EXCERPT: Elisabeth Leamy's 'Save Big'

Leamy Cover

Elisabeth Leamy, consumer correspondent for "Good Morning America," identifies the areas where people spend the most money and shows how they can save more by tackling large expenses. In "Save Big," Leamy shows how to cut spending on houses, cars, groceries, health care, credit cards and more.

Click here to learn where you can find a copy of "Save Big" by Elisabeth Leamy, ABC News Consumer Correspondent.

Click here for more savings resources available on Elisabeth Leamy's Web site.

After reading the excerpt below, head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.

Chapter 24: Creative Couponing

Every word in the grocery section has been leading to this one: coupons. Price matching and stockpiling get even better with coupons. That's why Creative Couponing is Guerilla Grocery Shopping weapon number three. The key to creative couponing is never to use a coupon by itself. Always layer it with some other strategy. The other key is to use online tools to make couponing easy --and lucrative. The old fashioned way of clipping coupons in advance is too time consuming.

I used to make fun of couponers. It seemed like the ultimate example of Small Stuff Savings, but then GMA sent me to interview some women who have cut their grocery bills in half by using and abusing coupons in the most creative ways. The savings cannot be ignored. Guerilla Grocery shoppers who take advantage of creative couponing save as much as 80-percent and even get some groceries for free.

In this chapter, learn to SAVE BIG by:
Using a website that makes it possible for you to use coupons without really clipping coupons.
Waiting to use coupons instead of using them right when they come out.
Combining coupons with other offers.
Looking up Target coupons after Target has stopped providing them.

Clicking not Clipping
Is your scissor finger breaking out in hives just from the thought of clipping coupons? Don't worry. I'm going to show you how to use coupons without really clipping coupons. I define "clipping" coupons as spending Sundays poring over coupon circulars, painstakingly cutting out coupons in advance that you might be able to use. I don't do that and you shouldn't either. The key is to click not clip.

Thanks to Stephanie Nelson, aka "The Coupon Mom," you can still use coupons from the Sunday circulars, but you'll only have to spend five minutes cutting them right before you shop. You'll cut instead of clip. Here's how it works. The CouponMom website tracks every coupon in most every Sunday circular. Instead of blindly clipping coupons and hoping you will be able to use them, you just save all the circulars without cutting them. Then, when you need something, you search for the product on CouponMom.com and the site tells you if there is a coupon for it in a recent circular.

CouponMom.com has flipped the entire process over so that it is easy and productive. First the need, then the coupon instead of vice versa. It makes so much more sense. Here's a step by step tutorial on the simple, money-saving process:

1. Know the Main Circulars. You can see the names of the circulars on the front or in tiny print on the binding. Couponers refer to them by their initials. They are: Red Plum (RP)
Smart Source (SS)
General Mills (GM)
Procter & Gamble (PG)

2. Save your Circulars. Save all of your circulars –whole, without cutting-- for two months. Most coupons expire after 10 weeks, so you can toss the circulars at that point. A few individual coupons are good for 15 weeks. It's up to you if you have space to keep them that long.

3. Label Them. Scrawl the name and date of each circular on the cover in magic marker to make it easier to identify them quickly.

4. Organize Them. Organize your stash of circulars in whatever way works for you –a stack, a box, a binder or an accordion file. This way you have all the current coupons at your disposal when you need them.

5. Search CouponMom.com. Before shopping, go to the "Grocery Coupon Database" on CouponMom.com. You can search by brand name or product type. If you were looking for chocolate chips, you could type in "Nestle" or "chocolate chips" to find them.

6. View results. The CouponMom website will then list the date and source of every coupon for chocolate chips. Circulars are identified by their initials, as shown above.

7. Cut and go. Now you can go directly to the circulars that contain coupons for the products you need. It's brilliant! No more clipping coupons in advance and hoping the tiny scraps don't fall out of your wallet before you manage to use them. On the CouponMom site, as you see deals you want, you can check a box next to them to create a customized shopping list. Using that list, you cut out or print out only the coupons you need. Then you're off to the store. Easy peasy.

