Extreme couponing: how to get your grocery store to pay you to shop

October 18 | Guest post by Katrina

In my family, we love to eat. The only problem is that food (especially "good" food) can be really expensive. My coworkers kept talking about "extreme couponing," and how they were getting full carts of groceries for only a few dollars. I was intrigued, but didn't have the time to match up coupons and sales. I tried doing it a few times and felt so frustrated and overwhelmed.

I felt like everybody was in on this huge secret, until my coworkers directed me to a few websites. These sites break down the deals by store and tell you exactly where to find the coupons!

The websites also have a beginner section where they teach you all of the acronyms they use on the site, coupon policies by stores, and have a list of FAQs. I especially love the sites that tell you how much the item will be at the end.

I started small. The first week, I set a goal to save $5. Just five bucks. I printed out some coupons and was so scared that my store wouldn't take them! My heart was pounding as I handed them over. The cashier scanned my coupons, then circled the savings on my receipt. I more than met my goal!

Each week, I set a new goal. My current goal now is to always save more than I spend. It's so crazy to think that I can actually print money from my computer!

Here's a great example of how I've saved money: last week, I found an awesome deal on vitamins. There was a store coupon for $6 off any two bottles of vitamins. There was also a manufacturer's coupon for $3 off two bottles of vitamins. My coupons totaled $9 off two bottles, right? Well, some of the vitamins were $2.99 each. I picked up two bottles, used both coupons, and got paid $3 to take the vitamins! I didn't need them, but the overage made my other groceries cheaper. We're going to donate them when my daughter's school or church have a vitamin drive.

The main couponing sites I use are:

They are the ones who tell you all of the deals by store, and will link you to printable coupons (target.com, coupons.com, brand websites/homepages, facebook pages) or tell you where to find a coupon.

My favorite tricks are very simple:

Shop Sales

I try to shop the sales, especially BOGO (buy one, get one free). These sales typically act as a 50% off coupon; you do not need to buy two items to get the deal. For the printable coupons, you can only print two per computer/printer. If there is a BOGO (buy one get one free) you can put coupons on BOTH items.

Combine coupons when possible

I love to combine a store coupon and a manufacturer's coupon (a store coupon is supposed to be used at a particular store, while a manufacturer's coupon can be used anywhere). Find out if your store takes competitor coupons to save even more (my Publix will take Target coupons)!

Always get the moneymakers, even if you don't need them

Sometimes you can use coupons and MAKE MONEY to take the item. You'll always want to get the moneymakers (even if you don't need it) because it lowers the price of the stuff you DO need. You can always save, donate, or give away your freebies.

Don't try to get every deal — be proud of yourself for any amount that you save.

You'll make yourself crazy if you try to get every deal for every store. Don't stress about couponing, just be proud of yourself for saving any amount of money! There are coupons for everything; produce, food, cleaning supplies, medicine … everything! I also have some ideas for saving paper/ink when you print out coupons. I set my printer to black and white, and low quality (or whatever it's called) — it uses less ink. I print coupons on scrap paper (pictures that my daughter drew and then threw away because she messed up, a paper somebody stuck in our door for lawn services, house fliers, etc).

Decide if you're loyal to a specific brand

Brand loyalty is huge — sometimes the store brand is still cheaper than the name brand, even with coupons for the name brand stuff. If you're loyal to that brand, it might be a good deal for you. If you don't care, you might want to get the store brand. However, sometimes you can get brand name for cheaper than store brand! Score!

  1. Love this idea, but does anyone know if there are similar sites for Canada? Going through a couple of the sites the coupons were predominantly US only. :(

    14 agree
    • I have this same problem. I am constantly hearing about money saving coupons….I have never seen anything like this in Canada. :(

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      • I have sent a letter off to 2 of our biggest retailers..woolworths/safeway and coles as they do no offer this anywhere in australia and as we have 10 peoople in our family i would love to do this.

