When I lived in St. Louis, I was obsessive about coupon clipping. Mainly because I subscribed to the Sunday paper. But I quickly realized that while I was using the paper for coupons, I was never actually reading the paper, so it started to feel like a waste. The papers would start to pile up because I spent my Sundays preparing for class the next day, and then throughout the summer, studying for the bar exam.
Well, my student days are thankfully over, but when I moved to Washington, D.C., I didn't bother to subscribe to the Sunday paper. I figured I wouldn't end up reading it, and the environmentalist in me struggled with the idea of having all that extra paper (even though I recycle, of course). It seemed like a cost that I didn't really need.
But I wasn't thinking about the coupons. (I also wasn't thinking about the money I would save by always using the comics to wrap presents.) Given the rising food prices, I think this is an idea I should revisit.
I often struggle with whether or not coupons are really worth it. I've always believed that you should only use a coupon on something you would buy anyway - don't think of it as a "deal" on something new. Unfortunately, it seems like most coupons out there are for new products hitting the shelves. Of course, there's nothing wrong with trying new products, especially if it's a type of food you consume regularly. For example, if you eat a granola bar for lunch every day and the paper has a coupon for a new kind of granola bar, it doesn't hurt to check it out - provided that with the coupon, the new granola bar is cheaper than your old standard.
(This is probably a given, but be sure to watch your base price. How much is in that package? What are you paying per base unit? I'm lucky enough to shop at a store that lists the unit price on the shelf tags so I can determine which item is the best buy, but if you don't, be sure to do the math in your head or carry a calculator. Trust me, it's worth it.)
The other thing is that I'm always trying to eat healthier, and it seems like so often, coupons are for processed foods. I'm not going to find a coupon for apples or other produce. But even though I do try to be healthy, I admit that I'm still stuck on a number of processed foods, and there are coupons on things I use, such as various canned soups and vegetables, and occasionally rice and other grains as well. Besides, I need things like detergent and toothpaste too, and there are often coupons for those products.
You can also print coupons online, though I have sporadic luck with those. Sometimes it's products I use, but most of the time, it's nothing I want. Conveniently, I don't have to print those. The big sites are SmartSource and CoolSavings.
The CouponMom is a highly touted resource for coupon usage. The site has a database of coupons from the Sunday paper (you do still have to buy a paper) to help you figure out what's on sale and when you'll get the best deal combining coupons with a sale.
A number of bloggers have been talking about The Grocery Game. This is a subscription based site ($1 for a 4 week trial, then $5 a month). Every week, you get a list of the lowest priced products at your supermarket matched with coupons and specials. Of course, to do this, you need to stock up on the coupons, as frequently, the coupons in this Sunday's circular will be best used in a few weeks to match up with sales. I haven't tried this yet, but I think that I will sign up after I return from vacation. A summer experiment of sorts.
I also read a lot about the Drugstore Game on various blogs. This is played at CVS or Walgreens, though I admit, I only pay attention to the CVS discussions, as that's what's nearest to me. The theory is that by combining coupons and products with ECBs (Extra Care Bucks - basically coupons for $X off your next purchase, no matter what it is), you can save hundreds of dollars. This oftentimes means buying products you wouldn't normally buy, just to get the ECBs. I see the point - an example would be if I buy this shampoo with this coupon, I spend $2.00, but I get $3.00 in ECBs. So I technically got a dollar for the purchase. It's just hard for me to make that expenditure, especially if it's something I don't normally buy. I'll have to look into it further though, especially since I work within walking distance of a CVS - I could play on my lunch break!
Don't forget coupon codes for online shopping! I've mentioned Ebates here before - it's where I start when I'm shopping online. Not only do you get cash back, but they often have some great coupon codes as well. And of course, before you submit an order, do a quick Google search for StoreName Coupons. Who knows what you might find!
Want more info? Check out these links:
The Zen and Art of Coupon Clipping
Coupon Tips and Tricks That Can Cut Your Grocery Bill By 80% (some great ideas here!)