Big Secret: Sign up for Free, Customized Deal Alerts at Couponmom.Com

This is a handy offer, because you get to create your own list of products you want to receive alerts about. The alert feature let's you list a whole bunch of items, so one smart thing would be to enter everything on your Top 20 list.

Where to Find Your Coupons
Approximately 88-percent of the coupons people make use of come from the Sunday circulars. Many coupon queens get at least two newspapers a week to maximize their coupon opportunities. Local newspapers often offer great deals on a Sunday-only subscription. Another option: some grocery and convenience stores sell the Sunday paper later in the day for half price. Alternatively, especially if you plan to use coupons as a means to donate to charity, it's easy to ask friends and neighbors to give you their unused circulars.

Increasingly, there are valuable internet coupons, called "Bricks" online. CouponMom.com indexes some of them. Another website, HotCouponWorld.com, also has a searchable coupon database. It's maintained by members and indexes some sources that CouponMom does not. If you would like to search coupon sites on your own, here are some good ones: CoolSavings.com
Coupons.com
RedPlum.com
SmartSource.com

Big Secret: You Don't Have to Use the Coupon for the Product in the Picture
Often a coupon will say "any variety" or words to that effect. But the picture on the coupon will be of the newest, most expensive product in that product line. Don't fall for it! You can use the coupon for anything in the line, and the best deal is to use it on the cheapest product.

Coupon Combos
When a manufacturer puts a coupon in the Sunday paper, it's hoping you will rush out and use it that week. Don't do it! Instead, lie in wait like the Guerilla Grocery Shopper that you are. As I mentioned, most coupons are good for about ten weeks, sometimes up to 15. That means you don't have to use them when they are new. Waiting can present some golden opportunities.

Remember, the premise of Creative Couponing is that you should never use a coupon by itself. You should always combine it with some other savings strategy. I call those Coupon Combos.

Manufacturers often promote their products in waves, first with coupons then with sales in specific stores, and finally with mail-in rebates. Sure, you could use the coupon right away and save some money. But if you keep your coupon until the sale starts or the rebate is offered then you can take advantage of both forms of discounts and SAVE BIG. That's the most basic coupon combo. Below are many more.

Sale + Manufacturer's Coupon
Matching up store sales with manufacturer coupons is easy because websites like HotCouponWorld.com, BeCentsAble.net and CouponMom.com do it for you. The CouponMom site is the easiest to use. Here are the three easy steps:

1. Click on Grocery Deals by State, just as we discussed in Chapter 22.
2. Choose a store and you will see a list of the best sale items organized by brand name.
3. If there's a coupon available for a product, you will see the dollar value of the coupon and the name and date of the circular where you can find it.

I just spent 30 seconds online and found a current example that shows that sales are good, but sales + coupons are better. Check it out.
Hot Shot Ant Spray
Regular Price: $2.99
Coupon: $1.50
FINAL PRICE= $1.49
BIG SAVINGS= 50%

OK, normally I'd be crowing about how that's half off! 50-percent! A purchase worthy of stockpiling. But check out what happens when you do a coupon combo, combining a coupon with a sale:
Hot Shot Ant Spray
Regular Price: $2.99
Sale Price: $1.49
Coupon: $1.50
FINAL PRICE= FREE!
BIGGER SAVINGS= 100%!

Yes, that's right, there was a coupon for Hot Shot Ant Spray in the July 19th Smart Source circular. And by waiting to use it until there was a sale, I could "buy"Ant spray for free. This is not some freak occurrence. If you pair sales with coupons you will routinely get groceries for pennies on the dollar or for free. If you see low cost or no cost opportunities like this for products your family doesn't use, you can donate them to a local food bank.

Big Secret: How to Get Extra Internet Coupons

There is a way to print more than one E-coupon or "Brick" at a time. Photocopying E-coupons is not allowed. It's considered fraud. But most manufacturers allow you to print two coupons at a time from their site. After you print your first coupon, all you do is hit the "back" arrow on your computer until the coupon is sent to your printer again. If you wait a couple weeks, the website may reset and allow you to print two more coupons. New E-coupons usually come out the first day of the month, so it's a good idea to check that day, so you have more opportunities over the course of the month for the site to re-set, allowing you to print additional coupons.

