How to Save Money With Coupons: A Simple, Efficient System
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 six-packs of Kleenex? 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 found ways 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. Create a Binder System for Paper Coupons
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 found 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, Retail Me Not is a must-bookmark site for any couponer. Most of the coupons the site offers are for stores you would find in your local mall, though they seem to be expanding their 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 as well as aggregating offers from daily deals sites like Groupon and Living Social. 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.
The Penny Hoarder
Yes, the site you’re reading now! While it doesn’t focus exclusively on promo deals or online coupons, The Penny Hoarder shares special deals when they’re available. For example, a recent post outlined a special deal to get a $5 Target gift card when buying Windex cleaners, and right now, readers can save 50% on glasses through GlassesUSA if they use the code “penny50.”
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.
Ibotta incorporates coupons for a variety of local stores, and discounts are good and easy to find. To access the deals, simply complete a task, scan the barcode of the item and take a picture of your receipt. Once your photo is approved, you’ll receive the savings.
Want to learn more? Here’s a more in-depth look at how Ibotta works.
Download Ibotta for both iOS and Android devices.
Who doesn’t love Target? Love it even more with their Cartwheel app that saves you money in-store with no paper involved. Simply browse items or scan the barcode 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 barcode 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 your most-shopped-at stores, 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 barcode. Another plus? Snap isn’t linked to any specific store, so you can shop wherever you like.
Download Snap! on iOS and Android devices.
Checkout51 is my second-favorite app. It works just like Snap, and has lots of generic discounts, like “$0.50 cash back on any gallon of milk.” You might even be able to combine its deals with those on Snap or Ibotta and get cash back for the same receipt twice!
Download Checkout51 for iOS and Android devices, or use the desktop version.
Use Your Couponing System
Don’t worry if this system seems overwhelming at first. Give it a try, and I bet you’ll see how simple it can be. You’ll keep your paper coupons organized in your binder, and manage your online promo codes using Qponsr or Retail Me Not, so shopping trips will be simpler. Check your favorite app for deals while you make your shopping list, and then scan barcodes 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.
Your Turn: Do you use any of these systems, strategies or apps? How have they helped you manage your coupons?
Jill Pohl is a freelance writer based in Northern Virginia, by way of lots of other places (she’s a military spouse of five years). Her lifestyle blog features published articles as well as personal posts, and can be read at www.visionsofjillhanna.com. You can also find her on Twitter at @jillpohl.