The lure of coupons can be intense. With endless reality shows showing extreme couponing and bargain hunters, who wouldn’t want a piece of that savings action?
But as a former extreme couponer myself, I can tell you that it’s tedious and time-consuming. I would spend 6 hours planning a store visit (using Excel spreadsheets and coupon binders).
Sure, I would nab $200 worth of groceries for $88 for a 56% discount on my tab. Yet it was eating up all of my free time, not to mention the extra hour each store visit would take. I would need to carefully compare the coupon’s fine print against the product selection. Did I have to buy 3oz or 5oz to get the deal?
And then the cashier with the deer-in-headlights expression of horror. Another 10 minutes of encouragement and hand-holding as they scanned through my mountain of coupons.
Eventually, I just gave up on it. And while my extreme couponing days have passed, my love for scoring amazing deals is going strong.
From digital deals to promo codes to print grocery coupons, here are my tips for capturing the best savings and deals possible while saving time and your sanity.
1. Be Realistic with Your Couponing Goals
If your dream is to score $300 worth of groceries for $0.50, it’s likely never going to happen. In extreme couponing shows, many shoppers are able to do so because they shop at stores that have coupon special days where they can redeem unlimited coupons and save 3x the coupon’s face value.
In Minneapolis, where I live, there are no coupons that will triple the face value of a coupon. There is one local chain that offers 2x the coupon’s value once a week, but only for a max of 5 coupons total. And also, every grocery store in the area limits how many coupons you can use per item.
If your goal is to save $30, $50, $70 or more on groceries, that is doable. But “gaming the system” to get everything free is a hard feat to pull off. It requires hours of planning and living in a lucky extreme couponing zip code.
2. Buy What You Need, Not What’s Featured in the Coupons
Don’t buy items just because there’s a coupon for it. A $2.50 coupon can look attractive, but why save $2.50 on something you don’t need?
Make your grocery list first, then look for coupon deals after.
Even when I find a coupon for something I’m already planning to buy (i.e., 55-cents off a particular brand of pasta), I will only use that coupon if it’s the best possible deal. If the generic brand comes out 8-cents cheaper, that’s what I go with.
3. Get Free Coupons
There are plenty of places to find free printable coupons. While the Sunday paper is a good bet, fewer and fewer people are getting the weekly newspaper.
Online coupon sites like coupons.com, redplum.com, or InboxDollars are a great way to find free, printable grocery coupons. As an added perk, on the InboxDollars coupons page, you can get paid for every coupon you print, up to 25-cents a day. If you’re not a member of InboxDollars, it’s super quick and free to sign up, and you’ll get a $5 cash bonus to get started. If all you do is print coupons every day, you can make $100 free each year. Not to mention all the coupon savings you can redeem in-store.
Other Sources for Free Printable Coupons:
- Circulars in the store. Make sure you grab one when you enter the store.
- Double-check your spam. As in the spam, your mail carrier brings. I used to automatically trash it all, but I’ve found some great deals there. Including one where I got a $25 gift card at a local grocery store just by getting a new prescription filled there. I filled that prescription once and happily earned and spent that gift card.
- Look at the packaging of items in-stores. Often I’ll find sticker coupons on products for around $1.00 or more off. These can be manufacturer coupons, or coupons from the store because the item is going to expire in a few days.
- Magazines have better, more generous coupons than the Sunday paper kind. We don’t get any print magazines in our household, but when I see a magazine in the doctor’s office or at the hairdresser, I make sure to check them out.
4. Stack Coupons with Other Deals
I’ll admit that I’m a big Target junkie. (I come from Minnesota, land of Targets.) When I grocery shop, I love to use coupons and Target Circle (Target’s loyalty program, formerly Cartwheel) for additional deals. Whether your preferred supermarket is Target or a different chain, make sure to sign up for the store’s loyalty program.
Again, I’ll only buy a special that’s featured in Target Circle if I actually need it, and it provides the best savings possible. Typically the loyalty app savings add up to a couple of dollars or so a week, but that’s $100+ a year.
I also use additional rewards apps to save even more money.
- I earn an extra $100 to $200 a year by scanning my receipts and getting cash back rebates from receipt apps Ibotta, Checkout 51, and Fetch Rewards.
