Using coupons to save money

Beyond Coupon Basics

by Wendy Burt


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By the age of 25, I was already referred to as "The Coupon Queen" by the cashiers at my regular store. Although I was thrifty out of necessity (as opposed to the quest for notoriety among small-town grocers), it was a title that I came to thoroughly enjoy.

"Is it really worth it to shop for two hours?" they'd ask, curious as to why anyone would endure such an extensive period of time doing what most consider a chore.

"Well, let's say on an average shop, I spend two hours and pay $70 for $160 worth of groceries. That's a $90 savings. Would you shop for $45 per hour?" In my five-plus years as a true coupon diva, I have yet to hear someone answer "no".

After explaining my tried-and-true tips for the umpteenth time to friends, family, co-workers and random people in the check-out line (Hey - they ask!), I have finally decided to put them down on paper. So here they are. Some may work for you, some may not. But who knows? You, too, may develop a reputation as your local coupon queen. Just stay away from my store.

  1. Buy one, get one free. Depending on your store, you may be able to use two coupons. For example, let's say that Ziploc bags go on sale for $1.99, but they're also "Buy 1, Get 1 Free" with your store membership card. (Most grocery stores offer "membership" cards for free). At my store, I can use two $1 off coupons because I am essentially buying two boxes of Ziploc bags. Granted, my store is offering to give me one free, but that's their choice. I'm purchasing two boxes so I'm using two coupons. So, using my two $1 off coupons, I get $2 off two boxes for $1.99. In other words, I'm getting two boxes of Ziploc bags for free. (This also works with two 50 cents coupons if your store doubles coupons.)

  2. Free trial sizes. Would you rather pay $1.99 for a full-size deodorant or get four smaller sizes for free? Unless your coupon says "not good on trial size," "Good on 4.6 oz. only," etc., you can get almost any toiletry for free. Check the trial size bins for deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and even food. You can use them for travel or every day, give them to your local shelter, fill Christmas stockings, or make gift baskets.

  3. Buy this item, get a different product free. Many stores and manufacturers now offer free secondary items when you purchase two or more of selected products, such as "Buy two boxes of Cheerios, get a gallon of milk free." My store was running a special for a month: buy any two of the listed products and get a free disposable camera. I got three free cameras in one month for purchasing two containers of deodorant each time. What's more, the deodorant was free! Each of the deodorants was a trial size on sale for 99 cents, and I had several 50 cents off coupons (my store doubled them to $1 off). I got six sample sizes of deodorant and three 24-exposure disposable cameras for free.

  4. Don't overlook certain products. Although I don't have kids, I do get baby food when I grocery shop. Notice I said "get" and not "buy." Baby food is something I get only when I can get it free. I've gotten free apple juice (juice boxes) that are the same size as three packs of adult juice boxes, which run somewhere around $1.99. I've also gotten lots of "baby" water for free, which I take on trips when I bring my dogs or go hiking. I've also gotten free jars of meat baby food that I mix with my dogs' food for a special treat. And of course, any time I can get something for free that I can't use, I donate it to a local food shelter.

  5. Stock up on in-store coupons. Many of those instant coupon feeders offer coupons, which are good for several months. Save several and then buy the product later when it's really on sale. I saved several $1 off coupons for Minute Maid Lemonade and then used them when it was on sale for $1.19. Who wouldn't want a half gallon of Minute Maid Lemonade for 19 cents?

  6. Look for double packages. One of my best buys was a two-pack of full-size Colgate shaving cream. They were selling two canisters, bundled in one wrapper, for 89 cents. I had a coupon for 40 cents off two (doubled to 80 cents), so I got two canisters for 9 cents total. I did this twice since I had two coupons and there was no limit on how many I could buy. So I purchased four canisters for 18 cents. Not bad at four and a half cents each!

Wendy Burt has more than 500 published articles, book excerpts and reviews in such magazines as Complete Woman, Woman's Own, Grit, ePregnancy, and American Fitness. Her books, Oh, Solo Mia! : The Hip Chick's Guide to Fun for One and Work It, Girl! : Productive and Fun Tips for the Hip Working Chick can be purchased through most bookstores.

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