Personal Finance

Coupons work when you know how to work the system

I’m guessing you didn’t know September is National Coupon Month. Even the hardcore clippers among us probably aren’t aware of it. But I’ll use the occasion to cover some of the basics of couponing, focusing mainly on groceries. (Next to housing and transportation, food is what Americans spend the most money on

http://money.cnn.com/interactive/news/economy/us-spending

– and also where we have the most control.)

Maybe you’re thinking coupons are passé in this era of reward cards. Sure, if your grocery store has such a program, the savings can be significant (especially when you use coupons in conjunction with the rewards). But not everyone is a fan of these cards, nor does every store offer them, and even if they do, they choose the sale items, not you.

The oldest and perhaps easiest source for coupons is the good old Sunday paper. Pick up the printed

Kansas City Star

for $2 and hundreds in coupon value may literally fall into your lap. Seeing everything in one place can be a big help with meal ideas and planning, too. And really, you can use your coupons (and even circulars) to plan your meals – look at the items on sale and build your weekly menu around it to maximize your savings.

Another great coupon source is the good old World Wide Web. New sites and apps pop up all the time. Of course, look up your local grocer first. Store coupons are great, but manufacturers’ coupons can be even better. If you like a certain brand of spaghetti sauce (or any other staple on your list), go straight to their website or Facebook page and find a coupon. Sometimes stores will double them; other times you can tack a manufacturer’s coupon onto a store special and save even more.

Sources like Coupons.com

www.coupons.com

, SmartSource.com

www.smartsource.com

, RedPlum.com

www.redplum.com

and CouponNetwork.com

www.couponnetwork.com

are loaded with manufacturers’ coupons. Or try one of my favorites, Kansas City Mamas

www.kansascitymamas.com

,which does much of the research for you! It even has a Couponing 101 course

www.kansascitymamas.com/category/couponing-101

for the newbies out there.

Until somebody develops an app that can hold all your virtually “clipped” coupons in one place, I print them out and stack them with whatever paper versions I’ve cut out. Clip them to your grocery list and hit the store. It’s always a great feeling when the cashier swipes them and informs you how much you saved.

Remember, sometimes even a doubled coupon won’t make a brand name item cheaper than a generic version! And don’t make the mistake of using a coupon to justify purchasing an item you wouldn’t normally buy. Even if you spend $1 on something you wouldn’t buy otherwise, that’s $1 too much.

Kat's Money Corner is posted on Dollars Sense every Tuesday. Kat Hnatyshyn, when not blogging or caring for her little one, is a manager with CommunityAmerica Credit Union. For more financial chatter, click http://twitter.com/savinmavens

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