Closet stockpile

Organize a small stockpile of items you'll always need when you find a good deal.

Maggie Hensler photo

If you’ve started to collect coupons to start saving money, now is the time to learn how to use those coupons most effectively.

Learn coupon policies.

Most stores have a written corporate policy on coupon usage. Learn the policies for your favorite stores and follow their policy. It’s usually best to begin couponing at just one store. There are lots of blogs out there that will do ad matches to show you what the best deals are and which coupons to use to follow policies, so find a blog you like and put a shopping list together. Save a screenshot of the store’s coupon policy on your phone. If you have an issue at the store because a cashier will not accept a particular coupon, and you are positive you are following the policy, ask nicely to speak to a manager and show them the coupon policy. Sometimes, cashiers are new and just haven’t been trained properly on coupons, and sometimes stores have their own rules, because most policies do state they have the right to refuse any coupons. But if you are following the rules, you can at least try to make your case.

Get items for free or very cheap.

There are some things you should never have to pay for again if you play your coupons right. Here is how you can pay nothing, or next to nothing for lots of things.

● Use your coupons on sale items. Hold onto your coupons until there is a good sale. Most items go on sale every few weeks, so don't just use that coupon right away. This does take some patience, but it's totally worth it. Say you have a coupon for "$3 off any Bic Razors." The regular price of this product is $3.79. You could use the coupon and pay $.79. Good deal? Sure, but not if you can get it free. What if the next week those razors go on sale for $3, then you use that $3 off coupon on the sale price, and now you pay nothing.

● Use the coupon on the lowest priced item. You have a coupon for "$2 off any Crest Toothpaste 4 ounces or more." There are 4 oz. toothpastes on sale for $1.99 and 6 oz. toothpastes for $2.99. Sure you could get the 6 oz. for $.99, which may seem like a great deal, but you can get the 4 oz. for nothing, which is definitely a better deal.

● Stack those coupons. Use a manufacturer coupon and a store coupon or deal on the product. You have a "$1 off 2 boxes of Kleenex" manufacturer coupon and a "$1 off 2 boxes of Kleenex" Target coupon. Kleenex goes on sale at Target for $1 each. Buy two, use both coupons, and now you can get them totally free. Every store does their own types of coupons or deals a little differently, and we’ll look at each store in future columns. You can also often stack manufacturer coupons with app offers. I got Purell for free a few weeks ago after a sale, a manufacturer coupon, and an Ibotta rebate.

Buy items before you need them.

Eventually, we all run out of toothpaste or toilet paper and you go check to see if you have more and you don’t. So you have to run out and buy some at full price. If you have multiple coupons and find awesome deals, use them to stock up and begin a "stockpile." Stockpiles are awesome for nonperishable food items, health and beauty, and personal care products, so when you run out, you won't have to pay full price ever again. Now, you don’t have to be a hoarder or anything, and you always should abide by coupon rules and think about your fellow couponer and never shelf clear, but by having a small stock of items on standby that you’ll always need, you’ll never have to pay full price again.

Remember to collect coupons, watch the ads, follow blogs and shop wisely. Keep this in mind to really see savings: Sale + manufacturer coupon + store coupon or offer = Stockpile. That’s when you’ll realize that couponing has paid off.

Maggie Hensler is a teacher living the frugal life in Davenport with her husband and two boys. Her column runs every Saturday in the Quad-City Times.

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