According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, the average American family spent over $8,000 on food and personal care products. That’s a significant portion of many families’ annual income. With rising food prices and inflation, costs aren’t likely to go down anytime soon.
Fortunately, there are already numerous ways to save money on groceries and everyday essentials. Tactics like shopping at more affordable grocery chains and buying in-season produce are prime examples.
But if you want to elevate your savings, couponing is your best bet. Specifically, learning how to extreme-coupon and maximize every penny you spend on groceries and household essentials can significantly reduce this spending category.
And extreme couponing doesn’t have to consume your life. As long as you develop an extreme-couponing system and stick to a game plan, you can leverage coupons into one of your most powerful money-saving tools.
How to Extreme-Coupon & Save on Groceries
Did you know you can use a manufacturer’s coupon and a store coupon on the same item?
Did you know you can also use two coupons on a buy-one, get-one-free sale?
Setting up bigger and better deals is what an extreme couponer does. Why get just one deal when you can get three or four all at once?
There’s no magic to extreme couponing, but it does require a bit of patience and some trial and error. But if you practice your couponing skills using these strategies, you eventually learn how to maximize your savings without it becoming a full-time job.
1. Collect Coupons & Deals
You’re going to need a lot of coupons, but you don’t need to go overboard. The smart move is to get multiple copies of the same coupon so you can maximize your savings if you come across a deal.
You can also collect various types of coupons, like percent-off coupons, cash rebates, and manufacturer coupons. Then you can mix and match them when shopping to maximize savings.
Think of coupons as currency — because you’re going to use them like cash, so acquire as many as you can. There are several places you can look.
Watch the Sales Ads
Using coupons on regularly priced products helps you save. But it’s still important to look for store deals and shop for sales if you want to save as much as possible.
Weekly grocery store flyers are your best resource for finding sales. Flyers highlight sale products and various store promotions, so you can build a menu and shopping list based on what’s already on sale.
You can find weekly flyers for grocery stores online if you visit specific grocery store websites. Some grocery stores also have mobile apps that have a weekly flyer section.
If you want to consolidate weekly flyers from over 2,000 stores, you can also download the Flipp app. Flipp lets you browse weekly ads from stores like CVS, Dollar General, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens to find sales.
If you spot a deal you like, simply save it within Flipp’s app so you can show it to the cashier when you’re checking out in-store. Since Flipp provides access to other stores’ flyers, you can also use it to price-match if you find a better deal somewhere else.
Join Loyalty Programs
Another method to find coupons and store promotions is to join store loyalty programs. Many retailers offer loyalty programs to incentivize shoppers to keep on coming back. Grocery stores aren’t an exception.
Some popular grocery stores with loyalty programs include:
Some companies take this a step further and let you open a debit or credit card to earn rewards. For example, Kroger offers a rewards debit card that lets you save 2% on Kroger brands and earn additional fuel rewards.
Similarly, the Capital One Walmart Rewards card lets you earn unlimited 5% cash back on Walmart.com and Walmart app purchases and 2% unlimited cash back for in-store purchases.
So check the stores you shop at most frequently for available loyalty programs or rewards cards. If you can find additional coupons and even earn cash-back rewards, your extreme-couponing mission becomes that much easier.
The Sunday Paper
Coupon inserts like SmartSource and Procter & Gamble as well as local ads are one quick way to start collecting coupons. The more copies you get, the better your savings will be.
Some extreme couponers invest in multiple newspaper subscriptions to get more coupons. Alternatively, you can get creative and often find extra copies of newspapers for free.
For example, cafes and dollar stores sometimes sell Sunday newspapers on the following Monday at a discount. You can also go the extra mile and call a recycling center in your city to ask if you can collect newspapers directly from them.
Thanks to the Internet, there are many online coupon websites with databases of printable coupons for groceries and everyday essentials.
Examples of leading printable coupon websites include:
- Coupons.com (also has an app)
- RetailMeNot (also has an app)
- Kellogg’s Family Rewards
- Betty Crocker
- Procter & Gamble
- Valpak (also has an app)
Sites like Coupons.com usually limit you to printing one or two copies of a coupon. That’s why having multiple sites in your toolkit is essential.
But don’t print everything you find just because the coupons are “free.” Only print what you need to avoid excess clutter and wasted ink and paper.
Unlike paper coupons, which require effort and money to print, mobile coupon apps let you save digital coupons to your smartphone. When you go to the store, just show your digital coupons to the cashier, and they can apply the discount to your grocery bill.
