Secrets of a Coupon Queen: How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

Alden Wicker
Posted

We’ve seen other extreme couponers save a lot more.

Obviously, you can save more, but you don’t always need to. Sometimes you can get a whole bunch of toothbrushes for free, and that will bring your savings up. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you had a well-rounded trip, because you just bought a bunch of toothbrushes.

Don’t worry about how much you are “saving,” because in the end what you’re spending is what is coming out of your pocket. Just get what you need and get it at the lowest price possible.

Couponers can be a little hoard-ish. Do you ever buy more than you need?

If there’s a really good sale, and we’re getting cereal for $.30 cents a box, I’m going to buy more for my family, or my grandparents. My grandparents love coming by to get their goodie bags! We do stockpile in the basement. It’s almost like a food savings account. If we have a rough week, we don’t have to worry because we have chicken in the freezer, and cereal downstairs.

Every year around Thanksgiving and Christmas we give away stuff, and not even just food—beauty products, too. We’ll go through our stock and slim down and give it to people who need it.

Do you think couponing has gotten easier with the internet?

It’s so easy to coupon now, I feel like people do’t have an excuse not to anymore. You can plan a money-saving shopping trip in an hour. A couple hours a week can save you so much money.

RELATED: Meet the Celebrity Who Loves Clipping Coupons

So, let’s get to where you get your deals. How do you find coupons?

I find my coupons from the local newspaper (I get two delivered every weekend, plus a free local one), from friends and family (sometimes they’ll save them for me!), websites like Coupons.com, RedPlum.com and CouponNetwork.com, and brand Facebook pages (like Ocean Spray, for instance). I wouldn’t recommend straying from the major coupon sites and the companies’ websites and Facebook pages, because you can end up printing bogus coupons.

OK, break down how you do a good shopping trip for us.

First, I’ll stop into Safeway (they’ve got great deals and it’s near me) and I’ll pick up a coupon book. Even though the deals are online, I like to sit down on the floor and circle things that I like.

Once I’m done searching online and in circulars, I gather my coupons and make sure I have the right amount. For example, if I want to buy four boxes of cereal, I need four coupons, and I make sure to write down that I can only buy four boxes on my grocery list. Then I clip them together and put them in a reusable bag so it’s ready to grab on my way to the grocery store.

Once at the store, I stick to my list. When you’re on a budget, you can’t afford to buy stuff you didn’t plan for.

How can you pay $4 for a box of cereal? I just don’t get it.

At the register, I hand over my coupons individually, because I’m afraid they’ll miss or lose some. Coupons are your money; if they drop a coupon, that’s like dropping a dollar on the ground.

Finally, after I pay, I check to make sure the receipt is right and the amount is what I expected. If it seems wrong, I’ll figure out why. Then I’ll go to customer service and try to get my money back. (They are not nice about it, but oh well.)

How long does a shopping trip take?

A shopping trip for a couponer always takes longer than for the average person. When you first start couponing, you don’t realize how time-consuming it is to shop with coupons. I would put it at 45 minutes for myself, but for a beginner, if it’s a big trip, expect to be there an hour to an hour and a half.

Do you think anyone can coupon?

No. You definitely have to be a certain kind of person. I encourage everyone to try it, but … you have to have patience. It takes a long time to plan everything. You might only save $20 the first time, but if you keep going, you’ll save more and more. And that $20, $30, $40, you realize it starts adding up. But it’s not an instant gratification thing. And you have to be willing to stick to your budget. I’ve seen people walk into a store and just grab this and that. How can you pay $4 for a box of cereal? I just don’t get it.

  • CJ

    This is great in theory, but here in NYC, most stores ban online printed coupons (Target, Duane Reade, etc don’t take them) and none of the grocery stores allow overages or double coupons.  Add that to the list of reasons NYC is expensive.

    • Sheila

      I live in the Midwest and it’s been years since I’ve seen stores that offer double coupons.  I’d like to know where those stores are.  (Don’t have the problem with banned online printed coupons here, but I have heard that before from people in other parts of the country.)

      • Bobbih

         Arizona!

        • Sondra

          What about Arizona? None of the stores I’ve shopped at have banned online coupons (yet), and they also stopped doubling up.

      • Amanda

        I live in Massachusetts, and Stop & Shop and Shaw’s/Star Market will double coupons with an initial value up to $0.99.  So a $0.75 coupon becomes $1.50.

        • Gigi Cake Shoppe

          I live in Stop and Shop and Waldbaum’s because they double. Worth the time and coupon clipping. I learned to coupon when I lost my job three years ago. I am in Queens NY and working part-time while trying to get my custom cake business off the ground. Those coupons save my life at times!

      • http://www.taliashewrote.com thdpr

         King Soopers doubles. Call your favorite store and ask! :)

    • http://geekgirlweb.com/ Rebecca Garcia

      I agree, also I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods where standard coupons don’t apply.

      • Camille

        Whole Foods does take coupons, though, and they have their own printable coupons, too! You can get some good deals there – it’s just not as common.

    • Leah

      Target always accepts my coupons, and my grocery stores do too, and Rite Aid is great….not sure where you shop at in the city? I’m right in Manhattan…

  • Kievjaguar

    I took a class on coupons and was very disappointed because the instructor did not care that the food and cosmetics she bought was full of harmful chemicals! I wish organic produce manufacturers had more coupons, but they do not.

