The economy has turned us into a nation of savers. Coupon use has jumped since 2008, mirroring historical trends that show redemption rates increase during tough financial times. Grocery coupons hold the best potential for helping cut your household budget. Pairing coupons with sales can help cut your weekly grocery bill in half — or more. It's not hard, but it is labor intensive.
• The basic rule of couponing is this: Find coupons and pair them with sales (especially buy-one-get-one-free deals). Coupons are everywhere. Most arrive in Sunday newspaper inserts, but a growing number can be found online, too, on sites like coupons.com. Also, Facebook isn't just for friends — you'll find pages for your favorite products, too. "Like" them, and many will give a coupon in return.
• Educate yourself about different store policies. Which stores accept competitor coupons, and which competitor coupons do they accept? Pairing a Target coupon with a Publix sale and a manufacturer's coupon can get you peanut butter for next to nothing. Many stores allow "stacking," which is using a manufacturer's coupon with a store coupon on the same item.
• Let others help you with the work. Online coupon databases will tell you if a coupon exists for the product you seek. Bloggers match coupons with weekly store sales. (Two Tampa Bay area sites to check out: addictedtosaving.com and truecouponing.com).
• Don't buy things you don't need because you have a coupon (unless it's free — then buy it to donate to a charity or needy friend). By the same token, don't pass up a good deal on something you use but don't need at that moment. The best savers stockpile.
• Be mindful of coupon expiration dates. Manufacturers have shortened them to limit their exposure.
MQ: Manufacturer's coupon.
Stacking: This is when you use a manufacturer's coupon and a store coupon on the same item to maximize your savings.
BOGO: Short for buy one, get one. Often, that second item will be free, but sometimes a BOGO sale can mean buy one, get a second one at a discount (usually 50 percent off). Most stores allow you to use two coupons on BOGO deals, even if the second item is free.
Rain check: Stores often run out of the really great deals, so many will issue a voucher for customers to redeem at the sale price when the item is restocked.
Rolling: Refers to the practice of using reward dollars to buy products to earn more reward dollars. Walgreens and CVS both have reward programs.
Coupon fairies: Bargain shoppers who leave coupons for products they can't use on store shelves.
Blinkies: Refers to manufacturer coupons that come out of those little black boxes in stores.
Competitor coupons: Many stores will honor competitor coupons, though those vary by chain and location. For example, some — but not all — Publix stores accept Target coupons.
Price matching: This is where you take in a copy of another store's ad to get the same price at a different retailer. Target and Walmart both price match on identical products, but there are some exceptions.
It's always best to check at the customer service counter if you have a question about whether a store will accept a certain coupon or price match.