How to use coupons to reach your financial goals

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Believe it or not, there are many folks who have never "couponed." They consider it a waste of time, netting only pennies in savings. Oh, how wrong they are, as those of us who do clip coupons can attest. 

With the average discount being in the 50-cent to $1 range, the potential savings of coupons are clear, especially if you're diligent about collecting and organizing them. 

With a lot of effort, you can save upwards of 80% on your grocery bill with extreme couponing. And since the average household is said to spend some $700 per month on food and sundries, why wouldn't you take advantage of something that can help you cut costs - and save more? 

Here are a few ways to make coupons count:

1. Get More of Them 

Start off by purchasing an extra copy or two of the Sunday paper. Clip everything you buy, and then do some swapping with your friends on the products you each use. Sign up for loyalty programs at your local grocers to get additional savings mailed to you. 

Join (for free) any of the many online coupon aggregators, which often have specials on things you won't find in the paper. For certain brand names, coupons can be difficult to come by, so go directly to the manufacturer's website and you just might find printable deals. Or better yet, don't be afraid to shop atdiscount grocers or try generic - often, you won't even notice a difference. 

2. Organize Them

Develop a system for keeping track of your coupons, so they don't expire. I always put mine in a binder organized by date, but you can choose whatever filing system works best. Some people even store them by the date of the the entire Sunday insert to cut down on managing individual coupons. If you're going to dive into this, do it strategically. 

3. Know When to Use Them

If you have great coupons burning a hole in your wallet, this may take a little willpower. To get the most for your money, wait for "double days" - the one time of the week your favorite grocers double manufacturer coupons. Problem is, it may be different days for different markets. But it's worth the wait. Sometimes it pays to hold on to a coupon for a while until you can partner it up with a sale price. And if you want more money in your pocket at the end of the day, remember to stick to the program. 

If you have awesome discounts on things you really don't use, avoid the urge to buy them. Purchasing something just because you can get it at a great price is wasting money rather than saving it. And lastly, learn from the pros, and read up on how the best couponers make timing-is-everything work for them. You're sure to pick up some tips. 

Final Thoughts

Once your couponing program is in place, track your costs to see what you saved for the month. Then reallocate the money before you spend it elsewhere. Beef up your traditional or Roth IRA, or put some money into the kids' 529 college savings plan. To further the process, set up automatic payments to a new savings account devoted to something specific, like holiday presents. 

Coupons represent a huge savings opportunity both for families and single people. Do it right, and you'll meet those financial goals that much quicker. 

How have coupons helped you reach your financial goals? 

David Bakke writes about couponing and strategies for saving at Money Crashers Personal Finance.

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