More Savings, Less Hassle: Coupons 101

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Have you ever watched one of those extreme couponing shows where the person has a three-ring binder full of coupons and a giant pantry full of food that would require an elaborate rotation schedule to use everything before it reached its expiration date?

I do not want to be that person. I would, however, like to save money. There's got to be a happy medium. The tips and guidelines below honor several of my concerns: I do not want to spend time hunting through websites for online coupons, only to forget what I have clipped, or purchase the wrong item. I do not want to carry a giant binder of coupons around with me. I do not want to drive to eight different stores in order to buy my groceries.

 One quick and easy way to save: Sign up for free loyalty programs at stores or businesses you frequent. Even if you don't shop them exclusively, many offer better prices to loyalty members and provide bonuses if you spend above a certain amount.

Store your coupons where you can access them when you need them. If you don't have them handy, they don't do much good. Coupon organizers the size of a wallet, with tabs for different categories, will help keep you organized without making you look as though you belong on reality television. I'm old school, and keep a paper grocery list, so I just mark items with an asterisk if there's a corresponding coupon. If you'd rather leave your coupon file at home, make your list on the back of an envelope, and use the envelope to store all corresponding coupons.

If you don't subscribe to a local newspaper with coupon inserts, a variety of apps provide them. Kiplinger's recommends Cartwheel, Coupons.com, Coupon Sherpa, Favado, RetailMeNot, SnipSnap, ValPak Local Savings, and Yowza as top apps for savings.

Meijer's mPerks provides aloyalty program and online coupons. Use its website or the Meijer app to clip mPerk coupons and make a shopping list. (It's helpful to add notes to your list about mPerk coupon details such as brand, quantity, or size.) Print your list, or access it from your smartphone; there are no paper coupons to organize, although you may use paper coupons in combination with your mPerk coupons. Spartan Stores including Family Fare and D&W also allow loyalty program members to clip coupons online. They are applied when you swipe your loyalty card at checkout. Use the Yes Rewards app to access your account easily on your smartphone.

If you know that certain retail favorites periodically send out big discount coupons, create a list of what you need to stock up on so that when that coupon arrives, you know what to buy. (Put that Ulta "20% Off Your Entire Purchase" coupon to good use!) And, some stores allow you to stockpile your coupons to use in one visit. For example, Bed Bath, & Beyond allows shoppers to use multiple coupons per transaction, so if you collect three coupons, and need three items, you can apply one coupon to each and save on all three items in one trip.

Groupon and Amazon Local also provide some great deals, especially if you check for promo codes before you buy. If you're planning on going out to dinner, playing a round of golf, treating yourself to a massage, or looking for an activity for you child's birthday, you may find savings on something you were planning to buy anyway.

There are many strategies for "couponing," but the bottom line for success is this: When you buy something just because you have a coupon, you're spending money to save money. This doesn't result in more money in your bank account. Perhaps our best couponing advice is this: Use coupons and discounts to buy what you already have on your list.

We're curious: What are your best couponing tips? Please share in "comments."

Written by Jennifer Reynolds, staff writer at West Michigan Woman magazine..


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