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Seven secrets of coupon pros

Last reviewed: August 2010
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Nancy Niemeyer, an IT project manager from Seattle, says she feeds her family of four for about $10 a week. No, her family isn't going hungry; Niemeyer simply uses coupons—lots of them. Although few shoppers have the determination or patience to become extreme couponers, you can borrow some of their strategies to cut weekly grocery tabs and even score an occasional jaw-dropping deal. Niemeyer and two other coupon pros, Georgine Kaczmarek and Donna Montaldo, agreed to share some of their secrets. Kaczmarek runs GeorgineSaves.com, a website that steers couponers to the best deals. Montaldo is the couponing expert at About.com.

Get organized

Store coupons in color-coded envelopes, a portable file with dividers, a tabbed binder, or a photo album.

Collect a lot

Nab every coupon that you might use; don't limit yourself to those for products you need now. Look in the usual spots—the Sunday paper, coupon packs sent in the mail—but also check manufacturer websites and giant coupon sites including Coupons.com, CoolSavings.com, and GrocerySmarts.com. And see the box below for where coupons lurk in stores.

Stack coupons

Stacking, a top strategy of coupon enthusiasts, means redeeming at least two coupons—one from the manufacturer and one from the store—on a single purchase. Manufacturers and grocery stores don't necessarily offer coupons for the same items at the same time. The trick is to hold onto manufacturer coupons until your store offers coupons for the same product.

Be smart online

Set up a separate e-mail account for couponing. You have to register at most sites before you can print out coupons, and once you do you'll be bombarded with spam. Be selective about which online coupons you print, or you'll spend too much on ink and paper. Because manufacturers can discontinue online coupons at any time, print them close to when you intend to use them.

Look beyond the supermarket

In 2009 about 1.2 billion coupons—a third of all redeemed—were for nonfood products such as paper goods, cleaning supplies, and personal-care items. You can often find deals on those products at big discount stores, drugstores, and even dollar stores, most of which accept coupons. Many drugstore chains distribute their own coupons, which you can stack with manufacturer coupons. CVS has a strong coupon program tied to its loyalty card. Target distributes its own coupons.

Get coupons for favorite brands

Use Facebook or Twitter to sign up with a favorite brand and receive coupons and offers not available elsewhere. Here's another way to find coupons for specific brands: Do an Internet search for the brand name and "coupons" or "discount coupons." When you find a good deal on a favorite, stock up.

Stay on track

Don't use the cash you've saved to splurge on unnecessary extras. Instead, put it in a jar. Watching the savings grow can motivate you to keep clipping.

Clipping coupons in the store

While shopping, look for:

  • Blinkies, those small red boxes with blinking lights; or "pop-up boxes," which lack lights.
  • Tear pads, often near battery kiosks and the like, or on freezer doors.
  • Peelies, stuck on the product, which you hand to a clerk.
  • Wine tags, which may be slipped over the neck of any bottle, not just wine.
  • Catalina coupons (created by Catalina Marketing), which print out with your receipt. Some Cats offer $5 or $10 off the next purchase of any store item.