Coupon Sherpa is one popular couponing app with a free database of thousands of coupons at any given time. Once you download Coupon Sherpa for Android or iOS, you can find location-based coupons or browse thousands of stores for deals. You save coupons directly to your smartphone so you never have to worry about forgetting them when you shop.
Like many coupon-printing websites, Coupons.com also has a mobile app that provides access to cash-back offers, digital coupons, and online promo codes for dozens of retailers.
There isn’t a minimum cash-out requirement either. As soon as you earn cash back for shopping, you can redeem your rewards for PayPal cash. Plus, you can link store loyalty cards from retailers like Kroger and Meijer to automatically earn cash-back rewards on eligible purchases.
There’s also an app called SnipSnap, which has a free coupon database. The app sends reminders about expiring coupons and location-based deals to prevent you from forgetting to use coupons or missing local sales.
Best of all, you can take a photo of a paper coupon to have SnipSnap upload it to its database so you can access the digital version from your phone.
Grocery Rebate Apps
Like mobile coupon apps, there are rebate apps you can use to earn cash-back rewards. The best rebate apps also link to store loyalty cards, meaning they automatically detect when you purchase a qualifying product and reward you with cash back.
One of the best rebate apps is Ibotta. With Ibotta, you earn cash back at thousands of retailers, including:
- Family Dollar
- Fred Meyer
- Sam’s Club
For most retailers, you have to find a rebate in the app, add it to your shopping list, and then go shopping. Afterward, you take a picture of your receipt and upload it through Ibotta’s app to earn cash back.
However, Ibotta also lets you link loyalty cards from more than 100 retailers to your account, including stores like Meijer and Wegmans. Once you link a loyalty card, Ibotta automatically detects when your purchases qualify for cash back, eliminating the receipt upload step.
It’s essentially free automatic couponing. For example, Meijer currently has Ibotta deals like $1.25 cash back on Maxwell House coffee and $1.50 back on Gillette Invisible Solid antiperspirant. If you buy these products with Ibotta, that’s more money in your pocket.
Ibotta lets you redeem cash back when you reach $20. You can redeem through free gift cards, PayPal cash, or Venmo.
Additionally, many other apps like Ibotta are helpful for finding cash-back opportunities. Unfortunately, these apps don’t all offer loyalty card integration, but they have other benefits:
- Fetch Rewards. Shop at dozens of partner brands and upload your receipt to earn points. Redeem free gift cards once you reach 3,000 points, which is worth $3. Unlike Ibotta, you don’t have to preselect rebates. You earn points as long as a partner brand appears on your receipt. Read our Fetch Rewards review for more information.
- Checkout 51. Earn cash back on groceries and gas when you preselect offers and upload a receipt to provide proof of purchase. Checkout 51 lets you redeem rewards through check or PayPal once you reach $20. Additionally, Checkout 51 is adding loyalty card support to the platform, making it a solid addition to Ibotta on your smartphone. Read our Checkout 51 review for more information.
- Dosh. Link your credit and debit cards to Dosh to automatically earn cash back when you shop at any of Dosh’s hundreds of partners. Since Dosh works with companies like Walmart and Instacart, this is an entirely passive way to save on groceries and everyday essentials. You cash out through PayPal, Venmo, or direct deposit once you reach $25. Read our Dosh app review for more information.
Paper and online coupons are still where most of your savings will come from. That’s because coupons like BOGO (buy-one, get-one) deals or percent-off discounts usually save more money than earning a few dollars through cash back. These are just a tool for additional savings.
Have you ever seen those small devices in the aisles that blink and share coupons? Or a stack of “tear here” coupons near the entrance of your local market? Take advantage of these in-store sources of coupons, and don’t ignore the store’s free coupon booklets, either.
While coupon booklets are often sitting out in plain sight, some stores require you to take some initiative. If you don’t see them near the door, ask at the customer service desk.
You should also use Catalina coupons, which are paper coupons a Catalina machine prints out at checkout. Cashiers at retailers like Kroger and Walgreens sometimes print Catalina coupons after you make a qualifying purchase. In other words, you can score extra coupons just for shopping.
Catalina coupons can be:
- Manufacturer coupons for a percent discount
- BOGO coupons
- On-your-next-order discounts, which is basically like earning cash for future purchases
For example, your local Safeway might have a Catalina promotion from Kraft that grants you $3 off your next Safeway purchase after you spend $10 on Kraft products. That’s essentially a 30% coupon you can use for future purchases you gain just by shopping for Kraft.
Stores don’t typically advertise Catalina promotions since they’re variable and often depend on your previous purchases. For example, purchasing products with your loyalty card can result in future Catalina coupons for similar brands and products, depending on how the program works at your store.
