Trolling for discounts can save your family money, but it's not for everyone. If you don't have the time, space, buying habits, or inclination, the couponing process will cause more headaches than it is worth. Take our quiz to see whether you're better off clipping -- or skipping.
What mom hasn't heard tales of women who buy $500 worth of groceries for $12 and been intrigued, even envious? Don't be fooled, though: Being a serious couponer is hard work. "It takes hours of going through circulars, matching them with sales, and driving to stores," says Andrea Woroch, a consumer-savings expert for Kinoli, which runs CouponSherpa.com and GiftCardGranny.com. "The average mom doesn't have time for that." In fact, 64 percent of Parents readers polled spend less than one hour per month collecting coupons or don't do so at all. Still, the cost of food, diapers, and toiletries can add up. So will couponing improve your quality of life?
Quiz: Rate your couponing capability
1. How much free time can you devote to couponing?
A. None. I am literally scheduled to the max.
B. An hour or more a week.
C. For big savings, I'll make as much time as is needed.
Why we ask The best couponers treat their hobby like a part-time job. "The people who save $1,000 a month devote ten to 20 hours a week to it," says Joanie Demer, cofounder of TheKrazyCouponLady.com.
2. Do you have space?
A. I barely have room for an extra tube of toothpaste.
B. I can stash a select few bulk buys
C. I have a spare room for stockpiling bargains.
Why we ask One way couponers expand their savings is by buying discounted items in volume. Pick five to ten products that you use up quickly (toilet paper, diapers, cereal, etc.) for bulk purchases. If you don't have the space, choose small things to store, such as deodorant and wet wipes.
3. Are you willing to travel to multiple stores each week?
A. I barely have time to make it to one.
B. I can hit a couple of places a week.
C. Sure. I already shop at several stores each week.
Why we ask If the next-closest supermarket is 30 minutes away or you don't have time to store-hop, this probably isn't the most efficient way to save money, especially when you factor in the cost of gas. Novices should consider selecting two stores for starters: a basic food market and a drug or big-box store (such as Target or Walmart).
4. Do you buy products that offer coupons?
A. No, I rarely find coupons for the things I purchase.
B. Not always, but sometimes I get lucky.
C. All the time.
Why we ask If you cook a lot and eat primarily fresh foods and produce, you likely won't find as many useful coupons, as most are for canned and boxed goods. But you can still save. MamboSprouts.com has printable coupons for GMO-free and gluten-free products, for instance. You can also visit the sites of your favorite brands (such as Stonyfield.com) or grocery stores (such as WholeFoods.com) to find exclusive coupons.
5. Are you up for reading the fine print?
A. What is this, a used-car dealership?
B. I check the expiration dates. Does that count?
C. Yes. I always thought I'd make a good lawyer.
Why we ask Stores have specific limits: They may not accept double discounts or might disallow them for items already on sale. They may also restrict how many units of a reduced item you can purchase. Rules can also change at any time, so you'll need to do your homework before you shop.
6. How do you feel about haggling?
A. I hate confrontation.
B. I don't like to, though I'll take a stand now and then.
C. Bring it on -- it's all in the name of saving money.
Why we ask You may need to argue your case with a cashier who isn't familiar with the coupon policy. Print the rules from a retailer's website and carry them with you. You should also be prepared to annoy the customers behind you in line, who must wait until all your discounts are scanned.
7. Are you organized?
A. Ha! I can barely even find my car keys.
B. More or less.
C. My files are color-coded, my photos are all in albums, and my e-calendar is totally up to date.
Why we ask Couponing is not recommended for those who are organizationally challenged. It requires you to track sites, circulars, newspaper coupons, and manufacturer offers, as well as expiration dates. You also have to bring the right ones when you shop. "If coupons are scattered across the floor of your car, you're not going to find it's worth the effort," Demer says.
How to Save Money at the Grocery Store with Coupons
If you answered ...
Mostly A ...You're a coupon catastrophe. Moms who don't have the time, space, buying habits, or inclination are better off staying out of this game. However, that doesn't mean you should stay away from coupons entirely. A quick glance through the Sunday paper and weekly store circulars can still improve your bottom line. Demer says casual couponing can reduce your costs by up to $25 per week.
Mostly B ... You're coupon capable. You can start by checking out TheKrazyCouponLady.com, CouponMom.com, and the Thrifty Frugal Mom blog on Parents.com and printing your favorite discounts. Visiting two brick-and-mortar stores instead of one will boost your potential savings and make it easier to stock up when items are cheapest. By investing ten hours per month, you should be able to reduce your household budget by up to $200.
Mostly C ... You're a coupon champ in the making. You'll save the most money by hitting three or more stores each week. Print online coupons right before you head to the store so you don't waste ink on ones that might expire before you use them. Once you get the hang of being a couponer, you could cut your food budget in half. That's not quite like getting $500 worth of groceries for $12, but it's certainly worth bragging about.