Blame the extreme couponing craze: Some retailers are tightening their rules. The good news? You can still score big savings despite the backlash. Here's how.
1. Know the new rules.
Before you go shopping, check your store's website to see how the coupon policies may have changed. "Print out the policy and bring it with you to the store. That way, if your cashier isn't familiar with it, you'll have it on hand — and you won't lose out on allowable savings," says Kelly Hancock, author of Saving Savvy: Smart and Easy Ways to Cut Your Spending in Half and Raise Your Standard of Living…and Giving!
2. Go back to basics.
Pick up three copies of the Sunday paper — 89% of grocery coupons still come from the newspaper, according to The Nielsen Company. Sunday is when most of the circulars come out, so it's worth the extra bucks, says Stephanie Nelson, founder of CouponMom.com. Another option: Go to your retailer's website, type in your zip code and see if the circular is available online. "Then plan a week's menus around what's on sale and any coupons you have," says Nelson.
3. Combine a coupon with a sale.
Since some retailers have cracked down on "stacking" coupons together (combining manufacturer and store coupons or electronic and paper coupons), stack one with a sale instead. "You'll save the most money by combining a manufacturer's coupon with an in-store sale," says Hancock.
4. Make restrictions work for you.
Some stores still allow double or triple coupons, but they require that the number of coupons you're using match the total number of items you're purchasing. "If you have six coupons and you're only purchasing four items, buy two inexpensive items that you'd use anyway," says Nelson. "Two-pocket folders are usually about 5¢ each at the drugstore, so if I buy a couple to increase the number of items in my cart, I'll still save money with the coupons."
5. Use social networking.
"'Like' local grocery stores on Facebook and follow them on Twitter so you'll be among the first to know about special promotions," says Jeanette Pavini, household savings expert at Coupons.com. "In today's market, it's all about getting to the store before promotional items are gone."
6. Ask a favor.
"If you can use only a set number of coupons per shopping trip, ask the cashier to break down the cart into different receipts," says Nelson. "If the store's not busy, she might say yes. If not, make multiple trips."
7. Abandon one-stop shops for the best prices.
"Buying everything at one store for convenience wastes money," says Phil Lempert, editor of SuperMarketGuru.com. "If you get a free turkey at one store, you'll likely pay more for cranberry sauce." Instead, map out your shopping trip based on the week's circulars — it may take more time, but following sales from store to store saves you money.
8. Get to know your store manager.
"The managers know what's going on sale and when," says Pavini. "If you're looking for a specific item, ask them when it will be on sale. Often, they'll tell you."