Some grocery stores also send out periodic coupon booklets to loyalty customers. These booklets may contain coupons for products you already buy frequently and can be a boon for extreme couponers.
If you write a letter to the manufacturers of your favorite brands and tell them how much you like their products, they often send you coupons — and maybe free samples of new stuff you haven’t tried yet.
Don’t let it get you down when some of your letters go unanswered. Some won’t respond, but often, companies will send higher-value coupons than you find in conventional places.
You can score extra free coupons by building a rapport with your neighbors and asking them for their coupon inserts. Plenty of people buy the paper and then scrap the money-saving inserts. Recycling is great, but it’s even better if you can rescue some deals and put them to good use.
Alternatively, look online for local Facebook couponing groups or try to start a coupon swapping club with people in your neighborhood. Posting requests for unused coupon inserts on Nextdoor is another strategy you can try to diversify your coupon supply.
2. Get Organized on the Cheap
With all these resources, you need to organize, or everything falls apart.
The trick to successful coupon organization is to find a system you’re comfortable with and will stick to. You need to know which products you have coupons for and when your coupons expire. You don’t have time for a frustrating, disorganized pile cluttering your coffee table.
But the last thing you want is to funnel your couponing savings into expensive organization systems and supplies you don’t need. It’s best to keep things simple, and there are several affordable coupon organization tricks you can try.
In a coupon binder, you use A-to-Z dividers and baseball card protector sheets. This thick binder holds individual coupons sorted by the first letter in the product’s name.
You can also use pocket pages for coupons that expire quickly — within a day or two of the day you find them — or coupons that are only valid at a particular store.
A coupon binder is an excellent choice if you rely heavily on paper coupons. Plus, since you always have your coupon collection on you when shopping, you can add to your shopping list on the fly if you spot an unadvertised sale.
It’s worth noting that large coupon binders can be quite cumbersome when shopping, especially if you’re moving around the store for several hours on a large haul. For shorter trips, expandable file folders are a more lightweight coupon organization choice.
You can find wallet-size file folders on Amazon for $6.99 that come with a dozen expandable pockets and colored tabs to help you organize coupons into different groups.
The main downside of smaller coupon binders is that you have to leave more coupons at home, so you have less couponing flexibility when shopping. For the best of both worlds, simply carry a larger coupon binder in a backpack while you shop. That way, it’s out of the way until you need it.
Finally, for the cheapest solution, consider going DIY. Retailers like Dollar Tree sell cheap binders for $1, and you can also buy additional sheets with pockets or colored dividers to organize your coupons.
2. Digital Coupon Storage
If you prefer to keep everything on your phone, digital coupon storage is your best option.
For starters, you can always save printable coupons as PDF files on your computer and print them when you need to. Just remember to check for expiration dates to avoid wasting ink on expired coupons.
However, if you want to save money by avoiding printing altogether, SnipSnap is a better choice. The SnipSnap app acts as a digital coupon organizer on your smartphone. It also saves you the pain of tracking expiration dates. SnipSnap is also free, so you’re not incurring costs to organize your coupons.
The only downside is that for massive hauls, finding and scanning dozens of coupons from your phone can take slightly longer than handing over a stack of paper coupons.
Several SnipSnap app reviews on the Google Play Store also mention that digital coupons don’t always process correctly and the app can become buggy. So always bring paper copies in case your app doesn’t work.
3. Go Grocery Shopping & Save
Once you prepare your coupons for a shopping trip, it’s time to put your extreme-couponing abilities to the test.
For your first shopping trip as an extreme couponer, pursue only one deal. Keep it simple and get comfortable at the register. Once you’re familiar with the process, you can reach for bigger deals and more of them.
But there are a few things you have to do to prepare, which become even more critical as you increase the number of deals you grab in a trip.
Check Store Coupon Policies
Check your stores’ coupon policies. Every grocery chain’s coupon policy is different, so it’s good to stay in the know on these topics:
- Does your store ever double the value of coupons?
- Do they limit the amounts of double coupons?
- Do they have a limit on how many coupons they double per trip?
- How do they treat coupons used with a BOGO sale?
- Do they have special discounts for seniors, students, or veterans?
- Do they accept (or even double) competitors’ coupons?
Check them periodically for changes. Often, cashiers are unaware of policy changes, so they might let you use your coupons today, but a different cashier may reject them tomorrow. Some look the other way on expired coupons.
It’s best to keep a copy of each store’s policy with you in case an employee is unaware of the guidelines. You can find coupon policies by searching online for the name of the store plus “coupon policy.” Then print the policy or save a link to it on your phone to have on hand.
It also pays to make friends with a store manager and some staff members, who may be more willing to work with a customer they know to stay within store policy.