        7 agree
  2. I can't wait till offbeat home is up and running, this article so belongs there too. I miss Publix so much, they had great deals and tasty food.

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  3. i do this without websites and only going to one store. the cool thing in our area is that stores have a running total of how much you save through out the year and last year we saved somewhere around $4000, no joke

    and for anyone who shops whole foods religiously you can also shop there on a budget!

    check out this ehow article:
    http://www.ehow.com/how_4833033_shop-whole-foods-budget.html

    you may not save as much as well extream couponing but you'll still save

    2 agree
  4. gah! I love this idea but Trader Joe's doesnt have store coupons!

    6 agree
  5. Thank you!

    I tried a few times too, but always gave up. Thanks for the tips and links!

    3 agree
  6. I think Canada has different rules regarding coupons. We can't get the same savings here.

    4 agree
  7. YES!
    I also tried couponing how I 'thought' it was supposed to work, but when i found I Heart Publix everything changed. I have always been a loyal Publix shopper thanks to their sales and the quality of their stores and food – but now it's incredible to see what I save.
    Thanks for sharing these awesome tips. They are some of the same that helped me get started. Especially being proud of saving any amount extra. At this point I always save more than I spend (usually around 65-75%) but just an additional $5, $10, $15 off a total adds up quickly! Our stockpile of foods/toiletries allows me to only very rarely pay full price for anything – produce and dairy and meats included.
    Just as important to me as my savings is the fact that I have also been able to readily donate so much food to our local food pantry. When pasta, salad dressing, or soups (just to name a few) go on sale at rock bottom or moneymaker prices I print as many coupons for the item as possible and get shopping. It's surprising to see how empty the donation box regularly is and thanks to websites like these and printable coupons, I can now help when I thought I couldn't before.

    4 agree
  8. So I love saving $$ and using coupons but it seems like you can only get extreme savings on non-organic and/or conventional products. Anybody figure out a way to save over half on organic food and "natural" home and body products yet? We do a CSA and shop the farmer's market for produce but we still need to hit the grocery store for everything else. I clip coupons and shop sales of course but the most I've ever saved is maybe 20% off my bill.

    5 agree
    • I have trouble with this as well. I can't always buy organic, but I hardly buy any processed food, except maybe dried pasta, and my family eats vegan. I rarely see coupons for fresh fruits and veggies, or bulk legumes.

      5 agree
      • The coupons are rare, but I try to buy them on sale (especially the BOGO's) :)

        This week Earthfare had a coupon for a free pineapple with any $5 purchase. Kroger also had $1 off produce coupons. I was able to use both of those at Publix. Sometimes I find coupons for $1-$2 off our organic milk….. I get so excited!

        2 agree
      • Yes, I have the same problem. I mean, bulk legumes/grains/nuts are as cheap as it gets, I think. I save money on fruits and veggies by buying in season, then trying to freeze as much as I can.

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    • It is definitely harder to find savings for fresh and organic products – but they're out there. The website Ariel mentioned is a great one. Two other blogs I like are http://www.savingnaturally.com and http://www.homeandpantry.blogspot.com. They buy primarily fresh and organic foods and post shopping lists and coupon links to share. As for home cleaning, I see coupons for baking soda, vinegar, and kosher salt out there sometimes. I even recently was able to get 6 bottles of all the different Martha Stewart green home cleaning products for $3, when they're normally $4 each because I waited for a sale to go along with great coupons I had picked up at the front of my grocery store and clipped from a magazine I subscribe to. Now I won't have to spend money on that for probably close to a year.

      You're right though that the really extreme savings won't be the same. For most of those couponers, it's about modifying your meals based on what's available for very little money. Getting a stockpile of basics together and planning meals around what you already have is a big part of getting the dramatic savings. But, that's where you go back to Katrina's paragraphs about saving what you can on the things you already are buying. Everything helps, right?

