If you’re currently not couponing because you don’t think they will really save you much money, your assumptions about coupons are wrong. You need to throw those old assumptions out to realise the hidden opportunities that exist. I know this will be difficult for you because it was extremely difficult for me. If you have any common sense at all, you should think that couponing is a complete waste of time. I did. The reason for this is simple. If you use common sense when you use coupons, you end up doing it all wrong. Seriously. Don’t believe me? If you have “common sense” you have likely assumed some of the following:

1. Most coupons are for junk food.

2. Most coupons are for things that you don’t buy.

3. Most coupons are for brand name products and even with a coupon, these are more expensive than store brands.

4. Coupons take too much time to clip, sort and organize to be worthwhile for the little bit of savings that you get.

I’m sure there are many others, but these are a few of the misconceptions I had before I started from previous coupon trials and failures over the years. If you believe any of the above, you probably do so from your own previous experiences with coupons. This is how coupons and couponing appear to work to most people at first glance.

What we are going to do is to completely turn this “common sense” way of looking at coupons up on end and use coupons the way that they benefit us the most, not how the stores and manufacturers expect us to use them. I will get into this is more detail in later steps, but it’s important to understand that leaving your preconceived notions of how coupons work will make it a lot easier to embrace how to make coupons work best for you.

Also resist the temptation to assume that “couponing is easy.” The truth is that couponing becomes easy, but when you first begin, there is a large learning curve that needs to be overcome. The good news is that the more you practice, the easier it becomes and it shouldn’t be long before you can say that couponing is easy for you.

The first step is getting a base of coupons to use. Those coupon inserts that come in the Sunday newspaper are far more valuable to you than you can imagine when it comes to cutting your grocery shopping bill. I know what you’re still thinking. “I don’t even use any of the brands that come in those Sunday coupon inserts.” Even if you know that don’t use any of the items that the coupons are for, they are still very valuable to you (remember, refrain from falling into your old assumptions about couponing – it will become clear later).

Basically you want to get as many Sunday coupon inserts as you can. There are 2 main companies that put inserts into the Sunday paper — SmartSource (abbreviated as SS by most couponers) and RedPlum (abbreviated as RP by most couponers). You really need a bare minimum of 2 of each, but you should shoot for a minimum of 5 of each (I know, that sound ridiculous, but believe me, you are going to be wanting even more in no time). The easiest way is to just have 5 Sunday papers delivered to your house, but there are a lot of other ways to get hold of these inserts if you don’t want to spend that much money. I only have a single Sunday paper delivered to my house, but usually collect 20+ inserts each week without spending any extra time doing it. This is how I do it.

Now when you get these inserts, you are going to be tempted to look through them to see if there are any coupons for products that you use and cut those out. DON’T. Seriously. Fight the temptation. The goal is to make couponing as easy and painless as possible and I believe for most people, the most painful part of couponing is the cutting, sorting and organizing (it certainly is for me). The only thing you will do by looking at the inserts is waste time trying to figure out a convenient way to cut, sort and organize the coupons that you think you will use. There is no convenient way. At this point and time, you don’t care what coupons are in the Sunday paper inserts. You just want them.

You want to leave the coupon inserts completely intact. Again, don’t even bother looking through them. All you want to do is take out a thick pen and place the Sunday date the coupon insert arrived on the front cover (if you are not sure, the date will be on the outside fold of the insert, but in small print so it is difficult to see) so that it is easy to read when you need to find it again. Then find a place to file it (I simply place mine on a bookshelf where I can easily find them when I need them in the future). This will be the extent of your Sunday newspaper coupon organization.

Begin collecting these inserts from this this coming Sunday (it is even worthwhile to go through your trash if you know you threw last week’s inserts out but still have them) and think about ways you may be able to get more of them.

Just an advance warning. For the next 4 months, you are going to miss out on some deals because you don’t have the Sunday coupon insert filed away that you will need. This will be extremely frustrating. I know that there were more than a few occasions when I wanted to quit after I heard about a great deal and then couldn’t take advantage of it since I didn’t have the coupon insert that I needed because the coupon insert the coupon was in predated when I started saving them.

