Clipping coupons can cut your costs

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You've probably wondered if those coupons in your Sunday newspaper really offer significant savings. Some bargain shoppers may argue that clipping coupons could cut your grocery bill by up to $200 a month if used correctly.

For an average family of four in the U.S., grocery bills for the year can add up to around $8,513, or a $709 per month, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Couponing is indeed serious business for food manufacturers and could be an easy way to save money on your next trip to the store.

Obviously, food manufacturers don't make money simply by discounting their merchandise - if they did, they would just reduce their prices. Their intent is to offer you a coupon for a product you don't normally purchase so you'll think, "Hey, 50 cents off! I'l l give that new cereal a try."

A savvy coupon user knows that coupons should be used to save money, not to further stretch an already tight budget. Consider the following tips the next time you find yourself searching your newspaper for big savings.

Create an easy-to-use system. A simple approach is to set a day aside, like a Sunday afternoon, and search carefully through the coupons for items on your shopping list (things you would be purchasing anyway). Sort the coupons into categories in the order of the aisles you plan to visit at the store.

Look for added savings. If a store is offering a coupon on an item and you also have a manufacturer's coupon, use both to double your savings. Also, take advantage of any reward cards that your grocery retailer offers.

Be an insider. If you don't mind the extra mail, request to be on the mailing lists of your favorite retailers and service providers. You can also call merchandisers directly to request coupons. According to the Promotion Marketing Association's Coupon Council, up to 35 percent of manufacturers only send coupons upon request.

Follow the directions. Each store has its way of processing coupons. Most promotional offers have an expiration date and many require you to have a coupon code. Take time to read the directions to make sure you get the best deal.

Read the fine print. Watch for merchandising tricks like the "two-for-one" coupon. If you don't need two products, take a look at the actual price for purchasing only one of them-you might find that it's half price.

Clipping coupons may seem like more effort than they're worth, but the payoff is instantaneous-especially if you're careful not to buy what you don't need. With the price of food rising, it pays to shop for the best deals.