Throughout the month of September we will be sharing coupon saving tips and ideas every day. So check back daily for a new and exciting money saving tip all Coupon Month.
Share a money-saving coupon tip with us by emailing us. Your tip may be featured in a future post.
30 Days of Savings Tips
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If you’re just revving up to starting clipping and redeeming coupons, you need a firm foundation. And those whimsy according-style holders will only inspire a few choice words before encouraging you to quit. Get going on the right foot with a proper binder—it’s like learning to run with a solid pair of Nike shoes.
- sturdy 1″ or 2″ binder with pockets
- pencil pouch
- tape and sharpie or heading labels
- college-ruled paper
- plastic baseball card inserts (5-10)
- thick plastic page protectors (3-5)
The biggest drawback to traditional coupon books is the difficulty of sifting through each category of coupons as they are impossible to view at once. With this coupon binder system you won’t need to hunt and peck with mounting anxiety at checkout:
- Put calculator, scissors, and pen into the pencil pouch. The pen is dedicated to this binder alone—no wandering hands may snatch it for other creative endeavors!
- Insert baseball card pages followed by page protectors and then blank paper at the back.
- As you cut coupons, slide them into the baseball card inserts with the product information and expiration date showing. Display coupons on both sides of the plastic insert and place multiples behind each other. If you’re new to couponing it will be much harder to have a good idea of what categories you’ll need, so I recommend waiting to label your plastic inserts until you have a body of deals saved.
- Insert store circulars into the page protectors behind the coupon pages. Circle the deals you’re interested in so you have a clear idea of which store offers what deals.
- Match up the store circular sales with your coupons on the blank paper and then create a meal plan based on the coupons and sales available. Unless you write down what you’ll eat for the week, you won’t remember about the acorn squash and it will spoil.
- Over the course of three months, compile a “common price list”; the average, non-sales prices of the foods and products you buy. Write five or six products every trip to not overwhelm yourself. Type the list and stick it in your binder to remind your brain that the bright yellow sales sign might not save as much as it claims.
- Set a date each month to clear out your expired coupons.
That’s it! Get it set up while you help junior with his school binder and you’ll be well on your way to living like a coupon queen!
An alternative to making your own coupon binder system is buying one for $24+shipping from Save at Home Mommy.
If your initial reaction to $1 of diapers is “Big deal!” with an eyeroll, you don’t really understand the maximum potential of your deal. Don’t trot off to the store that day and blindly buy a box to redeem your measly $1 off. Master couponers, those folks who make the news when they score two carts of groceries for $8.75, always wait for an item to go on sale before parting with the coupon. That same $1 off diapers will quickly turn into $5 with some patience and attention. Let’s follow their lead!
Rule #1: Never use a coupon unless your product is on sale.
After you have a healthy supply of coupons, make it your goal to only use your coupon when the store marks the item down (meaning below the average price of the product with a sale). But when do my Kashi crackers go on sale? There is a definite pattern to markdowns and you’ll find it for your favorite stores if you start paying attention. Make a list of all the products you buy and note when they bingo at the store.
Rule #2: Always collect multiple coupons.
When a deal is too good to pass up, you want to be able to buy as many as possible, so long as the product doesn’t expire. Let’s say your family consumes around 4 boxes of Cheerio’s each month. And, lucky you, they are reduced to $1.99 at Walgreens this week. If you’ve collected eight 75¢ off coupons, buy two-month’s supply for $9.92 instead of $23.92 at full price ($2.99/box). Whamo!
Rule #3: Combine manufacturer’s coupons with store coupons.
If you subscribe to the newspaper (a wise move for staying connected to your community and getting great coupon deals), it most likely includes a manufacturer insert during one day of the week. Proctor & Gamble, who produces products like Tide and Dawn dish soap, as well as other big players offer separate coupons that you may redeem in conjunction with store coupons. Call your local paper to get the skinny on manufacturer inserts.
Rule #4: Never buy something just because you have a coupon.
Enough said. If your rationale for spending is, “I might just need that someday”, you’re well on your way to staring in a TLC special edition on hoarders. Grandma was famous for finding entire children’s outfits for under $2…three sizes smaller than the recipient! Your family doesn’t want to stage an intervention, so nip that greedy voice in the bud.
