You want to be smart about how to use coupons effectively. You know that coupons are available both in paper format and online. You know that you can get coupons for anything, but groceries and paper products like toilet paper are the most popular items. But how does it all fit together?

Before you start randomly clipping or printing out coupons, here are some tips that can help you make the most out of your budget shopping experience:

  1. Look for Items You Need, Not Those You Want

When you focus on items you need, you are more apt to make intelligent decisions about pricing. Impulse buying or buying something you don’t need is a waste of money and time. You can do this by:

  • Making a list of needed items
  • Researching online and through circulars for prices
  • Ask the question: Do I really need this item or can I do without it?

By following this rule of thumb, you’ll not only save money but also frustration.

  1. Stock Up On Needed Items and Focus On What You Can Use

Here’s where it gets a bit interesting. After you made your list of needed items, you need to do a bit of comparison shopping. For example, when selecting toilet paper, you’ll need to compare toilet paper brands for:

  • Softness
  • Quality
  • Quantity

It can be a bit confusing because all toilet paper is not the same. You also need to look at what you’re getting for the money. Toilet paper coupons, if used properly, can save you a lot of money. Unfortunately, if you stock up on the wrong brand, they can also cause you and your family a lot of grief. So before you clip out those coupons for toilet paper, ask the following questions:

  • Will my family use this product?
  • What are the quality factors that my family prefers?
  • How much do you get per roll, and per case?

Based on the criteria above, you can make intelligent decisions about toilet paper. The same principle applies to other paper products.

  1. Wait for Sales and Compare Prices On Big Ticket Items

Although you might not use coupons for big ticket items, there are some exceptions to the rule. Sears and JC Penney do have coupon sales for their big ticket items. Bed, Bath and Beyond also has periodic sales of their kitchen and bath appliances. Around the holidays is always a good time to look for sales.

Comparison shopping for both big and small purchases can save you hundreds of dollars. A savvy shopper often uses both in store and online applications to find the best deal.

  1. Pay Attention to Expiration Dates and Take Advantage of Buy One, Get One Free Deals

You do have to be careful to use coupons before their expiration dates. Coupons with “Buy One, Get One Free” are good when the item in question is already on sale. In this instance you could possibly end up having them pay you for both items. It has happened in the past. Some stores still honor the “Buy One, Get One Free” coupons but this is becoming rare for the above reason.

Another way you can take advantage of your coupons is ask for a price match and compare the original prices with the sale prices. Some stores will take the coupon percentage off the sale price of the item. Other stores will take the coupon percentage off the original price.

It is to your advantage to keep your eyes out for this type of coupon. Store opening sales and store closing sales are where you’ll find this type of coupon.

  1. Utilize Both Paper and Online Coupon Resources

It just makes sense to utilize both newspaper and online coupon resources. There is plethora of online coupon websites. The most popular coupon websites according to the eBusiness MBA guide are:

  • Groupon
  • RetailMeNot
  • Zulily
  • Coupons
  • ShopAtHome
  • SlickDeals
  • LivingSocial
  • Woot
  • eBates
  • FatWallet
  • Gilt
  • DealsPlus
  • BradsDeals
  • Savings
  • DealCatcher

Sunday newspapers are your best bet to get paper coupons. Advertisements by local stores are often good ways to get deals on products you need. It is important to remember that you do have to put some effort into researching the best deals. You also need to be open to the deals that are out there.

How to Save Money with Coupons — Dos and Don’ts

It might be tempting right about now to splurge on that prized possession. You might even be justifying the expenditure with the notion that you only live once. You might even feel a bit guilty about spending that money.

Once you have a good understanding of how coupons can work for you, you can be satisfied that you have the necessary tools to save money on your grocery bill and other bills.

There are some dos and don’ts when you want to save money with coupons.

Do

  • Make sure you do your research — both on and offline.
  • Check the expiration dates.
  • Do a price comparison of items — What you might think is a bargain might not be.
  • Utilize all your resources.
  • Make a list and compare features of items to determine if you’re getting a good deal.

Don’t

  • Settle for “half-baked” explanations — Ask for clarification.
  • Break coupon policies — Follow rules.
  • Demand that company honors their expired coupons.
  • Expect that the company will honor your coupons if you don’t follow the rules.
  • Wait for items you need right now — Make wise purchases.

Coupon clipping and printing can be both exciting and challenging. It does take some patience and time when you first start the process but it is worth it.

Dmitri Ma / Shutterstock.com

Dmitri Ma / Shutterstock.com