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You’ve no doubt seen an increase in the amount of television programs and morning talk shows that feature women almost obsessively cutting out, saving and using coupons to save massive amounts of money on products in almost unfathomable quantities. You’ve seen their folders full of clipped out coupons, pantries and garages stacked with the same item floor to ceiling and their complete state of focus when shopping in the grocery store. It really makes you wonder if taking the time to clip out or print out coupons is worth it just to save a few bucks on your weekly grocery shopping trip of if they’re only worth it to save big like the people you see on TV. We talked with Andrew Schrage, the co-owner of the Money Crashers Personal Finance Blog to find out his take on couponing.

SkinnyMom: What are some of the reasons using coupons is actually worth the time it takes to collect them?  Other than just saving a few cents.

Andrew: Couponing is an easy way to save money on groceries and is certainly worth your time, as long as you organize your approach. First, you need to come up with a filing system for your coupons to ensure that you use them before they expire. You may want to purchase multiple copies of the Sunday paper to further your savings, and plan to use your coupons on days when your grocer doubles their value. You may end up saving much more money than the face value of your coupons.

SkinnyMom: Can you use any coupon at any store that sells that product?

Andrew: It depends. A grocer will occasionally accept a competitor’s discount grocery coupon, and some retailers, such as select Kroger’s and Publix locations, accept online coupons provided that certain qualifications are met. Your best bet is to visit or call your local supermarket to see what its individual policy is.

SkinnyMom: Are there any instances where using a coupon is not a good idea?

Andrew: Absolutely. If you are accustomed to buying generic brand items, be careful when using national brand coupons. If the discount doesn’t drop the price of the item below that of its generic counterpart, you are better off continuing to purchase the generic brand item.

SkinnyMom: Do you really have to be extreme like the people you see on recent television shows depicting “Extreme Couponing” to save money?

Andrew: The more effort you put into couponing, the greater your savings will be – the extent to which you take it is your decision. If you decide to partake in extreme couponing, your savings will be great, though you must dedicate a lot of time to the practice. If you don’t have the time to invest, consider simply couponing whenever you can. Food prices are likely to continue to climb in 2012, so any effort you can put forth will pay off.

SkinnyMom: How is it that people can get 25 of the same item with coupons?

Andrew: Using a single coupon to receive discounts on large quantities of one item used to be much easier to do, but many grocers have recently caught on. Most coupons now have specified limits and caps, making it virtually impossible to get multiple discounts with just one coupon. Your best option is to purchase multiple copies of the Sunday paper, and use one coupon for each individual item. In some cases, you may encounter resistance from the cashier. Many coupons say “limit one per transaction,” and therefore, your results will vary depending upon the cashier.

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