You’ve seen those exotic creatures on TV – the extreme couponers.
Their basements or dining rooms look like fully-stocked convenience stores. And everything they have they’ve gotten for next to nothing or even for free. It sounds incredible. But when you hear their stories, you learn that some extreme couponers often spend more time couponing per week than most people spend working at a full-time job.
What if it were possible to land amazing deals without devoting endless hours every week to the pursuit of saving money? What if you could tap into the strategies of experienced extreme couponers while dialing the effort required way, way down?
Here are five powerful secrets of diehard couponers that you can easily tweak and implement in your everyday life:
1. Get organized ... but use a low-maintenance system.
The initial time investment of getting yourself organized more than makes up for itself in the hours you’ll save yourself down the road. No more digging through piles of paper – or your purse – to find that coupon you could have sworn you saw just yesterday.
You’ll often see extreme couponers toting enormous, overflowing coupon binders. But Tammy Meek, who teaches beginner and advanced classes on couponing in Williamsport, Ohio, says that snipping coupons is a major mistake. “You will waste so much time doing that,” Meek says. “By the time you cut every coupon out, they will expire before you even use them.”
For store savings passes and Catalina coupons that print at the register, Meek recommends using a small book with clear inserts or even a baseball card holder. Have a separate book for each store you frequent – supermarkets, drugstores, or big-box stores – and file your store-specific coupons accordingly. When you’re ready to plan your visit to that retailer or head out to the store, just grab the right coupon book and go.
The easiest way to save time clipping coupons? Don’t!
Instead, simply stash your Sunday paper inserts and mailers – each of which has the date printed on the spine – by date in file folders. “When I need a specific coupon, I can go to that dated folder and cut my coupons,” Meek says. No more coupon-clipping time suck.
2. Know where to get coupons ... but grab the low-hanging fruit.
Ever watched an extreme couponer dumpster-dive for discarded coupons? It’s not pretty.
But you can skip the trash heap. In fact, you already have access to one of the favorite coupon sources of big savers. Both Meek and Nicole Boriboun, a 30-year-old mom from Tacoma, Wash., swear by the inserts that are tucked inside their Sunday newspapers.
And being up your game with extra coupons is just a matter of getting your hands on more than one paper. Meek buys four Sunday papers every week and gets extra coupon inserts from friends and family.
She also recommends printing your coupons right at home ... in bulk. “You can print two per device – tablet, phone, laptop, desktop,” Meek says.
Need to buy something right now but want the best deal? Always use a coupon database. They allow you to search for your product and get a listing of current coupons – including where to find each of those coupons.
In addition to physical coupons, tap into easy digital savings. Most major retailers offer store-specific saving apps that allow you to find, store, and use coupons right from your mobile device. Try Target’s cartwheel app, the CVS mobile app, the Kohl’s App, the Macy’s App, and more.
3. Stack coupons and sales like a boss ... but let someone else do the heavy lifting.
The first rule of saving big with coupons? Match coupons to current sales.
But who has the time to do all of that research? Luckily for you, extreme couponers are all over that job ... and they happily share their findings with you. Enter match-up websites.
Extreme couponers get their hands on advance copies of your favorite store ads and scour coupon sites. Then they map out exactly which combinations of coupons and store deals you can stack to maximize your savings – including how much you’ll pay in the end. Sometimes you’ll be able to land products for free or nearly free.
The Krazy Coupon Lady, one of the most popular couponing websites, is loaded with a variety of up-to-date match-ups. You can also find store-specific matching sites like I Heart Rite Aid, I Heart CVS, and I Heart Wags for your local drugstores.
And Boriboun recommends her favorite spot for finding incredible deals all in one place – Facebook groups for couponers and deal-lovers.
4. Snatch up savings ... but be choosy about your deals.
“Start small,” Meek says. Instead of overextending yourself in trying to coupon at every store near you, focus on just one. Maybe your supermarket, drugstore, or big box retailer. Try it out for three months and see whether you’re happy with your couponing life as is or whether you want to add another store to your saving routine.
Avoid falling into the trap of thinking that you should buy something just because you have a coupon. The post-coupon price of an item might still exceed the cost of a comparable brand. Furthermore, purchasing discounted items that your family doesn’t need is a quick way to lose money.
Finally, choose the right coupon when you’ve got options. If you have a coupon that saves you $1 on two tubes of toothpaste and another coupon that saves you 75 cents on a single tube, print out a few copies of that second coupon and skip the first. Plus, if your store doubles coupons valued under $1, you’ll wind up saving $1.50 on each toothpaste. Cha-ching!
5. Stockpile ... but don’t be a hoarder.
Once you get a taste of savings, you may be tempted to clear the supermarket shelf every time you spot an incredible deal. “It looks like a store at my house. I have a stockpile that will last the next few years,” Boriboun says. “We haven't had to buy hygiene products for a while.”
Meek’s home meanwhile features bulk supplies of paper products, personal care items, nonperishable foods, and chilled foods, which she stores in her two refrigerators and spare freezer.
If you want to save without going extreme, you can absolutely maintain a small stockpile of your favorite products. Just remember that there are always more deals around the corner. “Sales and coupons come around every four to six weeks,” says Meek, “so if you miss a sale or miss using a coupon, they will be back around before you know it.”
Want to be a couponing superhero? Stock up for a cause. If the size of your wallet doesn’t match your big heart, or you just want to maximize your donation, you can still help others.
Boriboun describes her inspiration for extreme couponing: “I do it to help my community. I donate a lot. Also, my friends and family never have to pay full price!” In fact, she admits that she always buys dog food when she can get it for free – even though she doesn’t own a dog – just so that she can share it with her local shelters.
If you’re looking for a way to cash in on the couponing craze without turning saving into a chore, take a page from extreme couponers. Their best secrets can save you time and money. And, with their tricks, you’ll maximize the work your money can do for you.
MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.