Set Price Limits
When you’re extreme couponing, you must determine what final price is worth it for each product. But part of setting these limits requires gaining experience as an extreme couponer. Your limits as a rookie extreme couponer will probably be higher than when you’re a seasoned pro.
For example, many extreme couponers never pay for toothpaste, razors, deodorant, body wash, or shampoo because coupons can knock the cost down to nothing.
Decide what prices you won’t go over. If a sale-coupon combo doesn’t get you there, wait for a better sale. Keep your target prices in a composition notebook or smartphone app and mark the best deals you’ve gotten on common items.
For example, you may have entries like this:
16 ounces Mueller’s angel hair pasta
- Lowest Price Ever: $0.10 per box
- Can Frequently Get For: $0.20 per box
- Don’t Pay Over: $0.30 per box
Crest whitening toothpaste
- Lowest Price Ever: $0
- Can Frequently Get For: $0
- Don’t Pay Over: $0
Ultimately, you still need to make a budget and shop for things you need at the right prices. But it’s essential to know when to use coupons and when to hold back.
You don’t want to waste money on products you don’t need immediately just because you have a coupon for them. If you already have a full jar of peanut butter and this store won’t double the coupon to get you under your goal price, you can wait to buy it at a store that will.
Now for the most crucial money-saver: coupon stacking. The goal of coupon stacking is to use as many coupons and perks as possible to save as much as you can.
Basic Sale & Coupon Stacking
Extreme couponers typically start coupon stacking by using manufacturer coupons on products that are already on sale.
Manufacturers cover the cost of manufacturer coupons, so many stores let you stack manufacturer coupons on sale products because it doesn’t impact their bottom line. By doing so, you can score even heavier discounts on products that are already cheaper than usual.
Stacking Manufacturer Coupons With Store Coupons for Heavier Discounts
To go one step further, try stacking store coupons with manufacturer coupons. Store coupons are discounts retailers offer to incentivize customers to shop at their locations.
Again, since stores don’t pay for the cost of manufacturer coupons, many let you stack one manufacturer and one store coupon on a product. If you can stack these two types of coupons on a sale product, it’s even better.
For example, suppose your grocery store has a 105-fluid-ounce bottle of Gain laundry detergent on sale for 20%, bringing its price down from $13.50 to $10.80. If you have a $2 Procter & Gamble manufacturer coupon for Gain, the price drops to $8.80.
Finally, if the store lets you stack a $1-off store coupon, the price drops to $7.80, which is nearly 45% off.
Advanced BOGO Stacking for Free or Almost-Free Buys
Sometimes, you can even use coupon stacking to score free products, especially if you find a BOGO deal.
For example, suppose a grocery store is running a BOGO deal with 16-ounce Barilla angel hair pasta packages priced at $1.39 each. With a coupon for $1 off two Barilla products of 12 ounces or more, you can buy two boxes for a total of $0.39 by stacking the BOGO deal and your coupon.
That means you’re paying under $0.20 per box, for a total savings of 86% off. If you have 10 coupons, you can get 20 boxes of pasta for $3.90.
Stacking Cash-Back Sources & Discount Gift Cards
You can use store loyalty programs and rebate apps to stack additional savings. If you shop with a loyalty card, you’re earning points redeemable for future savings. Similarly, you can shop with a cash-back credit card like the Citi Double Cash and save between 1% to 2% on grocery store purchases. However, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to the first $6,000 spent each year (1% after that).
For the final form of coupon stacking, shop with discount gift cards. Websites like Raise help people sell their unwanted gift cards at a slight discount.
For example, Raise has Kroger gift cards for up to 3.10% off, so you can buy Kroger gift cards in advance and pay for your entire order with them. Raise also has gift cards for stores like Hannaford, Meijers, and Winn-Dixie, although gift card availability depends on supply and demand.
Stacking for Overages
Overages occur when the total discount of your coupon and ongoing store sales exceeds the value of what you’re buying. It can happen in a variety of scenarios, including:
- Stacking a manufacturer coupon and store coupon on the same product
- Using a coupon on a product that’s on sale
- Stacking coupons with certain deals, like a buy-three, get-one-free offer
- Adding Catalina coupons
For example, if you have a $1.50-off coupon for a box of Pop-Tarts and find it’s also on clearance for $1.25, you have a $0.25 overage after checking out.
The magic of overages happens when stores have a policy to pay you the overage amount. That means that box of Pop-Tarts isn’t just free. It deducts a further $0.25 from your bill. For the best extreme couponers out there, overages are how hundred-dollar grocery hauls drop to figures like $20 or are even free.
