You can clip a lot more off your grocery bill if you know where to look.
There are approximately 300 billion coupons distributed in the U.S. every year, and they offer $3 billion in savings. While there is a lot of free money floating around, only 1.26% of all those coupons are
actually redeemed, according
ICOM Information and Communications.
You may have read articles or heard about people who
save 50% or more on their groceries using coupons -- they call themselves "Coupon Queens." You have also probably tried to use coupons at some point and failed at getting the savings that these people are able to accomplish. The reason is that most of us are conditioned to use coupons the way that the manufacturers want us to use them, rather than to our advantage.
Here are 10 secrets of so-called "Coupon Queens" and how they are able save so much:
1. Stack coupons
: Coupon Queens don't use a coupon unless they are able to save more than the discount on the coupon. They end up "stacking" the coupon upon other discounts that are available. The average consumer uses a 50-cent coupon when he or she happens to be in the store, has the coupon and needs the item the coupon is for. If that item costs $2, then the shopper would use the coupon and buy the item for $1.50. Not a Coupon Queen. She would instead wait until that $2 item is on sale for $1 and go on a day when the grocery store is doubling coupons to get the item for free. If the item is offering a rebate at the same time, the Coupon Queen might even make money buying it.
2. Look beyond Sunday
: Newspaper inserts account for 82% of coupons. Coupon Queens, however, know this is not necessarily the best place to find them. The problem with many Sunday newspaper coupons is that the coupons are usually for new products and probably not for brands that you already buy. There are a large number of other places that coupons can be found, including the Internet, the grocery store, magazines and junk mail. Coupon Queens will even call the manufacturers directly to find savings.
3. Stick to what you know
: Coupon Queens don't use coupons for things that they don't usually buy, unless they can get it for free. If it isn't something that they'll use, it's wasted money. Instead, they use these coupons to trade with others who do want them. One of the biggest mistakes that people who first begin to use coupons make is buying products that they would not normally purchase just because they have a coupon for it. This is what the manufacturers want you to do, but this is not how Coupon Queens get their huge savings.
4. Create a price book
: A price book is a self-created book where you keep lists of the lowest prices you paid for the items you usually purchase. Coupon Queens know exactly how much the products they frequently purchase cost, so they know when a good price is available. Stores use all kinds of tricks to make you believe you are getting a deal when you really aren't. By knowing what price is a good deal, Coupon Queens are able to ignore all the "sale" and "bargain" advertising and seek out the true deals by simply looking in their price books.
5. Hidden coupons
: Coupon Queens save money on things that you may have never known had coupons available. For example, most people aren't aware that there are coupons for meat and fresh seafood. Many beer and wine companies, however, have special coupon offers on meats and seafood to encourage you to buy their product and try it with such foods. Cookie companies sometimes have promotions where they give away coupons for milk.
: When Coupon Queens see a good price on an item, they buy it in bulk if it isn't perishable. They will use as many coupons as the store allows and return multiple times if need be to get the great prices. This means they will sometimes buy 20 or more of the same product at one time. By having this large stock, they don't have to purchase products when they run out -- and aren't on sale.
7. Plan dinner accordingly
: Most people decide what they want for their meals, make a list of what they need and then buy the ingredients. Coupon Queens let the coupon deals determine what their meals will be that week. They purchase what they can get for the best prices that week, and then create their meal plan from what they are able to buy. This allows them to pay rock-bottom prices for their meals.
8. No store loyalty
: Coupon Queens get the best prices in their area, not at a particular store. Since stores are competing against each other, they will likely have a number of loss leaders (items they sell at a loss to entice you into the store) that other stores don't. Coupon Queens will choose to shop at a store that matches prices at competing stores. If none do, they will go to several stores that are close by to get the best prices.
9. Rain checks
: Most people hate rain checks when a sale item runs out because they want the item immediately. Coupon Queens love rain checks because they usually have a distant expiration date (if any). This allows the Coupon Queen to match the rain check with a coupon when it comes out for that particular product and this often results in free products.
10. Do rebates
: Most people who hear "rebate" think about the cash-back rebates that offer a few dollars off on a large item. Coupon Queens know that there are a number of smaller rebates. For example, many grocery store rebates today are not a rebate per product, but rebates on a specific dollar amount of items purchased, such as $10 back on a $20 purchase. They also take advantage of "try me free" rebates and "taste guarantee" refunds.
There are a lot of tricks to the coupon trade, but if you are willing to put the time into learning the ropes, it is possible to significantly reduce the amount you spend on groceries by taking advantage of the deals that coupons offer.
Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.