Pop Quiz Couponers – When is .75 worth more than $1.00? Answer: When the store doubles your coupon, making it worth $1.50. So last week I talked about some basic steps to get started with couponing and this week I’ll get into more strategic tips for using them.

1. Using Expired Coupons – While it’s always smart to check your expiration dates before using them, don’t toss them the day they hit their expiration date. The truth is, that expired coupons will still scan a few days after their expiration date (though every once in awhile you may get a cashier that actually checks the date and tells you it’s expired). I probably wouldn’t attempt to use coupons that are a week or more past their expiration date, but if it’s within a few dates go ahead and give it a try.

2. Check and Recheck Your Receipt –  If you learn nothing else from this post, let this be your one major take-away. Sometimes coupons don’t scan, don’t double properly or they stick together and get overlooked by the cashier. I make it a habit to always check my receipt right after I check out because I know (as is true for almost everybody) that once you leave the store you almost never go back to fix a mistake. This is true whether you’re using coupons or not.

About a month ago, while checking my receipt I noticed that a $10 coupon didn’t come off my receipt so I immediately went back to my cashier. I told her about the mistake and she insisted I didn’t give her the coupon in question, but I know for sure I did. Helpful tip: Always count the number of coupons you are handing the cashier so when you check your receipt you can count how many deductions there are on the bottom of it (not counting the doubled amounts). I asked her to please check and when she did there was my coupon right in her pouch with the others I turned in. I took it to the customer service desk and got $10 in cash. The Discount Diva doesn’t like to leave free cash on the table, and neither should you.

Coupon Receipt

3. Stacking Coupons – You can and should stack coupons with sales, rebates, BOGO (By One Get One) sales etc. to get the lowest price on an item. You can use a manufacturer coupon and store coupon for the same item (just be sure you’re meeting the quantity and weight requirements listed on each). You can use a coupon for each item in a BOGO sale. Sometimes you can even hit the trifecta and get something on clearance (better than sale price), use a coupon and send off for a mail in rebate on the product. In some cases, you can get paid to purchase items, but fair warning if you’re expecting this to be the case all the time (like on TLC’s Extreme Couponing) you’re sadly mistaken.

Stacked Coupon with Sale

4. Doubling Coupons – I highly recommend using a store that doubles coupons. Most chain grocery stores will double up to $1 coupons, but check with your store. This brings me back to that pop quiz at the start of this post. When matching sales up to your coupons always factor in the doubled amount. If something is on sale for .99 and you have a .50 off coupon, that item will be free if your store doubles coupons. But the fancy free days of overages are over for the most part.

5. Overages – There once was a glorious day in age when you could get overages when a store doubled a coupon and the amount deducted exceeded the purchase price of that item. This is how many people saved money on non-coupon items like milk, meat and produce in the show mentioned above. I hope you’ll notice as I did, that most of these episodes are not filmed in New York as most stores have caught wind of this and stopped doing overages. This means that now if you by a .99 tube of toothpaste with a .50 off coupon, the coupon will only double up to .99 so you’ll see your .50 come off your receipt and underneath it the balance of the item cost .49 instead of .50. Also there are limits on how many coupons you can use per item so check those too. In the show they show people clearing shelves and using 60 of the same coupon to get a deal on each item. That doesn’t happen here since most coupons have a limit of 4 like coupons and stores often limit the quantity of a sale item that can be purchased per person.

6. Thresholds – Somewhere between the lowest price you ever paid for an item and the most you’re willing to pay, you’ll find your threshold  for an item you purchase regularly. For example, with toothpaste on sale and with coupons the lowest I’ve ever paid is nothing, up to maybe .50 so I stock up when it’s on sale and I have a coupon. If I have a few tubes on hand all the time, I’m never forced to go out and buy a tube that is not on sale just because I need it immediately. Laundry detergent usually goes on sale and with coupons I’ve paid .50 a bottle up to $1.50. I’ll even go as high as $1.88 with just a sale and no coupon, but I know that if I always have 2 or 3 bottles I can wait till the next time it goes on sale. Unless you have brands that you are totally loyal to and won’t purchase any other brand, there will always be loss leaders to choose from. This week AJAX detergent may be on sale, next week it may be Purex.

A loss leader is more or less the carrot they dangle in front of shoppers (an item priced really low) in order to lure you to shop there and spend more money on other items. Don’t fall for it. Get in, get your loss leaders (hopefully with coupons) and get out of there. Think of shopping like a man would – list, coupons, get out. The more you meander through the aisles, the more likely you are to end up at checkout with a whole lot of impulse purchases in your cart.

7. Stockpiling vs. Hoarding – Sales are cyclical so there is really no reason to let your stockpiles morph into a case of hoarding. I’m speaking as the daughter of a hoarder. Though my mother never cared to bargain shop, the acquiring of things, even useful things, became a problem. When is it a stockpile and when is it hoarding? Well, if your focus is all about the acquiring and not the using of those items you’re purchasing with coupons then I think it’s crossed that line.

On the show Extreme Couponers you’ll see classic hoarding mentality cloaked in a bargain hunting facade. Dumpster diving for coupons, getting to the store as soon as it opens because you want to get your fill of a sale item before anyone else, spending hours clipping coupons or planning shopping trips, dedicating valuable square footage in your home to your stockpile is probably more hoarding than stockpiling. I find it interesting that in the show the couponers build mini-grocery stores in their homes and never seem to be “shopping” from them. They’re always returning to the store for more of the same things. Even if an item is free, there can be a hefty price to pay for letting stuff take over your life. A stockpile of enough of an item to last you 2-6 months is more than sufficient. It keeps you sitting pretty between sales so you don’t NEED to pay full price when you run out, but remember that using up your bargain items is just as important.

Couponing can be a good weapon in your money-saving arsenal when it’s done properly, but remember it’s not the only one. Feel free to share your couponing tips here.