3 Couponing Strategies That Save You Time and Money (and Keep You Sane)
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Do you ever find yourself sitting at your kitchen table, surrounded by a pile of coupons, newspapers, circulars and a smartphone with five newly downloaded apps — and feeling completely overwhelmed?
I’ve been there. With so many different sources of discounts and ways to stack the savings, figuring out how to save the most money can be tougher than it looks. Is Costco actually cheaper than CVS? Do I really need three Kleenex six-packs? Which saving and coupon apps actually work, and which aren’t worth the time?
However, I don’t look at couponing as a struggle anymore; I’ve figured out how to organize coupons to make it a more efficient, enjoyable process that helps me save money while buying the things I need for my family. Ready to learn my couponing systems and strategies?
1. How to Organize Coupons With a Binder System
I remember going to the grocery store with my mother and watching her sort through a huge stack of coupons to find ones she could use that day. Instead of bringing all of your coupons to the store, wouldn’t it be easier to only bring the ones you’ll need that day? Manage your coupon inventory by creating an organized binder.
The first step is to find a binder, preferably a colorful one that’s easy to find on your shelf. Check your kids’ school supplies from last year for leftover binders, or look at your local thrift store or a garage sale.
Purchase coupon sleeves, and organize them by category using binder dividers. My categories are beauty, home goods, pet, food, medicine, cleaning supplies and restaurants.
Sort your paper coupons — ones you’ve clipped from your local newspaper and circulars, or those you’ve received in the mail, like Valpaks — into the appropriate categories. Ta-da!
This system makes it easy to coordinate your shopping list with your coupons. When you know you’ll need dog food, light bulbs and glass cleaner, you’ll only need to take a few coupons sleeves with you, rather than a big stack of random clippings!
2. Use Savings Websites to Find More Discounts
Your local newspaper might share some deals, but it can’t compete with the number of options you’ll find online. Make sure you’re not missing out on extra savings by checking these websites for online coupon codes as well as printable coupons you can cut out and add to your coupon binder.
One of the biggest couponing sites around, Coupons.com offers printable coupons for useful, everyday items. The only drawback is that you can’t search for a coupon for a particular item; instead, you need to browse through all available coupons in a particular category, looking for one that meets your needs.
With both printable coupons as well as promotional codes to use online, RetailMeNot is a must-bookmark site for any couponer. You’re likely to find coupons for your favorite stores, and it’s expanding its options regularly. If you don’t see any offers for your favorite store, check back a few weeks later and you might be in luck.
This startup site lists tons of online coupons and also aggregates offers from daily deal sites like Living Social and Groupon. It also helps you stay organized and plan your shopping list by consolidating paper coupons and local store offers based on your location.
If you wanted, you could use the site as a digital version of the binder system I outlined above, since it even tracks coupons from your local newspaper. Use the dashboard to create a grocery list, manage all your coupons in one place and see your total savings.
3. Save on Your Smartphone
Your biggest savings tool might be your smartphone. The best part? You can use many of these money-saving apps after you get home from the store, from the comfort of your own home — no more juggling coupons in the checkout line.
Here's how it works….
- Sign up for Ibotta here (you just need a name/email address to start).
- Browse through the cash-back offers in your area, and take note the next time you go to the grocery store (the offers change every week). For example, in my area Ibotta will give me 50 cents if I take a picture of a receipt showing that I bought a gallon of milk and $1 if I take a picture showing that I bought graham crackers. Pretty cool, right? Once you've reached at least $20 in earnings, you can request payment via PayPal or Venmo. And right now, Ibotta is giving new users a $10 sign-up bonus, just for redeeming their first receipt.
- So, obviously you don't want to buy a bunch of crap you weren't already going to buy. But this can be an easy way to get a little cash back for doing something you were already going to do. Also, you can still use coupons on the items you're buying, so this can be a nifty way to “stack” your savings, and in some cases, you might be able to get the item for free. To get started, see our Ibotta review.
Who doesn’t love Target? Love it even more with Target’s Cartwheel app that saves you money in store with no paper involved. Simply browse items or scan the bar code of the product you are interested in, then click the “Add” button. When you check out, the cashier will scan your mobile coupon, a personalized bar code that includes all the items you added.
Download Cartwheel for both iOS and Android devices.
Favado is less a couponing app than an aggregator. It pulls together all the sales in your area. Instead of going through all of the ads that come with your Sunday newspaper, select the stores you shop most at, including Trader Joe’s and CVS, and Favado will list all the sale items at each store.
Download Favado for both iOS and Android devices.
This app works just like Ibotta: You scan, send a picture of the receipt and save! The difference: Berrycart focuses on health foods, so it offers cash back on items like almond milk iced coffee or coconut water — foods that aren’t often discounted.
Download Berrycart for both iOS and Android devices.
This is my favorite of the couponing apps. Created by Groupon, Snap includes offers on all kinds of items, from Robitussin to tomato sauce. Sometimes it even has deals on “any fresh salmon” or “any grapes” — which means you can save money on your favorite brand without being restricted by a specific coupon.
This app works just like Ibotta, but you only need to scan the receipt, not the bar code. Another plus? Snap isn’t linked to any specific store, so you can shop wherever you like.
Download Snap on iOS and Android devices.
Use Your Couponing System
Don’t worry if this system seems overwhelming at first. Give it a try, and I bet you’ll figure out quickly how to organize coupons. You’ll keep your paper coupons organized in your binder and manage your online promo codes using Qponsr or RetailMeNot, so shopping trips will be simpler. Check your favorite app for deals while you make your shopping list, and then scan bar codes and take photos when you get home.
While the discounts may seem small at first, they’ll add up. You’ll eventually realize you saved the cost of a Starbucks latte or a movie ticket — and celebrate your milestones! Couponing can be a fun hobby that yields even more enjoyable rewards, so take the stress out of managing your savings by trying these couponing strategies.
Disclosure: Here’s a toast to the affiliate links in this post. May we all be just a little richer today.
Jill Pohl is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia, by way of lots of other places (she’s a military spouse). You can find her on Twitter at @jillpohl.