- Start stockpiling. When you can get an item for free -- or nearly free -- stock up. "Look at the expiration and figure out how much you think you will need between that time frame and stock up!" Kathy advises.
- Get organized. You don't need to have a complex system for organizing your coupons. Kathy doesn't clip hers at all; she keeps all of the coupon inserts in a file, organized by date. "When I need a coupon I just pull it from the file and cut them at once."
- Don't worry about the brand. You'll save more money, more quickly, if you forget about brand loyalty.
- Think outside of the cereal box. It may seem like coupons are mostly for heavily processed or junk foods, but that's not necessarily the case. "Most organic food companies have coupons, too. I also can make money at the grocery store by rolling a deal and that will give me store money that I can use to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for free."
- Train your eyes to look for coupons. Coupons are everywhere, Kathy points out. Just keep your eyes open where ever you go -- the waiting area at the doctor's office, the grocery store aisles, store circulars, and, of course, the internet.
- Spend a little, save a lot. If there is a product you use regularly, consider buying a stash of coupons for it on ebay. You'll pay pennies per coupons, and still take home significant savings.
- Join a community. Kathy's community, How to Shop for Free, started out as a Yahoo group in 2007; it quickly grew to include more than 3,800 members. Kathy opened a second How to Shop for Free community at Big Tent, where about 1,500 more shopping experts trade tips and share sales info. "The best part about the group is the friendships that have formed online and off," Kathy says. "It's really a great group of caring people."
- It takes less time than you think. "I would guess that I spend two to three hours, tops, searching ads and online deals a week," Kathy says, adding that "the best part about being in a coupon group is that there's always someone that will post a great deal that you missed!"
- You can start any time, and at any speed. You don't have to dive immediately into the whole clipping coupons/matching sales/shopping multiple stores game. Start slowly, gathering coupons for just the things you use most. "You can buy coupons for your daily Dunkin Donuts or your favorite brand of makeup, or order 20 coupons for free cat chow and only pay a couple of bucks and get hundreds in savings," Kathy points out.
- You can use coupons for things other than food and household goods. Kathy keeps an eye on promotions that offer free tickets to events and activities. Recently, her local grocery store offered two tickets to a theme park in exchange for buying 10 items at the store. "I got the 10 items, used coupons so the 10 items were completely free, and that got me the tickets for free!"
Kathy Spencer is the founder of How to Shop for Free, a growing community of frugal folks who are learning how to make the most of their money. Here are some of her tips for saving money by using coupons: