Extreme couponing: how to get your grocery store to pay you to shop

April 23 | Guest post by Katrina
By: cpyles – CC BY 2.0
By: cpylesCC BY 2.0

In my family, we love to eat. The only problem is that food (especially "good" food) can be really expensive. My coworkers kept talking about "extreme couponing," and how they were getting full carts of groceries for only a few dollars. I was intrigued, but didn't have the time to match up coupons and sales. I tried doing it a few times and felt so frustrated and overwhelmed.

I felt like everybody was in on this huge secret, until my coworkers directed me to a few websites. These sites break down the deals by store and tell you exactly where to find the coupons!

The websites also have a beginner section where they teach you all of the acronyms they use on the site, coupon policies by stores, and have a list of FAQs. I especially love the sites that tell you how much the item will be at the end.

I started small. The first week, I set a goal to save $5. Just five bucks. I printed out some coupons and was so scared that my store wouldn't take them! My heart was pounding as I handed them over. The cashier scanned my coupons, then circled the savings on my receipt. I more than met my goal!

Each week, I set a new goal. My current goal now is to always save more than I spend. It's so crazy to think that I can actually print money from my computer!

Here's a great example of how I've saved money: last week, I found an awesome deal on vitamins. There was a store coupon for $6 off any two bottles of vitamins. There was also a manufacturer's coupon for $3 off two bottles of vitamins. My coupons totaled $9 off two bottles, right? Well, some of the vitamins were $2.99 each. I picked up two bottles, used both coupons, and got paid $3 to take the vitamins! I didn't need them, but the overage made my other groceries cheaper. We're going to donate them when my daughter's school or church have a vitamin drive.

The main couponing sites I use are:

coupons21-300x450

They are the ones who tell you all of the deals by store, and will link you to printable coupons (target.com, coupons.com, brand websites/homepages, Facebook pages) or tell you where to find a coupon.

My favorite tricks are very simple:

Shop sales

I try to shop the sales, especially BOGO (buy one, get one free). These sales typically act as a 50% off coupon; you do not need to buy two items to get the deal. For the printable coupons, you can only print two per computer/printer. If there is a BOGO (buy one get one free) you can put coupons on BOTH items.

Combine coupons when possible

I love to combine a store coupon and a manufacturer's coupon (a store coupon is supposed to be used at a particular store, while a manufacturer's coupon can be used anywhere). Find out if your store takes competitor coupons to save even more (my Publix will take Target coupons)!

Always get the moneymakers, even if you don't need them

Sometimes you can use coupons and MAKE MONEY to take the item. You'll always want to get the moneymakers (even if you don't need it) because it lowers the price of the stuff you DO need. You can always save, donate, or give away your freebies.

Don't try to get every deal — be proud of yourself for any amount that you save

You'll make yourself crazy if you try to get every deal for every store. Don't stress about couponing, just be proud of yourself for saving any amount of money! There are coupons for everything; produce, food, cleaning supplies, medicine … everything! I also have some ideas for saving paper/ink when you print out coupons. I set my printer to black and white, and low quality (or whatever it's called) — it uses less ink. I print coupons on scrap paper (pictures that my daughter drew and then threw away because she messed up, a paper somebody stuck in our door for lawn services, house fliers, etc).

Decide if you're loyal to a specific brand

Brand loyalty is huge — sometimes the store brand is still cheaper than the name brand, even with coupons for the name brand stuff. If you're loyal to that brand, it might be a good deal for you. If you don't care, you might want to get the store brand. However, sometimes you can get brand name for cheaper than store brand! Score!


This post originally appeared on Offbeat Families

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  1. I'm so jealous of Americans regarding this! Where I live we have virtually no coupons (only occasional cashback deals) and if we do have coupons, they can't be combined with other coupons or sales. So healthy food takes a major chunk of our budget.