Coupons are confusing. Let’s think about why that might be. Grocery store makes a generous coupon offer of $1 off bread. Sounds straightforward. But then the yellow sign posted next to bread says 4/$8. Below the big, bold money-off offer it states that you may use one coupon per purchase.
Do you need to buy 4 loaves to get the deal? Can I use my coupon with the store’s sale? Should I ask the cashier to ring up two separate purchases so I can use two coupons? You grab one loaf and maybe decide to save your coupon until you do a bit more research, or at least not risk a scene at the register. And then you’ll also buy a cartload of groceries. Who’s the winner in this scenario?
Coupon fine print is absolutely necessary to understand so you maximize your deals:
- Expiration Date
The only date listed on your coupon is the expiration date, or EXP. But it can’t hurt to ask if your store accepts expired coupons. Some do, some don’t. Stores are more likely to accept their own expired coupons as opposed to manufacturer offers.
- Cash Value
Don’t get any wise ideas—you can’t really make cash from coupons. The “1/20¢ cash value” only serves to fulfill laws in some states that require a printed value. This quirk started during the Depression recovery years when stores issued stamps for free merchandise after purchasing a certain amount (think spend $100 and get $10 subsequent purchase). Stores felt free to change the stamp qualification amount whenever it pleased them, so legislation stepped in to require a printed value. It means nothing to us today.
You can’t miss this part—it’s the largest, most bold print on the snippet. What you need to look at is any qualification—”with purchase of 2 (fill in the blank product) oz. (or minimum product size)”. This is where you might be able to get creative to take advantage of more savings. If you have $2 off Tide detergent, look to see if you have to buy a certain size. Then look to see which Tide jugs are on sale. If you aren’t limited to a minimum size, buy several of the smaller or sale item with several coupons and you’ll pay less per ounce. Every coupon is valid with sale merchandise, unless otherwise noted, and you do not need to purchase all 8 loaves to score the $2/loaf price.
- “One Coupon Per Purchase”
Rats. You have three coupons and want to use them now while the Fruit Loops are on sale. Oh well, just use it next time. Not so fast! This statement indicates that only one coupon may be used per product. Two coupons = two discounted products. Oh so sneaky! If wording indicates one offer “per transaction” or “per day” then you either need to make a separate purchase (former) or come back tomorrow (latter).
- Manufacturer’s Address
Stores collect coupons and actually mail them off to each manufacturer to receive money back for their discounted prices. Be very leery of any manufacturer coupon that doesn’t include a redemption address.
More inquisitive minds will get a kick out of decoding the coupon barcode, which has it’s own language, to help match coupons with their corresponding products. Also, be aware that the image photo shopped in your shiny coupon may not look exactly like what’s on your shelf—another potential distraction to confuse shoppers.
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If you have a computer and a printer you’re in perfect shape to beef up your coupon binder. Coupons are easy to print without having to plunk down a year’s worth of local newspaper subscription. Finding good coupons can be a real challenge, but make sure you broaden your coupon scope to include non-food items. Ever actually look at the price of razors or skyrocketing diaper costs? The internet has opened a wonderland of opportunities for deal diggers.
Keep these tips in mind before randomly Googling “coupons”:
- Sign up with an alternate email address. Don’t make the mistake of joining every coupons site and manufacturer newsletter list with your main mail account. Get another free account from Yahoo or Gmail and make that your “deal mail” address. Check it before you go shopping every week so you won’t be bombarded with ads on a daily basis.
- Access manufacturer coupons directly from the company. If you have a weak spot for uber-delicious, price-prohibitive natural products, get on their mailing list to receive promotions. I love everything Paul Newman makes—I don’t like what he charges. With coupons printed directly from his site I can eat my weekly splurge and pay for it too. The same goes for Kashi, Annie‘s, Earth’s Best, Odwalla, and many others. If you don’t see coupons directly available, join the mailing list or write to the company directly and ask them for coupons. Include your address.
- Pay special attention to non-perishable discounts online. Many of these for items like contacts, shampoo, and soaps offer giveaway prices in an effort to generate buzz about a new product. Most of us use shampoo and we wouldn’t mind switching to a new, much less expensive product for a few weeks. Don’t buy it again in three months when you need a refill, because you’ll probably pay far more for it. Sometimes the product bombs after a few months of dismal sales and is quickly ushered to the clearance aisle—if you’re smart, spend your coupon when it goes clearance and score big savings!
