I have grown up with a Sunday morning ritual of reviewing the newspaper coupons and storing the clipped ones in a coupon folder, which came with us on every trip to the grocery store. My mom tried to limit what she purchased to she had a coupon for, and I very clearly understood the importance of those coupons: those little savings really did add up.
Now that I run my own household, and now that times are tight, couponing is back in style. I review the Sunday coupons with a careful eye, and I now go online to print out even more coupons. Whenever I use a coupon at the store, I feel like it's a small victory for me, as though I am undercutting the manufacturer (although why the price is as high as it is is another post, since obviously the manufacturers are not losing money even when a coupon is used. But still, it's nice to see my total drop when each coupon is scanned).
There are three catches:
1. Most coupons are for processed, manufactured products (and health and beauty aids). Cereal, snacks, convenience foods, etc. I try to buy as few of those products as possible because I am trying to be as all natural as I can (which may not be obvious if you look at my pantry, but I am trying). As in, I try to buy fresh produce, fresh meats, fresh milk - raw ingredients. So, if I don't buy the product for which there is a coupon, that coupon does me no good. And there are no coupons on a pound of apples.
2. A good portion of my grocery bill goes towards fresh fish, kosher meat, and kosher cheese (my daughter and I LOVE cheese). There are no coupons for those items.
3. It is very important NOT to purchase an item JUST BECAUSE there is a coupon for it. Yes, you may save $0.50 in the process, but in reality, you are spending more money than you would have otherwise since you normally would not have purchased the item at all! So, it is really important to be absolutely confident that you and your family really do in fact use the item in question in order for the coupon to be of any benefit.
I have also started visiting manufacturers' websites; sometimes they have coupons on their own websites that don't appear in newspapers or general coupon sites. Seventh Generation, Stonyfield Farms, and a few other companies have been quite helpful in this regard.
I end up having a few coupons, not a huge stash: mostly cereal coupons, baby supply coupons, and the occasional coupon for some condiments, basic pantry supplies, a few snacks I like to keep on hand (like granola bars), and health and beauty aid coupons. Which is not terrible, but I don't see how I can really maximize the coupons that are out there given my lifestyle (you know those stories, where someone gets $100 worth of groceries for $20 because they used all those coupons).
The fun part is really the hunt for the coupons that I can use, and then whipping them out once the bill is totaled, my heart going "Ah-HA! I have THESE weapons!!! HA HA HA." And getting out of there with maybe $2 more in my pocket than I would have otherwise.