This is especially true at the very beginning when you only have a few weeks worth of inserts. I think a lot of people do quit because they begin to believe that they will never be able to take advantage of the deals out there. You will. You just need to be patient as you build up your Sunday coupon insert stash. Realise that if you miss a deal now because you don’t have the Sunday coupon insert, by collecting and filing them away now, you will be in a position in a few months to take advantage of a similar deal.

Please feel free to ask any questions that you may have and I will do my best to answer them. This post is part of the Lazy Couponing series. Next step is learning about Manufacturer Coupons

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  1. Jeffrey, are there any legal ramifications if you are caught going through your neighbors’ recycling bin?
    Also, do you usually have to dig through the whole bin before locating the inserts?
    I’m a bit too chicken to try.

  2. @Alice

    You need to check with your local laws as they are different everywhere, but generally, there is nothing illegal about it.

    I actually don’t go through them without permission – I know which houses around me get the paper and when I see the owners, I ask them if it is OK. Most of them simply leave the inserts on top making it very easy for me to collect.

  3. So far, the only inserts I have been able to get is by buying one sunday paper for myself and then some weeks my father-in-law gets a paper and gives me his inserts. I like out in the country so walking past the cafes on Sunday is not an option. And the recycle bin in town has been removed. Frustrating! But I have been able to get some good deal with just one or two inserts from a week anyway.

  4. This is a great continuation of your project, Jeffrey. I’m eager to keep learning and now with these “how to” posts, I have a good starting point to recruit new “learners” for the cause. I have a question: Can you discuss buying coupons and inserts? I haven’t done it and probably never will, but it’s tempting sometimes, and I guess many people do it. Is it practical? Ethical? Legal? Worthwhile?

    Also, I have one comment. I’ve found it worthwhile to look through the inserts (rather than simply filing them away) at least once for this reason: there are regional differences in coupons. Sometimes we get coupons that don’t make it into most data bases, or are higher value. More often, sadly, we don’t get some of the good coupons that other regions get (or they are lower value) making those deals not work or not work as well.

    Anyway – thanks for continuing! Oh, and somebody turned me on to Dollar Tree as a source for extra newspapers in case you forget, get sidetracked, or are too shy (like me, so far) to scrounge up extra inserts. They have Sunday papers well into Monday and sometimes Tuesday, and they are only a buck.

  5. Depending on where you work your co-workers can be a great source. I simply posted a print out on the break room fridge asking for any unused Sunday paper coupons, I get around 2-5 showing up on my desk each week now. A very easy way with very little work, give it a shot.

  6. @Eric

    No. The coupons are fewer and ususally only the current ones – the ones that will get you good deals are from inserts in the past.

  7. @Jeffrey

    Thank you for your quick reply. I do have one followup question. What if one printed out every new coupon as they became available and then stored them like one would do with newspaper inserts?

    (Don’t know how easy / hard / time consuming this might be…just a thought that popped into my head.)

  8. @Eric

    Nope, still won’t work (and would be much more expensive with all the ink you would use). They only list a fraction of the coupons on the websites that are in the inserts. Besides, then you get into that whole organizing thing that takes up a huge amount of time that we want to avoid at all costs…

  9. For those of you in the SF Bay Area, I get 2 copies of the SF Chronicle delivered on Sundays for 35 cents each. You might want to look into that.

  10. I too found that there must be regional differences for the Smart Source and Red Plum Sunday coupons. I have been saving my inserts for four weeks now. For the past two weeks, I have looked at some sites that mentioned “great deals” or even “money makers” and was so excited because I had those dates. So… I went to my Sunday coupon inserts and lo and behold!! Could not find the coupon(s)! After this happened three different times, I realized that my area of the country must not get the same SS and RP as others. Same thing with CVS sales. What some blogs/websites talk about with the deals for this week just don’t exist where I live. It is frustrating but I can still cut my grocery bill significantly.

  11. Thanks for the reminder to be patient. I am still at the few weeks worth of inserts point, and things have been looking grim.

  12. RE: Taking your neighbor’s trash:

    In California v Greenwood, the Supreme Court ruled that trash is up for grabs.

  13. Just to let you guys know, it is totlally worth it to buy 10 sunday papers a week. I have been learning to do this for 6 weeks and am seeing it pay back more and more each week.I am consistently getting product for under 10 % retail value. Incredible! I originally tried to get every deal possible, but it takes too much time. I mainly focus on CVS, Walgreens, and Publix.

