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Extreme Couponing 101 - The Basics

In this section we will cover the basics of Extreme Couponing,  The what, where, how, why questions will all be answered here.  :)  Topics covered here will be:

Section 1 - Why Coupon?
Section 2 - Saving WITHOUT Coupons
Section 3 - Coupons, Are They Worth It?
Section 4 - Starting Out, 5 Basic Steps
Section 5 - Where Do I Find Coupons?
Section 6 - Organization

All these write ups are courtesy of the wonderful people over at

Section 1 - Why Coupon?
If you’re like me, you never want to pay full price. These virtual classes will discuss how we use coupons, why and many other aspects of couponing. But right now, we are addressing an age old question: Are coupons worth it? You will find many people who will tell you, it simply takes to much time and energy. They say time is money, so spend your time making money. They may be right, but that doesn’t negate that fact that Coupons CAN be a very effective tool in lowering your grocery bill. Coupons must be used effectively in order to have an effect on your bottom line.

You’re probably wondering what I mean. Let’s take a look at some reasons people think coupons are a waste of time. Number one, people buy products they normally wouldn’t buy. If you’re getting a product for 50% off, lots of people will buy it! They are spending money they won’t have spent to buy a product they don’t need. With people who start couponing, this is a common problem. We have to be reminded that the manufacturers don’t really care about our family budgets. They know that coupons are a marketing tool that helps place their products in the hands of the consumer.

Number two, coupons are difficult to organize, clip and use. I hear all the time, ‘I forgot my coupons at home!’ I think to myself, ‘gosh it would be like forgetting my wallet!’ You have to look at coupons as if they are part of your budget. Getting organized and creating a good system that works is one of the only ways to make coupons work.

Number Three, you only save a little. I am a believer in pennies. In other words, little things add up quick.
Coupon success boils down to three things: 
Organization, Usage and Timing

- You’ve got to be organized. Read on this site about organizational strategies. My binders are infamous! I’ve even had news anchors joke about them. Binders work for me, something else might work for you.

- You’ve got to learn to use coupons. We talk a lot on about the quantity of coupons we use. If you only clip out one coupon, what’s the use? I buy ten papers. Many people look at me strange, but you’ve got to realize why. In order to save a lot with coupons, you’ve got to use a lot of coupons. It’s a very simple concept.

- So now that I’ve got my coupons, and I’m organized the last step is the most important: timing. Don’t just go to the store and use your coupons…..wait! Wait until the item goes on sale. Often with the additional coupon savings you will get items for nearly free. It’s an amazing concept!!

In following the three very basic steps above, I have lowered my grocery bill around 60-65%. I am very disciplined, I go with a list, I do intense planning, I never buy something I won’t use unless it’s free. (Oh by the way, I have a whole garage full of things I don’t use, but got for free!) Using coupons can be quite addicting, and sometimes we all tend to want to use them on items just because they are a good deal.

Remember, come to this site, ask questions, learn and really get involved here. We can help you, and will help you save hundreds every month!!

Because this is a class here is your homework:

On Sunday buy at least 5 papers (make sure the coupons are inside)
Get organized. Read about organizational strategies.
Use one coupon on an item that is on sale that you buy normally. 

(Thank you MrCoupon at!)

Section 2 - Saving WITHOUT Coupons

30 Ways to Lower your Grocery Bill WITHOUT Coupons

As you can tell, I'm a pretty big fan of coupons! But some people just can’t seem to find the time or figure it out, so I decided to write about some techniques you can use to save money without using coupons.

1.Never shop without a list
Making a list and sticking to it is probably one of the most effective ways to save money at the grocery store. By creating a list before you go, you can avoid non-essential items that drive your bill up.

