Thursday, June 4, 2009

Coupon Basics, Tips & More!

If you're a newbie couponer, then I'm guessing you may feel a tad bit overwhelmed! I actually feel overwhelmed half the time and I've been couponing for a while. When I started out I jumped full force in to this great hobby! I collected and clipped every single coupon, went shopping all the time and tryed to snag every single deal. Well, I definitely learned my lesson because after a few months I was tired and burnt out.

The point I'm trying to make is that it's alright to NOT clip every coupon and NOT snag every deal. When you're started out it's best to take baby steps and slowly ease in to what will work best for you. As I've said before, couponing is like learning to read a book. It takes time and patience, but it's well worth it in the end... and once you're a coupon diva, there is NO turning back!

Here are a few little tips I wish I had known when I first started using coupons:

Don't feel like you have to clip or save every single coupon. There are so many coupons available, so to clip and save all the coupons you find will take way too much time and definitely make you feel overwhelmed. Plus, what I found happened is that I had huge pile of expired coupons on a monthly basis. If you have lots of expired coupons leftover, then that means one thing, you're clipping and/or saving too many!

When clipping coupons ask yourself these questions- Will my family use this product? If we can snag it for free will we use it? Can we donate it? If you answered no to all those questions, then don't save the coupon.

Do NOT feel you have to use every single coupon you clip right away. This is what the manufacturers want you to do. If you use a coupon when a product is not on sale, then you're usually not getting a good deal at all. In fact, it's most likely less expensive in this situation to buy the store brand. So wait for a sale and then use a coupon or better yet use lots of "like" coupons to start stockpiling!

Building up a stockpile is the biggest key in my opinion to really seeing a HUGE reduction in your grocery bill! When an item is on sale and you have a coupon for it, then STOCK UP. I don't mean by 3... I means buy as many as you have coupons for. If that's 10, then great. The more you stock up, the less likely you're ever going to have to pay full retail price again. Once you build a well rounded stockpile you'll really only need to spend money on produce, milk and any other perishables.

Most of the time it's best to buy the smallest product you can find and pair it with a coupon. When I first started using coupons I did not realize this. I would buy the biggest bottle of Laundry detergent, the family size shampoos and conditioners and then wonder why my bill hadn't really gone down. Lots of times the smallest size products will be FREE after the coupon! Free is FREE and regardless if the product is smaller- it's still FREE! If you have lots of coupons and buy enough of the smaller items, then soon enough it will add up to the larger item... BUT you will have paid a lot less! I always do this with travel/trial size products. As long as the coupon doesn't exclude travel size, then you can use the coupon. I actually have a basket in my shower filled with travel size shampoos, conditioners and body wash. I LOVE getting to change up the products I use on a daily basis and with no cost at all to me!

Do you all have any advice you'd give someone just starting out?
Any great tips?


Shopping Frugal said...

Thanks for the article. Same thing happened to me when I 1st started couponing... I would buy EVERYTHING (even if I didn't need it, I would give it away) and try to snag every deal and if I didn't I would be upset. You then learn it's ok, and that the deal will probably come back again. (lots of the same coupons over and over again and someone will have a good deal)

I do have a stockpile but not super crazy as I don't have the space. Plus I hate when I go the store and everything is already sold out so I try to leave some for other couponers.

Anonymous said...

How do you do your Q's? How do you store them? How do you keep up with & know what you have? Where & how do you get all your Q's and can we get them too? How do you do everything? WE ARE NEW AT THIS & NEED YOUR WISDOM!!!! PLEASE HELP!!!
Thank you for all that you do!
p.s. We all got our Sonic floats!

The Davidson's NC

Anonymous said...

The single greatest thing it took me a few months to figure out -- on Sunday, when you get your SmartSources and Red Plums, mark the date on them in big black Sharpie. Trust me on this!

Heather said...

My question about marking the dates on inserts and referring back to them is this: If you don't clip them and have them in a notebook or something, how do you have them on-hand when you need them? I have a big notebook I keep all of mine in so that if I'm at a store and see a great deal I didn't plan to get, I still have my coupon on hand to snag the deal. I understand it would help just to be able to refer back to the insert instead of flipping page after page of my notebook trying to find the coupon I'm after, but I still don't understand how you have it when you need it if it's not already clipped! Does that make any sense?

fran said...

My suggestion is instead of purchasing a lot of newspapers every Sunday, ask your neighbors and your family to save the coupon inserts for you...we all use coupons, but you'd be surprised at how many people don't use them...this way, this will cut down on your out of pocket expense. Just keep in mind, there will always be a deal, so if you miss big deal, there is always another right around the next corner. When you are new to couponing, you think you have to get everything, all the really don't...and as Shopping Frugal said, it's nice to leave some on the shelf for others.