      3 agree
    • I sign up for all of the organic/sustainable brands mailing lists or just send in a request for coupons to them. Most of them send out coupons regularly or will send you a packet. Since they are manufacturer coupons you can double them up with store sales.
      In the Seattle area we also have the "Chinook Book" which is a coupon book that you buy which has mostly a green/eco/organic bent. It's normally on sale for $15 but I easily save $100 or more using it. We normally buy at least two each year.
      Just some ideas to try :)

      2 agree
    • Earth Fare has a lot of great "spend $5, get _________ free" coupons, you just have to sign up for their emails. Sadly, I don't live near one, but a friend of mine got a pound of organic beef for free recently.

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    • Exactly. We get our vegetables, fruits, and meats from local organic producers. We buy very few items in the grocery store these days.

      I actually tried doing this when I was a SAHM, but the savings were for things I never bought.

      4 agree
  9. I love couponing, and I'm kind of jealous of those of you that have Publix – I've heard they have the best deals! I think the best place to start is http://www.dealseekingmom.com if you're looking to get into couponing – she breaks down deals by several stores, and also explains how it works really well.
    I too use coupons to get really inexpensive food for us, plus lots to donate when there are extras (because no one really needs 10 bottles of salad dressing in their cupboard…) :)

    2 agree
    • We donate and give away a lot, too. The other day I had 30 boxes of pasta on my counter because it was free (I was actually paid to take some of it!).

      I gave away boxes to my mom, a lady I babysit for, and my 5 year old daughter's mission group (they were collecting cans for the Downtown Rescue Mission).

      3 agree
  10. I am just beginning to get into couponing. I married my husband and four bonus babies last April. Consequently, my grocery bill has gone from feeding one to feeding six. It has been a challenge, but I wouldn't change it! Thanks for the great tips!

    2 agree
  11. Some stores in Canada will let you get away with multiple coupons for the same item (or just some clerks at some stores) but if you read the fine print on every coupon I've ever seen here it specifically says that you CAN'T use them with other offers. Sometimes you can slip it by, sometimes not. Sadly no store around here has double coupon days either. The best you can get is on the first Tuesday of the month a couple stores offer 10% off the total bill. I'm always jealous of the deals that are available in the US.

    4 agree
  12. I also love the idea of couponing but live in the Bay Area which doesn't have many stores that a lot of the hardcore couponers love. (We JUST got CVS earlier this year but Publix isn't out here.) About the best I can do is double up on coupons on certain things. But my family doesn't eat a lot of processed food, we buy mostly ingredients and moreover, we buy Asian foods from our local Asian market that doesn't have savings beyond their loyalty card. Luckily, that's pretty cheap — I can feed my family of 3 for just under $40 per week.

    4 agree
    • Same here… no Publix, Trader Joes, none of those awesome cheap places. Wal Marts here won't take the printable coupons. I get everything I can at the local Mexican grocer, but the rest is up to Albertsons :(

      2 agree
      • I have seen this statement several times. Everyone wants a Publix as ot is cheaper. I don't know about in Canada as there is no Publix near me but since I lived in the states most of my life I can tell you that Publix is rated as one of the high end and most expensive grocery stores in the US. Though the quality of what you get is usually just as great.
        Sunao

        2 agree
  13. For Canadian Offbeat Mamas, try Bargain Moose or Save.ca. I have used both and received coupons and free items from their offers. Not as great as the things listed in the article but you can get a lot of samples and discounts.

    3 agree
  14. It's amazing that so many people leave coupons unused! Just an FYI about Target – they are strict about 1 Target coupon and 1 manufacturer coupon ONLY. My grocery doubles all of my coupons under $1 so if my coupon is for $0.75 then it is for sure a grocery item, if it is over $1 – I get it at Target! Most groceries double coupons now so be sure and ask and plan accordingly!

    2 agree
  15. I love couponing. I've been working on it more lately and have saved quite a bit. I mostly get the items like tooth paste, house stuff and a few little food things. I'm looking forward to getting really good at it.

    2 agree
  16. I wish this worked in the UK!

