Arm Yourself With a Coupon Arsenal to Save Big

I have been a coupon user for years. However, my coupon use extends further than the grocery aisle, as I have learned there are coupons available for just about everything you need. If you do not have the patience for keeping track of paper coupons, you can take advantage of online coupons or coupons you can easily print from the Web right before you plan to use them.

If you think coupons are too complicated or offer only minor savings, my objective in this article is to demonstrate how easily you can save significant dollars by adopting a "coupon mentality." This simply means that before you buy or shop for anything, you stop to ask yourself where a logical place to find a coupon might be.

I am prepared with a basic arsenal of coupons, and when I shop, I quickly check it to see if there's a coupon for the store I'm going to, or for its competitor since many stores will accept competitors' coupons. The key to achieving major coupon savings is to have your own coupon arsenal.

The basics of my "coupon arsenal" include:

A convenient box to put the local business coupon mailings and flyers as soon as you receive them. You don't have to sort or organize them. Simply go through the box every couple of months and toss the expired packets.

Do an online search for a local coupon Web site in your area. Many entrepreneurs have started coupon sites for specific cities or neighborhoods and these can be a great place to find coupons for mom and pop businesses. We print a 20 percent off coupon every time we eat at a favorite local restaurant from a Web site for our suburb called www.cobbshops.com. Enter the name of your city, suburb or state with the term "coupons" in a search engine to see what you can find.

For online coupon codes and printable retail coupons, I always check www.couponcabin.com first. Subscribe to the e-mail newsletter to get regular Monday morning updates.

For coupons you can print for retail stores, visit www.wow-coupons.com. They have the most comprehensive selection of coupons for dozens of retail stores, ranging from clothing to hardware.

If you belong to AAA, be sure to remember to ask for the AAA discount when booking hotels, rental cars, or looking for tickets to local attractions. You can check the AAA Web site for specific offers available in your area.

These are my coupon/discount savings from last week, not including grocery shopping. This is a typical week and it did not take much time to find the coupons I needed simply because I am ready with my coupon arsenal! I did have some large purchases, so coupons based on a percentage off were even more valuable.

A Week of Coupon Savings

$60 saved on Saturday: I bought a new printer on sale at Office Depot and used a coupon from Office Max, saving $60. I got the coupon from a mailing that I had put in my coupon box.

$30 saved on Sunday: I shopped at CVS/Pharmacy and saved $30 with coupons and ExtraCare rewards, using the deals list at www.couponmom.com. It took 10 minutes to select and print my shopping list, clip the coupons, in addition to the shopping time.

$120 saved on Monday & Tuesday: I went on a business trip to Boston. I booked my hotel stay through www.couponcabin.com taking advantage of a $20 coupon and a discounted rate, saving $50 off the rate I was able to get by booking directly with the hotel. I also printed a coupon for the airport parking lot I use from www.longtermparking.com, saving another $10. I booked my rental car through www.Priceline.com, using the "Name Your Own Price" feature, which enabled me to rent a car for $25 per day rather than the $45 daily rate I was quoted at the car rental site. That strategy saved another $60 on my trip.

$14 saved Thursday: I booked travel plans for a one-night trip the following week, saving $6 per night with the AAA rate at the hotel I needed. I used the Entertainment book discount and 15 percent off online coupon to save another $8 off the rental car rate.

$20 saved on Friday: I used a 20 percent off coupon buying my husband clothing for an anniversary gift at a local retail store.

$50 saved on Friday: The printer went on sale at Office Max the following week, so I went back to Office Depot and got a refund for $50. The Office Depot price guarantee states that if its price or a competitor's price goes down within seven days, the customer gets a refund for the difference if they bring proof of the price drop to the store. Although it took me extra time to make another trip to the store, the $50 savings made the trip worthwhile.

$24 saved on Saturday: I bought a new pair of sunglasses at the Lenscrafters store using my AAA card discount. I did have to ask for the discount.

Total coupon and discount savings, with very little coupon organization time: $318

If I were to detail every week of the year, the results would be similar. Some weeks would include restaurants, family activities like bowling and museums, video rentals, office supplies, cosmetics, prescription medicines and shoes. Start your own coupon arsenal to start saving on everything you buy this week!

Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on ABCNEWS.com. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her Web site at www.couponmom.com