2.Never go to the store hungry
This is just common sense. I’ve gone to the store starving, and of course I walk in and smell the deli cooking an amazing smelling chicken. I seem to make my way over for a sample, then I get a pound. Oh and don’t forget the chips and salsa, and then I walk by the ice cream. I grab a candy bar on the way out. You get the picture, by not going to the store hungry I save myself from unnecessary expense. I didn’t need the chips, they weren’t on my list but I got them anyway. Eat something before you shop!!

3.Avoid impulse buying
Grocery stores are smart. They place things in the checkout area that we don’t need and are rarely on a list, but people seem to buy them. Those little impulses add up quick. I’m not saying never get a candy bar, but plan on getting just one, instead of two or three!!!

4.Loose your brand loyalty
Why buy tide, when all, cheer or the store brand are cheaper? They all clean!! One may do a slightly, and I stress slightly better job, but they all have essentially the same active ingredients. When you always buy the same product regardless of price or sales, you are throwing away your money.

5.Plan a weekly meal menu
This works well with list planning. If you know what you’re going to eat, you buy less at the grocery store and consequently waste less. Food spoils, and so I you buy what you need and only what you need for that week, you don’t loose your food to time. By planning weekly meals, and sticking to them, you will be amazed at how much you save. How many times have you asked your spouse… “What do you want for dinner tonight?” They respond by saying, “I don’t know, let’s go out!” Being prepared can reduce your trips to those expensive eateries and may even trim your waste line.

6.Shop only once a week
If you’re only in the store once a week, you will save money, simply because you can’t spend it. Get what you need for the week, and don’t go back!!! Retailers are savvy, and will try everything to get you into their store. Shop once!

7.Eat what is on sale
This tip is good for everyone, list makers or not. By eating what’s on sale that week you could easily save over twenty dollars. Let’s say chicken is buy one get one free at the store, but ground beef is normal price. I’ll be eating chicken that week! By catching the chicken on sale, I saved a good amount of money, simply by being aware.

8.Explore the Dollar Stores
Are you a store snob? Don’t be, by expanding your horizons you’d be surprised that the dollar stores have many essential items for extremely cheap! Check them out and see if they have anything that you could use for cheaper that you could buy it in your grocery store.

9.Buy what is cheapest, generally generic
This is common sense 101. If you want to save money at the grocery store, by the cheapest comparable item. If you want rice krispies, but the Wal-Mart brand is half the price, by the generic brand! Buying generic is one of the simplest ways to save money off your grocery bill.

10.Avoid $25 shopping sprees
I absolutely hate ‘running’ to the corner store and having to pick up milk, chips and tomato paste because we are out, then grabbing some eggs to tide us over, maybe a two-liter or two and a snack. That little trip to the convenient store was $25! Avoid those! By planning your meals and making lists of what you need, these little side trips will be reduced!

11.Comparison shop
Who doesn’t comparison shop on big items? If you’re going to buy a TV or computer, you search high and low for a good price, different models etc, so why not food? You will spend so much money this year on food, and by simply doing a little comparison shopping using the sale ads and your experience, you will save lots of money!

12.Use your freezer
Few things can’t be frozen!! We freeze almost everything. If meat is on sale at a good price, we will overbuy as long as it’s in our budget and freeze most of it. Stock your freezer when you can! A well stocked freezer can easily carry a family to payday. Milk, bread, cheese, meat lots of things can be frozen. Just make sure to use them!!

13.Value sizes aren’t always a value
I applaud marketing executives on the ‘value’ size. By simply calling it the ‘value’ size, millions of people have become convinced that it’s a better deal! Plainly put, value sizes are not always a value. Sometimes the smaller size goes on sale, and by the unit price it’s cheaper. Make sure to always check to see which size is the best unit price.

14.Pay attention to prices
Everywhere but Wal-Mart prices go up and down. Stores have sales and try to get you in the store using these sales. If you are paying attention to weekly prices, you’ll be able to take advantage of a good sale, stock up and then not have to purchase it at a higher price.