    For whatever reason coupons here always seem to have a ton of extra conditions that make tricks like this impossible. You almost always have to spend a certain amount before it's valid, can only use 1 coupon per item (sometimes 1 per transaction) and definately couldn't take extra savings off other items. If the saving is more than the cost at best you loose the extra, at worst you're not allowed to use it to begin with.

    It sucks.

    2 agree
  17. TLC has a show coming up called Extreme Couponing.

    2 agree
  18. Maybe I'm missing something but where do these people get the coupons in mass quantities? I know they come in the local Sunday paper but it just doesn't seem to make any sense to me to buy 40 Sunday papers to get 40 coupons for one product when the paper itself costs $1.50…(for example). Can someone please explain? I'd like to get into couponing as I have a lot of CC debt and student loans that need to be paid off and I would really love to apply the extra money saved by couponing to those debts but just don't know how to begin and actually GET these large quantities of coupons.

    Thanks!!

    2 agree
    • Heather, check the links to the websites included in the post. :)

      2 agree
  19. OMG!! I just watched this special on TLC on extreme couponing. I seriously think it will change my life!! I live in the city of chicago and everything is soooo expensive. Anyone have any suggested websites I could go to out here in the city? Thanks for everyone who shared links also, I will be able to use a few of those sites :)

    2 agree
  20. Question: I am thinkonkg of trying this coupon thing. I have always used coupons just never to my full advantage. I too watched that TLC special. So my question is- Lets say i want to buy 2 jars of spaghetti sauce. They are $1.99 each. I have a .50 cent coupon, now my store doubles so now its 1$ off, but if i have 2 of the same coupons i can get &2 off? An each jar will only cost me .99?? Will the store accept 2 of the same coupons if I purchase 2 of the products??? Any help to get me started will help!!!

    2 agree
  21. That's right, you can most likely use 1 coupon per item, and lucky you that you're in an area that doubles!
    One of the best places to start getting into using coupons is at your grocery store customer service desk. They will gladly tell you their particular store policy and that will guide how you can use coupons to shop.

    Some stores only take printed coupons in color, some don't take them at all, some take them in black and white and let you stack them with store coupons from their competitors. Some stores let you use three coupons per item (their store, competitor store, manufacturer), some pay overage if your coupons are valued more then the item, and some don't.
    My main point is that each store is different, so find out what the policy is at your favorite store and start there. Happy saving!

    3 agree
  22. I just wanna say that this is one of the best sites I've found in a very long time. It really feels like people are genuinely trying to help you out and I love that missing quality in so many people anymore. I am just beginning to learn how extreme couponing works and I'm fascinated. If anyone has any tips they'd like to share with a beginner it would be much appreciated. Thank You All Very Much, Tina

    2 agree
  23. I've enjoyed reading everyone's post and please feel free to send more to a beginner who is very interested in learning as much as there is to learn. I recently was laid off from a decent paying job & I'm sure, like a lot of others out there, you can see why I need to learn as many money saving techniques as possible. Sincerely, Tina

  24. i love this site.I'm just getting started and as a beginner this site has been very helpful. If anyone has anymore advice or "tricks of the trade" please contact me at harleyandtina@yahoo.com. Thank you, Tina

  25. Here is my issue. I looked at the sites and felt like a fish out of water, totally lost. Even after i read what b1g1 and SS mean i was still lost. I also have a hard time finding coupon sites that have coupons on stuff my family really "needs". Yea it be nice to have a ton of cookie dough in the house but it's not going to make dinner. Maybe it's just me, Has anyone else had this problem. Right now i just get the local ads in the mail and price match,but i'd love to do more.

    1 agrees
  26. Sometimes just stocking up on non-perishable items & freezer foods when they are on sale, as opposed to clipping coupons, you can still see huge savings. Cuckoo for Coupon Deals website lists all grocery store deals that she recommends stocking up on each week, and lot's of deals don't require coupons.

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