I used to always cut what I knew I would use or thought I might use...then I tried doing it where you don't clip until you need them. I guess you have to try both and see which one works for you. I still clip what I know I will use. I find I like clipping them when I first see it...this way you will have a picture in your head that you have that coupon. I take 2 boxes with me when I go grocery shopping...file them into categories....I even have sections for each store, and as I get a coupon that I know I will use at that store, I just put it in that category.
This might not sound like much, but when you are going through your coupon inserts, and you come across a page that doesn't have any coupons on it (just advertisements), throw it away right away...that way, you don't have to keep flipping a page with nothing on it...this will save a little bit of time....O.H.I.O. (only handle it once)

Rhonda said...

If you have children/family members old enough (or capable) of helping with the task of coupon management (cutting, sorting, filing), let them! My kids started helping when they were around 7 (now 13 and 16). They both will clip internet coupons if they see the sheets on top of the printer. They can be coerced into culling expired coupons (not their favorite task). I file. Always.


Amanda said...

This exact same thing happened to me, this is great advice for people just starting out. I ended up running out to get these really great deals that were posted, only to find the coupons wouldn't work, the prices were different, not on sale, etc. and it can be frustrating. Not to mention that I had stuff I don't usually buy or use, how is that a savings? I hope everyone reads your article! Now I do what I can, stock up with sales and coupons, and don't need anything except perishables; at the same time, a much calmer life!

mommyhastowork said...

Thanks for the information. I also felt like Shopping Frugal. Right now I'm trying to keep them by inserts, but I may try another way soon. It's good to hear everyone give their ideas.

Kaitlyn said...

I have only been couponing for 2 months now. I do have a good stash of coupons. If you are just starting out I think the best way to keep organzied is by a plastic coupon holder at Staples (the accordian style... paper rips). On the tabs write in your categories... health/beauty, drugs, frozen, dairy etc.) Seperate it the way YOU like it to be. Then when I clip coupons I organize them by category AND I just started putting them in to ABC order... takes a few extra minutes at home but so much faster at the store which is what you would probably prefer. I also paperclip categories in categories... as in... in my health/beauty category I have paperclipped all toothpastes/mouthwashes together... hair products together, makeup together etc. That way when you find a good clearance deal on Herbal Esscense shampoo for example you know exactly what category and paperclip to find it!!! Saving inserts causes too much flipping around and finding and memorizing which ones you have. The only good thing is that when you see a deal posted usually Hip2Save and others post it as SS 4/15 or something... I figure... I know if I got the paper on that date or not... if I did then I should have the coupon and if I already used it then obviously I don't.

I hope that all makes sense. Oh, and the first few weeks you will want to buy every deal you see. For some I say go for it... it may not be as cheap as the diva couponers get it for but it is still cheap for you rookies. Like everyone says... get a good stockpile base... once that happens it all becomes easy as pie to maintain and grow! At first I thought $1.50 was awesome for toothpaste... then realized I could get it for 50cents then, Free, then this week Rite Aid will be paying ME in the end to take it out of the store. Ok, so now I have 10 toothpastes in house but now I can wait until they come around FREE again before I go get any more. Just remember, like with anything it takes practice, time and patience. You can't learn to cook overnight and you can't learn to coupon either!


Anonymous said...

1.Figure out an organization system for your coupons.
2. Find a mentor or friend who already “coupons.”
3. Look for a coupon forum that organizes deals by stores.
a. My favorite now is They have literally EVERY store in the country listed (I think).
b. These forums post the store ads in advance and then everyone piles in to post coupon match ups, rebates, etc. (There is another section on this web dedicated to posting legit online coupons).
c. What I do is WAIT until the day before or first day of the sale for the store(s) I want to check out. Then whalla! Everyone else has already scouted and matched coupons, deals, etc. (As you become a veteran, you can also post match ups and other deals! I sometimes do this too, but I work full time and often have good intentions but not enough time).
d. I sift through and pick the deals I want. I used to hand write every deal on a note, but then sometimes I would get to the store and discover I missed something key, like where the coupon came from (i.e. printable, SS, etc), or I wrote down the wrong price, etc. So now, I simply copy and paste into a Word document, and print. You can always adjust the font / color / format, etc to your preference.
e. I put all my deals with matched coupons in envelopes by store. Sometimes though, I only have time to make the list or grab a few coupons. If that happens, I will simply pull the coupons in store.
f.Eventually, you may want to pick another forum to compare deals

Anonymous said...

