I have recently started couponing. I am not an "extreme couponer," by any means, but I do make time every week to go through the coupons, line them up with sales, and try to make smart shopping decisions. A recent trip to Wal Mart netted me some extra Cascade dish washing detergent and aluminum foil, both of which I will need in the future. Those coupons and some others gave me a 10% discount off my total at the end of the trip. There are a few basic steps I use.
I make a list of items I need, after thinking about the week ahead and what I intend to eat. Using the ads the grocery stores send out is a great way to find meat on sale, but every week there's other stuff I know I need like vegetables, toilet paper, bananas, etc.
Then, I go through the coupons each week and identify coupons for items I buy frequently such as foil, plastic bags, shampoo, disposable razors, etc. I do not cut them out, unless I need them that week. The ones I cut out are set aside. For the other coupons, I have a spreadsheet to keep track of the item, the date of the coupon, and the date it expires. I sort this by expiration date. This list isn't very long because it is just me and not much I need is regularly out in coupons. My spreadsheet usually has less than 15 items.
Next, I use Coupon Mom to compare the sales at Wal Mart with the coupons of recent weeks. The idea is to use a coupon on something Wal Mart has just put on sale so you get more savings. Say an item normally goes for $4, Wal Mart has it on sale for $3, and you have a $1 coupon. You can buy a $4 item for $2. So I go through this list and identify anything on my list for the week that also appears here. I then go back to the coupons from the week indicated and cut out those coupons and put them with the others. The unused coupons, still in the coupon book, go in a cheap file folder system by date.
At this point I also look for other deals on Coupon Mom on stuff I will need eventually. I do not stockpile, but if there's a way to save 80% on aluminum foil or toilet paper or paper towels or kleenex or something that will never go bad and will get used, I cut out the coupon and add it to the list. This can be dangerous though if you add things you don't really need. You can end up spending more than you would have without the coupons or process.
I like to organize my list so it is in roughly the same order as the store. I also like to organize my coupons in the order I'm going to buy them in because I am super anal and will want to look at the coupon while I am looking at the item.
Finally I go to the store and go through the list. It is very important while at the store to make sure your coupon isn't getting you to spend more. For instance, last week I had a great coupon for some nice toilet paper. Even with the coupon, the toilet paper cost more than my regular brand. I ditched the coupon and bought my regular brand. Only get the items on your list!
Yes, this does take some time to do, but not nearly as much as I thought. More time may equal more savings though, so find your happy balance. We're called to be good stewards of God's money, and this is one way to do that. It also is kind of fun and challenging, and should mean I have more money left over later.