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How to Become a Coupon Ninja in 15 Minutes A Week

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I love a good deal.

Coupons VendorFor years, I’ve seen all the grocery store coupon sites out there listing wonderful combo deals, how you can get free this and free that, but I never did it because I didn’t want to spend the time it takes to clip, sort, and manage coupons. I didn’t want to try to match them up with the sales circulars and double/triple coupon promotions to get the best deal possible.

I have nothing against people who do this, in fact I’m very envious of their organizational ability. I know that’s what it took to be a coupon ninja, I’d probably last a week or two, then it would fall by the wayside the first chance it could. That’s just how I am (I don’t bother with new year’s resolutions either!).

However, there’s a much easier way to be a coupon ninja and it involves the power of the internet.

Basics of Couponing

The key to the game and the most important idea to remember when being a coupon ninja is that you’re trying to minimize per unit costs and maximizing the effectiveness of a coupon. You do this by researching when sales and coupon promotions (where they double or triple manufacturer’s coupons) match.

Forget brand loyalty. It’s irrelevant. If you want to be an effective coupon ninja, you look for the best matches for the types of products you use.

Forget whether or not you “need” something, you’ll want to stock up on non-perishable products when they’re cheap, even if you don’t need them.

Coupons

Coupons come in two major types – online printable coupons and offline coupons included in circulars. When you see people talk about buying three copies of the Sunday newspaper, it’s because they want three copies of the coupons that come with those newspapers.

There are three coupon “packages” that might come with your paper – Red Plum, P&G Brand Saver, and Smart Source. You might also hear of some places referring to “Catalinas,” those are the coupons that are printed at the register when you checkout, the company running it is Catalina Category Marketing.

How to Become a Coupon Ninja

This is how I do it:

  • Take the coupon circulars out of the newspaper and write the date on it with a Sharpie.
  • I take all the circulars and sort them by date and just leave them in a stack.
  • Go to Coupon Mom or AFullCup, or any other coupon site, and see what packages together for a good deal. Coupon Mom is probably one of the largest available but there are many blogs that do the matching for you (MoneySavingMom.com is a good blog).
  • Each one of the sites will have a slightly different interface but once you get used to the acronyms, it’s very quick to pop in each week to see if there are any good deals.

I don’t cut coupons, I don’t sort them, I just put them in a stack so I can reference them when I see a good deal. You’ll also start seeing some trends if you do this for a while. For example, coupons are most effective a few weeks after they’ve been sent out. The coupon will match in-store promotions and, if you get doubling or tripling, you can get things for very low cost.

What are ECBs?

If you watch enough of these sites, you’ll see them start referring to ECBs. ECB stands for Extra Care Bucks and it’s part of a program at CVS. Extra Care Bucks is their loyalty card program and they often give these “instant rebates” on products you buy. ECBs accrue on your account and are applied during your next purchase.

So, you may buy toothpaste that’s for sale for $2.49 with $1.99 in ECBs. You may have a 50 cent off coupon that you can use to make the toothpaste “free.” The $1.99 in ECBs can be used the next time you shop (or the next week, I forget the exact rules). So “Free after ECB” refers to that little game.

Just the beginning…

I’m only willing to devote a small amount of time to couponing but if you’re willing to do more, you can save a bundle on the things you buy. As you can see, my little system only takes a few minutes to do each week. You aren’t signing up for a huge endeavor, this is simple stuff.

Do you have any tips for a novice coupon ninja?

(Photo: eschipul)

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30 Responses to “How to Become a Coupon Ninja in 15 Minutes A Week”

  1. In regards to the forget whether you need something or not, I think you have to be fairly careful.

    I’ve had some family members get way out of control with this. They will see peanut butter on sale and want to buy 100 cans at Sam’s clib! You want to make sure you take into account storage and balance saving all that money with not going too extreme!

    I have to admit, though, personally I find myself in same coupon category. I have a hard time doing well, but truly admire those people that have really perfected the art.

  2. Anthony says:

    I’m in agreement with Jim and Baker. I don’t use coupons because I never find myself saving “enough” for the time involved.

    I do have to admit. If I really focus on it, I can probably cut my shopping bills down by 2. I’m just not at that point yet.

  3. Sherry says:

    I began couponing after attending a “class” by a real expert i.e. buys hundreds of dollars of groceries for mere pennies. I’ve been trying to be more conscientious about money & general & felt this would be a good avenue to explore. I am fortunate to live in an area where the chain grocery stores & national chain stores regularly DOUBLE & TRIPLE the face value of a coupon. So, a .75 becomes 2.25 when tripled…this really caught my eyes & ears!!!

    In the last 3 months since couponing, I have spent approximately $800 on items, saving approximately $750. I only purchase those items I regularly use but I do buy in bulk. Why should I pay $11 for a bottle of laundry detergent when I can get it for $2.50 a bottle? If you could buy gasoline @ .75/gallon & store it, would you? So..I do buy items i.e. toothpaste, toothbrushes, detergent (laundry, dishwasher & electric dishwashing), paper products, etc in bulk. By saving money on these items I can either put that savings aside or spend a little extra on better cuts of meat or fresh veggies.