- Only print healthy grocery offers from coupon sites. Many great coupon sites exist to help fellow shoppers save cash on their food budgets. Included among the “$260 value” each week are random offers for free services or introductory products that aren’t deals at all. Stick to home, body, or food product coupons that are on your grocery list.
- Print food coupons from each grocery store site. You mean no more newsprint fingers? Bingo! Places like Kroger, Albertsons, A&P, and HEB post printable coupons directly on their sites—in fact, independent coupon sites pull from their coupons to compile their master lists. If you only shop at one store, this is your cheapest and easiest way to save without buying a newspaper subscription.
- Join a coupon site. If you’d rather someone else do the dirty online work for you, sign up for a coupon site. If you’re asked to pay anything in exchange for anything else, bail immediately! This is where your handy second email address comes in to play–many sites will send you daily updates if you subscribe. The easily overwhelmed among us can sign up as a user yet decline weekly/daily/hourly reminders of sales.
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Big retailers promote online buying in the form of better pricing. They like not having to lease space and keeping it stocked with a limited amount of product. Buying online allows them to reduce overhead while offering a bigger selection. It’s no surprise, then, that many of the store coupons for places like Macy’s, the Gap, and Foot Locker are offered for online purchases only. Your options for finding great brands, traditionally available only to bricks and mortar shoppers, have expanded exponentially with the advent of online outlets. Here’s a run-down of how to buy your favorite stuff online for less:
- Find jeans that make you look 20 lbs. lighter at, let’s say, 8 Eight Jeans. Fantastic! But you’ll half to collect every spare quarter in your metropolis to pay for that tiny hiney. Your total for two pair is more than your monthly food budget.
- 8 Eight Jeans has a huge selection of online shopping, including those kick-hiney jeggings. But so does the online outlet, Overstock.com. They’re last season and marked 65% less than this year’s skinny jean. Let’s go ahead and buy two pair using a coupon in the process.
- Add awesome denim to your shopping cart, specifying size and wash, and click on checkout. Most sites require you to type all billing and shipping information before inputting the “promo code”.
- Near the last few stops in checkout (in hope that the shopper forgets she had a coupon code to begin with) type the promotional code next to “coupon code” or “promotional code”—sometimes there’s a field displayed and sometimes you must check a small box in order to type the code. In this case, we get free shipping with a minimum order of $75 or more with our coupon.
- Check out and wait patiently by the mailbox.
With our free shipping coupon code (just one of many types of online promotions), our ridiculous close out price, and zero tax, we paid $79.98 for our two pair of jeans, which is vastly more appealing than hauling yourself and your dependents to fight the mall for $264. Score high style with a low price using online coupon codes and closeout offers in tandem.
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Free shipping or 10% off purchase total—which one to choose at checkout? At many stores you can have your cake and eat it too! It is not a widely advertised fact that many retailers offer customers to input more than one coupon code per purchase. So rather than placing two orders and paying double in shipping, you can roll your deals into one purchase. Shopping at merchants like Victoria’s Secret, Kohls and Newegg, which allow shoppers to use multiple codes, can save you a lot more money. Let’s look at the nuts and bolts of these online merchants:
At Kohls.com feel free to use two coupon codes on any order, so long as one of the codes is for a percentage off and the other is for free shipping. In other words, no 15% off promotion may be paired with another for 20% off. To use multiple coupon codes in the same order, enter one code at a time and then click apply after each. Click here for a resource that has both coupon codes for free shipping and % off promotions. Next time you place an order at Kohls give it a double take to save even more!
Shoppers can use up to three (yippee, three!) Victoria’s Secret coupon codes in a single order. As far as we know there are no restrictions related to combining the same type of coupons in your order. Look for Victoria’s Secret coupons in catalogs, their web site, emails, text messages, stores, promotional mailings and coupon websites. Some online coupon codes may only be redeemed alone, so read the fine print before piling up your shopping bag.
Computer and electronics retailer Newegg.com allows shoppers to use up to 5 promo codes in a single order. Before you technofy your entire house, keep in mind that each promo code must be for a different item in your shopping cart. That means no stacking coupons. For example, a customer will not get both a 20% off and a $5 off discount on one item. The first code entered will be the one that applies and customers will return an error message that the second promo code did not work.