Coupon + Doubled or Tripled
Sales are one way to use a store's incentives in combination with coupons. Double and triple coupon offers are another. For example, if you have a 50-cent coupon, the manufacturer kicks in 50-cents off of your purchase and the store matches it with another 50-cents of its own money. Nice!

Although the double or triple discount is usually automatic at the register, you will need to know, in advance, which stores double or triple coupons so you can double or triple the amount of business you give them! My neighborhood grocery store has a huge banner out front that proclaims "We Double Coupons." Since not all stores are so brassy about this fantastic offer, don't be shy --just ask at the courtesy desk. There are also two online guides to grocery stores that double coupons, which can be found at GroceryCouponGuide.com and Couponing.About.com. I'll link you to the pages of those sites that you need from my site, www.elisabethleamy.com.

Once you have determined which stores double or triple coupons, here are a few key questions to ask the manager: 1. Do you double coupons only on certain days or every day of the week?
2. To what amount do you double coupons? (The most common policy is 50-cents and below, followed by 99-cents and below.)
3. Do you limit the number of coupons for the same product that you will double in a single shopping trip? (If they only double the first one, you can wait and buy more of that product in a separate trip to the store.)
4. Do you have special times when you double or triple coupons up to a higher amount?

Big Secret: Many Stores Now Accept Expired Coupons
They do it so they can hold onto loyal customers. Guerilla grocery shoppers can take advantage of this, because many manufacturers alternate between offering coupons and offering sale prices. So, if you can use an expired coupon it might be easier to time it to match up with a sale.

With a thorough understanding of your store's coupon doubling or tripling policy, you now have to get your head around some "new math" so that you can use your coupons wisely. For example, if your store doubles coupons up to $.99, that means a $1 coupon is only worth $1, but a $.75 coupon is worth… $1.50! Odd. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize a $.75 coupon is suddenly more valuable than a $1 one at this store.

Coupon doubling and tripling policies are little goldmines. Seek out the stores that do this --especially for stockpiling-- and you will SAVE BIG. Here's an example. HotCouponWorld.com has a forum where new couponers can brag about their best bargains. A newbie named JJ Rogers wrote in that she had several 35-cent coupons for C&H sugar, which the store honored at triple value. Here's the deal she got:
C&H Sugar
Regular price: $3.05
Sale price: $1.50
Triple Coupons: $1.05
FINAL PRICE= 50-cents
BIG SAVINGS = 84%

84-percent off? Sweet! Literally. So, what did JJ the newbie do? She acted like a Guerilla Grocery Shopper and bought 15 five-pound bags. Whoa. That's 75 pounds of sugar! Instead of paying $45.75 for it, she spent only $7.50. Her kids will be wired for life!

Big Secret: You Can Use Manufacturer Coupons from One Store at Another Store

If you see a coupon in a store flyer, look closely: does it say "store coupon" or "manufacturer coupon?" If it's the latter, it's the manufacturer who is paying for your discount, so you are free to use that coupon at a different store! Manufacturer's Coupon + Store Coupon
Up to this point we've been talking about coupons the manufacturer offers to get you to try its products. But stores also offer their own coupons, to get you to come in. This is another coupon combo that will help you SAVE BIG. I know, I know you're scarred by the familiar phrase "cannot be combined with other offers." True, you cannot combine two different manufacturer coupons but you can combine a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon because the money is coming from two different sources. Yippee!

For some reason, drug stores, like CVS and Walgreens, offer far more store coupons than grocery stores do. That means drug stores can often be a great source not only of personal care and household goods, but also of food. They may not have much variety, but you can SAVE BIG on things like cereal and soup if you combine a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon at a drugstore. Look for store coupons in flyers on racks in the drug stores and also in direct mail and Sunday circular ads. Below are some more sources of store coupons:

Store Sunday circulars. (Look for the words "Store Coupon" across the top.) Single page store newspaper ads.
Direct mail ads sent to your home.
Store magazines.
Store websites.
Store emails. (Joining the store loyalty In store flyers on a stand at the front or back of the store.
The price check box at CVS stores. Scan your loyalty card to print coupons.
Store clubs like baby clubs or pet clubs.
Fundraising books sold by nonprofits for about $5.
Websites like HotCouponWorld.com and AFullCup.com.