15.What’s in your cart?
Ever find yourself putting little extras in your cart as you shop? Have a helper that see’s her favorite SpongeBob candy? To avoid buying things that aren’t on your list, aren’t in the budget, or simply aren’t necessities, always stop and survey your cart. Do you really need that bag of chips this week? I also always recommend that you keep a running total of the value of your groceries in your cart. If you know around how much are going to spend, you will catch something that doesn’t ring correctly. Pennies count!

16.Pay attention to marketing strategies
Along with the value size pay attention to what is at eye level. Items that are at eye level generally cost more. Always check all sizes and prices. Also beware of the end caps. Although each store is different, most stores will place displays of food at the end caps, and these spots are used for quick, easy buys that are generally more expensive.

17.Check your receipt
This is an absolute rule. Always check your receipt and try to do it while in the store. I generally go over mine as I’m walking out. If something miss-rings I make my way over to the service desk. It’s a hassle to go back once everything is in the car, or unloaded at your home! Note beware of store loyalty cards. Make sure to scan and then double check!! Sometimes, the card may not scan and you will end up paying full price on everything!

18.Buy two instead of four
Have you ever seen the signs in the stores “Four for $8”? Most people don’t know that you don’t have to buy 4. You could buy one for $2, or two for $4. In other words, you don’t have to purchase four items to get the sale price! Check to see if your store employs this pricing model!

19.Price Match
WalMart is probably the most famous for doing this, although some other stores also price match. Price matching is a simple concept, if Kroger has milk on sale for $2, WalMart will match that price. I would recommend taking the store flyer to WalMart, and pick your cashier carefully. (If I went to WalMart, I’d have 20 things to price match, I’d need a patient cashier!) This is a great savings tool, if you’re a WalMart Shopper!

20.Rain Checks
Rain checks are a great way to save lots of money. If a product is on sale, but the store doesn’t have any in stock, go to the service desk and ask for a rain check. Rain checks give you the ability to buy the product at the sale price at a later date, when the product is in stock.

21.Eat your left-over’s
This is more in line with common sense. Freeze or eat your left-over’s! Every so often we have left-over night, and grab what’s in the refrigerator or freezer. It’s quick, easy and cheap!

22.Shop in the ethnic food aisle
Rice and beans anyone? You would be surprised at what you will find in the ethnic food aisle! On top of adding some variety to your life, (without going out to eat) you could save a good amount of money.

23.Check meat’s sell by dates
I always check for reduced or meat that is near it’s ‘sell by’ date. If you find meat that isn’t discounted, ask for the butcher. If he isn’t available, ask for a manager. My guess is they would rather sell it at a reduced price than take a total loss! I always freeze this meat immediately.

24.Quick dinners
Who isn’t in a hurry these days! Instead of stopping at McDonalds and spending $15-20 on a family of four, why not run to the grocery store! You would be surprised what you can get for $15-20 that is extremely cheap and ready to eat! Some ideas I’ve thought of are a rotisserie chicken and a couple cans or veggies. Deli sandwiches and chips, spaghetti, even premade hamburger patties. Lots of grocery stories also have salad bars that are cheap.

25.Check out the clearance section
This has become one of my favorite things at the grocery store! Now I use coupons and can get lots of stuff on the clearance tables for free. But if you can get items for half price, why wouldn’t you? The clearance section is a must stop for the frugal minded.

26.Use your Crockpot!
I love Crockpot days! I walk in and smell dinner, and it’s ready to eat! Spend about 20 minutes in the morning on a day that will be filled with activities and you won’t have to stop at a fast food restaurant! Being prepared is a big money saver!

27.Keep it simple
Chicken and green beans is cheaper than Chicken Alfredo. Keeping your dishes simple is another way to reduce your grocery bill. You would be surprised that a little spice packet can add just as much flavor as a bottle of wine!

