Extreme Couponing 101

There is regular coupon clipping and extreme coupon clipping. If you don’t know the difference, you likely aren’t an extreme couponer.

Extreme coupon clipping is the practice — and almost a state of mind — of continually looking for deals and discounts by partaking in the age-old tradition of coupon clipping. Only nowadays, in addition to clipping coupons from newspapers, consumers can also download coupons on websites, use cash-back retail shopping sites and cash-back rewards credit cards.

With rising inflation, it’s only instinctual to lean in and look for as many coupons and ways to save as possible. If you spend a lot of time hunting down coupons and using them, you’re probably an extreme couponer — or at least on your way to being one.

Part survival and part fun, extreme coupon clipping can be kind of like a treasure hunt. So if you’re looking to get in on the savings action, here are some strategies and mindsets you’ll want to keep in mind:

— Ensure you need the item before you buy.

— Use technology to get more savings.

— Check the clearance aisles and marked-down carts.

— Consider all the ways to save.

— You get what you put in to extreme coupon clipping.

— Think big, not small.

— The grocery store is a whole different ball game.

[READ: Money Saving Challenges to Try in 2022.]

Ensure You Need the Item Before You Buy

“The very purpose of coupons from the manufacturer’s standpoint is to get you to buy their product. Make sure you’re using coupons in a way that helps you get ahead,” says Bri Bell, a registered dietitian in Toronto who is an avid couponer. “For example, getting a $5 item for only $1 after coupons sounds like a great deal. And it is, unless you don’t end up using it. Then you just wasted that $1.”

Mary Potter Kenyon, author of “Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America’s Extreme Obsession,” points out that many coupons are for items that may not really be a great deal. “You will always find coupons for unhealthy frozen food products like pizza rolls and cold cereals, but sometimes it’s worth the extra money and time to make your own pizza rolls or cook up a pot of oatmeal. In other words, just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean you should buy the product,” she says.

Use Technology to Get More Savings

“You don’t have to do all the work in hunting down deals. There are websites that do much of it for you,” Kenyon says.

There are a variety of reputable coupon websites worth visiting if you want to be a more serious couponer. Some of those include Coupon Pro, Savings.com, Coupons.com and TheKrazyCouponLady.com.

Kenyon particularly likes Hip2Save.com, run by blogger Collin Morgan. “Saving sites likes hers allow you to search by store,” Kenyon says. Kenyon also recommends TotallyTarget.com for Target shoppers.

Andrea Woroch, a U.S. News contributor and shopping consultant based out of Bakersfield, California, is a big fan of using technology to search for coupons. She suggests using Cently, a coupon plug-in for your browser offered by the website, CouponFollow. She also suggests FetchRewards, a grocery receipt app and website. It isn’t quite the same thing as extreme coupon clipping, but it is a good reminder that there are many ways to save money when you’re shopping.

Check the Clearance Aisles and Marked-Down Carts

Kenyon advises always perusing clearance aisles when you’re shopping at grocery or department stores. “You never know when something you have a coupon for will appear in a marked-down cart or clearance aisle and your coupon will make it free.” Even if you don’t have a coupon, Kenyon says that clearance aisles and marked-down carts can be a treasure hunt for frugal shoppers.

[READ: What Is a Budget Calendar?]

Consider All the Ways to Save

When it comes to extreme couponing, you could think of shopping as a sport or a treasure hunt.

Bethany Hollars, the content director for the retail savings website BrickSeek.com, suggests being strategic and ambitious. “For the more extreme couponer, it’s all about combining manufacturer coupons with store coupons, store sales and store rewards programs,” she says. “Extreme couponers will only buy an item if they can stack these different ways of savings to bring the cost of an item down to pennies on the dollar.”

She cites the example of a razor that may cost $10. Maybe one week a drug store has the razor on sale for $8, and if you buy it, you’ll receive $2 in rewards points for a future purchase. “This automatically brings the true cost of the razor down to $6,” Hollars says. “An extreme couponer will search for a manufacturer coupon — either online or in the newspaper — to use toward that razor.”

If the couponer is lucky, perhaps there will be a manufacturer’s coupon for $3 and a store coupon for $2, and the final razor is purchased for $1. “Extreme couponers will stock up on an item when they find such a great deal scenario; instead of buying just one razor, they will repeat the transaction multiple times and buy multiple razors in order to really maximize their savings,” Hollars says. “This is called stockpiling and is a crucial part of extreme couponing.”