    Again, I have chosen to focus only on those items I use or need. The key to couponing is knowing what is available in your community. If stores afford you the deals like I get, go for it, but I would not do this if it were strictly for the face value of the coupon.

    HTH

    • Jeannette says:

      How do you buy several items when the coupon says only one item per coupon? Will stores allow several of same type coupon used on one item? Albertsons and kroger only double up to .50 and tripple up to .29. These people that buy more than 10 of same item at one time….how exactly do they do it? with 10 coupons? thanks so much

    • shannon says:

      how did you find out about the class.i’m not sure where to look to find the class.

  4. Mommy Mel says:

    I am an avid coupon user and have converted others. To not use is the equivalent of throwing money away. It takes about 20 minutes per week while watching/listening to the news to clip and sort. I don’t shop on Sunday when the come out. I wait until mid week to put my list together, review what I have, compare prices and check the blogs and shop bright and early Saturday morning. I try not buy multiple papers. Instead, I wait until late Sunday evening and go to my local store and ask for the coupons from papers not sold (I take about 3-5 extra of each). On 1/1/09 i started my ING Coupon/Rebate account and at the end of the shopping day, I review the receipt and move all coupon amounts saved to it. To date I have close to $400 in 4 months. This is money I would have spent had I not spent 60 minutes during the week to save it.

    • Amber Jones says:

      You say that you wait until late Sunday and go to your local store and ask for the coupons from papers not sold.

      What store is this? We went last night, and my friend asked the “manager” on duty if we were allowed to take them, and he said no, they come and pick up the leftovers. All we wanted were the coupons!

      • Mommy Mel says:

        It depends on what the policy is for the newspaper. Here in NYC, per the stores I visit, the newspaper only wants the front cover from unsold newspapers to give the store credit. This leaves the rest heading for the trash. Try asking a smaller more neighborhood friendly store. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

        • Tamara says:

          I hit up the mc donalds and panaera bread, and star bucks as early as 7am sunday morning sunday morning ….(I call this me time:) I know its not ideal but I have found mid afternoon works almost as well …I am a huge couponer and i get others involved I have a neighbor that reaps the benifits and in return I hook her up with free stuff when I run out of room to store my items…

  5. Great post.

    I totally agree with your comment that the best time to use coupons is actually not when they first come out but usually two to three weeks later.

    When a coupon first comes out the coupon item is rarely on sale. Wait a few weeks later and you’ll often find the item on sale. Combining the coupon with the sale price creates even more savings.

    The same principle applies to coupon dispensers found on store shelves. These dispensers allow you to take a coupon for a particular product located near the dispenser.

    The natural tendency is to take the coupon and use it then and there for the product.

    But if you take the coupon from the dispenser and save it, you can frequently come back in a couple of weeks and the product will be on sale, giving you additional savings.

  6. Kara says:

    I’m an avid coupon user, as well. This is a great post.

    I would like to throw out there, though, that buying unnecessary items is a great risk for novice coupon users. I had stacks of things I definitely didn’t need when I was in college and started using coupons. It triggered “spaving” in me. Once you tame that beast, you’re good to go.

    Just tack on the coupon to wise decisions but don’t make an unnecessary purchase just because you have a coupon.

    Also, swapping left over coupon inserts at work is a great idea! We do it where I am and I love it. If we know of a certain type of coupon someone’s looking for we alert them to it as well (e.g.: Free food, pharmacy coupons, etc)

  7. Patrick says:

    I think coupons are great, but I’m with some of the others here. I clip coupons occasionally, but only when I see something but only spend a few minutes every week. If I am spending more time than that, it just isn’t worth it.

  8. I dont know if I’m a ninja, but have been told that I have a coupon fetish. I spend a few mins on the weekend going through my cache of websites and local flyers and clip coupons. I know some of them I wont need or use, but will pass them on to friends that will (but will not cut the coupons themselves). I cannot even place a dollar figure on the amount of money I have saved on groceries alone with the coupons.

    Some might think that $0.50off here and $1 off there is not much, but that can offset your gas expense if you drove, and even on a long run, can add up to a couple of hundred in savings in one year (just on a low end estimate for a single person). When you are adding in a grocery purchase for a family, that savings can be even greater!

  9. J. Money says:

    One of my favorite titles of the day! good work clever sir ;) and all hail the coupon!

  10. jason says:

    one site you are missing is:

    http://www.dealstudio.com

    they have the most comprehensive coverage about coupons. See it yourself. The site you listed in the article are fine sites.
    BTW: I am a loyal reader of the mentioned site. My opinion may be biased.

  11. jathieme says:

    Great article. I used to be a major coupon user, fell out of it for quite a long time, and am now considering getting back into it. Thanks for the tips.

    I would like to address one of your comments:

    “Forget whether or not you ‘need’ something, you’ll want to stock up on non-perishable products when they’re cheap, even if you don’t need them.”

    I don’t necessarily agree with this. Buying non-perishablies is like buying inventory. In the business world, inventory sucks your cash and has to be managed carefully. Too much inventory possibly jeopardizes your cash flow.

