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You've been behind them in the grocery store--the savvy shopper who starts with a bill of $49.21 and after giving the checker the coupon ends up paying $7.04. You wonder how they do it and if you can do it too.

I have heard such people called coupon guerillas and black belt shoppers. I prefer to call them (actually because I am one) coupon scientists because it takes systematic planning to consistently save more than 50%.

KNOW YOUR STORES AND YOUR COMMUNITY

To maximize your savings, you need to know how coupons are traded in your community. You need to know when flyers and coupons come out so you can make best use of them. You can ask a coupon veteran for all that information.

Here in Los Angeles, for example, I know that supermarket sales go from Wednesday through Tuesday. I know that sale flyers generally come out on Tuesday or Wednesday and that coupons come out on Sundays.

Additionally, I find that stores have ads in the main part of the paper that work with the coupons in the Sunday supplement

I know there are two chains that double coupons up to $1.00. I know which store does the best job of timing their sales to coincide when the coupons come out.

Learning these patterns for your community will help you make the best use of the coupons.

GET EXTRA COUPONS FOR ITEMS YOU USE REGULARLY

Find out when the coupon supplements come (on Sundays in most locations). In some cities, they come only to home-delivered papers. In others, coupons come in street-sold papers as well.

It is helpful to find a way to get multiples of coupons you use regularly. That way you won't have to buy very often at full price. Some people trade coupons.

If you have a donut shop or fast food outlet near you, often you can get extra coupons if you go there on Sunday. I have a particular bagel shop I often go to on Sundays and almost always find extra copies of the coupon supplement in a basket in the shop. They are more than happy to give me copies of the supplement.

Also, in my condo complex, people put papers out in an area for recycling and many of us go through them for coupons.

On an exceptionally good week, you can even buy an extra copy of the newspaper if that newspaper has coupons in street-sold copies.

TIME YOUR PURCHASES AROUND COUPONS AND SALES

Right now I have in my freezer six packages of the soy burger substitute I regularly use. It will probably take me more than a month to use them.

Why did I buy so much? Because last week it was on sale for $2.59 instead of its regular price of $3.65. I had several dollar off coupons for that item and thus ended up getting several packages of a $3.65 item for 59 cents. Do this regularly and the savings really add up.

In order to do this, you need to stock enough of the non-perishables that you use regularly so that you don't run out.

When I go through the coupons, I don't just think about what I am almost out of or what I want to buy. I think about what items are available for the best price now.

I have found that most coupons run in cycles and appear about every six to twelve weeks. I plan my purchases accordingly.

You'll want to find an organized way to store your coupons. Since I use most of the coupons relatively soon after I receive them, I just put the extras in a ziplock bag. Many people develop a filing system. You can buy coupon holders. Some are even for sale in the coupon supplements.

DON'T GET CARRIED AWAY

It's easy to get carried away and buy a lot of items you don't need or want. You may buy too many of a perishable item and end up throwing away a large portion of it. You may end up buying something that you and your family don't really like, but because it's such a good deal, you buy it anyway.

USE COUPONS TO BE CHARITABLE

In every community there are charities in need of food. Most are very worthwhile. You can stretch your giving dollar by using couponing to buy goods that you donate.

My church, for example, runs a food cupboard. When I see coupons that save me 75% or more on items that I don't regularly use, I will often buy those items on sale and set those items aside to bring to the food cupboard. I also have written up a guide teaching food cupboard participants to coupon.

I give my baby item coupons to a family I know that is having a difficult time financially and finds the coupons really helpful for the large number of diapers they need each week.

Couponing can easily save a family of four $40 or more a week. That's $2,000 or more a year. Develop a system that works for you and you'll find that you can garner those savings without spending a great deal of time on it.