Walmart and Kroger are two popular retailers that pay overages. However, it’s vital you check coupon policies regularly, especially if you’re shopping at small local stores.
Limitations of Coupon Stacking
Just remember to stack coupons in the correct order. For example, if you have a coupon that grants $5 off for spending $15 on a specific brand, using a manufacturer’s 10%-off coupon first could bring your total under $15.
That means that while you get 10% off, you lose $5 in savings. When planning your couponing, try to make notes on which coupons you hand to the cashier first until it becomes second nature.
The two main limitations for your coupon stacking efforts are your coupon supply and store policies. Consistently collecting coupons and looking for weekly deals helps ensure you have enough coupons to find stacking opportunities. As for store coupon policies, read them carefully before shopping.
For example, some stores limit how many manufacturer and store coupons you can stack per transaction, so it’s essential to understand your limitations before checking out.
Don’t Feel Pressured if Something Goes Wrong
Occasionally, you may learn at the register your coupon plan won’t work the way you expected. It could be that you bought the wrong size or the coupon won’t scan properly.
If you can’t resolve the issue, ask the cashier to void the item or call the manager if it’s a problem they could fix. Just remember you’re not obligated to buy something simply because you took it off the shelf.
4. Storing Your Finds on a Budget
When you start extreme couponing, you begin to stockpile merchandise quickly. You get the best savings when you take advantage of deals when they’re available rather than waiting until you need something. So you need space to store everything.
But purchasing a bunch of high-priced shelving units and stylish Crate & Barrel bins starts to add up fast. And that says nothing of the purchases you need to make to store scores of meat and other freezable foods you get on sale.
Several affordable storage ideas you can consider include:
- Buying a Secondhand Stand-Alone Freezer. If there’s space in your garage or a spare room, a secondhand stand-alone freezer offers a cheap storage solution for things like meat and various frozen goods. You can also wait to buy a new one on sale if you aren’t running out of storage space yet. The key is not to overspend on something only you and your family will see anyway.
- Building DIY- Shelving. Spending money on shelving for your extreme-couponing haul doesn’t have to eat into your savings. Pinterest has numerous guides on how to create inexpensive shelving. If you have to buy shelving, consider affordable retailers like Ikea. Raw wood units like Ivar and Hejne are sturdy and very affordable. Or check with neighbors and friends on Nextdoor or Facebook Marketplace.
- Transforming a Spare Room. If you rarely host guests in your spare room, use the space to store your extreme-couponing purchases instead.
- Staying Organized. There’s little point in extreme couponing if you constantly let products expire or forget to use them. For organization, try using the first-in, first-out method and rotate your oldest purchases to the front of your stash to ensure you use them before they expire. Keeping similar things together also prevents you from buying excess products you already have enough of.
If your house begins to resemble a grocery store and you’re constantly forgetting what products are in your stash, take a step back from extreme couponing and get your organization down to a science.
Savings only matter if products see use, so don’t coupon just for the sake of couponing without an organization system in place.
More Extreme-Couponing Tips
If you want to make your first attempt at couponing more successful, there are several tips to remember:
- Shop During Slow Periods. It doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran extreme couponer or beginner. No one wants to deal with a massive haul during a hectic weekend morning grocery rush. To make your life and the lives of other shoppers easier, try extreme couponing during slower store hours, like midday or a few hours before store closing during the week.
- Bring a Notepad and Pen. Extreme couponing can become tricky if you need to adjust on the fly. Ideally, you should bring a grocery list of every product you’re buying and the coupon that goes with that product. If you need to adjust, it’s often easier to use a pen and notepad than constantly referencing your smartphone.
- Be Sale-Loyal. As an extreme couponer, being brand-loyal is a mistake. Even with coupons, your favorite brands aren’t always the most cost-effective. Focus on finding products that are already on sale so you can stack a coupon with the sale.
As long as you develop a system and apply these tips, your first extreme-couponing trip should be a fun effort in seeing how much money you save.
Getting good at extreme couponing takes time. But you can certainly put the money you save to good use with things like paying down debt, spending more time at home, and starting to invest.
Plus, the nature of extreme couponing often means you build a surplus of everyday essentials and food products. That means you can use your newfound extreme-couponing skills to benefit others by donating to charities like local food banks, women’s and homeless shelters, and animal shelters.
Expensive products like diapers and menstrual products make particularly valuable donations since they’re always in demand, so keep an eye out while shopping for chances to snag free or cheap products you can donate.
Ultimately, how far you take extreme couponing is up to you. However, if you want to save more money and even do some good for your community, extreme couponing is worth the effort.