Supermarket Couponing for Non-Couponers

Okay, okay… a lot of you have been asking me to post more details about how I do this. The thing is, a kazillion other bloggers have outlined this stuff better than I ever could. Heck, I couldn’t pull off these deals without them! So instead, this post is for people who understand the concept of a coupon and use them from time to time, but would like to score some great deals without turning it into a major event. Here’s a quick rundown of how to do it with the minimum of effort for the maximum return.

Familiarize yourself with the coupon policies of your local supermarkets
First, look at the front page of the weekly circular and see if it notes “Double Manufacturers’ Coupons”. You can do this online – pretty much every chain in the country puts their circulars on their website. Then call or stop by their Customer Service desk and ask the following questions:

  • Up to what value to do you double?
  • Is there a maximum number of coupons that will double per transaction?
  • Do you accept coupons printed from the internet? If so, are there special rules for those?

Find a good coupon blogger or forum that covers your store(s)
For forum activity, I use A Full Cup because it’s the only one I’ve found for the supermarket I patronize (ShopRite). Plus, they have a pretty good searchable database for the printable coupons. Other good deal websites if you have access to the more popular coupons supermarkets – Publix, Meijer, Kroger, Harris Teeter, Safeway, Giant Eagle – I highly recommend DealSeekingMom and CouponCravings (who posts her weekly shopping trip every Saturday morning – she’s a stockpiler who feeds her big family on $40 a week). For others, well, google your little fingers off.

Stockpile
Some things go on sale in conjunction with coupons and promos quite regularly, while others are available on super-special just once or twice a year. You’ll figure this out over time, or you can ignore it and just do what you can. Your shopping cart will look strange – 8 lbs of Oscar Mayer bacon might raise an eyebrow, until you coupon it down to $3.04 for the whole lot (yes, this reflects a recent transaction). Then both of those nosy eyebrows will shoot skyward. And for the record, this was an exceptional deal, but plain old decent deals on bacon are fairly easy to find.

Use a coupon service
Don’t have the time or interest in collecting and clipping multiple circulars? No problem. First thing, look at the store circular as soon as you can get your hands on it, be it online or off. I can only get the online version in advance, usually 2 days before the new week begins. Check your handy coupon-crazy websites to see what deals they’ve identified. Now go back to the online circular and click on the products you plan to buy – it creates your shopping list (printable). Then go to a coupon clipping service like Coupons By Dede, The Coupon Master or The Coupon Clippers and get multiples. eBay is also an option, though the seller fixes the quantity, which may or may not suit your purposes. Like, who really needs 20 coupons for mayonnaise? That’s a 5+ year supply for most households! Since you can’t actually sell coupons legally, the coupon is free but you pay a “handling fee” that works out to be roughly 10% of the face value of the coupon. Shipping is about $1. You might spend $5 a week on this, but it will yield about $80 worth of savings.

Anatomy of a simple deal
Ragu tomato sauce is on sale 3/$4 and there’s a .75/2 coupon floating around. Pay attention to limits, eg. “4 per variety” and “must buy 3” and “Limit 4 deals per transaction”. Buy 6 coupons for 12 jars. Only like 2 kinds of sauce? Do two transactions of 6 jars each, just as long as they’re in multiples of 6 (price is based on 3, coupon is based on 2), you’re good. So 12 jars at the sale price is $16. Use 6 x .75/2 coupons, which double because they’re under $1 (that’s a fairly common rule)….so 6 x $1.50 = $9. Pay $7 for 12 jars of tomato sauce. Awesome. And this is the kind of information/organization you can obtain from the supermarket forums and blogs so you don’t have to figure it out yourself.

If couponing is a completely new concept to you, stop reading here. What I’m about to write could fry your brain. I’m great with mental arithmetic and I still found it intimidating at first…

Anatomy of a more complex deal
A lot of big chains have offers like “Buy 6 of XYZ Manufacturer’s Products Pictured, Get $3/$5/$7 register coupon off your next order” from time to time. Back to the Ragu example, let’s say there’s a Unilever offer for “Buy $15 of Listed Products, Get $5 coupon”. Well, your tomato sauce came to $16 before coupons – and for almost all supermarkets, the deal is triggered by the pre-coupon total. So pay your $7 and get $5 back. Turn around and spend it on the rest of your purchases in another transaction – I use it for milk, fruit, meat, etc. Anyway, the net cost for 12 jars of sauce is then brought down to $2 (+ .48 in coupon costs), or 20 cents a jar. I must admit, the downside to doing a deal like this is that you hate spending more than a quarter on a jar of tomato sauce in the future, when in the past you were happy with anything under $2. However, I think it’s worth the high.

The Ragu example is a deal I did a few weeks ago. It was such a rush, especially since I didn’t realize the $5 register coupon was going to happen. I went back on the last day of the sale and did it all over again. I wasn’t a fan of Ragu and just planned to give it all away, but one snowy night, it was the only tomato sauce I had in the house for making ziti, and I was very pleasantly surprised by their reduced sugar variety (I remember their sauce as being overly sweet). I’d been committed to Classico for years, but now I’m not so picky (and yes, I’ve done Classico deals too – not so easy though).

What about real food?
Well, yeah…coupon offeres for fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, meat, etc. are not in abundance, but they do happen. Dole occasionally makes a .75 coupon available online for their pineapples – the whole kind, not the can of rings. It doubles and goes nicely with a 2/$5 sale. Right now I’ve got a bunch of coupons for Cutie clementines that I look forward to using! I consider cheese and yogurt “real food”, and coupons are put out constantly by Sargento, Cracker Barrel, Yoplait, Activia, Land O’Lakes, etc. The egg industry occasionally puts out a printable Buy One Get One Free coupon for a dozen eggs, any brand. LOVE that one! And there have been spice coupons recently that give you .50 (double-able, remember) off meat if you purchase their product. Over the holidays, both Shady Brook and Butterball had $2 off a whole turkey coupon available on the major coupon sites. Right now, I’m gunning for an opportunity to use my “Buy One Special K cereal, get .50 off fruit” coupon.

Complex real food deal: I did a deal a few weeks ago that snagged me a coupon for a free gallon of milk for every 3 boxes of Kelloggs cereal that I bought. I bought 10 boxes on sale for $2 each, using $1 coupons. And it gets better – I also used a $1.5o off coffee when you buy 3 boxes of Kelloggs coupon against a can of Maxwell House that was on sale for $1.99. So I paid about $11.50 for 10 boxes of cereal, 3 cans of coffee and 3 gallons of milk. Since I also do rebates, I submitted for $10 back from Kelloggs too, but that’s too fiddly for a non-couponer to get into. “But what do I do with 3 gallons of milk?” you ask. Well, the coupons are good for 2 weeks after the cereal purchase – just turn around and get your gallon for the week, use one for next week’s milk, and then swoop in for the 3rd close to the coupon’s expiration date. No need to get them all at once, on the spot. Or if you’re me, you give them to your collection of Broke Folks.

Questions?
Hey, that’s what the comments section is for. Happy to answer…but this post is really for those who occasionally use coupons but want to step their game up without having little bits of paper cluttering up their handbag, coffee table, or brain. You can find the basics here.

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3 Responses

  1. GREAT post!!

  2. Thanks! This year one of my goals was to play the CVS game. I’ve also created a new blog (http://meindeals.blogspot.com/) to keep track of the deals I get. So far so good!

  3. […] Kate who writes the personal finance blog MoneyMate Kate (be sure to check out her informative post Supermarket Couponing for Non Couponers) took full advantage of CVS policies and coupons to purchase 10 boxes of Kellogg’s cereal […]

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