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Intimidated by Couponing? Follow These 5 Easy Steps to Start Using Coupons

When it comes to effective money-saving methods, it's hard to argue with the power of coupons. In fact, 90 percent of consumers report using coupons, collectively saving $3.4 billion in 2015, according to a July report from Valassis, a media delivery company. In an August survey released by Valassis, 42 percent of consumers reported saving $30 or more per week using coupons, while 21 percent said they saved $50 or more each week.

Despite their popularity, coupons often frustrate shoppers who find them confusing and cumbersome. What's more, coupon fraud can make fledgling coupon users skeptical of their legitimacy. Over the past two weeks, the Coupon Information Corporation, a nonprofit association of consumer product manufacturers that fights coupon fraud, compiled more than 30 published cases of fraudulent coupons, with hundreds more from earlier this year.

[See: 12 Ways to Be a More Mindful Spender.]

To get started couponing and avoid being duped by fraudsters, follow these five tips.

1. Go mobile. Prior to the digital age, coupons were often found in Sunday newspaper circulars and required clipping, organizing and storage. Today, nearly three-quarters of consumers look for coupons on their smartphones while shopping in-store. Retailers offer coupons on mobile devices through store apps while coupon companies aggregate offers from multiple retailers for an all-in-one resource.

Downloading one of these apps is likely the easiest way to get started couponing since it requires little effort on the part of the shopper to redeem savings. App users simply browse through a list of stores, select a coupon to apply to their purchase and show the mobile coupon to the cashier for redemption.

[See: 11 Ways to Save Time and Money.]

Grocery store apps offer digital access to manufacturer coupons, which are loaded directly onto shopper loyalty cards. Users scroll through a list of grocery coupons (or select offers based on category) and tap the offers they want loaded to their cards. When the loyalty card is entered at checkout, all applicable coupons are automatically applied to the purchase.

2. Find a coupon blog. Before 2010, consumers didn't hear much in the news about couponing. That year, the Wall Street Journal published an article profiling shoppers who were able to purchase hundreds of dollars in groceries for just a few cents using coupons. Many of these shoppers credited coupon blogs for helping them achieve their hauls.

While the average shopper is likely uninterested in stockpiling more than 1,000 boxes of jello, these coupon websites are still a great reference for novice and seasoned couponers alike. Sites, such as TheKrazyCouponLady.com and MoneySavingMom.com, post weekly ad match-ups of store sales, store coupons and manufacturer coupons so shoppers know what's on sale at popular retailers and how to combine offers for the deepest discounts. To navigate these content-heavy sites, search for match-ups by store. For example, The Krazy Coupon Lady's Target page currently lists coupon deals for the Sept. 11 weekly ad, including deals like 50 percent off Kraft shredded cheese and 25 percent off M&M's Halloween bags of candies.

3. Seek out peelies, blinkies, Catalinas and tear pads. Among all the coupons available to consumers, none are as easy as those affixed to -- or located next to -- the actual products for sale. Referred to as peelies, blinkies, Catalinas and tear pads, these coupons are like bonuses for shoppers. Peelies are coupons that literally "peel" off the product for redemption, with savings ranging from 50 cents to $2 off grocery and household items. Blinkies are manufacturers' coupons dispensed from small machines (with a blinking red light) located near featured products, and redeemable at any store with that product. Catalina coupons print alongside shopping receipts, featuring savings on products identical or similar to items from the current transaction to be used for a future purchase. Tear pads are affixed to store shelves near products and, like Blinkies, can be used at most stores selling that product.

To take advantage of these savings, coupons must first be noticed and then presented at checkout for redemption.

[See: 11 Expenses Destroying Your Budget.]

4. Pay attention to sale cycles. Whether you're shopping for groceries or a wardrobe update, knowing the best time to buy is key to saving money and getting more value from couponing. The Labor Day holiday, for example, often features sale and clearance prices on summer staples including clothing, shoes, patio furniture and grills, most of which are available for an extra 25 percent off with coupons from various stores. DealNews.com is a great resource for "best time to buy" guides, offering helpful information on the amount of savings consumers can expect on specific products and items to avoid.

5. Review store policies and coupon fine print. One of the roadblocks to making couponing a part of shopping routines is the discouragement (and often embarrassment) experienced when a coupon is rejected. This can be avoided by reading the fine print on the coupon as well as reviewing store coupon policies. Some coupons require the purchase of two or more items to be redeemed, while others exclude specific products or brands from the savings.

Coupon policies can work in favor of consumer budgets, however, especially for online shopping. For example, Kohl's, Victoria's Secret and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores accept more than one coupon code per online order, meaning a shopper can apply a code for free shipping as well as 20 percent off the order. Shoppers with store credit cards can typically combine rewards vouchers with coupon codes for increased savings, while browser add-ons, such as Honey, aggregate coupon codes for shoppers and automatically apply them at checkout.

Kendal Perez is a spokeswoman for CouponSherpa.com, a popular source for online, in-store and mobile coupons. She also blogs at Hassle-Free Savings and enjoys yoga, decluttering, craft brew and obsessing over her dogs.

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