Other online retailers that allow you to use multiple coupon codes in the same order include Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy. Since Amazon works with multiple sellers you may be able to use more than one promotion for separate items in your shopping cart. Pay special attention to free shipping promotions with online merchants—if you’re able to take advantage of complimentary delivery, place two separate orders with two different promo codes.
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After your house payment, the second highest bill is…food! Unless you’ve committed a ridiculous amount of money to car payments, what you stick in your mouth eats up a huge chunk of cash each month. But unlike insurance, transportation, or cable, you have a lot of wiggle room with your food budget.
Finding coupons may be an intimidating hurdle to your frugal lifestyle. Since the recent boom in coupon usage over the last two years coupons are becoming more difficult to redeem and use within expiration. I Love Coupon Month has the inside scoop on where to find the best coupons for your shopping cart:
- Manufacturer Inserts in the Newspaper
In my neck of the woods, big name manufacturers like Proctor & Gamble and Red Plum roll out coupon fliers every two weeks on Wednesday. Each local publication varies, so call your ads representative at the paper to get accurate information. These promotions are far more awesome than many store coupons–they have longer expiration periods and are for many of your favorite, name-brand products like Crest, Nutrigrain, and Yoplait.
- Store Specific Inserts
In addition to offers directly from the manufacturer, grocery and pharmacy stores also scatter coupons through their weekly ad inserts. You will have to hunt them down with a magnifying glass, but it’s worth it! Most are placed inconspicuously throughout each page in no apparent order. Stores like Walgreens and CVS usually offer more clippable coupons than their grocery counterparts.
- Receipt Coupons
Take a moment to breathe and reflect after before peeling out of the Kroger parking lot. Have you ever looked at the coupons printed with your receipt? They’re for products that you just purchased (or similar products by a different manufacturer). These deals also have lengthier expiration dates. I scored $10 off a can of Enfamil formula on my last Target grocery run.
- Magazine Coupons
Some of the biggest discounts are found in magazines like Women’s Day and Ladies’ Home Journal. Since most products promoted here are new, you can grab big bargains on hot buys for less. This does not, however, give you license to subscribe to a mound of bathroom material! Just keep an eye out and clip with courtesy.
- Digital Coupons
Make your data package do some work for you! Download store coupons directly from Kroger and others. Here’s the caveat: you’ll forget which coupons you have for each product! Keep a list of digital offers you have on your card and check them off as you use them. More on how this process works tomorrow!
- Mailout Coupons
Provided that your store card address matches where you live, your grocery store will send coupons on products that you buy. And they are fantastic $1 and $2 off discounts. So easy and subscription free!
Keep the rollbacks rollin’ on this September! Stay tuned tomorrow to I Love Coupon Month’s insider tips on how to load digital coupons to your grocery store card.
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If your brain can’t handle remembering to grab the coupon binder along with your reusable bags, diaper bag, and grocery list, join the club! Harried grocery shopper; meet the digital coupon.
Historically, your store savings card has served two purposes–to offer savings for repeat customers while tracking purchases to inform manufacturing needs. Shoppers with loyalty cards can also take advantage of double and triple coupon events. But you, the savvy shopper, must be aware that not all “discounted” store card sales are actually less than at another grocer. And there’s a certain amount of privacy you surrender when swiping the card.
Big Brother concerns aside, several stores have started offering another component to their loyalty cards…digital coupons downloaded directly to your card! Here’s the most effective way to maximize this attractive, paperless savings program at your favorite store:
- Get a store card.
Head over on a non shopping trip to sign up for a loyalty card. How much does it cost? Nothing! What’s the catch? The systems that track purchases look for patterns in your shopping. But I only go to Kroger once a month? There are still patterns in your randomness and the computer finds them to stock the store appropriately. And you get to take advantage of the savings program that comes along with it. The store will want your address, phone number, and email. Read each form carefully–if you don’t want to be contacted via email, indicate it on the form. In less than a minute you’re done!
- Register your card online at home.