Big Secret: Look for Stores That Accept Competitor's Coupons

Often stores don't advertise that they accept competitors' coupons. You'll probably have to ask. It can be essential for those situations where stores promote the same products one after another. So while one store is offering coupons for a product, another may be offering sales on that product. Combine these two opportunities and SAVE BIG!

Targeting Target Coupons
You can hit the bull's-eye at Target if you're looking for manufacturer + store coupon combos. Target offers extensive coupons on its website and it accepts manufacturer coupons too, though it does not double them. Plus, Target allows you to use coupons on sale items.

Here's the trick: Target posts its coupons online for only two weeks, but they are typically good for six weeks. And by that time, many of the items in the coupons have gone on sale, so you can combine a store coupon with the sale price to SAVE BIG.

Big Secret: Make Money with Rebates and Rewards

Rebates are refunds you have to apply for. Rewards are store credits you get automatically. Drugstores are the hotbeds for these hot offers. You can now apply for Walgreen's EasySaver rebates on the chain's website, which takes all the annoyance out. Ask for your rebate on a gift card and Walgreen's gives you an extra 10%. Walgreen's Register Rewards and CVS Extra Care Bucks are store credits that the register spits out when you make a purchase. Guerilla Grocery Shoppers learn to roll this month's rewards over to next month's purchases and get many products for free!

So how do you get those coupons after Target takes them down? There are websites that are known as "Target coupon generators." It's perfectly legal. HotCouponWorld.com and AFullCup.com are two of them. They have big buttons on their home pages that say "Target." Sign up and print. It's a cinch. Here's one example of a Target Coupon Combo that I just found. Morningstar Farms Veggie Burgers
Regular price: $3.79
Manufacturer coupon: $1
Target coupon: $2
FINAL PRICE= $ .079
BIG SAVINGS= 79%

A 79-percent savings is fabulous! And here's the best part: I didn't actually do the hard work of figuring out whether there were manufacturer coupons and store coupons available. I just went to BeCentsAble.net's forum where smarter Guerilla Grocery Shoppers than I regularly post their finds. Marcy, who writes a blog called "Stretching a Buck," spotted the meatless burger offer above. And I'm free to poach it – or grill it or fry it!

Buy-one-get-one-free + 2 Coupons
Another Guerilla Grocery Shopping strategy that helps you SAVE BIG is combining buy-one-get-one-free offers with coupons. Did you know that when a store advertises that something is "buy-one-get-one-free," or "BOGO," it usually means that both products are actually half price? That means that if you really only need one of the product, you don't have to buy both. Ordinarily that would be a hot little savings tip in itself, but we're not into getting just what we need. We're into SAVING BIG!

So, here's the real revelation: if you see something on sale as a buy-one-get-one free offer, that means you can do a coupon combo where you use two coupons on top of the BOGO deal. There are thousands of opportunities like this. A dad, who calls himself "HopOnCouponPop"-- a play on the popular children's book title-- found a great deal on dish detergent by using this strategy. Here's how his deal worked:
Cascade Dishwasher Powder
Buy-one-get-one-free price: $6
2 coupons for $3 off a box: $6
FINAL PRICE= FREE!
BIG SAVINGS= 100%

But wait - there's also another buy-one-get-one-free trick. If a store offers a product on a BOGO basis, and you also have a manufacturer coupon to get the product on a BOGO basis, you can do both. It's another way to get two items free. Why do they allow it? Because buy-one-get-one-free deals are really half-price-on-each deals and because one discount comes from the store and the other comes from the manufacturer.

Big Secret: Keep Coupons for Services a Secret

If you have a coupon that offers $100 off your next paint job, gutter cleaning or another negotiable service, you can't tell if you're really getting a discount unless you know the company's usual price. So call and get a quote first and then reveal that you have a coupon. That way, you know the company didn't mark the price up first before applying the coupon to it.