    • Bobbih

       sometimes the whole foods by me has manufacturer coupons that they give out with samples

  • http://twitter.com/manda84 amanda

    I dont mean to dismiss the whole coupon idea-. I dont want my purchases to be dictated my manufacturers.  I like the idea of targeted coupons like Target passbook and others. But Im not going to buy stuff I dont need just because its on sale 

    • LeeLee

      Just because you don’t need it now, doesn’t mean you won’t need it in the near future. 

      While I don’t think you should stock up on items that you don’t want just because they’re on sale, there are many cases where you actually make money by purchasing items with a coupon.  If there’s a situation like that for something that I don’t want but could be useful to others, I will donate it to a local charity. 

      • http://twitter.com/manda84 amanda

        I have a tiny 380ft apartment,, stocking up is not an option. This is also why shopping at places like Costo are for people in the burbs 

    • Sheila

      Totally agree! I find that most coupons are for processed foods and I’m trying to drop afew pounds so I don’t need or want those in my house.

      • Laura

        You don’t use laundry or dish detergent? Household cleaners? Shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, etc?  These items can be free or exceptionally well priced using coupons.

        • Sheila

          I do, but you rarely get those items free. Those are about the only items I’m able to find coupons for.

          • Amanda

            I don’t know what happened to my response.  Putting it again, so sorry if it double posts.  Not true that you rarely get those items free!  I NEVER pay for
            toothbrushes or toothpaste.  I have been getting feminine care products
            and men’s body wash for free lately.  I also get deodorant for free or
            very cheap.  Shampoo and conditioner I just got for $1 each (and these
            are the ones for color-treated hair).  I get Purex laundry detergent for
            $1.99, and hand soap for $0.49.  I’m going to make money on hair spray
            tonight at Rite Aid, and I made money on aspirin on Monday.  I paid $1 for Kleenex today instead of $2.49.  I have gotten a package of Cottonelle toilet paper (12 rolls) for $2.50.  Couponing is fabulous!!

        • Leah

          I agree….I rarely pay for toothpaste, deodorant, lady products, etc- you have to coupon & do the cashback thing and you really score!! :)

  • Heidithen

    I would be interested in an article describing grocery saving tips for parents with 3-4 growing children. I have found grocery shopping at Adli’s and Dollar stores gives me the best bang for my buck. Plus, saving money on meat by eating what we shoot. This is another redundant article written by a single individual who have time to clip coupons.

    • LeeLee

      If your children are old enough to use scissors, why not have them help you clip?

      There are clipping services out there who will send you already clipped coupons.  Since you have to pay a nominal fee for S&H, it’s not as good of a deal as clipping yourself, but it can still save you a ton of money.

    • AldenWicker

      Hi Heidithen,

      While Brandi is single, she does the grocery shopping for her family, which includes her parents, her younger sister, a dog and two cats, and her mother clips coupons as well. So, you still might find the tips she includes helpful for a family. Thanks for your comment!

      Alden

  • LeeLee

    Great interview!  I agree with Brandi.  With the amount of information on the internet, I don’t understand why more people don’t use coupons.  There are so many blogs who do the matching for you, that it makes it super easy to coupon.

    • Amanda

      I know!  I think people who coupon are more savvy shoppers than people who don’t.  Why pay $5 for something when I can get it for free or even make money on it?!

  • Laura

    I did heavy couponing – primarily at Walgreens – from September to December of 2012.  In a state that charges about 8% tax pre-coupon on merchandise, I spent approximately $200 on $2000 worth of merchandise using in-ad deals and coupons.  That’s $160 in TAXES, and another $40 out of pocket for the actual merchandise purchased (including my many papers).  As a result, I was set on things like shampoo, toothpaste, kleenex, pain killers, toothbrushes, razors and more for over a year AND used side deals to pay for necessities in the food categories.

    • Sheila

      The problem I have with Walgreens and CVS is their prices are so high to begin with. $5 for the same shampoo you can get for $3 at Target. Plus I live alone so the time to make a trip to CVS for the 2 or 3 items I may save a couple dollars on doesn’t justify the special trip. I can still save money at Target and get more of my shopping done and save time rather than driving all over town to different places just to save a couple of dollars.

      • Bobbih

         what about wal-mart price matching?  plus they take coupons too

      • Amanda

        You can price match at Target as well, as long as you have the stores’ weekly ads with you.

      • Leah

        you have to do the sale items+coupons+cash back bonus= SCORE! Never coupon for something that isn’t already on sale.

    • LeeLee

       I am thankful that my state currently taxes post coupon. 

  • Kat

    This works for people who don’t eat fresh food. Frozen chicken and cereal are not high on our family list of healthy food, esp cereal.

    • Julie

      When I tried out couponing last November – I got packages organic carrots for just tax! There are often also coupons for salad mixes, and the stores near me always have sales on fresh produce like avocados, potatoes, onions, and peppers.

  • imtheway

    We understand the value of couponing and it surely works well. A complimentary alternative is to take advantage of promo codes. Like coupons many retailers now offer weekly promo codes for the standard and specialized promotions. bluepromocode.com

  • Wendy Willis Fletcher

    I have always been a big believer in coupons for the past two years i have not paid for any cleaning products ( toilet tissue tissues naplins papertowels ect) , personal hygiene products ( soap body wash shampoo conditioner styling products deodorant hair dye perfume ect .) Since January 1st at one store i have gotton a lil over $4000. in free products using coupons and i feed a family of 4 on average for $340.00 a month :)