Karen Hellier is a freelance writer and eBay entrepreneur. She lives happily in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and her dog.

I had this "Coupon Lady" shirt specially made for just for fun when I go grocery shopping. It does attract a lot of attention!

I had this “Coupon Lady” shirt specially made for just for fun when I go grocery shopping. It does attract a lot of attention!

Photo by Chuck Hellier and used with his permission.

The Coupon Lady

Fifteen years ago when my kids were young, it was a HUGE treat for me to go to the grocery store at night when my kids were home, and their Dad was home with them. I would leave the house at 9:00 pm and come home at 1:00 am supercharged and excited about all the money I had saved. I always reviewed the store fliers, compared coupons, and made a list of what I wanted at each store before arriving at the grocery store. I had an envelope for each store with the coupons I would use. On a regular basis, I spent only $60.00 for a family of 5, and a dog, and saved an average of $110 each week! The cashiers didn’t always know my name, but they knew I used a lot of coupons and saved a lot of money, so they would say, “Here comes The Coupon Lady.” That’s how I got the Coupon Lady nickname. I was very careful not to take advantage of the store policies, or give the cashiers a hard time. It worked out very well for me. The cashiers were usually as excited about my shopping deals as I was! The following 15 tips helped me the most to save money for my family. I hope they help you as well:

Tips for Saving

  1. Buy the local Sunday paper. Each Sunday, manufacturers put coupon fliers into the papers. In some towns, the fliers may come on Saturdays, but whatever day your local newspaper has coupon fliers in them, buy at least one copy. This way you will have access to all the coupons that are coming out in your area.
  2. Clip ONE of every coupon. I know it sounds crazy, especially if it’s a product you don’t use. But regarding sharing, you may have clipped a coupon for diapers that your neighbor could use, and they may have a coupon for cat food that you could use, and in this way, you can share the wealth of coupon savings. File them in your large coupon holder . . .
  3. Have a large coupon holder. If you are going to clip one of every coupon in your newspaper week after week, then you will need a large container to hold them all. Some people use shoe boxes with cardboard dividers, or if they want something sturdier they use plastic Sterilite containers. Toolboxes and long craft boxes work well too. Other people, including many of those featured in the show Extreme Couponing use binder notebooks with clear plastic windows so they can see their coupons more quickly than digging through a box. Whatever system you think will work best for you is the one you should use.
  4. Have a smaller coupon holder. You should organize ahead of time, with a separate divider for each store you are going to. That way, all the coupons you will need for that store will be available to you in one organized section. You can use envelopes, or purchase one of the small accordion style coupon holders in grocery stores for this purpose.
  5. Shop at more than one store. In this way, you will be able to take advantage of all the stores in your area and get the best deals on everything you buy. This works well if you have a lot of grocery stores and pharmacies in your area. If not, go to the ones that make the most sense gas wise. In my town, there are three grocery stores, a Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid all within give miles of each other. I can hit them all and use less than 1 gallon of gas (I get 34 miles to the gallon in my car, which is one of the reasons I bought my Toyota Yaris in the first place because I wanted to save money on gas!!!)
  6. Make a shopping list. On Sundays, sit down with the store fliers, and go through each one to see what the sales are and what you want to purchase that week for your family. Make a list, and compare it to the coupons you have just gotten that day, as well as the ones you have clipped and hopefully filed in your coupon holder. Not only should you shop with a list, but stick to it. Although it’s tempting to pick something up that happens to look delicious, it won’t help you stay on your budget. The only time you should purchase anything that’s not on your list is if there is an unadvertised store special that is a great deal.
  7. Bring ALL of your coupons with you to the stores when you go shopping. You will need to have access to ALL your coupons whenever you go shopping. You might find an unadvertised special, and you don’t want to be caught without your stash of coupons because you won’t be able to take advantage of the sale without them. By the time you run home and get your coupons, the shelves will probably be cleared. Keep your smaller container or envelope for that store you are in at the top of your coupon holder for easier access. Note: if you use a toolbox or craft box, it will fit easily into the child seat in the front of the cart . . . which leads me to the next tip . . .
  8. Never go shopping with your children: You love your kids, but you know how excited they get in a grocery store to see their favorite foods, cereals, candy, toys, etc. And it’s hard to keep them busy and to have them not ask for all the things they want. It can drive a mom or dad crazy when they are trying to stay organized with their coupons and match sizes of products to the coupons in their hands when kids are trying to have conversations with you about the newest brand of something they just saw an ad for on TV. It’s easier to save and stay organized if you leave the kids home with a parent, relative, or a neighbor…you can always return the favor and watch her kids someday.
  9. Make a budget and stick to it. If you really want to save money, you need to be careful to not go over budget. Decide how much you want to spend on groceries each week, and stick with it. If you have extra money some weeks, put it aside so another week you can use it to stock up on a special.
  10. Shop with cash. You will be much more likely to stick with a budget if you know you only have so much cash to spend and you are paying with cash. The freedom of using a debit or credit card can get shoppers into trouble because they don’t actually see the cash leaving their hands and figure they have enough money in their accounts to handle a few extras. Over a few months, those extras can add up, and break your shopping budget. To make this easier, shop with a calculator to keep track of purchases as you buy them.
  11. Shop every week. Just as you want to be able to take advantage of every store, you also want to take advantage of every sale at the stores. Even if you just go in for the specials to a few stores, it will be worth it if you can save money on those products.
  12. Stock up on sales, so you’ll never have to pay full price. If you see your regular brand of deodorant that is regularly $2.99 and it’s on sale, and you have a coupon that will make it 99 cents (or less) stock up on as many as you can. Or at least enough to get you through to the next time that product goes on sale. Most items go on sale on a cyclical basis every four to six weeks. By following this system, you will never have to pay full price for it again. If you do this with all your groceries, you will see huge savings by the end of the year. If you need storage room, build shelves in your basement, store items in every closet, under beds, etc.
  13. Make sure to combine sales with coupons whenever possible. Having a coupon for something, or being able to buy a product on sale is a great way to save money. But if you combine a coupon with a sale, you’ll save even more money. Do this every week, and you’ll see the savings mount up.
  14. Call the 1-800 number on most of the products in your house. Tell the company you like their products and were wondering if they have any coupons they can send you or put you on a mailing list. Often they are so happy that you aren’t calling to complain, they will oblige. It’s so nice to get coupons in the mail rather than more bills!
  15. Get your friends, neighbors, and relatives to save coupons for you. Most people don’t pay attention to the coupon fliers, or only take a few out and then recycle the fliers. If they know someone else can use them, people are happy to save their extra coupons for you. This will be especially helpful if you have relatives from other states who are willing to exchange coupons with you. If you live in a state in which coupons are doubled, then 50 and 75 cent coupons will be useful to you. If your relative lives in a state that doesn’t double coupons, then they will want the $1.00 off one item coupons . . . trade to get what will save you the most money. People close by can save the whole fliers for you, but with people out of state, you can save postage by just getting a list from each other of the products you buy on a regular basis.

