One of TLC’s most popular shows is Extreme Couponing. As the audience, we see how much money the couponers save and we convince ourselves that either the show is lying to us or it’s too hard to save money with coupons.

For a brief period of time, I was an extreme couponer. I couldn’t do as well as the ladies on the show, but I was happy whenever I was able to shave off more than 50% of my grocery bill, which was regularly.

The simplest way to explain extreme couponing is coupon + sale (+ potentially some other store discount) = mega bucks off the list price. An example of this would be a loaf of bread that is normally $3. We have a coupon from the circular, known as a manufacturer’s coupon, that gives us $1 off, and you wait for that loaf of bread to be half off, which would make the cost $1.50 in stores. Using the sale price with the coupon means you only pay $0.50 for the bread.

Here is what it takes to be an extreme couponer:

GATHERING - How to get more coupons

The first step of couponing is, well, collecting coupons. But where do you look? Check some ideas in this video:

One source is your local Sunday newspaper, which will include inserts like Smart Source, Red Plum, and Proctor & Gamble. If your city has more than one newspaper, ask the attendant which includes the coupons, because not all of them will. At the end of the day, it’s okay to ask the attendant if you can have the unsold papers, as he is unable to sell them the next day. The coupon companies also offer coupons online and other discounts can be found at Coupons.Com.

Another source are your neighbors. In exchange for them giving you coupons, perhaps you could pick up an item that they need the next time you’re at the store. Many times, our neighbors do not use the coupons that are in their mailbox. They throw them in the recycle bin, which is where you can go and collect them. I remember when I was a student I lived in a small apartment in an apartment complex. Not all apartments in that complex were occupied at that time. Yet, the mailman would often insert a coupon in all 30+ mail boxes in the lobby. I would go and collect the coupons from the mail boxes that corresponded to the vacant apartments. This is how I once ended up eating lunch 5 times at Applebees within a week, for less than $5 each time!

Coupon Swaps is a another great way to get coupons, too. Savvy couponer Perry gets 50% of her coupons from her meetings with other local couponers, a group they have named "Couponers Anonymous".

There are two other good places of finding coupons: Grocery stores and manufacturers themselves. In the store, they’ll occasionally print out coupons for your next purchase at the end of a transaction, and you can also find coupons next to products around the store. In order to get coupons from a manufacturer, you’ll have to do that the old fashioned way and write them a letter.

Finally, did you know you can get hundreds of coupon inserts from hotels? Yes, that's right! Watch this video to learn how.

ORGANIZING

My preferred method of organization is in a binder, just like organizing a deck of collectible cards. The protectors can be found at stores like Staples or Office Max. While you do have to spend money on these items, it will make couponing so much easier. I like to use the organizing method suggested by the Krazy Coupon Lady, which breaks down the coupons by type of product. This is the easiest method because you’ll be able to keep all of your different types of coupons in one place.

GROCERY SHOPPING

This, my friend, is where your math skills come into play. You need to know your coupon binder pretty well, or this step will be a little hard.

The simplest way to explain it is to check your local store’s circular and match the sales with the coupons. When something is on sale, buy a lot of it, because it won’t be on sale again for at least another month, and most likely longer. Sales also go through stages, so if you can figure out how your store cycles their sales, then this step will be easier.

In order to keep yourself sane, set a limit for how much you’re willing to spend for each item after coupon and sale. When I was bad at couponing, for example, I was still usually able to get yogurt for free, so my limit for yogurt was $0.

If there is anything that is most likely to mess you up, it will be store policy. Each store is different, though some stores will have a policy that can help you in your quest to save money. ShopRite, for example, automatically doubles any coupon under $1, unless the coupon specifically states “do not double.” Stores will frequently offer discounts for veterans or seniors, and they’ll occasionally accept competitor’s coupons. Some stores will allow coupons that are worth more than the value of the item to be applied to other products. What messes most coupon clippers up is when the store sets a limit to the number of coupons you can use per item. In order to have no surprises at the checkout line, ask for the store’s policies at customer service beforehand. They will be happy to share it with you.

Most importantly, have fun! It’s very rewarding to see how much money you’re saving at the end of a shopping trip.

RESOURCES

With the popularity of TLC’s show, couponing resources have sprung up all over the internet. Some will even do the heavy lifting for you and tell you which coupons are in which circulars.

Check out other blogs like the Krazy Coupon Lady or the Grocery Game, which are two of the most popular. Sites like these will also include what are the best deals at each store, and they’ll tell you which coupon matches it.

One of the best resources you have is yourself. Track how much you’re saving and spending, and analyze it to see where you could do better. As you see the amount of money you save over the months increase, you’ll know you’re doing something right!

STORAGE AND DISTRIBUTION

 Woman Storing Food

You’ve done all the research and the printing and the buying, and now it’s time to bring your goodies home. But where to store it all? Just as you applied your organization skills to your coupon clipping, you’ll need to apply those same skills to organization of your items.

Some of the best ways to do this are to purchase additional items for easier storage. I would suggest investing in a deep freezer and shelves in your garage. Now would be a good time to do a deep clean of your kitchen cabinets and pantry, and toss or donate unused small appliances and food. Store like with like, and make sure you arrange it in date order so that no food goes to waste.

With couponing, you can use that money you saved for other things, such as paying off debt, paying down your house, or saving it for future needs like retirement. Now that you’ve completed all five steps of the couponing process, take your time and enjoy the result of all your efforts!