4. Shopping
a.Since I work full time, I try to make stops on my way to / from work or other activities. I note the stores in the general area and try to work in a quickie whenever possible (this drives DH nuts, and would probably not work with kiddos). Also saves on gas mileage.
b. To start out, pick 1 store and SLOWLY add on. I picked CVS, because the ECB (extra bucks) are very easy to roll over (trust me, Walgreen’s is not one to start on!).
c. Develop a plan for your shopping trip. I usually grab a copy of the ad, and then get the items on my list, followed up by a quick stop by the clearance section. There are some stores where I know they constantly clearance items throughout the store, so sometimes I will make a quick run or 2 down the isles to watch for tags. If you find something on clearance in one store, odds are it will be on clearance in other stores of the same chain. So make a note of any of these items you want to snag (you can also post the info on forums for others to benefit).
d. As you select items, make sure the deal matches the advertised price. You can verify with the circular and/or shelf tags. Take a quick look at your coupons to make sure they match quantity, size, and are not expired.
e. Before you get to the register, have your coupons neatly stacked and your store card handy. I try to put coupons like $5.00 off $25.00 order first and any “problem” coupons last (like get one free coupons where the cashier has to manually enter the price, or coupons that may be hard to scan). You should also have your $ ready.
f. Be nice, very nice to your cashiers. It’s ok to be firm on using a coupon as it is intended, but you can still do so in a professional and courteous manner. Sometimes there are cashiers who insist something that is just not right. After I’ve been firm and still get the “NO” response, I usually say “OK” politely as possible, and ask them to void the items for the coupon(s) in question from the order. Depending on the situation, I will sometimes ask for a manager / supervisor instead. Most of the time I know that I can try it again later with another cashier or another store, so it’s not THAT big of a deal.
g. Be nice to other shoppers. If I have a cart full of stuff plus a million coupons, I will often let someone in line behind me go first, especially if they only have a few things. This will make them happier (even if they don’t take you up on it) and the cashier will likely not be as stressed about trying to “get through” your order and check out other customers.
h. Avoid shopping right before a store closes (or heading to the registers with a cart full of stuff). The cashiers will be very annoyed if they have to stay late in order to mess with your coupons.

Anonymous said...

5. Don’t be afraid to stockpile. My hubby and I are in a small apartment and we’ve had to be creative with our storage methods. Now, unless it’s absolutely our favorite brand / product, I try to keep no more than 1 year’s supply of each item on hand. Pay attention to expiration dates. Rotate older items to the front. Replace items in your stockpile if you get a brand you like more. Once you have a stockpile of at least 3 months worth, set a personal limit on the amount you are willing to spend to buy more of that item. For example, I know that I will get a new toothpaste every week – 2 weeks for free (sometimes get paid to buy), so I don’t pay for toothpaste – even if it’s a really good deal, like $.25, unless I want to pay to give it away. The only exceptions are if I need to use the item to build an order in order to use a $ off coupon ($5.00 of $25.00 order). Other items, like tampons, I’ve paid as much as $1.00 a box when my stash went below 3 months. But I wouldn’t pay $1.00 a box when I have a year’s worth stockpiled. You’ll have to determine these limits on your own. It took me about 3 months to grow my stockpile to a comfortable point. Now, I add on as I get free / really cheap items and as I decrease the stockpile.
6. Don’t be afraid to buy something you don’t need. If it’s free, you may find a rebate later on, allowing you to double-dip. This often happens to me about 1 in every 100 items or so – but it’s soo fun and soo worth it! You can always give the item away, which I often do.

Anonymous said...

ME AGAIN (previous 3 posts!)

7. Last piece of advice and in my opinion, the most important. Decide right away, why you want to coupon. What is your goal? Maybe it is saving money…perhaps you’re like me and you enjoy the perks of getting to shop (I really like to shop) without having to spend a lot of $. Whatever your vision, I recommend setting limits on the time you invest in this occupation. You’ll need to evaluate what your priorities are, and make decisions now that will help you honor those priorities. For me, my priorities are 1) God, 2) honoring and serving my husband, 3) other family, close friends, 4) commitments such as work, church, etc, 5) everything else (coupons fit in here). There are times when I have decided NOT to snag a deal, only because my DH is exhausted and really ready to go home, or I know I need to be home and fix a meal, or etc etc. I also decided not to skip church, work, or other activities to shop. I also decided that since God is my first priority, I want to honor Him with the way I coupon. So I don’t try to pass off a coupon that is expired or doesn’t match the sale, etc. I try to follow the “rules” for coupon usage in each store. This also means I need to be kind and courteous to those around me such as cashiers, and other shoppers. There was one time in particular, when I was in the middle of an intense shopping trip and some lady stopped me to ask a bunch of questions about coupons. I found myself getting increasingly internally annoyed as time was ticking by and the announcements kept coming over the speaker that the store was closing. Frustrating! I was not going to be able to finish my trip. This doesn’t mean I have to let people walk all over me, but it does mean for me that I need to be polite and as helpful as possible. Eventually, I excused myself from the conversation to wrap up before heading to the register. Your priorities will be your own, so you need to decide now what you want and align your day to day choices with those priorities as best you can. If you can, involve your spouse / children in the process.

christina - Richmond

Bonnie said...

