Some tips from the military's extreme couponers.
• Gather weekly: Air Force wife Wendy Wendler gathers weekly for lunch with fellow couponers at the on-base child care center where she works. They trade stories on where they found their best deals and pass around unused coupons.
• Go old school: Don't forget sources such as the phone book and highway rest-stop travel pamphlets. When moving to a new area or going on leave, check with the local chamber of commerce for the welcome-wagon gift packet, often loaded with coupons.
• Get your instant verbal coupon: "Best piece of advice I can give any military family is never be afraid to ask this one question: Do you offer a military discount?" Wendler says. Even smaller stores that don't have a formal discount in place often will give you a discount on the spot.
• Mark your calendar: Coupons go even further during the commissaries' case lot sales in May and September. Also, look to maximize coupon savings at the big sales blitzes during back-to-school days, Halloween and the holiday season.
• Grab the new commissary loyalty card: Local commissaries soon will begin offering a new loyalty card program, says Defense Commissary Agency spokesman Kevin Robinson. The program will offer digital coupons that customers can download to their card through a dedicated website. You still will be able to use printed coupons at the commissary, but you won't be able to stack them with the digital deals. Look for announcements on the card later this year.
• Consider investing: Entertainment.com offers a traditional coupon book that sells for $35 for most metro areas, offering thousands of dollars in discounts. The book comes in a paper version as well as with a new mobile app.
• Take advantage of Groupon: Sure, Groupon and other online deal-collectors such as LivingSocial can be great for local off-base bargains. But don't forget you can sign up to get deals for other areas if you're getting ready to go on leave or move to a new duty station.
• Attention overseas shoppers: Those stationed abroad can redeem coupons at their commissaries up to six months after the expiration date.
Plus, introductory coupons for new products often have a much higher value but a much shorter shelf life, typically expiring within a week or two. With the six-month overseas extension, if you can get multiple copies of the coupon, you can get that great deal again and again.
Look for a steady supply of donated manufacturer coupons through on-base family support offices or the commissary itself, ask stateside family and friends to send you their unused coupons, or print your own from the Web.
• Shop strategically: "Strategic shoppers know that grocery savings begin with planning," says Coupon Mom blogger Stephanie Nelson, a former marketing insider for Procter & Gamble and Marriott. Start by planning meals around featured sale items at the commissary. Then add coupons from the newspaper, websites, Facebook and other sources.