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3 tips for practical couponing

POSTED: July 4, 2014 12:00 p.m.
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Extreme couponing isn't a mental illness. One day, you may need 47 bottles of mustard.

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Have you ever watched TLC's show Extreme Couponing? In this reality show, coupon-crazed consumers hit the grocery store armed with stacks and stacks of high value coupons and leave with carts full of free food. It's easy to watch these shows and get discouraged. What type of person can devote hours and hours each week to finding coupons, clipping coupons and planning massive shopping trips? Besides, many coupons are for unhealthy, processed foods that won't do your family much good in the long run. Is couponing worth it?
Yes. Coupons are a great way to save money on everything from groceries to household goods to personal care products, and it doesn't have to overwhelm your entire life. Here are 3 simple steps to start saving with coupons today.

Finding the best coupons
Many consumers find coupons in their local papers. Newspaper inserts are a great resource for moderate-value coupons, and all you need is a Sunday paper. Even if you don't have a newspaper subscription, you can still pick up a Sunday paper at any local store or from a friend. As you're searching through the inserts, cut out any coupon for items you already purchase. There's no point in amassing a stockpile of coupons for items you'll never buy.
Websites are another fantastic place to find coupons for the items you use the most. Websites like coupons.com allow you to print coupons easily from home. Also, many grocery chains let you download coupons to your store loyalty cards. These loyalty card coupons are an instant, easy way to get a variety of coupons without ever touching a pair of scissors.

Plan your trip
Make the most of your couponing dollar by stacking sales and coupons together. Hold onto coupons, without exceeding the expiration date, until you can find a sale on the item at a local store. It only takes a few minutes each week to check out the sales circulars either in your local paper or online. When you find a good sale, stock up with enough of the product to last until the next time it goes on sale, usually between 6 and 12 weeks.
Going to the store with a list is always a good idea, whether or not you're using coupons. Meal planning makes list planning easier, and the two practices combined saves you big. Don't forget to use the same money-saving tricks from the grocery store when you buy household products, such as cleaning solutions and paper products, and personal care items such as shampoo, toothpaste and makeup.

Scour the store
Leave a little room in your shopping budget for last-minute purchases, and we're not talking an impulse-buy candy bar here. Stores sometimes discount items that are near their sell-by date or have hidden sales. Take all your coupons along, and you might score a great last-minute deal. Make it a habit to walk down your store's clearance aisles regularly. You never know exactly what you'll find.

Couponing is an easy way to make the family budget stretch even further. Think of saving money as a game where everyone is the winner. Take some of that saved money and take the family out for a fun night on the town, or give your family some peace of mind by building up a reasonable stockpile of frequently used items. The more money you keep in your pocket the more money you'll have to spend as you please each month.

Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan, mom to two crazy boys, and wife to one amazing husband. You can learn more about her eco-conscious lifestyle at moderatelycrunchy.com.

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