The core concept of the "coupon matchup" is pretty simple: you want to hold on to your coupons until you know for certain that the item you want to buy is at the lowest possible price. While this is simple in concept, varying store policies and coupon expiration dates make it a little more complicated in practice.
The key thing to understand to simplify coupon matchups is that stores tend to have their sales in cycles. It will take a little research to become familiar with both seasonal cycles and individual store sale cycles, but since these patterns tend to be the same from year to year, a little initial time spent in learning can pay big dividends for a long time to come.
Below we'll walk you through all of the steps in preparing to do coupon matchups the right way. Once you have this preliminary groundwork in place, you can continue to use it with very little effort for years of big savings!
1. Identify Your Regular Stores And Know Their Policies
The first thing to do is identify all of the stores you will regularly be shopping at, and then take notes on their coupon policies. These policies vary widely between stores, so it's very helpful to have a small sheet that provides an "at a glance" summary of the following things:
. Do they have double or triple coupon promotions, and when?
. Can you combine coupons with all of the different types of sale prices?
. Can coupons be used with clearance items?
. Will they accept multiple coupons for one item?
. Do they have a limit on the total amount of coupons that can be used in one transaction?
. Do they accept expired coupons? (Some stores will accept expired coupons from members of the military and their families.)
In addition to varying widely between stores, coupon policies also change internally fairly often. So it's wise to review these notes at least once per year and make sure they are up to date!
2. Know The Basic Seasonal Cycles
There are three main factors to seasonal cycles: growing seasons, celebrations and life events.
Growing seasons obviously impact fruits and vegetables; they tend to be at the lowest price when they are in season and most abundant. However, there are also seasonal influences on meat and animal products, and these are partially tied to the growing seasons.
Annual celebrations are another major factor in seasonal sales. Obviously, there are the major holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. And there are regular events such as the Super Bowl, where snack foods and beverages tend to go on sale due to very strong demand, and Earth Day, where organic foods will often go on sale. Also keep in mind that today's holiday celebration inventory is tomorrow's clearance sale, such as the inevitable load of candy that stores are dumping for pennies on the dollar after Easter and Halloween!
Finally, life events are things that many people do at a specific time each year; such as going back to school in the fall, or beginning to garden again in the spring.
Celebrations and life events also don't just cause price fluctuations, they also affect what types of coupons are being issued -- particularly manufacturer's coupons, the most lucrative of them all!
3. Know The Individual Store Cycles
Stores have their own internal cycles for promotion of items that aren't really affected by seasonal prices. These cycles are much less predictable, however; just because there was a hot sale on chocolate at Walgreens in March, for example, doesn't necessarily mean the same sale will be held next March.
However, if a store offers a promotion for a limited time, odds are they'll bring back that promotion later in the year at some point. While you may not know exactly when it's coming, you at least know how low the store is willing to go for each item. Shopping at a particular store for a couple of years in a row usually gives you a good feel as to how often these internal promotions are going to repeat themselves.
4. Collect Your Circulars Before Shopping
Be in the habit of getting all of your store circulars before forming your shopping list -- ideally getting them mailed to you or getting them online to save travel time and gas money.
You'll want to cross-reference the sales listed in each circular with your list of cycles and your known lowest prices for each item at each store to determine if it's the best time to deploy your coupon.
It'll help greatly to have a binder in which to organize your coupons here. Also take a glance at the store policies to ensure that they will actually allow your coupon strategy before you get to the register!
5. Organize Your Coupons
A very common strategy for staying organized is to place all of the coupons in an envelope, then write your coupon shopping list on the outside of the envelope. You can form a separate envelope for each store. If you match coupons carefully, you can probably even get the box of envelopes for free!
Following this strategy will save you the greatest amount of money possible, sometimes netting you items that end up being free or costing less than a dollar each. At those prices, who even needs the dollar store?
There are just a couple of final tips to keep in mind so you don't get tripped up when you are actually in the store:
. If the store has its own clearance section, make a pass through it before going anywhere else. You will often find the best possible price here on something you are looking for, and if the store allows the use of coupons on clearance items this is where you're most likely to net stuff for free.
. Carry the store's loyalty card, as some stores require you to use it to get the best price. Most stores only require you to provide them with a name and phone number (both of which you can make up if you're not comfortable with sharing information) as the minimum for a new card. If you REALLY can't stand the idea of carrying a store card, just ask the person behind you in line if they want to have your purchases registered on their card. Often this is a benefit to them as they will get more gas discounts or rewards points, so they'll have no problem with it.
Let's use Target as an example of how a coupon matchup might work.
Let's say we're looking to buy a bottle of Old Spice Body Wash that normally retails for $4. We have a great manufacturer's coupon on hand for $2 off. This isn't a product whose pricing is influenced by seasons in any way, so all we have to worry about is taking note of the lowest price we've seen it go for at our range of stores, and then putting the coupon in play during that time. For simplicity's sake, we'll say this manufacturer's coupon does not expire for a full year, so we can take our time and get the absolute best price.
While checking our weekly circulars, we see that Target has this particular bottle on sale for $2.50 this week and will allow us to combine our coupon with the sale. That gets us the bottle for 0.50 cents, which is probably as low a price as you'll ever get on it. It will take some time to determine exactly what the lowest possible price is for each item depending on your local stores and their patterns, but generally if an item that costs multiple dollars falls to below one dollar it's worth pouncing on.