Gas prices are through the roof. Food and toiletry prices have skyrocketed. Many hard-working people are struggling and are looking for part-time jobs and side hustles to make ends meet. But there's a tried and true method that smart shoppers have used for decades to make their dollars stretch a little further.
Couponing may be a smart way to put extra money in your budget.
Clipping and using coupons has been around for decades. Newspapers, magazines, and other printed publications once included coupons that consumers could “clip” and use at the grocery or other stores. The original coupon was published in 1887 as a marketing ploy. Asa Candler, who owned the patent for Coca Cola, sent out thousands of coupons for a free sample of the new carbonated beverage and headache cure.
Avid couponer Amy D. started couponing in the ‘80s. “My dad let me use coupons when we went grocery shopping and added the savings to my allowance. I quickly realized that $5, $10, or $15 in coupons could help me double my spending money. From there, I was hooked!”
Not Your Mom’s Couponing
If you’re horrified at the idea of carrying a stack of coupons around the store, put that thought out of your mind. Today’s couponing is less about scissors and more about smartphone apps. Many stores and brands offer electronic coupons that are easily downloaded onto consumers’ store cards with a simple tap.
Heather L, another long-time coupon fan, explains. “I download a store’s app and look at their coupons. If I see one that I want to use, I tap ‘clip coupon' and that coupon is automatically added to my store card. When I check out and the cashier scans my card, the coupons are automatically deducted.” Today’s couponing does not require digging around for your coupons or waiting 10 minutes while the cashier scans them into the register, one at a time.
Is Couponing Worth the Time?
If you’re busy with work and family, using coupons may seem like a waste of time. Amy, however, sees a big return on her investment. “I usually spend an hour a month clipping coupons. Before I go to the store or out to dinner, I go online, see if there are coupons I can use, and save them to my phone. It takes about five minutes.”
Amy’s grocery store savings average $60 on a $250 bill. She shops twice a month, which ends up being a sweet hourly rate of $120.
Heather spends about two hours a month couponing. She looks for coupons on groceries, household essentials, and coupons that provide a certain percentage off at department stores. “I save $25-$30 a week on groceries for my family. When I add what I save at department stores, I probably save $125-$150 a month.”
A little less than Amy’s, Heather’s savings equates to $75 an hour.
Looking at couponing over a year, Amy saved $1440, and Heather saved $1500 or more.
What Is the Biggest Couponing “Coup” They Have Had?
Certain types of stores are gold mines for couponers. Home improvement centers are where Amy saw the most bang for her buck. Her biggest couponing score happened when she and her husband were building their house. “The lighting company had a coupon out that offered 20% off. We ended up saving over $200 just by using that coupon. My husband and I took the savings and had a great dinner and nice bottle of wine to celebrate.”
Department stores are Heather’s favorite way to save. “Kohl’s has one of the best coupon policies. You can stack coupons and use Kohl’s cash together. Doing that, I once got a $225 Shark vacuum cleaner for $85.”
How Can You Start Using Coupons?
The fastest way to start saving is to download the apps of the stores you shop at most often. Before you go shopping, cruise around on the app to see if any coupons match your shopping list.
Don’t forget to check your favorite restaurants, too. Amy is a big fan of restaurant deals. “Several restaurants offer two-for-one savings or $10 off a $50 tab. If I’m going out anyway, I may as well use a coupon and save a few dollars.”
What to Do with the Savings?
If you trim $150 off your monthly budget, you can use that cash in lots of different ways, like:
- Paying off a credit card
- Invest in a stock
- Treating yourself to a nice dinner out
- Save it for a weekend away
- Get a massage
- Buy a new outfit
Some coupon fans use their savings to have some breathing room in their budgets or get on a more secure financial footing. Others use it to enjoy a guilt-free splurge. Still others, like Heather, are happy simply saving money. “I don’t specifically earmark my couponing money. I just enjoy the savings in our day-to-day expenses.”
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