    7 agree
      • Hello fellow Dutchie! We really drew the short end of the stick there, didn't we? ^_-

        1 agrees
    • Same here. While store sales and manufacturer coupons can be combined here in Quebec, the number of sales and coupons just never reach anything like the staggering amounts in the US. Also, the "getting paid to buy" thing doesn't work in most stores and a lot of coupons have the "can't be combined with any other offer" legal on them.

      I still use coupons for some things, but getting as little as 5 $ off groceries is a rare occurrence for me.

      6 agree
    • Yeah, I'm pretty sure this only applies to Americans. In Canada, it specifically says on the coupons one of the following (or all of the following):
      – cannot be combined with other coupons/offers
      – limit 1 per customer
      – not applicable to sales/clearance/"insert multitude of products"

      I use coupons myself, but the best we get here in Canada are BOGOs, or a percentage off the product.

      7 agree
    • I don't think most Americans can do these "extreme couponing" tricks, either. Publix (and a few other chains) have lenient coupon policies but aren't located in every state.

      I've lived in California and Texas, and I've never been to a grocery store that doubled manufacturer's coupons or allowed you to get more off in coupons than the price of the item. Nor will most stores allow rain checks if they run out of an item. As of 2013 my local chain won't even apply a store coupon and a manufacturer's coupon to the same item, except in a few circumstances (like buy one get one free, or if it's X off a whole basket).

      16 agree
    • Yep, agreement from me. Australia is the most expensive place in the world to live according to the yearly survey by the Duetsche Bank. We might get a discount occasionally or you can buy a book of discounts on pizza and doughnuts fire the year but nothing like this! This is truley amazing

      1 agrees
    • It's only some Americans. I live in a rural area with a high cost of living, especially on food. Yet extreme couponing is not possible here for three reasons:
      1) The governing laws of my region prohibit coupon stacking. If you present two coupons, the store will honor the higher-discount one only.
      2) There's not a single store that will double coupons.
      3) You know those coupon packs that are common in some newspapers or mailers? We don't get those here. We are not a big enough market for manufacturers to throw free coupons at us.

      The only ways I can save money are by finding that rare manufacturer coupon or shopping a "sale" which brings groceries back down into the affordable range.

      2 agree
  2. Okay, so I love to save money just like anyone else, but I've always been perplexed by the whole extreme couponing thing. We buy primarily fresh produce, dairy, some meat (but only really when it's on sale), and pantry items like canned beans, etc. We try to not buy too many snack foods and prepared meals for a variety of reasons from health to cost. I imagine I'd feel differently if we had kids and we tried to keep more quick snacks in the house, but even so, I can't imagine I'd suddenly be stocking up on primarily packaged foods.

    So I'm curious to hear from someone who does almost all their cooking from scratch, as we do — is there still a benefit to putting the time into couponing? Our local grocery does the occasional coupon for fresh produce or meat, but other than that, I feel like I mostly see coupons for things that we wouldn't purchase and eat anyway.

    19 agree
    • I don't personally extreme coupon, but a lady at my work does. She is a total health-nut as far as her food goes and doesn't eat any packaged food either. The deals I hear her talking about are on things like personal hygiene items, medicine, and cleaning products.

      4 agree
    • Yes, I've wondered this, too. Having watched 'extreme couponing' on tv, I feel like I see a lot of foods purchased that are unwanted or unhealthy because of the savings (things like sports drinks, single serving snacks, and condiments….) I just don't want 50 mustards even if someone pays me 5 cents apiece to take them. No judgment. That's just me. You do you.

      I guess what I'm saying that *this type* of couponing that is portrayed, while admirable and entertaining, does not at all fit my lifestyle or needs. I would love to hear from someone, who lives in a tiny condo with no room for a "stash," who tries to avoid heavily processed and over-packaged foods, how do they do couponing? Can you still come out so far ahead without needing to buy unwanted foods to work the system (ahem, 50 jars of mustard)?

      11 agree
      • Yes, thank you! That's exactly what I meant. I see what Bean is saying about saving on hygiene and cleaning items, but again, I don't feel like two of us are going through so much detergent, shampoo (two short-haired folks here), sponges, etc. to really make up a ton of money in coupons. I imagine there are still some deals out there, so I'm hoping someone has an answer.