    Cash is always king, but even more so in a tight economy. If the personal cash flow is good, and forecasts indicate it will remain good, then go ahead and stock up on non-perishables. But if cash flow is bad or the future indicates that it may worsen, then only buy what you need now, and save the cash.

    I’m sure many of us reading this have a TON of “inventory” in our homes…. canned goods, dried beans, dried pasta, hair spray, bars of soap, lotions, etc., etc., etc. With money being tight it would be wise to start using our “inventory” rather than buying new stuff.

    Just my $0.02.

  12. @jathieme:

    While I agree that in the business world, holding too much inventory can be detrimental, I think what the author is trying to say is that when couponing, it makes much more sense. Many times I can find a deal on items such as shampoo or toilet paper that allows me to purchase it for only the cost of sales tax. In some rare instances, I can even make a small amount with my purchase (this is sometimes, but not always, done via rebates, which I realize aren’t every couponer’s cup of tea). When this is the case, I see no harm in stocking up.

    I certainly agree, however, that once you have a stash built up, you should stop buying, and start using it up. It would be counterproductive to buy so much that you have to invest in more storage to house it all!

  13. I would have to say my wife is a coupon ninja, but i’m a coupon newb. Anyway great article, I like the part where you say to watch when sales/promotions start because thats when you can double your coupons.

  14. Linda B says:

    Alas, it takes me at least THIRTY minutes just to drive across town to buy the papers to GET the coupons! I know some folks can have papers delivered to their house, but in my area, the local paper doesn’t carry all the coupon inserts, so I have to buy out-of-town papers (which, I’ve checked, don’t deliver to this region) to get them. *sigh*

    Still, I don’t mean to belittle this info; it is very good! It’s just that the “15 minutes per week” part might be a little off in cases such as my own. :) Thanks for sharing!

    • Holly says:

      you can get uncut circulars on ebay, and depending on the cost of your paper it might actually be a less expensive way to get them and way less headache. Many of the sellers on ebay will kinda do a pre sale. This means you complete the transaction on Sunday and on Monday your coupons are on the way. I normally have them by wednesday, thursday at the lastest and that is still plenty of time to score the sales!

  15. 1stronglady says:

    I am new at this, but I do take advantage of free items even if I don’t use them. I donate items I don’t use to a local hospice. They have many elderly patients with low income who are able to use the things that I don’t use

  16. I am a couponer, Coupon Blogger and a total coupon nut, I one way or the other gather up to 20 papers a week and have 9 computers in the house to print from meaning I can get up to 38 coupons for a item. I often make trips to stores and pay less than 5% of retail. It is true you get stuff you don’t need but if you do it right those are the items that you get paid to take (overage) that profit cuts the cost of the items in your cart that cost you. Use those items to save and then donate them to food pantries or any other charity org. Get a receipt and at the end of the year deduct them off of your taxes. I have made up to $250 in a week at Walgreens using coupons and the store incentives they provide. then use the profit to buy what you need. I have not paid for most personal care items for two years and just the savings on those items make a huge difference on the bottom line. Couponing does not take long if you start right and use the resources out there on the web.

    • Jeannette says:

      can you use more than one coupon per item? how do you USE 38 coupons for one item?? Does walgreens have the ECBs like CVS? JUst not sure how all this bulk shopping works and how to accomplish it? Thanks alot!

      • govenar says:

        To use 38 coupons you’d have to buy 38 items (usually; if you have both a store coupon & manufacturer coupon, you can use both on 1 item). And if you’re getting ECBs from CVS, those usually have limits, so you’d have to get multiple CVS cards. Walgreens has Register Rewards which are similar to ECBs (but different in some ways, so you should research it first).

      • Shirley says:

        Register Rewards are instant rebates at Walgreens and items qualifying for Register Rewards are shown in the weekly Walgreens sales ad. When you go there and buy an item that is eligible for a Register Rewards rebate, you will get a coupon that prints out at the register that is good for a certain amount off a future purchase.

        NOTE:
        * One consolidated rebate coupon prints out with each eligible TRANSACTION. So if you want to use the rebate on the next item in your basket, you have to check it out and pay for it separately in order to get that coupon in your hand before paying for the item you want to use it on. Bit of a pita to do.
        * Register Rewards coupons DO EXPIRE.
        * You may NOT use Register Rewards to pay for tobacco or alcohol.

    • Janet says:

      I live in Forsyth Mo and printed a lot of coupons and none of the stores around here would accept them. What can I do about this?

  17. nikki says:

    wow all of this is so cool, i am very interested in trying this couponing adventure out! have to say at the same time it sounds kinda challenging. i baught two sunday papers , cut out all coupons, some i use an most of cp’s i dont. any tip for a first time couponer wanna be?

  18. maggie says:

    thank you for your support

  19. GlenH says:

    For those of us looking to get the best bang for our buck, there are now easier ways. An example is LowerThis.com, a site you’ve looked at. It’s a community of experts that finds you the lowest price for all your purchases. Saves both time and money!

  20. Janet says:

    I printed a lot of coupons and none of the stores where I live would accept them. What do I do about this? I’d really like to become a coupon ninja


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