Imagine never paying full price for groceries, rarely running out of toothpaste or cereal, and hardly ever making a last-minute run to the store for one dinner ingredient. Such is the life of couponer Jen Hollingsworth: a money-saving mom who homeschools three kids, lives on one income, and has a nose for turning a sale into a steal.

“Everyone could and should coupon on a small scale at the least. Stores offer coupons and sale cycles that one could plan meals around easily and save a bit here and there,” Jen said. To take it to the next level by stockpiling, keeping a price list, and finding your own coupons, it takes dedication. You just have to want it!”

If you have the time, the patience, and the willpower, couponing can leave you with a sense of pride in your resourcefulness, a sense of security, and even a feeling of doing God’s will.

“It’s always my weekly goal to save what I can for our family’s budget. I feel it is wise to be prepared for the what-ifs in life,” Jen said. “Based on my Christian values, I believe it's wise stewardship to be aware of how much you spend on things and try to be frugal to an extent.”

Here’s Jen’s proven and practical beginner’s guide to extreme couponing that has saved her family thousands of dollars a year and completely changed the way she shopped.

Step 1 – Score a Sunday Paper
Buy several copies of the local Sunday paper or a large metro paper. Clip each coupon you may use, even if you don’t need the item at that moment. As you’ll notice, there are two types: manufacturer’s coupons and store coupons. Manufacturer’s coupons can be used anywhere that carries that item, while store coupons are specific to that store. Look for products you buy regularly, occasionally, and those you want to try. If you have go-to brands, being open to trying new ones will save you some cash.

Sort the coupons into categories, expiration dates, or whatever makes sense to you, and tuck them into baseball card sleeves and a binder. I’ll explain how to use your binder in Step 3. Finally, shop the store ads and match up coupons with sales. Flip through the sales inserts in your newspaper and make a list of hot store sales, the item and sale price, and when the sale runs.

Step 2 – Browse the Coupon Blogs
Next, search coupon sites for hot prices on items you typically buy and note the product, sale price, and where to find it. A good rule of thumb: Double-check prices against the store ads from your newspaper to make sure they match. It costs you a few extra minutes, but it only takes one wasted trip across town because of a typo before you see the value.

These sites often have printable coupons you may want, but don’t go overboard at first. Keep your coupons to a manageable amount until you’ve honed your system.

Step 3 – Shop, Stockpile, and Save
Once you’ve clipped, printed, and filed your first batch of coupons in your binder, head to the stores (and the sales!) with your shopping list. Be prepared to make several stops for those hot sale items you noted from the coupon blogs and hot store sales you noted from the newspaper. Stay organized by pulling the store coupons you plan on using before you enter each store. You’re going to be doing multiple transactions at the cash register to maximize your coupons, and you don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute.

Stockpiling (buying up items you use when they’re at rock bottom prices) is key to your system. While there’s a good chance you could walk away with a dozen multi-packs of paper towels you didn’t expect to buy, if you stockpile well enough, you may never have to make a run to the store for something you’re out of and pay full price.

Your goal is to match sales with coupons to score maximum savings. This means “stacking” one manufacturer’s coupon on a store coupon. If the savings are substantial, maximize it by stacking all the coupons for that item that you clipped from each of the Sunday papers you purchased on top of the maximum number that item that the store will allow you to get at that price. For example, if pasta sauce is 2/$4, and you clipped four $0.75 off coupons for that sauce, you can get four jars for $1.25 apiece.

To do this, however, you may need to perform one transaction per item and coupon stack at the register. Multiply those transactions by all your other stacks, and you’ll see why it’s essential to be prepared when you approach the register. Before you get in line, sort and match your stacks and have your binder on hand, so you can quickly pull what you need. Tell the cashier up front that you’ll be doing several transactions, and remain calm and confident. If you find a favorite cashier who knows your system and doesn’t mind the plethora of receipts you’ll rack up in the checkout, stick with that cashier when you can.

Additional Couponing Tips
1. You can’t use two manufacturer’s coupons on one item.

2. Be aware that photocopying coupons is illegal.

3. Don’t buy an item just because you have a coupon for it. The coupon doesn’t necessarily make it a great deal.

4. Carry a coupon policy for each store you shop at in your binder. If you get a clerk who isn’t familiar with the store’s coupon policy, having it on hand saves you time and headaches.

5. An alternative to clipping and printing your own coupons is to buy them on eBay or coupon trading sites like A Full Cup. This saves you time you would have spent searching, clipping, and printing and allows you to quickly hone in on the exact products you want. The downside, however, is that you probably won’t find coupons for everything on your shopping list, and you may have to compete against other bidders, which could result in paying more for the coupons than you wanted to (or what you would have spent on newspapers).

What helpful coupon advice do you have for other homeschoolers?