- With certain apps, you can earn rewards just for checking into stores or scanning barcodes of specific products. With InboxDollars, you can earn cash rewards for scanning barcodes in-store. Using the Shopkick app, you can earn “kicks” (redeemable for gift cards) when you check into stores and scan or purchase specific products.
5. Think Beyond Grocery Stores and Supermarkets for Couponing Deals
While we usually think of grocery hauls when it comes to couponing, but great coupon deals extend beyond supermarkets and mom and pop shops.
Many local shops and department stores will feature coupons in newspaper inserts and random flyers. At checkout, you can ask the clerk whether or not there any coupons featured in the paper (or elsewhere this week). Often, the clerk will just give you the discount. And if they tell you the print coupon is required, go buy a 75-cents paper to save the $10, $20 or so.
6. Online Coupons and Promo Codes
Online coupons and promo codes are another great way to save. Generally, these codes will be for online website purchases; however, make sure you ask to use these coupon codes in-store. In-store prices do not always match online prices.
At Target and Walmart stores, for example, I’ve noticed that the online price of an item can be anywhere from $0.15 to a couple of dollars cheaper. When I check out, I’ll usually scan the barcodes to price check the store vs. online price.
And other retail good stores will sometimes have different (less generous) sales and promotions going in-store. For instance, when I was at a Banana Republic store a few months back, I asked the clerk for the online promo code price and showed them the webpage, and they were all too happy to honor.
Sites like Swagbucks are a great source for finding current promo deals and coupon codes. For example, right now, you can find savings of up to $150 or more with their top deals this month:
- OneHanesPlace coupons (Hanes wear)
- YLiving coupons (mod furniture and decor)
- SheIn coupons
- QVC coupons
- Kohl’s coupons
- Walmart coupons
- Papa John’s coupons
7. Earn Cash Back for Shopping
Also, keep in mind that you may be able to make a purchase online and earn cash back shopping rebates, and then pick up the item in-store.
Cashback rebates can range from 1% to 20% or more, and thousands of different online retailers participate. MyPoints, ShopAtHome, and Rakuten, are three excellent sources for earning cash back for your shopping. Before you make your next purchase, check out their website first, and see what deals are featured.
I have made online purchases at Walmart and Target (scoring 1.5% cash back) and then picked up the items in-store. (Most grocery items are excluded, but there were other home goods and baby items I was picking up.)
1.5% might not sound like a lot, but if you’re making a large purchase, why get an extra $5 or more in cash back. Plus, the item can be already rung up and brought right out to your car. Convenience and money saved!
8. Buy Discounted Gift Cards
Saving money with discounted gift cards is a hack I discovered a few years ago, and it’s at the top of my favorites as one of the best ways to save. While it’s not a coupon, per se, it’s the same mindset, so it definitely makes the list.
Every year, consumers get flooded with unwanted gift cards, and many go unused. Consumers can sell unwanted gift cards on gift card resale sites like My Gift Cards Plus or Gift Card Granny. Buy gift cards for up to 30% off or more for a massive range of retailers and restaurants, including Nordstrom, Macy’s, Apple, iTunes, Google Play, Jimmy John’s, Cane’s, and more. You can find a gift card for virtually any store that sells gift cards.
Available gift card inventory changes. Some days, certain gift cards may not be available. Also, the discounted price offered may fluctuate.
Gift cards for grocery stores, supermarkets, hardware stores, and gas stations usually offer lower discounts, ranging from 2% to 10% off.
I’ve purchased Target gift cards at 8% off and then used them to buy items that (never) seem to go on sale, including Apple, Bose, and LEGO brand items. Or you can even use them on your grocery bill; why not save an extra 8% off the food you’re buying at home?
These are eight great strategies you can use to easily save money with coupons and other promo codes and deals.
I recommend starting with just 1 or 2 of the tips outlined and seeing how it goes and then adding in others gradually. If you start off trying to do everything at once, it could get a little overwhelming. But with these tricks up your sleeve, you’re bound to start seeing some fantastic savings. Happy Couponing!
Stacy is a Contributing Editor for InboxDollars and an aspiring donut connoisseur. She has bought new second-hand clothing on occasion (to avoid the drudgery of ironing), burnt a pot or two of water, and lived abroad in stints to France and Switzerland. Stacy writes about weird money, thrift store hacks, freebies, and life’s random quirks. She is not a CPA, MBA, Certified Financial Planner, or other Money Guru.