Learn how those little slips of paper can add up to big savings

Couponing for Beginners

by Martha Miller

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"She bought $150 worth of groceries for $7". Have you ever heard of something like this or similar? Do coupons really save money? I'd say they do! With a few tips and careful planning....you too can save money by clipping those little pieces of paper.

Where do I get coupons? I find mine in magazines, the Sunday papers and by trading with friends. Other ways would be to call companies that make the products you use and ask. Tell them what you like/don't like about their products. Most companies will send you coupons for those products. After collecting the coupons, separate them into two piles. Those you'll use and those you won't.

What about the coupons you won't use? You can use these to trade for coupons you do want. Do you know of any friends who coupon? You can arrange a get together with friends to swap coupons. Some stores have coupon bins where people place the coupons they don't use and get out those they would

With the coupons you plan to use, it helps to have some sort of filing system set up. It doesn't have to be elaborate...anything from an envelope to a store-bought coupon organizer will do. I use a recipe box with the coupons separated by dividers according to category. (Ex. Baby products, breads, cereals, dairy, meat, etc...) It helps if you put the coupons with the most recent expiration dates in front so you remember to use them.

Related: How to build a coupon binder in 10 easy steps

Once coupons are ready, start watching the sale flyers from the stores. Find out what each store's couponing policy is. Do they double coupons up to a certain amount? Triple? Do they use their own coupons for sales they run? If you find a store that does have their own coupons for sales...combining them with manufacturers coupons (those you just clipped and filed) can save you money. How you ask? Say the store is having a sale on ketchup...ketchup's regular price is $1.59. This week it's on sale for $1.29...hmm...you find you have a coupon for 50 cents off in your file. If your store doubles coupons...that's $1 off. That ketchup just cost you 39 cents. Store brand was $.99 See how it works? On the other hand, if a product still costs more than the store brand even after figuring in the "savings" off the one with a coupon...go for the cheaper one.

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Do the stores lose money if you use coupons? No. The value of the coupon will be reimbursed by the manufacturer plus they pay the store a handling fee of say 8 cents per coupon. (It's written on the coupon) What does that mean? The company that gave you that coupon will pay the store that amount of money. In the case of the ketchup $.50 + another .08 for letting you use it to buy their product. As for doubling...the store expects people to use this--they offer it to get customers to come shop at their store.

How much money do you save? That depends on how much effort you put into it. I've heard of people who save 50% of their grocery bill by couponing and refunding. I save $10 to $20 weekly from using coupons alone. I'm starting to look into refunding as a way to save more. But that's another article...

Couponing can save you money only if you buy products you would normally buy. Hey...we all need laundry detergent, toilet paper and food.

Why not spend less money to get them?

Martha is a stay-at-home mom of 4 who homeschools in Indiana.

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