September is National Coupon Month, so now is a great time to try your hand at “Practical Couponing.” If you’re a newbie couponer, what’s the most important thing to master? In order to maximize your coupon savings, you’ll need to thoroughly educate yourself on the coupon policies for the stores at which you’ll be shopping. I suggest starting with one grocery store, one drugstore, and one national super-store (like Wal-Mart or Target) in your local area. Mastering these coupon policies can be tricky, so start slowly with no more than three stores. Once you feel confident that you’ve mastered those, start adding other stores.
Here are some important things to consider.
First, visit the store website and search for “coupon policy.” Print it and put it in your coupon binder for handy reference.
Does the store double coupons? If so, how? My Kroger doubles coupons that are 50 cents or less. If a coupon is more than 50 cents, but less than a dollar, Kroger bonuses it up to a dollar. Coupons worth a dollar or more are face value. Why is this important? Let’s say that both Kroger and Wal-Mart have Softsoap liquid hand soap on sale for a dollar and you have a 35 cent coupon. Your final price at Wal-Mart will be 65 cents for the soap. However, the better deal is at Kroger. They will double your 35 cent coupon to 70 cents, making your final price only 30 cents. Also, find out if there is a limit on double coupons. Some stores, like Meijer, limit two identical coupons to be doubled in one transaction.
Does the store limit the number of identical coupons in a transaction? If so, what is the limit? Kroger currently limits 5 identical coupons in one transaction.
Are there store coupons? And can they be used in conjunction with manufacturer coupons? CVS has great store coupons that print on your receipt or at their in-store “Extra Care” kiosk. At CVS you can use one store coupon PLUS one manufacturer’s coupon on the SAME item! I have scored some major deals this way. Bonus Tip: If a coupon says “Manufacturers Coupon” at the top, next to the expiration date, you can use that coupon at ANY store, even if it has another store’s logo printed on the coupon!
Does the store accept competitor coupons? If so, what are the restrictions? Wal-Mart accepts competitor coupons, but only ones that state the final price of the item. So, they will accept a Walgreens’ store coupon that says, “Cottonelle Flush Wipes for $1.99,” but they will NOT accept a Target store coupon for 50 cents off of Cottonelle Flush wipes. (See, I told you these policies can be tricky!)
Is there a store loyalty card? (Also referred to as a “shopper card” or “rewards card.”) If so, you definitely want to sign up for it! You’ll get the best prices, special sale notifications, and exclusive coupons based on your buying preferences. You may be able to add electronic coupons to your store loyalty card, which will come off of your total automatically when you check out.
Will the store match competitor prices? Wal-Mart has a great price-matching policy. If there are a bunch of good deals scattered across several stores one week, just head over to Wal-Mart with your sale fliers. (Wal-Mart’s coupon policy states that you don’t have to bring the sale fliers for their competitors because the cashiers are supposed to have them on hand. I prefer to bring them, just in case.) Make sure that you are buying the exact product, variety, and size that’s pictured in the competitor ad, or else you probably won’t get the matched price.
Bonus Tip: Before you go shopping, search a coupon database, like the one at moneysavingmom.com, for items on your shopping list. Many times I have found printable coupons to reduce my grocery bill even more!
The most important thing to keep in mind when you first start couponing is to take it slow and be patient with yourself. If you try to do too much at once, you’ll end up confused and frustrated. Even the best couponers make a mistake and botch a deal sometimes! Learning the ins and outs of the various store policies takes time and practice, but it’s well worth it when you see your grocery bill steadily shrinking month after month.