Head to Safeway, Kroger or another store that offers digital coupons and register the numbers on the back of your card with your zip code, email, and password. You have the options to add email and mail out coupons to the address you input on your. Many of the mail out deals are for big savings off products I use, so I’d recommend signing up. The information in the weekly circular is the same as the email notification, so pick your method and stick to it.
- Download coupons on your account.
Each site is different, but most have a “My Account” page that reviews the weekly ad and promotions at your preferred store. Under “My Account” look for “My Coupons” or something similar. At Kroger’s site it’s listed in the left column. Safeway has both store and manufacturer coupons available to load on your card. Then “click here to add to your card” and you’re done! Almost.
- Make a list.
Something smells a bit funny here. My coupon binder has easily visible offers with clear expiration dates displayed. What does your bar code tell you about the coupons you have? Absolutely nothing. You are less willing to use a coupon when you can’t see it, and you bet it’s a ploy to get Generic Shopper to pay full price. This is why, whether you clip or download, it’s imperative to make a list and highlight items that have a digital coupon. Since you’ll also have printed and clipped coupons, demarcate paper coupon items with another color. If you have a smart phone you can poke around a little in the store, but you can waste a good amount of time sifting through pages of coupons. Use your store account to make a solid list ahead of time. It doesn’t take more than 20 minutes to get your act together.
- Test it, if you’re nervous.
Run in for five minutes and buy something you need and have a digital coupon for to try it out.
There’s a lot of potential to this system. Many accounts allow shoppers to add sale and other items to a digital shopping list (print it or email to your helpful husband). A couple other items to consider before jumping in:
- Kroger allows a limit of 150 coupons per card at one time.
- Safeway shoppers may add store coupons and P&GeSaver coupons.
- Expired coupons are automatically deleted.
- Coupons are redeemed with other store promotions.
- Digital coupons may not be used with printed offers, unless otherwise noted.
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Just why does your bill soar over $100 every week? You walk into the store like a sitting duck with nothing, and then buyer’s remorse sets in as you load up the checkout dreadmill. If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail. Here’s why your cart is a mess and what you can do about it:
- There are items in the cart you didn’t intend to buy.
Your first lesson to learn in Smart Shopping 101 is to shop with a list, no ifs, ands or buts. Do not set one foot in the store without a hard copy, either in hand or on your phone. Sit in your car outside and do it there. Better yet, keep a running tally of needs.But it’s not enough to have a list, you must see it as the full enchilada, not the just bare bones to jumpstart your shopping–if a food doesn’t make the cut, it doesn’t go in the cart.Be ruthless about disciplining your shopping sprees for a few weeks and you’ll be a seasoned list maker in no time. Shopping with a list will slash your bill considerably.
- You buy too much perishable food.
Oh, the vibrant veggies, fragrant nectarines, juicy meat cuts! Pile it on higher and higher and…you’ll be tossing those same beauties in the trash after a few days. Freeze all but two meats and only buy for, at the most, one week of fresh produce. Save money and waste less.
- The convenience foods are conveniently expensive.
Who really wants to chop a pineapple? Or julienne carrots? Sure it’s easier to buy the frozen dinners and pre-cut produce, but is it worth paying 30-60% more for it? Knives are those long, sharp metal things Aunt Mildred gave you for your wedding. Use them.
- Junior’s gotta-haves take up half the cart.
Learn how to gently say no to your children. And if they explode in a fiery mass of tantrum, calmly wheel your cart to the front and let the store manager know you’ll be back in a few minutes. Recover outside with Junior or have someone pick him up. If you give in, just that one time, to a demand for Hot Cheetos, the next trip will be even worse. Sure, other people are looking at you to do something, but that something is not to give in. Be a grown up and set loving limits.If you can at all help it, don’t shop with little kids. You’ll be saving a lot of sanity if you go after their bedtime. I’d even give up an hour of sleep to do it! There are so many lessons to learn by grocery shopping–math, economics, list making–but you yourself need some solid training first without the distraction of public meltdowns and sticky hands.
- You shop without a meal plan in mind.
What’s on the menu tomorrow night? If you don’t know, figure it out before shopping. Without a clear list and meal plan, you’ll pay close to 40% more for non-necessities and spoilage. But that robs the spontaneity of life! I’d rather be spontaneous on a beach with the money I save from meal plan shopping.
- When unloading at home, you notice five of the same thing you just purchased.
