Extreme couponing was a popular pastime during the recession, when unemployment and gas prices were sky-high. And though clipping coupons from the newspaper and downloading coupons from websites and apps is no longer all the rage, saving money never goes out of style.
While couponing can help you curb costs on a variety of purchases and services, you must factor in the time and effort required to collect and organize coupons strategically. Still, if you're an extreme couponer and you get satisfaction from deal hunting, the time spent gathering coupons may not be such a bad trade-off. Whether you're a novice and you're starting to learn how to coupon or you're an extreme couponer, you need the right tips and tactics to optimize savings.
With that in mind, here are strategies for extreme couponing:
-- Ensure you need the item before you buy.
-- Utilize technology to get more savings.
-- Check the clearance aisles and marked-down carts.
-- Know the store's coupon policies before shopping.
-- Know the manufacturer's coupon policies.
-- Have your coupons ready at the time of purchase.
-- Consider all of the ways to save.
[Read: 6 Bargain Buys on Amazon Outlet.]
Ensure You Need the Item Before You Buy
"The very purpose of coupons from the manufacturer's standpoint is to get you to buy their product. Make sure you're using coupons in a way that helps you get ahead," says Bri Bell, a registered dietitian in Toronto who is an avid couponer. "For example, getting a $5 item for only $1 after coupons sounds like a great deal. And it is, unless you don't end up using it. Then you just wasted that $1."
Mary Potter Kenyon, author of "Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America's Extreme Obsession," points out that many coupons are for items that may not really be a great deal. "You will always find coupons for unhealthy frozen food products like pizza rolls and cold cereals, but sometimes it's worth the extra money and time to make your own pizza rolls or cook up a pot of oatmeal. In other words, just because you have a coupon doesn't mean you should buy the product," she says.
Utilize Technology to Get More Savings
"You don't have to do all the work in hunting down deals. There are websites that do much of it for you," Kenyon says. There are a variety of reputable coupon websites worth visiting if you want to be a more serious couponer. Some of those include SavingsAngel.com, Coupons.com, TheKrazyCouponLady.com, MoneySavingQueen.com and TotallyTarget.com.
Kenyon particularly likes Hip2Save.com, run by Collin Morgan, a blogger. "Saving sites likes hers allow you to search by store," she says. Kenyon also recommends TotallyTarget.com for Target shoppers.
Check the Clearance Aisles and Marked-Down Carts
Kenyon advises always perusing clearance aisles. "You never know when something you have a coupon for will appear in a marked-down cart or clearance aisle and your coupon will make it free." Even if you don't have a coupon, Kenyon says that clearance aisles and marked-down carts can be a treasure hunt for frugal shoppers.
Know the Store's Coupon Policies Before Shopping
Don't figure out the coupon policy on the fly or at the register. Do your homework before you shop. "This saves a ton of time," says Joy Hearn, founder of Cards and Clips, a Facebook page dedicated to coupons and extreme savings. "When I first started couponing, a major mistake I would make is simply not knowing what I was walking in to. Policies vary from store to store. While Walgreens may allow you to use four coupons per item, CVS on the other hand, depending on the region, will only allow you to use two coupons per item," Hearn explains.
She points out that stores generally always post their coupon policies on their websites. "Don't be the person who holds up the line because you tried to purchase 60 items and only found out you could get two," she advises.
Know the Manufacturer's Coupon Policies
Aside from a store's policies, you should familiarize yourself with the manufacturer's policies, too. "Many manufacturer coupons have limitations and exclusions printed on them that specify how they can be used," Hearn says.
For instance, Hearn recalls once standing behind a woman who held up a line at a Walmart, arguing that she had a $4 coupon for Children's Zyrtec. Walmart, however, wasn't accepting it. It turned out that the woman had a travel-sized item, and the coupon was for a larger size.
Have Your Coupons Ready at the Time of Purchase
Remember: Time is money. Hearn says you'd be wise to have your stack of coupons ready to go -- before you go to the cashier. "It can make the difference between breezing through the line and holding up the line," she says. This is where digital coupons can really shine, Hearn adds. "Nearly every store has now offered assistance in taking the hassle out of couponing by offering digital coupons. Simply download your preferred store's app, load the coupons to your saving's profile and voilà!"
Consider All of the Ways to Save
When it comes to extreme couponing, don't think of shopping as a game, a sport or a treasure hunt. It's important to use multiple coupons for one item.
Bethany Hollars, the content director for the retail savings website BrickSeek.com, suggests being strategic and ambitious. "For the more extreme couponer, it's all about combining manufacturer coupons with store coupons, store sales and store rewards programs," she says. "Extreme couponers will only buy an item if they can stack these different ways of savings to bring the cost of an item down to pennies on the dollar."
She cites the example of a razor that may cost $10. Maybe one week a drug store has the razor on sale for $8, and if you buy it, you'll receive $2 in rewards points for a future purchase. "This automatically brings the true cost of the razor down to $6," Hollars says. "An extreme couponer will search for a manufacturer coupon -- either online or in the newspaper -- to use toward that razor."
If the couponer is lucky, perhaps there will be a manufacturer's coupon for $3 and a store coupon for $2, and the final razor is purchased for $1. "Extreme couponers will stock up on an item when they find such a great deal scenario; instead of buying just one razor, they will repeat the transaction multiple times and buy multiple razors in order to really maximize their savings," Hollars says. "This is called stockpiling and is a crucial part of extreme couponing."
For some, the dedication and energy required to get those $1 razors may not be worth it. But for shoppers looking for the greatest value proposition, If you know how to extreme coupon the right way, you can reap generous savings without wasting your time.