Reality shows might have given couponing a bad name. Pounding the pavement and looking through your neighbors' recycling bins might be a bit much for most. Even if you are willing to scour for inserts, the average person doesn't have time to do that. But if done efficiently, couponing for an hour a week can score you big savings and take place in the privacy of your own home.
At least that's what couponing is like for Cindy Livesey, website owner at LivingRichWithCoupons.com. Livesey started couponing back in 2009, when she was forced to cut back as a result of unemployment. She had to put her household on a very strict budget. Besides, faced with unemployment, she also accumulated over $30,000 in debt and still had college tuition to pay. It was a difficult time but couponing saved her and her family $11,000 the very first year and enabled her family to make it through the six months of unemployment.
Kiss the saving scavenger hunt goodbye.
In an effort to get the most groceries for the least amount of money possible, you no longer have to sit with a flyer and a stack of coupons and piece together your potential savings like a puzzle, trying to make all of the coupon stars come into alignment for the best savings. "The amount of time people have to devote to basic couponing is only about an hour a week. This amount of time can potentially save you about 25 to 40 percent a week on your groceries. Obviously, the more time you spend, the greater your savings. But even the more experienced couponers, those that save around 50 to 75 percent on their groceries, only need to spend about three hours a week couponing," Livesey says.
Newbies can get started by taking small steps.
Coupon usage continues to be a hot trend right now. It's fascinating to hear of people saving a great deal of money doing so. Though the savings is great, it appears to be an intricate process. It might seem a bit daunting to those who have never tried it. Livesey advises people to first find a site that covers the coupon match-ups in their area. "These sites do most of the work for you already and they are completely free," she says.
She also explains how starting small is key and points out that there are just so many sites out there that it can be overwhelming. "Don't try to do all of the deals at once. Pick a store and start couponing at that one store," she suggests. This is exactly what she did when she started her couponing journey. She began shopping at her local drugstore and stocked up on health and beauty products, paper goods and even some basic grocery items. Once she understood how to coupon correctly and felt more comfortable with the process, she expanded to her local grocery store and then to other drug stores and big box stores like Target.
Keep saving even with dietary restrictions.
The gluten-free market is expanding greatly. Many people have special diets and might find it harder to coupon because they are only able to shop for gluten-free labels, which may or may not correspond to the flyers and coupons. Livesey explains that dieting restrictions don't mean you have to skip couponing, but you do have to be strategic about it. "I eat healthy and gluten-free myself so I know, firsthand, how to save on groceries and still shop with dietary restrictions. A few tips I suggest are to invest in staple items that are important for your diet. I carry many in my pantry, including raw almonds, gluten-free rolled oats, quinoa, sweet potatoes and more," she says.
She also points out that she and her family tend to eat more vegetables when relying on coupons, because she shops for them in season while they're on sale. "I stock up and freeze it," she says.
Like most things, couponing is a skill you can learn. Progress happens by taking steps, even if the first step is small. Pick a store and try your best to save using the strategies mentioned. Also, if you have a special diet to follow, like one that includes gluten-free items, you can still shop strategically for items that you eat and end up spending less.
Karen Cordaway is a teacher, website owner and writer who currently teaches personal finance to children.