        1 agrees
        • For a household of two it may not be worth it. I imagine the target is more households like ours with four adults, three kids, and three cats.

    • I don't often find coupons for food items I buy, either. And, honestly, it takes me less time to make a sheet of granola bars myself than it does to find coupons, clip them, drive to the store, shop, etc….

      I'm all about finding ways to save money, but I tend to turn towards figuring out what is worth it to make yourself and what is worth it to buy. Important factors for me are ingredients, effort, mental effort, time, motivation, timing, etc.

      Things I use coupons for: deodorant and shampoo since the brands I like regularly have coupons, some cleaners, some clothing
      Things I stopped using coupons for in favor of just making that shit myself: lip balm, hand creme, body butter, house-hold cleaners, etc.
      Food I make myself: curries, smoothies, soups, granola bars
      Things I think it's just worth it to buy when I need it: most food items, specific skincare products i can't make myself
      Things it's worth to grow in terms of time/effort/return on investment: herbs, greens

      4 agree
  3. Stores are getting wise to all this and are cracking down on coupons so the extreme couponers can't save as much. They are limiting the cash back values so that if the coupon at face value would give you cash back, they cap it so you can't get a discount that's more than the price of the product. They're stopping double coupons, they're not allowing competitor coupons, they're not allowing coupon stacking. Where I live, stores have never allowed double coupons, so it's extremely hard to get that kind of savings.

    6 agree
    • I learned this the hard way with a couple "buy one get one free" coupons. After buying a 20 dollar item, the cap was at 4 dollars to save or something. So now if I happen to see a coupon, for doggie dental treats? razors? whatever it was, I make sure to check the max value. Even if I'm standing there squinting at the fine print, haha.

  4. The only 'extreme' savings we get are when our nearby grocery store does buy 1 get 2 free deals on chicken breasts, sirloin steaks, and pork chops. We'll also look at the bone-in chicken parts and get some of those. Usually chicken thighs are somewhere around $.44/lb. We stock up on meat for a month in one day. Last time we did this, we spent $41 for $100 of meat.

    1 agrees
  5. Speaking of the "50 mustards you don't need" thing… this kind of irks me. I understand that they donate and stuff, but there's people like myself who survive off of very little money for a family and when I go to use my coupons and I find that in every single store in my area (in a very small town) is wiped out of ketchup because one person came in as soon as the store opened the day the sale started and bought all of them, it's kind of disheartening. Yeah, "the early bird gets the worm" or whatever, but donating or not, why not leave savings for other people if all you're going to do is get rid of it…? There's people who actually survive only by using savings and coupons… :/ I'm more angry than amazed when I see the extreme couponing shows on TV lol.

    25 agree
    • This exactly. If you don't need it, why buy it just for the sake of buying it when someone else could use the item and could save a good bit of money on it?

      There's also a whole wastefulness aspect that I just can't get beyond. Especially when so many find themselves swamped with "stuff" and are looking for ways to downsize and simplify their lives… I find myself with extras of things from occasional BOGO deals, or times when I bought toothpaste/contact solution and then got home to find I had extra ones stashed under the sink or something, and I go though it so slowly. It would take me 20+ years to get through all the items that I see the extreme couponers on TV stockpile in their garages (I figure much of it would have expired by that point– yes, shampoo does go bad).

      3 agree
  6. Yeah…where I live (Taiwan) coupons are almost always just overt ways to get you to spend more money. They don't even try to hide it – like, "get 10 kuai off" (that's about 30 cents) "if you spend 100 kuai or more!" (that's $3). Which is fine if you need the stuff you're buying but they seem to think you'll still go and buy stuff because you want the 10 kuai deal. And whether you spend 100, 200, or 1000 kuai ($3, $6 or $30) you still just get 10 kuai off. Or, "pay 300 kuai for our health test, and get 50 kuai off your purchase of our health product!" – yeah, you don't save that way!