28.Cook from scratch
Okay, I know this one can sound intimidating and painful, but cooking from scratch is a simple way to drastically cut down on your monthly grocery bill and can even improve the health of you and your family. It’s a well established fact that convenience foods simply costs more than if you were to prepare them yourself. Many people have told me to plan a long weekend day to prepare meals that you can freeze in advance for the following week. This way you can take advantage of the cost savings of cooking from scratch without inconveniencing yourself when your family is busy during the week. However you do it, cooking from scratch will save you money!

29.Stock up!!
This is a no brainer. If you use Hamburger Helper four times a month, and it goes on sale for a $1 (it’s regular price is $2.29) STOCK UP! Buy 10 boxes if you think you will be able to use them before they expire. By stocking up on a sale price you will save a lot of money. This is one of the biggest principles in couponing and I would encourage you to read more about stockpiling in the articles section.

Be aware!!

Keep your eyes open! Learn how much things generally cost. By being aware at your stores and paying attention when you shop, you can really reduce your grocery bill.

(Thank you MrCoupon at!)  
Section 3 - Coupons, Are They Worth It?

I Paid Myself $3000 last year …. with Coupons!

People get so bent out of shape over gas prices. It’s incredible that we are paying $4-$5 per gallon for gas, no doubt about it, but there really isn’t much you can do. But why aren’t people doing anything about grocery bills? I guess it has become second nature to most Americans, to simply accept the fact that we must pay for groceries and we must pay a lot. People simply don’t care that they spend hundreds of dollars every week at grocery stores around the country.

According to the Census Bureau, in 2006, families with 2.5 people averaged spending of $6,110 per year on food! The same size family only spent around $2227 for gas. Now we all know gas prices have risen since 2006, so double that number. It still doesn’t even touch that amount we spend on food every year! Around 67% of the money that was spent on food was food that was prepared at home, which means that for a family of 2.5 people, they spent $4093 annually or $79 a week on groceries. Nearly eighty dollar for a household of 2.5 people! Imagine if you had 3 kids!! My husband and I are only two people and I’m not sure $79 a week would cut it before we were using coupons. When I was growing up, we had 4 people in our house, and I remember my mom spending well over $200 on their trips to the grocery store. Bottom line, we spend lots of money on groceries! It’s unavoidable, or is it?

In this economy we need to start evaluating expenses. We all know that food prices have been rising along with everything else. We need to start saving money in places we haven’t before. Coupons are a great way to do this. When you can get something you use on a constant basis for free or extremely cheap why wouldn’t you? The question is simple, is a little time worth the reward? We all have lazy bones in our bodies, but in difficult times, we need to begin to see that coupons are a very viable alternative to high prices. If you spent 4 hours every week researching deals and saved $120 that week, you essentially paid yourself $30 an hour!!

So where should you start? First, buy the Sunday paper (make sure it has coupons) and get organized. Like everything else you must have a system to save. Check out this website!! We have many members that post great and often unadvertised deals. These help you create a list of free items and cheap items.

Don’t be afraid to shop around! You’d be surprised that my husband and I rarely shop at Wal-Mart. It’s not because we think they are evil, it’s because they have HIGH prices. Yes, you read correctly, high prices. Most people are stunned to hear this, a statement that flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Many things will surprise you as you dive deeper into the world of couponing. We encourage you to read about lowering your grocery bill.

We lowered our grocery bill by 60% in 2008. We started the year spending around $100-$120 a week and now we spend around $30-$50 a week. We spent less, bought better brands and we got double the quantity! We went from spending $5200 annually on groceries to spending around $2200 a year. That was $3000 extra dollars we had to put towards debt!

Bottom line, you can’t control the gas price, but you CAN control your grocery bill. Start saving hundreds every month with coupons.

(Thank you MrsCoupon at!)  