Good luck saving and please feel free to comment or ask any questions.

The tools of the coupon trade! Here is my main coupon holder and my store pouch inside of which I keep an envelope for each store filled with coupon and my grocery list for each store I will shop at each week.

The tools of the coupon trade! Here is my main coupon holder and my store pouch inside of which I keep an envelope for each store filled with coupon and my grocery list for each store I will shop at each week.

Photo by Chuck Hellier and used with his permission.

Helpful Websites

In the past 15 years, there have been a lot of great improvements in ways to get coupons and make saving easier. I highly recommend the website Couponmom.com, which will let you log in by your state and see the sales in your towns for pharmacies and grocery stores. The site shows what coupons you can combine with the sales, and how much the final cost will be. It is totally free to use, but you will need a username and password to use this site. The Coupon Mom has also written a book that I bought and found it helpful.

You can also go to smartsource.com and download coupons from there. Some stores are reluctant to take internet coupons because people have made copies and ripped the stores off. Find out what your store coupon policies are about accepting internet coupons before you try to use them.

All of these dishwashing soaps were originally $1.59 but I got them for 38 cents each with a sale and a coupon.

All of these dishwashing soaps were originally $1.59 but I got them for 38 cents each with a sale and a coupon.

Photo by Karen Hellier

Grocery Store Cards Can Save You Money

Once you get past the fact that when you apply for a store card at a grocery store or drug store, they are able to track your purchases and to some that is an invasion of privacy, remember that the perks this gives you will save you money. Here is a list of various grocery stores around the US and the perks you can get from their store cards:

Kroger:

Food:

Kroger periodically sends coupons out to their customers with savings based on products they have bought in their store before. And the envelope of Kroger coupons always includes 1 free item.

Gas:

For every $100 you spend at Kroger stores in one month, you can earn 10 cents off per gallon of gas from Kroger gas stations. And even if you don’t have enough gas points accrued in one month, you can still save 3 cents off per gallon by just scanning your Kroger card before gassing up any time you scan your Kroger card at a Kroger gas st