  14. @Eric and Jeffrey

    About the Smart Source and Red Plum websites…

    While they are certainly no replacement for the Sunday coupon inserts, as someone just starting out I have checked them out. I’ve restricted myself to printing high value coupons for things I know we use since I don’t have many coupons to rely on yet. My husband was running low on deodorant, and there was a $3 off 2 in his preferred brand coupon on one of those sites. I printed it and trolled for deals for 2 weeks before I found it BOGO.

    I’ve always stockpiled so it is rare for us to run low on anything nonperishable. I would absolutely check those sites for things you will need to buy soon and don’t otherwise have a coupon for, but honestly most of the time I end up there it’s because I clicked on the Coupon Database at the top of this page looking to match a coupon with a deal. 🙂

  15. I got a bunch of coupons this morning and am willing to be patient about collecting them for a few months, but it looks like a lot of the coupons expire less than a month from now. What am I missing?

  16. @JP

    Yes, that is normal. You aren’t missing anything. You won’t be using all the coupons — only a few that happen to match up with good deals.

  17. Jeffrey, I can’t thank you enough for starting this “guide.” I followed your $1 a day challenge closely and was hoping you’d post even just a very basic step by step of how to get started and continue to do it myself. For the past few weeks I’ve been clipping and organizing and trying to find deals but am finding myself losing steam. It’s just too much to keep track of! I’m going to take a break from the method I’ve been using and will follow your guide. Looking forward to seeing how it all works! Though I have to admit I’m a little shy about finding more inserts than the one that comes in my Sunday paper…

    BTW – my office has donation bins for not only a local food bank, but also for a Support Our Troops and School Supplies for local kids program. If I donate some of the items I purchase with my first $20 to these other charities, would you rather I don’t record them on the Penny Experiment page or is it all the same to you?!?!?

  18. my sunday paper this week did not have the coupon inserts! This is my first week subscribing to the sunday paper (just so I can get the coupon inserts and start “couponing”). I called the paper and they said no one got the coupon inserts today!! So frustrating! I read everywhere that the best place to get the coupons is the sunday paper! How can I get coupon inserts when the paper doesn’t provide them?!?!? Hopefully this is a fluke and they’ll be there next week….

  19. Thanks jeffrey #21! 🙂 You can tell Im new to all this! hahaha

    Do you know why they aren’t provided on holiday weekends?!

  20. @Christine

    I don’t know the official reason, but would guess that on holiday weekends far less peopl would be using the coupons right away because they are on vacation or busy in other ways – while the best way to use the coupons in your favor is not to use them right away most of the time, that is what the manufacturers want. I assume this is why they are often not placed in newspapers delivered on holiday weekends.

  21. In response to Cynthia, #11, there are some free sites like couponmom.com that link up the best deals specific to your state. They may not list all stores you usually shop at, but look at what is listed (usually at LEAST one store and cvs/riteaid/walgreens, maybe target etc.) and you will probably get a better idea of coupon deals using the Sunday inserts available in your area.

  22. I live in south east Wisconsin and I don’t see any stores from around here that participate on those eCoupon websites you listed. Are there other regional eCoupon sites or something I should google?

  23. ok, so if I just collect a bunch of inserts without looking inside, how do I know when a good deal comes along that I should go back to May/10 and pull out 5 coupons for XXX product?

  24. Jeffrey,

    I’m Celiac. A lot of these deals include lots of food that I cannot eat (I cant have gluten, which is in wheat, barley, and rye). Any suggestions on how to alter this for max savings on a gluten free diet? (I can’t have pizza, cheerios, most oatmeal, most chocolate, pastas, bread, etc. but I can have rice and potatoes)

  25. @Josiah

    What you need to do is pay special attention to when moneymakers become available which will allow you to spend the excess money on anything you want in your diet. These don’t happen often, but definitely take advantage of them when they do. This is especially true at drug stores.

  26. i live 2 hours from any major city, our area does not have a sunday paper at all. I get a sunday paper only if I am out of town. Is there any way to get surplus or old sunday papers some how or just to buy the inserts? It is 200 miles to Las Vegas,NV – St. George,UT – those are the closest cities to us. Please help- Thank you!

  27. @irma Coupons have differing experaion dates. Yes, some coupons will expire, but others will still be good. The key is to have a coupon to use when a good sale comes around.

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