Some of the best strategies to save money

By Susan Collins-Smith
MSU Ag Communications

JACKSON – Families can find a few extra dollars for summer vacation or for the piggy bank by clipping coupons and planning shopping lists.

“By spending just a few hours a week clipping coupons, you can save up to 40 to 50 percent on your grocery bill,” said LaTrell Stokes, Oktibbeha County agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “You don’t have to be an extreme couponer to save a significant amount.”

Stokes, who clips coupons herself, said shoppers do need a strategy, though.

“You won’t save a significant amount if you just clip a coupon here and there,” she said.

Consumers need to spend a little time each week studying store ads and gathering coupons. Shoppers should also familiarize themselves with each store’s coupon policy. Bargain hunters do best when they combine sale items with coupons and shop on days that stores double coupons.

“Most grocery stores in Mississippi don’t double coupons, but some discount stores do. One store I frequent doubles coupons up to 70 cents every Saturday,” Stokes said. “If stores allow coupon stacking, take advantage of that.”

Some stores offer electronic coupons, which can be found on their website and loaded onto a store loyalty card. E-coupons can sometimes be used in conjunction with manufacturers’ coupons.

Shoppers should familiarize themselves with stores in their area to find the best prices and sales on the products they use. Stokes recommends consumers clip only coupons for items they use or their friends or family use. Stockpile only items that are used frequently or do not expire quickly.

“I stockpile household cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items when they are on sale and I have coupons for them,” Stokes said. “I don’t stockpile much food. I may buy more than one or two of a food item, but the items are things I know my family will eat before they expire.”

Stokes said she can often get toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant and similar items for free with the right combination of coupons and sales.

Organization is important for a no-stress shopping trip, and there is an organizational strategy to fit every personality. A zippered binder with baseball card sleeves is a good way to keep coupons in order. Binders can be arranged by store, aisle, product groups or expiration date.

Accordion files and coupon envelopes also work well, said Susan Cosgrove, family resource management agent with the MSU Extension Service in Newton County.

“Some people prefer to keep the entire newspaper insert and clip coupons when they know they need an item,” Cosgrove said. “These can be inserted into sheet protectors and filed in a file box or expandable file. A small envelope or box with dividers is easy to handle and fits in a purse. They are great for unexpected trips or frequent clearance areas.”

Coupons are available in newspapers, in stores and on the Internet through store websites, manufacturers’ websites and coupon websites.

Stokes and Cosgrove recommended these coupon websites: http://www.cellfire.com, http://www.pgesaver.com, http://www.thegrocerygame.com, http://www.afullcup.com, http://www.smartsource.com, http://www.redplum.com and http://www.upromise.org.

Cosgrove said coupons for clothing and housewares also are valuable. Consumers should follow the same strategies as with grocery coupons.

“Read the fine print, and do your research before making a purchase,” Cosgrove said. “Don’t assume that just because you have a coupon, you will be saving money. Ask yourself, ‘is the original price too high in the first place?’”

Coupon clubs made up of family and friends can make the task more fun and help maximize savings, Cosgrove said.

Cosgrove also offers these tips to help keep the budget in check:

  •  Shop with a list.
  •  Eat before grocery shopping.
  •  Compare brands and use unit pricing.
  •  Give up convenience foods.
  •  Make a budget, then plan and track spending.
  •  Avoid wasting food and other things.
  •  Let laundry air dry.
  •  Set the thermostat to 68 degrees in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer.
  •  Pay bills on time to avoid late fees.
  •  Shop at consignment and thrift stores.