By Amanda Greene
If you're in the habit of trashing supermarket flyers or pages of coupons from the newspaper, you may want to rethink that impulse. Coupons are rising in popularity again––and for good reason. "On a regular basis I save between 50 and 60 percent a week at the supermarket with coupons," says Susan Samtur, author of Supershop Like the Coupon Queen. Want to know her secrets? We talked to the Coupon Queen to learn surprising ways to save big at the supermarket, so you can too.
1. Forget saving a few dollars––coupons can slash 50 percent or more off your monthly grocery bill.
If you know what you're doing, you can save serious cash at the supermarket. Samtur regularly cuts her grocery bill in half "just by planning ahead, buying the sales and matching up coupons with sale items." The key, according to Samtur, is to spend about 30 minutes a week preparing to shop. This means leafing through your store's flyer, noting what's on sale and going through your coupons to match them up with sale items, which creates big savings. When Samtur invests more time—between four and five hours a week cutting coupons and filling out forms, filing and sending away for rebate offers—she saves up to 95 percent!
2. To save big at the supermarket, buy national brands instead of generic.
It may sound counterintuitive, but according to Samtur, store brands may have cheaper price tags, but they are also produced by companies without the finances to promote them. Because you can't use coupons to buy them or receive a refund for doing so and they hardly ever go on sale, "in the long run, you'll lose out by staying with the store brands." You're better off matching national brand items with coupons and rebates to score big deals.
3. Coupons benefit shoppers who aren't brand-loyal.
Samtur reports in her book that a recent study showed 7 out of 10 people refuse to give up loyalty to their local stores and chains. That's a bad move: Because products at different stores can vary in price, it makes sense financially to play the field when it comes to grocery shopping. Checking out each store's circular once a week will help inform you. The same goes for product loyalty: "People become accustomed to buying the same things whether they're on sale or not," Samtur says. "Often there will be a similar product just below or above their go-to brand at a reduced price."
4. You can save on unprocessed food with coupons.
True, the most heavily couponed items in the store are usually packaged. "Health and beauty aids, cereal, pet food, household products, baking items and paper goods are always couponed in a big way," says Samtur. But this doesn't mean you'll never score on fresh produce or meat. In her book Samtur reveals some companies that, for example, don't sell meat but will still provide you with coupons for perishables. Why? Because they want you to use their product with meat—like Borden, who has offered coupons for ground beef so you'll use their cheese on burgers.
5. The store likes it when you use coupons.
If you fear eye rolls from the cashier when you approach the register with a wad of coupons, think again. "Stores encourage coupon using," insists Samtur. "It motivates them to stock up on the product—which means they buy more from the manufacturer––and it encourages you as the consumer to buy the product from them." Because they often earn a handling fee and the face value of the redeemed coupon, "it's a win-win for everyone."
6. Coupons benefit manufacturers as much as they benefit you.
The first one cent–off coupon was issued in 1895 by C.W. Post to promote his new cereal. According to Samtur, "a coupon is still one of the single best ways to get people to buy a product. Even if you forget to bring it to the store, clipping the coupon jogs your memory and you'll likely buy the product anyway."
7. Coupons can help you save for college.
Samtur loves Upromise.com, which lets you redirect the money you save at the supermarket using their registered grocery card into a college fund or to pay off student loans. Eligible items at the store can score you 1 to 3 percent back. The site also lists 600 online retailers that you can save money with.
8. It's worth it to browse the aisles while shopping.
Though you may have heard that heading to the supermarket with a game plan (like which aisles and products you're going to make a beeline for) is wise, Samtur recommends checking out all the goods the store has to offer. "I go down 80 percent of the aisles, because sometimes you come across a very good special that wasn't in the paper or for which you already have a coupon."
9. If your store is out of a sale product that they advertised, they can offer you a rain check.
If the shelves are bare, you don't have to leave empty-handed or without savings. "My store had advertised a sale on seltzer in their circular and when I got there, they were all out," says Samtur. "So they gave me a rain check, which entitles me to the sale price once they have more product in stock."
10. The Internet is a great place to find coupons.
You can find savings in places other than the newspaper or supermarket flyer. Some of Samtur's favorite online coupon sites are Coupons.com (which we host in our WD.com coupon section), SmartSource.com and her own site, CouponQueen.com, which let you enter your zip code and print out coupons to use at your local store. But not all stores accept them, so be sure to call ahead and ask before you print out.