Extreme couponingYou’ve probably seen her before. She stands in the checkout line ahead of you and hands the clerk a stack of coupons. You roll your eyes, then scan the tabloid covers to kill time. But when you hear the numbers, you pay more attention to the transaction. Before money-saving coupons, her total was more than $100. When she pulls out her wallet, she hands over about 20 bucks. What just happened here?

This mystery woman is one of a growing number of consumers who use coupons wisely to lower their grocery bills. Amongst their friends they’re know as “coupon queens.” They’ve learned that in a tough economy you have to do battle to keep your family afloat, and so they’ve mastered the power of the coupon to keep high grocery bills at bay.

You may be skeptical. Coupons are just for junk food, right? The generics cost less than the fancy name brands, don’t they? And don’t those couponers end up buying things they wouldn’t normally buy?

Well, not necessarily. Manufacturers of all brands, from soy-based organic veggie burgers to nuclear-orange cheesy puffs, know consumers want to save money. And most are willing to offer an incentive to buy their brand, not the competitor’s. Oftentimes companies and grocers work together to release coupons and hold sales on the same products simultaneously. When those money-saving coupons are combined with sale prices, the final cost can be drastically lower than that of the off-brand. And many shoppers with coupons discover good products they might not otherwise have considered buying.

It’s really not difficult to become a coupon queen—or king. Some tips and tricks will get you saving in no time.

Gather Coupons

There are a number of sources to help you build your arsenal.

  • Newspaper insert coupons: purchase the paper every Sunday to get manufacturer coupons. A rule of thumb is to buy one paper for every person in your household. Multiple copies of the same coupon allow you to stock up on an item when it’s on sale.
  • Internet printables: coupon websites, like coupons.com and redplum.com, regularly offer coupons to print from your home computer. Likewise, manufacturers such as Kraft, Pillsbury, and Kellogg’s, and others, offer them straight from their homepages or via email newsletters. Bloggers like moneysavingmom.com and dealseekingmom.com also post links to the hot coupons each week. Usually you can print each Internet coupon twice per computer.
  • Direct-from-the-manufacturer coupons: product packages from items such as oatmeal, cereal, and croutons often have coupons on them. Keep scissors handy in the kitchen so you can clip them before you toss the box.
  • Junk mail: don’t ditch it until you’ve sifted through it carefully. Grocery stores often send large-value coupons, like $5 to $10 off a purchase. The week’s sales ads also come in this type of mail, and you’ll want them for reference when matching coupons to sales.
  • Free samples: sign up for any free samples that sound interesting to you. Not only is this a great way to try a new product, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get a few nice coupons; manufacturers often include them with their samples.
  • Store circulars, promotional magazines, tearpads, and in-aisle coupon boxes: when you shop, check the horizon for coupons throughout the store. You don’t have to use them during that trip. Save them for when you can couple them with a sale for maximum savings.
  • Friends and family: put the word out that you’ve started to clip coupons and ask for help.

Organize Your Ammunition

Once you’ve got a stash of coupons, organize them. Don’t spend a fortune on fancy binders and boxes. You can buy a simple accordion wallet at an office supply store for a few dollars. Divide your coupons into categories that will help you find the right one when you need it.

Match Coupons to Sale Prices

Most people go shopping at this point—buying things they want or need and using a coupon if they have it. They might even let the coupon dictate what they buy, and often they spend more than they need to by doing so.

But you won’t see excellent savings unless you match a coupon to a good store sale. Make it a habit to read store ads carefully every week. They often come in the mail or are in circulars at the front of the store. Write down products, sizes, and prices and match them with your coupons. If your store offers to double coupons, take advantage of that. Oftentimes you can get many sale items free. Some stores will even pay you the overage if the coupon value is higher than the price of the item, so they actually pay you to shop!

Stock Up

Buy multiples of an item you know you’ll use at a good deal instead of buying just one when it’s full price. Provided you have a little storage space, this “anticipation buying” will reap big savings over time.

Adjust Your Mindset

You’re on a mission to save money. But there’s a mental battle to wage, as well as the one fought with scissors and coupons. Peer pressure, product loyalty, and too many good deals could get between you and a low grocery bill. My advice? Be willing to withstand a few raised eyebrows from the people in line behind you. Keep an open mind about trying new products; you may find something your family loves. Don’t be loyal to your favorite cereal if you can get a competitor’s for less money. Exercise caution when you find yourself overspending on “really good deals.” Make a budget and stick to it. With savvy coupon use, you’ll find you have more than you need for the same price—or less—than you were paying before. It’s easy to be a coupon queen!

Great sources for printable coupons?

Blogs & sites for coupon ideas

Suggested categories for organizing coupons

  • Baby
  • Baking
  • Beverages
  • Breads
  • Canned Goods
  • Cereal
  • Dairy
  • Dental
  • Ethnic Foods
  • Feminine Products
  • Fresh Produce
  • Frozen Dessert
  • Frozen Food
  • Frozen Vegetables
  • Hair Care
  • Household Cleaners
  • Laundry
  • Make-up
  • Meats
  • Medicine (subdivided into subcategories of allergy, cold, first aid, pain, supplements/vitamins, tummy, and other)
  • Miscellaneous (can include items like batteries and light bulbs)
  • Organic Foods
  • Paper Products, Plastic Bags, and Wraps
  • Skincare
  • Snacks (subdivided into chips/pretzels/mix/popcorn, nuts/seeds, bars/gummies/fruit snacks, candy, and cookies/crackers/puddings)
  • Spreads, Sauces, Dressings, and Other Condiments
  • Toiletries

What are your favorite coupon sites? Comment below!

Jessica Fisher is a wife, mother, blogger, freelance writer, and coupon queen.