How did I not notice I had seven cans of mushroom soup and then bought two more? Unless it’s a steal and you have coupons on top of it, stockpiling isn’t a smart idea. That’s a lot of green bean casserole to choke down. Shop your own pantry while making a meal plan before trekking off to the store.
- You’re forced to pay full price for expensive items you need immediately.
With goods like diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, and detergent, be proactive and only buy on sale with coupons. Hang on to your printed deals until the store starts a promotion and then redeem. This is where it can’t hurt to stockpile.
- You buy with plastic money.
Your cart is busting with stuff you don’t need because you don’t really have to “pay” for it. You swipe a small rectangular object through a box and forget about it. Grocery shop with cash only and you’ll be forced to stick within your budget.
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Whether you clip the circular every week have no clue what a coupon is, you absolutely must, without a shadow of a doubt, find a coupon for these crazily expensive must-haves. Don’t even venture to the store without one!
Appliances are always on sale! Don’t even use the word sale, because that price tag above the “new, reduced!” number is anything but list price. Bright yellow signs simply sell things better. What you need to look at is the total price including tax and installation (if needed). On top of holiday sales and Energy Star rebates note that many companies like Best Buy also mails coupons for Reward Zone Members, which can save 10-15% extra. Keep an eye on Friends and Family discounts throughout the year.
- Oil Changes
A standard run-of-the-mill oil change will set you back $39.99, or more depending on your neck of the woods. Many dealerships and local oil joint spots send coupons in the mail for $16.99 or $19.99 specials–some even include tire rotation. Be careful when you go in to resist the up-sell. Sometimes your filter needs to be replaced and your system flushed, but not every visit.
Computers are like appliances. The slashed price is rarely what any shopper pays. The “good deal” is regular price. If you are a student with a valid ID, many companies like Apple and Dell offer periodic 10-15% off specials (usually at the beginning of the school semester). Beware of “coupons” issued in the form of store gift card! You need a laptop. Not a laptop and $100 toward a 50″ flat screen.Another great time to buy is right after an updated model rolls out. Nobody wants last year’s body style, even though the average user doesn’t need much more than an office suite, photo storage, and stable operating system.
Your best bet for buying computers is online with a promo code. Deals abound every day of the year, but for huge discounts look to November and December. Cyber Monday (November 27, 2010) participants will offer huge discounts for tech purchases. Or if your looking for to give a computer as a Christmas gift look for deals on Free Shipping Day.
- Natural Foods
If you’re a sucker for organic crackers and minimally processed grains, you need to grab a coupon from the manufacturer. Many Paul Newman, Auntie Annie, and Stonyfield Farms products have click and print coupons. The small manufacturers have greater rewards and easy access, unlike the bigger brands, making the price between traditionally and synthetically grown foods competitive. If you’re willing to take an extra three minutes to print a coupon.
The markup on razor heads is close to 300%. With the price of a package of 4 cartridges running $7 or more, you literally can’t afford to shop without a coupon. The best place to buy razor heads is your local pharmacy. CVS and Walgreen’s regularly offer coupons in conjunction with sales, which can bring down the total price considerably.
- Clothing Purchased Online
The most deals you’ll find for clothing are online, especially in the coupon arena. Yes, you need to give the jeans a test run (and most online stores still charge for return shipping). So go to the Gap or wherever, squeeze into your single digit size and give it a few squats and lunges. If the bill fits, order it online with your coupon and free shipping code. Customers who sign up for the mailing list will get additional deals in the mail, but it’s much easier to find deals online.
When new parents have baby showers they request fuzzy blankets and cuddly toys. But after second, third, and fourth babies spring into the picture, these same mommies and daddies beg for diapers. Forget Baby Einstein! That poop factory needs an airtight seal. Next to formula feeding, disposable diapers suck up the majority of baby funds.In the past Pamper’s has been a bit stingy with issuing diaper coupons, but they are now much more competitive with Huggies (especially while promoting their new Drymax diaper line). Looking inside the plastic packaging for coupon inserts (usually for $1-$2 dollars) and pair those deals with sales. Also check Walgreen’s and CVS pharmacy coupons to use with your manufacturer coupon. You’ll save $4-$8 off a box of diapers with combo coupons and store sales.