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The 1-month coupon strategy

If you delay using them, you can achieve bigger savings.

By Karen Datko Oct 10, 2009 7:14PM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.

Many people don't bother to clip coupons, mostly because they believe that a 50-cent coupon isn't worth the effort. On the surface, I agree. Without a clever coupon strategy, it's probably not worth the effort.

About two months ago, I was talking about this with a friend who works for Hy-Vee, a grocery store chain here in Iowa. He gave me a tip: Take the coupon section out of the Sunday paper and put it aside for four weeks. Then open it up and clip everything that's even remotely of interest, whether you'd normally buy it or not.

Take the coupons to the store and look at the shelves. Magically, most of the coupons will sync up with stuff that's on sale. When you combine the sale price and the coupon, you'll usually be able to get items for next to nothing.

I tried this myself. I saved the fliers from a month ago, cut them up and took them to the store. What did I find? About 40% of the coupons I cut out matched up with items on sale. I wound up getting salad dressing for less than a dollar, a package of diapers at the cheapest price I've ever bought them for, and a container of good vanilla ice cream for 19 cents. And those are just the ones I remember.

Why does this work? Coupons in the newspaper are usually the first wave of a product push by large companies. They'll put out coupons to start bumping up sales, then move to sale prices later in the promotion. They hope that coupon users who buy the product like it, return to the store, notice the item on sale and buy it again.

Now that I know this, I've made a big adjustment in my grocery-shopping strategy.

As before, I make a shopping list each week. I write down staples that are getting low, along with ingredients needed for meals I'm thinking about making. I use a notepad on the refrigerator, along with Remember the Milk.

Before I go, I get out a month-old coupon flier and clip everything that matches something on my list. I'll also clip anything I know we can always use -- like diapers -- along with anything that's potentially a reasonable purchase. I head out to the store and use the coupons effectively.

Whenever you see a sale item that you also have a coupon for, you can often get a pretty good item for just pennies -- or at least far cheaper than the normal price and usually cheaper than the generic version.

This technique saved me about $20 during my last grocery store visit -- compared with normal retail prices -- for about 30 minutes of extra effort at the breakfast table, cutting coupons and putting together the grocery list. That's a worthwhile frugal activity.

Other articles of interest at The Simple Dollar:

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