X off of Y Purchase + Other Coupons
I'm sure you've seen those coupons where you get X dollars off if you spend more than Y amount. For example, spend $40 and receive $10 off of your purchase. By itself, that's a 25-percent savings, which is mediocre. But many stores will honor the X off of Y offer on top of all your other store and manufacturer coupons. Here's a deal on baby formula cobbled together by Terri4548, who posted her first "brag" on HotCouponWorld.com. Enfamil Baby Formula
Regular price: $25.99
$5 off of $20 coupon: $5
Walgreens store coupon: $2
Enfamil manufacturer coupon: $2
Enfamil check: $5
Final Price= $11.99
BIG SAVINGS= 54%

54% off is not bad for a Guerilla Grocery Shopper-in-training, right? Here's the crucial key: you must hand the coupons to the clerk in the right order. First, present the X off of Y coupon so that the total is still high enough for it to count. In the example above, the offer required a purchase of at least $20 to get $5 off so if she had used all her other coupons first, her total amount would have been under $20 and the X of of Y offer wouldn't have worked. To get the most out of X off of Y coupons, try to spend as close to the minimum required as possible.

Big Secret: Beware of Counterfeit Coupons
You should never pay for coupons. (The one exception: charity coupon books.) The point is to save money not spend money, so avoid the cheaters selling coupons on auction sites. If you download E-coupons from the manufacturer's website or reputable websites, you will know they are real. Genuine coupon sites require you to download a small program that lets your printer create barcodes. This is how stores --and you-- know your coupon is legit.

Coupon Combo Coaching
I've given you the nuts and bolts for using coupons to buy your soup to nuts, but for further coaching and coaxing, there is wonderful support out there on the internet.

BeCentsAble.net: Take the inexpensive online tutorial or find an in-person class taught by a BeCentsAble educator in your area. Check out the forums where Guerilla Grocery Shoppers share their best deals. Kristin McKee and Chrissy Pate are writing a book called "Be CentsAble" which will be packed with additional savings information.
CouponMom.com: In addition to her indispensable Grocery Deals by State and Grocery Coupon Database, Stephanie Nelson has written a new book entitled "The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half."
HotCouponWorld.com: This site, run by volunteers, is full of articles to get you started, forums to ask questions, a great coupon database plus links to printable coupons.
TheGroceryGame.com: This website preaches and teaches stockpiling and matches coupons to sales for maximum impact. It also lists store coupon policies. There is a fee, which cuts into your savings, but it should pay for itself.

How BIG are our SAVINGS?

How much can you save through Creative Couponing, our third Guerilla Grocery Shopping weapon? Man, this is gonna be great! I can't wait to tell you! Once again, I assembled a balanced list of 50 products from every category that that a typical American family of four purchases regularly. Every product had an accompanying coupon. The "before" price was $191. The "after" price was --get this-- $39! Now, check out the yearly savings:
Creative Couponing Annual Savings
Regular price: $9,932/year
Price using coupons: $2,028/year
BIG SAVINGS= $7,904/year

$7,904! Folks, that is quite simply a life-changing amount of savings! Price-matching alone saved us 44-percent. Stockpiling ratcheted the game up to 54-percent. By adding Creative Couponing as the final layer of savings we have reached an 80-percent discount. 80-percent! $7,904 is the kind of savings that will have you on your way to other BIG moves like paying cash for a car or making a substantial down payment on a house.

BIG TIPS Don't use your coupons right away. Wait until you can do a coupon combo.
Use CouponMom.com to match coupons to stores sales.
Find out which stores in your area double or triple coupons.
Use store coupons and manufacturer coupons together.
Print Target coupons from other websites if Target has taken them down.
Hand X off of Y coupons to the cashier first.

Click here to learn where you can find a copy of "Save BIG" by Elisabeth Leamy, ABC News Consumer Correspondent.

Click here for more savings resources available on Elisabeth Leamy's Web site.

CLICK HERE to return to the "Good Morning America" Web site.

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