Section 4 - Starting Out, 5 Basic Steps

5 Tips and 5 Tricks for Total Newbies

1. On Sunday Buy 5 Papers

2. Buy a Binder or Folder for Organization
3. Follow VTCouponer and check back often for current deals and join a wonderful coupon forum like
4. Obtain your Weekly Shopping Circulars by Calling Promotions like RedPlum and Have Them Delivered if Your in a Major Urban Area
5. Get to Know Your Store Policies

6. Be Prepared to Spend Time Planning out Deals, and in Line at the Grocery Store.
7. Make Two Shopping Lists Every Week, One for Essentials (Matching Coupons) One for Almost Free, or Free Items.
8. Learn to do Price Comparisons Between Stores.
9. Avoid Impulse Buying.
10. Relax, Saving Isn’t That Hard

(Thank you MrCoupon at!) 

Section 5 - Where Do I Find Coupons?

Coupons are found everywhere!!! I have found that most people know that coupons are in the newspaper, but most have no idea where to look. In this lesson we are going to take a look at where we find coupons. 

Number One: The Sunday Newspaper
Every Sunday your local newspaper should have the coupon ‘inserts’. An insert is a book of coupons. The 4 common inserts in the Sunday paper are SmartSource (SS), RedPlum(RP), General Mills(GM) and P&G Saver(PG). Let’s start with the P&G Saver. This comes out once a month on the first Sunday of the month. Many people look forward to this insert because it can have very valuable coupons that make many items free or nearly free. SmartSource and RedPlum usually come out every week with varying quantities of coupons in each. The General Mills Insert varies, and usually is seen every two months and only has a few pages of really good coupons. The only exceptions to these timelines are holidays. Holidays interrupt the schedule, so be aware of that!! I usually check the paper before I buy it to make sure the coupons are inside. On a frugal note, the newspaper is generally more expensive on Sundays, so find a store that is selling it for a dollar. Usually stores like the Dollar Tree or even your local grocery store sometimes have newspapers for $1.00. I usually buy 4 or 5 papers every week because if something is free, I can buy it five times to maximize my savings. 

Number Two: The Internet. 
Some internet printable coupons are sites like or These and many others have online coupons that you can print. You are usually allowed to print two copies of these coupons but no more. The first copy is intended for you to use; the second copy is allowed in case of printer malfunction. The second copy must be obtained by hitting your back button on your browser after you print the first one. If you try to print more usually the screen with say, “Sorry, you have printed the maximum number allowed.” If you really want to print more, go to a different computer. Many people go to libraries because there are many computers all of which will give you a yield of two each. Retailer’s websites like Food Lion, Target, and others have online coupons. They put out new coupons every week for you to print and use only in their store. Many stores like Albertson’s will honor their competitor’s coupons. Other stores like Kroger are starting to allow you to load coupons onto your Kroger cards. Ask your retailer to find out if they have any special programs, and don’t forget to register at your retailer’s website. 

A word of caution: Many people have been scanning coupons or copying them on color photocopiers. Because of high fraud rates, many stores are now refusing to take internet printables. It is illegal to copy or scan coupons. Don’t do it because it hurts everyone when stores crack down on coupon usage.

Number Three: Tearpads. 
Have you ever seen coupons in a pad form at the store usually in one of the aisles? That is a tearpad. When I go to the store I keep my eyes open for them because I have found some of the best coupons there. When I see a good tearpad, I usually take 5-10 coupons, always making sure to leave many behind for others. Always be kind and leave some behind! Remember, if you find the tearpad in Walgreens, you can use those coupons anywhere (as long as they are not store specific)!! So if Walgreens has a .50 coupon, take it to Kroger, because they double and you get more bang for your buck!

Number Four: Peelies/Blinkies. 
Peelies are coupons you peel off boxes. Blinkies are machines that spit out coupons and are usually situated around the product featured on the coupon. These are always found in your stores and never anywhere else. Blinkies are not very controversial. I stand at the machine and wait for it to spit out 5 or 6 coupons and go on my way. Peelies which are peeled from boxes are a little touchier. Many people will say that it is unethical to take peelies off a product without buying that product. Others will tell you to take as many as you’d like as long as you will buy that product in the future. Do what you feel is right. I have read that over 35% of people still do not use coupons even when they are taped to the boxes. These often can be great coupons, and remember, as long as the coupon is a manufacturer’s coupon, it can be used anywhere. 