    I guess I just look at coupons here and think, "do they think we're stupid?"

    But buy-one-get-one can be a very good deal, and sometimes 7-11 (you do not even know 7-11 in the USA, it's a wonderful mecca of everything, from a cafe to a corner shop to a Kinko's to a Ticketmaster to a bank to a post office in Taiwan) will have great deals where you save up stickers to get good stuff. If you actually need what you're buying to get those stickers – for me it's high speed rail tickets that bring in the big sticker payoffs – you can do very well. I once got a pair of Reidel wine glasses for 100 kuai ($3) each after cashing in all my stickers at 7-11. Yes, 7-11 had a Reidel wine glass promotion because 7-11 in Taiwan is an actual religion and lifestyle. I consider 7-11 to be an extension of my home. I think the cashiers there are trained in zombie combat for when the zombie apocalyse comes.

    5 agree
  7. Ever notice the companies offering the coupons are the ones we usually boycott?

    16 agree
  8. We've found the best value and price for 99% of our staples, at Trader Joe's. And because they rebrand everything as TJ's brand, coupons don't apply. We also shop at Grocery Outlet for vitamins (which are regularly $5 or so each), and they don't accept coupons. BUT I'll say we check Alberston's once a month, because they sometimes run phenomenol Buy 1 Get 2 Free deals on chicken and beef (normally, we get all our meat from a local butcher). Given how the coupons I see seem to be things like "buy 3 of these and save 50 cents!", I'm a bit skeptical that it would save me money, without sacrificing the quality of food that I'm used to. But I applaud anybody who can make that much math work for them!

    2 agree
  9. I love what the OP said about setting a savings goal rather than just trying to snag every deal you can find. Every little bit helps. I shop at BJs, and they send out coupon books once or twice a month. I pretty much make my shopping list from that book. Saving $2 or $3 on almost every item adds up to $30 or $40 saved on every trip, which is fantastic. I'm not an extreme couponer and I don't buy things I don't want just because I have a coupon for it, but coupons have gotten me to try new foods and find things I didn't realize I liked.

    1 agrees
  10. Is this even a thing in the UK? I cant see that they'd let you hand over vouchers and get money back, you'd be limited to vouchers that dont exceed the value of the items you're trying to buy

    3 agree
  11. @Beth W – Grocery Outlet (or Our Beloved Lady of Gross Out) does take some coupons! If you are lucky enough to have a Chinook Book handy, they are in the grocery section!
    $5 off $35 is my favorite 🙂
    Because I won't use many of the coupons or they don't apply to me, I split one Chinook Book between several of my friends! Its a great deal.

  12. Awesome article! I consider myself to be a couponer, but not an extreme couponer. (Then again, that's what everyone says, right?)

    I'll add these points to the discussion:

    1. When printing coupons, make sure to align your printer first. I used to skip it, thinking it would just waste ink that I could use to print more coupons. Then I realized that the coupons scan better at checkout if they're printed well. This saves me a lot of time – if the coupon doesn't scan, the cashier will usually try it a few more times, call over their manager, and then it's just awkward.

    2. If someone comes through and buys all the ketchup on the shelf, you can ask the customer service desk for a raincheck for the ketchup. They'll give you a piece of paper stating the item, sale price, and quantity of that item you're allowed to purchase. When the store gets more inventory of ketchup, you just take the raincheck and give it to the cashier. You'll get the sale price even after the sale is done.

    1 agrees
  13. I'd caution coupon lovers to beware Coupons.com. So many of the coupons on the site are fraudulent that stores have policies against accepting them.

    As a side note, I've seen far too many minimum wage workers face the choice of getting yelled at by their managers or getting yelled at by their customers over fraudulent coupons, expired coupons, or the aforementioned coupon combos that result in you "getting paid" and them "getting in trouble." Please be respectful of store employees when "extreme couponing." They are probably trying just as hard as you to get by on their limited salaries.

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