Whether you have never used a coupon before in your life, or are just getting back into the savings game, here are a few basic (and not-so-basic) tips to help you get in the game!

 The Fundamentals of Great Grocery Savings

If you’ve tried using coupons and found little to no savings on your grocery costs, it’s time to do some research on your local grocery stores.

1. What Stores Are In Your Area?

Make a list of all the grocery stores in your area. Think outside the box of your usual shopping. Even if a store seems too expensive, too big, or not as convenient, you just might be surprised. Once you learn more about the stores policies, and a few tips for maximizing your savings, you may find those “over priced” stores offer the best deals in town! You can learn more about each stores policies and special savings at their individual websites.

2. Do The Stores Offer Loyalty (Club) Cards?

Most stores offer a savings, loyalty, or club card. These membership cards are generally required to receive the sale or advertised prices. Sign up for every one that is offered. In addition to the sales prices, the electronic tracking often leads to additional check-out coupons, promotional coupons, store specific coupons, and even coupons and special offers delivered to your mailbox. There are frequently special offers and incentives to increase your purchases, such as the free turkey with $50 purchases, or a special 10% off coupon once you have spent a certain amount.

For example, Safeway regularly runs a promotion that if you buy $30 of xxx products, you get a $10 coupon good on your next visit. Many stores also offer 3 – 10% discount on gasoline with your loyalty card. Clipless coupons applied directly to your shoppers card are also available, just sign up at your stores websites.

There are also partnership arrangements. If you register your loyalty card with United Airlines, you can receive Grocery Miles. If you register your card with Upromise, you can receive cash back for your child’s college education. If you register your grocery cards with ClubMom you receive points for every purchase and these points can be used to receive a gift card for use at the grocery store.

Even if you never plan to shop at a store, it can be worthwhile signing up for their loyalty card because not using it may provide you additional incentive savings. An example is the 10% off first purchase, or the “we noticed you haven’t been shopping with us lately, please accept this coupon…” You will never know what you’ve been missing until you are on the list, so sign up.

3. What Are The Coupon Policies For Each Store?

Not all stores are created equally when it comes to coupons. Some stores that you thought won’t accept manufacturer coupons actually will.

  • Dollar General and BJ’s Warehouse do accept coupons, and have current promotions to increase your savings when you shop there with coupons.
  • Costco does not accept manufacturer’s coupons, but publishes their own coupon booklet each month for extra savings in their warehouses.
  • Major pharmacy chains, such as Rite-Aid and CVS, not only accept coupons, but offer manufacturers coupon in their stores. Some stores offer to match the value of the coupon (doubling), or better!. You can review a list of stores which may double in your state here, but check locally to see what is available at your specific stores.
  • Many offer electronic manufacturer rebates, which can be combined with additional mail-in rebates to increase your savings.
  • Many stores allow “stacking”, offering a store-specific coupon which can be combined with a manufacturer coupon for additional savings.

Even within the same chain, each store generally sets its own rules, so take the time to ask at the customer service desk for more information on common grocery store coupon policies.

4. Does The Store Put Out A Weekly Ad?

Not every store puts out a weekly, or monthly, advertisement. And not every item listed on a sales flier is a sale. “Featured item” does not mean sale. Informing you of the price an item is selling for does not mean it’s been discounted. Be skeptical and know your prices.

This is one area the Internet ads and websites can help. Internet ads generally allow you to click on items from the online “circular”, and the details of the offer are displayed. Frequently the savings or actual discount from the “regular price” is also shown (i.e. “2/$5” in the circular may not mean much, but “members save $1 on one” allows you to evaluate your potential savings). Again, refer to your stores websites for more information on their sales.

5. Do They Offer Rain Checks?

A rain check is a store voucher to receive the sale price on out of stock items at a future date. They are provided at the customer service desk, but only if you request it. Rain checks typically do not expire until one year after the issue date.

Rain checks are the trump card for great savings. The logic is simple. Prices may go up, coupons and rebates may become available, and the rain check provides you your own private super sale.

Consider this: A box of ice-cream bars sells for $4.69. A circular comes out announcing a sale of 10/$10. That’s a great price. The store sells out before you do your shopping. Request a rain check, and file it away in your coupon box. Make space in your freezer. Plan ahead. Three months later, the bars are in stock, and price is up to $5.69 a box and a coupon for a $1 discount has been issued which you’ve collected a number. You pull out the rain check and buy as many as you want at the 10/$10 price, using a $1 coupon on each box. While everyone else is still paying $4.69 for them using the coupon, you are getting them for free!

If your store is out of stock on a great sale item, take the time to get a rain check. Even if they are only out of one flavor, if it’s a great sale, get a rain check.

Once you know the games and rules at your local stores, you are ready to get into the game.

Winning with Coupons

The goal of the coupon game is to match weekly sales with your coupons to maximize your savings. Again, be proactive. Have a plan. Do away with ultimate convenience and brand loyalty. There are a number of considerations to address with your plan: time, gasoline costs, allergies, etc. But if you want to save the most money, be as flexible as possible.

Remember, the store offers sales, loss leaders, promotions to get you into the store. It is their goal for you to then do all of your purchasing there, so they can maximize their profits. It is your goal to maximize your savings. Don’t buy everything at one store just because it is more convenient. If you have to, prioritize the deals that will really make a difference. Saving ten cents on Rice-a-Roni, even if it comes out free after coupon, isn’t worth it if that’s the only savings in the store. Minimize purchases to “get by” until a rock bottom sales price comes along, then buy as many as you need on hand until the next rock bottom sales price comes along. This is called Stockpiling, and is key to “super saving”.

Also, be aware of the sales circular psychology. Circulars are designed to maximize sales. So, while the circular may say 2/$5, you only need to buy one to receive the sale price. If you have one coupon, purchasing only one gives the best deal. If you have two coupons, buying two may make sense. If the regular price of the item is $2, this may not even be a sale. Remember, this is your precious money you are spending, so only purchase what you need, not what the store wants you to buy.

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