay on your account until they’re either used, or they expire.

Remember to have fun, too. Couponing should be enjoyable — never a chore. It’s an opportunity to save money for our households in a way that often feels like a game.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

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