Number Five: Sample Displays. 
Many stores will have a sample day, usually Saturday or Sunday. Many times there are very good coupons at those displays. Make sure to ask the person attending the table if you could take a couple extra coupons. 

Number Six: By Mail. 
Contact the manufacturer of all the products you buy. Check the back of the boxes and bags to find the 800 number. Tell them how wonderful (or terrible) their product is, and ask if they have any coupons or coupon booklets they send out. Often the manufacturer is eager to put these in their customers’ hands.

Number Seven: Manufacturer’s Website. 
Go to the websites of large manufacturers. Often they will have coupon booklets they will mail to you totally free. These are some of the best coupons because the manufacturer wants you to try the product. These often will contain free product coupons. The manufacturers are very eager to get coupons into the hands of consumers!

Number Eight: EBay or Coupon Clipping Services. 
Many people swear by these. I have in the past been purchasing coupons on eBay. Usually these are the most effective if you have a specific coupon you are looking for. Buying non-specific coupons on eBay doesn’t usually help much. For example, I purchased 60 Green Giant Steamer Coupons on eBay a while back. They were for $1 off one bag. Meijer a local grocery store near me had them on sale for $.89!! They were free, so I spent $8 and got 60 coupons. That works out to be around $.13 a bag. For me that is a steal!! It’s definitely worth looking into.

Number Nine: Trading Coupons or Coupon Trains. 
On WUC you can join coupon trains and trade coupons with other members. We often have many people that are trading with each other by checking the wish lists of other members and making offers. This is one reason you should always clip and save every coupon! You never know if someone may want it, and if they do, you could reap the rewards. Coupon trains are very simple to join as well. Check out our Trading and Trains section to learn more!

Number Ten: Dumpster Diving. 
I think by far the most fun!! This is a very unorthodox way of getting coupons. Of course during the winter months this is not a viable option, but during the spring, summer and fall, you will be amazed at what people throw away. I am a big proponent of dumpster diving for coupons. I would suggest reading some of the articles posted about this if you’re interested or checking out some paper dumpsters near you. I visit this website to locate paper dumpsters:
There are so many ways to get coupons. It’s incredible once you open your eyes, you’ll start seeing them everywhere!! The homework for this lesson: 
 - On your next trip to the grocery store find a tearpad
- Go to or click one of the banners and print a few coupons.
- Join a coupon train or start one.
- Keep your eyes open for blinkies and peelies!

(Thank you MrCoupon at!)

Section 6 - Organization

Organizing and cutting coupons can be one of the most challenging tasks to do in saving money.
There is no right way as long as you are organized in your own way!

Here are a few great ways:
  1. Bins - use index cards as labels for each product type
  2. Binder - similar to bins but coupons are placed in baseball card size sheets : See this post on how to set up a binder: Laura's Couponing and Refunding Hints & Tips Plus Coupon Binder How-To
  3. File Folder - don't cut any, just organize inserts by date -must be really organized for this one as you will need to know which insert the coupon came in to find it!

Things that don't work:
  • Tossing them in your purse/wallet - bad plan you will forget
  • Cutting them - putting them in drawer - again you will forget
I use the bin method as I have a lot of coupons. Every Sunday I sit down with all the ads I am interested in. Then, I have a zipper pencil folder for each store I shop in. Each zipper folder is a different color and see through. The zipper folders are stored in a 3 ring binder.

I then determine what is on sale at each store and put it in the appropriate zipper folder. I only bring that zipper folder into the store (so I don't lose all my coupons. (things happen).

Of course if I find something on sale that maybe was not listed in the ad, I just run out to the car to get the rest of my coupons!

Works like a charm. I have tried all the ways above and I have found this is what works for me.

Try a few of them out and see what you think!

Here's to better organization!