Smart Savings with Coupons

Groceries / Michael Costas, Creative Commons

Shopping with coupons has become a competitive sport. It’s all about how much you get for your coupons and even better, how much you’ve saved while shopping.

I shop with coupons and check grocery flyers but I’m not as good as some people who take the time to clip, shop and price match for the best discounts.

I saw the following post about coupons and savings and wanted to learn more:

“I arrived at Canadian Tire at around 9am. Did my shopping there. Using coupons and sales I got 4 packages of Snuggle fabric softener (20 sheets to a box) for FREE!!!”

“Also got Mr. Clean [magic erasers] for about 33 cents each. Tin foil for 44 cents each box. Plus got a potato peeler because I don’t like the one we have, for $4. Grand total of $8 spent at Canadian Tire.

I scratched a voucher I brought with me in front of the cashier and won a McCain Deep N’ Delicious Cake (coupon to be redeemed at any grocery store prior to Oct. 3) plus 5 cents received in Canadian Tire money. I’d call that good. Used $6 worth of coupons.

Then I went next door to Zellers. Got essentials like toilet paper, toothpaste and price matched Walmart (because I didn’t feel like going there as well today) for deodorant and got it for 30 cents each after coupons), lady products (got them for $1.87 after coupons) plus price matched the Armstrong brand cheese that normally retails for around $7 for 500grams. I got it for $3.77 for 500g. Awesome. Got three of them because they’re best before April 2011 and I will never find them that cheap again and these are huge packages of tasty cheese. Yum. Used $7 worth of coupons there.”

Sounds complicated, but it really wasn’t for Elizabeth D., 41, of Hamilton, Ontario. She was happy to chat about her shopping habits.

What made you decide to use coupons? Was it a particular moment when you made the conscious choice to clip coupons?

About two years ago I made a career change that resulted in a lower income. At the same time I was dating a man who lived out of province so my expenses went up at a time. At the time when my income had gone down, I had accumulated about five-thousand dollars in credit card debt that was hanging over my head and I really wanted to pay down, so I started to look at the money I was spending and how I could reduce my expenses to channel those funds towards more productive uses.

Prior to this, as a single person, I was spending close to $300 a month on groceries plus eating out several times a week. In addition to this I was spending close to $100 – $150 at the drug store on cosmetics and toiletries each month.

I bought many things out of curiosity and simply because I could and then ended up not using them. When I made the change to more actively cut coupons and bargain hunt I didn’t just get a new hobby, I got a new way of looking at my life. I cut out the wastefulness, I cut out the bad spending habits.

My debts aren’t completely paid off yet but I’ve made a significant dent in them and have significantly improved the quality of my life by the way I’m living now.

Where do you find your coupons?

The main sources are in stores themselves posted beside the products or in booklets featured in stores with multiple brands in the same booklet. There are also coupon fliers that come in the local newspaper every month or two with high value coupons in them.

There is also a consumer survey that I take a few times a year that asks about products that I use and as a thank you sends an envelope of coupons for products that I’ve indicated that I use. My best source for coupons though are websites like and and are also good. These are sites that will print out and mail you coupons on behalf of the manufacturers. About once every week or two I’ll go to the sites and see if there are any new coupons and if there are I indicate which ones I want and in a couple of days they’re in my mail box.

Additionally you can write directly to the manufacturers via their feedback option on their websites to ask for coupons but that is hit and miss. Finally exchanging coupons with other coupon clippers either in person or through “coupon trains” you can share with others and benefit yourself.

How long does it take you to clip them?

I spend maybe one hour a week cutting out and organizing coupons, if that. I spend about an additional hour planning my use of them before I go shopping every two weeks.

Do you menu plan around the coupons or find coupons that fit your wants food-wise?

A little of column A and a little of column B. If I get something on a good deal we’ll use that more for a little while. For example, we’ll use tortillas instead of bread if I get a really good deal on tortillas and stock up on them.

I got a great deal on really good cheese this weekend so we’ll be using that more than usual for the next couple of weeks but we love cheese so it’s not too much of a hardship. In the long run we’re only buying things we like and use anyway so if something gets used a little bit more than usual because of sales and coupon influence that’s perfectly fine.

I only use coupons for products we use anyway but there are some things I’ll hold off on buying until it’s on sale so in that sense, our menus can be influenced by coupons.

How often do you price match? Are stores usually willing to do so?

I started price matching about a month ago and have been hooked on it ever since. It’s a waste of time to go to a store when there is only one item that you want. It’s also terrible to miss out on a good deal because you don’t have the time to go to that store for just that one item.

It does influence what stores I shop at because if I can do all my shopping in one place for the prices that I want to pay I’m definitely going to do it. Only certain stores price match and it has to be for the exact same product and you have to have the flyer to give them. Also it has to be the same kind of store – No Frills will not price match Shoppers Drug Mart because it’s a drug store. I think it’s kind of new for a lot of stores though because I find many cashiers are unfamiliar with it. Many are confused if you want to use a coupon in addition to price matching.

This is something that is allowed but almost every time the cashier is unsure and needs to check with a manager. But they’re learning and so am I. I wish more stores price matched, but there’s still just a few in my city that do it like No Frills and Zellers. Those are the main ones for me.

What has been the biggest savings you’ve seen with clipping coupons?

For me personally I used $35 in coupons at a recent trip to Fortino’s with no price matching. That was on many items that were sale items to begin with so the savings were even more than that. There were several items that I got for free because I had a coupon that equaled the price of the item so that was great.

However tonight I was reading the forum on, because it really is my inspiration, and one woman reported that she had used $424 worth of coupons this week alone. That impresses me. I’ll never be at that point with groceries and drug store purchases because although using coupons is great, the whole reason I started this was to reduce my consumption and without kids I simply do not need that much stuff. I could not use that much and I refuse to take just because I can.

That being said, there are a lot of women out there who make up what they call “shelter baskets” and they get items free and they then turn around and donate them to women’s or homeless shelters so there’s a lot of good karma brewing out there. I’ll give coupons to random strangers if I see them buying something I have extras for or I’ll sometimes be a “coupon fairy” and leave a coupon I can’t use next to an item in a store so at least someone will benefit from it.

I’ve also found those in stores so what goes around comes around. People who clip coupons are happier I find and want to “pay it forward” in some way so it’s a very positive thing overall for everyone.

[Photo credit: Michael Costas / Creative Commons]

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