I haven’t written about being a tightwad in a while. Not to worry, I’m still a big cheapskate–every dollar I save has a cascading effect. Remember, paying just an extra $10 a month on your mortgage is enough to shave a full month off the back end. So let’s talk about coupons.

The first thing about coupons is to resist the temptation to have to use them. Sometimes a generic still costs less than a name brand with a coupon. If that’s the case, put the coupon away and buy the generic. And if the coupon is for something you’d never buy anyway, resist the temptation to buy it just because you can get it for a quarter less.

Coupons are everywhere. If you make an effort to save them and you’re careful how you use them, the savings can be great.

The first trick with coupons is to know where to look. They’re everywhere, actually. Newspapers and magazines, certainly. You get some in the mail too. Take a few minutes to flip through them. You can find them online too. Try typing “coupons” into Google and see what you find.

I even found a coupon for Windex from 1982 in an old cookbook. I really wanted to try to use it just to see the cashier’s reaction, but I seem to have misplaced it.

Another place to look for coupons is the back pages of the phone book. The coupons may be the only reason not to throw out the McLeod book. Usually what you’ll find are coupons for services, such as electrical or plumbing work. But if you need those services, you might as well save money on them. The McLeod phone book even has an index.

Maximizing coupons is an art form. One trick is to not use them right away. Products tend not to go on sale right after a coupon is issued. They go on sale a few weeks later. So buy a few weeks later.

The other trick is to not be so brand-loyal. Usually my wife takes a Healthy Choice frozen dinner for lunch. But we have coupons for Lean Cuisine. Guess which we bought this week? (Both happened to be on sale this week too. Lucky us.)

Take advantage of double coupons when they’re offered, but stores generally don’t do that very often anymore.

Don’t buy things just because you have a coupon. If it’s something you won’t use, you didn’t really save any money.
One fad that does happen here in St. Louis is a $10 off $50 deal. One of the local supermarkets runs a $10 off coupon every other Thursday. Buy $50 worth of groceries and you get $10 off the total, for that day only. You wouldn’t think this would be the time to use your other coupons, but it just so happens that on that week they tend to run a lot of specials. Between the specials, the $10 off, and whatever other coupons you may have, it’s entirely possible to get $60 or more worth of groceries for your $40.

About a month ago there was a story about a woman who shops for a local food pantry. She clipped coupons and got all her friends to save coupons for her too, and she became a legend. She combined every coupon and every offer she possibly could, and whenever she saw a good deal she bought as much as was allowed. She said one time she got a cart full of groceries for some ridiculously low amount of money–something like $3.

She had help. Since practically all the store employees knew what she was doing, they tended to tip her off on upcoming specials and other insider knowledge you and I won’t ever get.

But it’s still an art worth mastering, even if it still costs the rest of us more than $3 to fill a shopping cart.