For some, the dedication and energy required to get those $1 razors may not be worth it. But for shoppers looking for the greatest value proposition, If you know how to extreme coupon the right way, you can reap generous savings without wasting your time.

You Get What You Put In to Extreme Coupon Clipping

Hollars points out that how much you save, “all depends on your level of involvement. With just a little bit of effort each week, you can easily expect to save $20 to $50 on your routine grocery shopping.”

Of course, what Hollars calls a little effort, you may decide is a lot. But the point is — if you work at it, you may do pretty well. But if you just look for a coupon here and there, you may not end up saving so much.

“Consumers who commit to shopping at multiple retailers, studying the coupon policies of each store to learn how to best stack sales and coupons, stockpiling items that are a great deal, as well as those who regularly check coupon sites and are willing to download digital coupon and rebate apps on their phone, can save well over 50% to 75% on most household essentials and grocery staples,” Hollars says. “Extreme couponers like me can confirm that it’s actually possible to make money using coupons. The more time and effort you’re willing to put into the deal chase, the more profitable couponing will be for you.”

Think Big, Not Small

This kind of goes against the grain of extreme couponing, but if the idea of constantly searching for deals sounds like a full-time job, then Woroch suggests you look for coupons “for those big-ticket purchases. Ultimately, reducing large expenses or purchases by 10% to 30% off may save you more than getting a few bucks off your grocery purchases,” she says.

After all, Woroch says, “While extreme couponers make it look easy to save on groceries, it takes a lot of time to find the deals and match them with items on sale.”

[READ:Prepare for Higher Grocery Bills in These Food Categories]

The Grocery Store Is a Whole Different Ball Game

Grocery shopping is where extreme coupon clipping really comes into play. It’s smart to look for coupons when you’re shopping online for holiday gifts, clothing or anything else. But since you’re probably going inside the supermarket or on its website every week, and there are so many food manufacturing coupons that you may be able to take advantage of, if you’re really interested in extreme coupon clipping, you really do want to treat this as sort of a hobby — or a game, albeit a serious one that you plan to win.

Teri Gault, a Los Angeles-based publicist, who wrote a couple of books on grocery shopping, including, “Shop Smart, Save More” and who created the now-defunct website The Grocery Game, says inflation has also affected extreme couponing by making big discounts count for less. Still, if you search for deals, you can find them. She offers several tips for saving money on groceries:

Look at the store’s sales ads. You can find them in newspapers, but your grocery store should also have them. You might also want to try the website Flipp.com, where you’ll type in your ZIP code to find your local circulars.

Buy the limit. “If there is a limit to how many you can get at that sale price, such as ‘limit two,’ that’s an indicator of a loss leader which tells you it’s a stock-up item, so you don’t have to pay full price later,” Gault says.

When you can, combine digital coupons with paper coupons. Gault has managed to get 85% off of food items that way. “That’s called stacking coupons in the biz,” Gault says.

Get the supermarket app. Join the grocery store’s loyalty program. “Some of the supermarket chains give away full-size free items on your next shopping trip,” Gault says. “It’s all based on what you spend on your last shopping trip, but it’s always free, except for the tax on non-foods.”

Look for paper coupons in your mailbox. Gault says paper coupons often turn up the day before the next sales week begins at your supermarket. This is also when store circulars hit your mailbox. “Browse through and see if anything matches up. It’s like playing solitaire,” Gault says.

Hang on to your coupons from week to week. Check the expiration date, certainly, but don’t necessarily use the coupon right away. “Play your coupons like a card game. If no sales match to your coupons this week, hang on and check subsequent weeks,” Gault says. “Coupons are good for six to eight weeks on average, and most categories go on sale every eight to 12 weeks, so one day all the stars will align and suddenly you’ve become the ultimate couponer.”

And, finally, Gault suggests that nobody get too enamored with coupons. Extreme coupon clipping isn’t about clipping coupons. It’s about instilling smart shopping habits, a way to fight back against all of the dispiriting inflation news. Above all, it’s about saving money.

“Sometimes coupons aren’t needed,” Gault says. ‘When the store brand is on sale, it can cost less than a name brand with a coupon.”

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Extreme Couponing 101 originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 11/03/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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