Building a Better Budget Part 2 - Getting Your House in Order

Building a Better Budget Part 3 – A Beginner’s Guide to Couponing

It’s no secret that setting a budget and sticking to it can save you money. The trick is doing both and doing it well. That’s what we’re going to explore in our new series – Building a Better Budget. It’s all about how you can save yourself some money with a little budget planning and taking advantage of some useful tried and true tips. For more tips, check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Building a Better Budget Part 3 - Beginner's Guide to Couponing
“I can’t wait to see how much money I’ve saved!”

Following the airing of TLC’s scripted reality television show, Extreme Couponing, a coupon craze gripped America. Yet, as experts examined the show’s deals, it quickly became obvious there were problems with the show’s premise that a fistful of coupons got you lots of something for next to nothing. Since then, the show has come and gone and in the sober gray aftermath, many former extreme couponers maintain three important lessons learned:

  • Stockpiling products does not save you money because the same items go on sale every six weeks.
  • To save hundreds of dollars, you often spend hundreds of dollars on products you’ll neither need nor use.
  • Collecting coupons and stalking bargains can be a major time-suck.

While some argue that the show irreversibly damaged couponing, coupons never the less continue to be a great way to save money. Businesses use coupons to market their product or service and stimulate demand and the practice continues to work surprising well. Coupon clearing giant, Ingmar says that 2.9 billion coupons were redeemed in 2013 — 66 million of which were digital coupons, up 141% from 2012. The upshot is that businesses want to continue using issuing coupons to attract consumers. In 2014, the average face value for coupons was $1.15 for food items and $2.04 for no-food items, an 10% average increase over 2013. The trick for consumers lies in finding out the best way for them to find the best deals and bring them home.

To that end, here’s five of the best up-to-date couponing tips to help beginners get their start in couponing.

1) Don’t buy stuff that you’re not going to eat or use — no matter the deal

Let’s say you had a coupon for a Coburn Quarter Milker. Wow! Fantastic deal! But, do you own a cow or plan to in the near future? Probably no. The same rule applies to grocery and personal items. The best coupons are those that are for the things and services you want and use and that give you a great discount. If you don’t use or eat a product, then why waste your money on it? Use that money for the things you really need.

Building a Better Budget Part 3 - Beginner's Guide to Couponing
“I don’t really care for this shampoo brand, but I can buy 25 of them and they’re all free with coupons!”

2) Always read the grocery sales flyers

Grocery stores offer weekly sale items and often include store coupons in their sales flyers. Don’t limit yourself to one grocery store. Familiarize yourself with and shop at competing stores. By comparing weekly sales flyers, you can stay on top of the best prices for the things you need. Check out their web sites and sign up for their email specials. More and more stores also offer coupons through their Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media outlets. Sure, not everything will be a great deal nor will it always be what you need or want. However, there will be plenty of chances to score great deals.

3) Organize your coupons 

Now that you’ve gathered an armful of coupons from newspapers, sale flyers, and even printed from websites, it’s time to sit down and figure out how to organize them so you can keep track of them. There’s all sort of methods ranging from envelopes to a binder full of folders but the main idea is to be able to get at them when you need them —and that means you want to stick with something that’s easily portable.

4) Be aware coupon rules have changed 

The economic turmoil of the Great Recession caused a spike in coupon use between 2009-2011. Supermarkets and drugstore chains also saw a huge up-tick in cases of coupon fraud. Consequently since in 2012, many manufacturers coupons now restrict “extreme couponing” by employing “redemption limits” on coupons. Many have also ended the practice of double-couponing and stacking coupons.

Double couponing usually is when the store will match a manufacturers’ coupon discount. Instead of 50¢ off, you get $1.00 off. Stacking coupons is where the store allows you to apply a coupon to an item that’s already on sale. If you’re careful, both can save you a tidy sum —just don’t get carried away buying stuff you don’t need just to snag the biggest discount. If you’re really stalking the savings, there are several websites ( like and that track Texas grocery stores that limit or permit doubling and stacking coupons.

Building a Better Budget Part 3 - Beginner's Guide to Couponing
Be smart about your coupon use and don’t get sucked into buying things you don’t need.

5) Sales Cycling — to everything a season 

To move product, grocers follow sales cycles that mirror consumer seasonal appetites and needs. For example, holiday meal items (think pumpkin and turkey), sports snacks, spring strawberries, even frozen food month in March. Cycling also includes fresh foods from both foreign and local sources, too. To get the most out of your grocer’s flyer coupons buy, what’s in season and add it to your pantry. This will also save you time when it comes to weekly meal planning.

One more thing — If you eat meat, it helps to understand how pricing works between the farmer, packer, and your grocery store. At times such as  drought (like the recent one that hit Texas) or there’s rising feed costs, farmers and ranchers will sell livestock to slaughter in order to make some profit on their livestock. This can cause a drop in prices. However, there are also normal seasonal regularities that affect meat prices. Hog prices tend to seasonally dip in the autumn while Texas beef prices are at their seasonal lowest in May and then again in late autumn. So it pays to watch the markets. Buying larger amounts of meat to freeze during these lower priced periods can save you a couple of dollars/pound.

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Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.