I know that this suggestion is going to make some of you cringe, but you would be amazed at how many papers are thrown into paper recycle dumpsters. They only have paper in them so they really aren't gross and if you can find a couple to rotate between you can just visit when they are full and pick right off of the top. I have found that local retailers dump theirs that they don't sell and I can just pick up the pile that they dumped and pull the coupons right out fully in tack. This past week I ended up with 17 sets of inserts for $0. That makes for some great stockpiling! Also, if you decide to keep your inserts intact, marking the date on the front is a great idea and A Full Cup has a great "Unexpired Coupon List" done alphabetically so that you can find a coupon if you are looking for a specific one.

Mel said...

I clip every coupon, who wants to spend 10 minutes in the store looking thru stacks of coupons that you haven't cut to find something. That's just my opinion. I use the baseball card method and my binder seperated into sections, ie, baking, bread,dairy,condiments..etc. The most important lesson I learned is to stack coupons before you cut them. The first month I was cutting them all one by one and after a month I was like I have got to find a better way. Now I stack them and I can cut 10 of the same coupon at one time..that has saved so much time.

Ida said...

If I could go back to the beginning I would make a spreadsheat of everything that I shop for on a regular basis and take it with me shopping, find the best regular prices at each store and then have a best sales price colume that slowly as I find the good sales I would have an idea of when to stock up. I'm working on one of these now. If I had started out with one I think I could have saved my self alot of trouble with "bad deals" that were only great for thar particulare store.

Nicky said...

Thanks Christina - Long but helpful.

fran said...

Hey Christina, Finally I found someone who likes to "type" or "talk" more than me. It took me an hour to read your comment...just kidding:) Why did you do 4 different posts....wouldn't it let you keep typing?

Anonymous said...

Just wondering if you knew of any store coupons that truly do not expire or stores that accept expired coupons? I always save every Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons as they never expire despite what they state.

Craig and Brenda said...

Always check the date on everything when you are stockpiling, so that you don't get home with expired food!

Anonymous said...

Anon, Bed, Bath, and Beyond does take expired coupons, as you said, and they also take competitor's coupons. I have also found that our Dunkin Donuts takes expired coupons, but I don't really know if all do, since they are individually owned.
My Red Lobster also takes expired coupons.
My theory is "if you don't ask, you don't get" when you are visiting different stores, throw it out there and ask if they take expired coupons.

fran said...

The above post to Anon about expired coupons is from me. I clicked "publish your comment" before I added my name.

Tawanda! said...

Expired coupons also extend to entertainment. I found out that AMC Theatres will take their expired concession coupons. I enjoy popcorn (or some treat) while watching the movie, so I hand the coupon over with a smile, and sometimes the rep may ask a manager, but I've never had anyone say no. You can join their moviewatcher program and build up points to get free concession stand items or even a movie ticket.

Jen Pix said...

When I first started out stockpiling, I used a few coupons, but really tried to take advantage of the B1G1 deals. As the months went by I noticed I wasn't needing as much. Over time, I began using my coupons only when items were on sale -- making my coupons work for me.

As for filing my coupons, I use a binder with baseball/football card inserts. This method allows me to easily see while I'm in the store what I have so that I'm not trying to shuffle through a stack of coupons. I set aside the coupons I know I'll use, but we all know that sometimes there are unadvertised sales that we have a coupon for. :-)

I still have to talk myself out of deals every week, just because it's a deal. Every bargain bones within me has to be restrained.

I also read various blogs all week long, copy and paste them into a word document and then I do my shopping toward the end of the week, so that I'm not running out to the store every time I hear of a good bargain.

My greatest tip for a newbie is start somewhere, even a small savings is a savings. We are all in different walks of life and I would not expect everyone to put as much time and effort into couponing the way I do.

The Liechtys said...

Love the comment from the person who has 1 years' worth of stockpile!

1) GET RAINCHECKS - In cases where the shelf is cleared off, get a raincheck. Some rainchecks (CVS) never expire, others (Kroger) have an expiration such as one month. Sometimes you can just wait until a coupon comes along for that Free after ECB deal on your raincheck and turn it into a moneymaker.

2) RECYCLING BINS (as someone already mentioned)... I just peeked in one when I was dropping off some paper on Monday and pulled 3 inserts right off the top.

3) ENVELOPES - In addition to my regular coupon binders, I write the name of each store on a business envelope that I'd otherwise throw away...I add store-specific coupons or catalinas into the envelope and make lists for that store on the front of the envelope. That way I can keep a running idea of best deals/coupons I need to use at each store. Occasionally I start fresh with a clean envelope.

4) GIVE - While stockpiling is great, giving to others is such a blessing, for both you and them. The economy has been tough for many people so when getting excessive stuff for free...give to a shelter or find others who can use it.

5) TEACH OTHERS - Many people tell me they end up spending more and buying things they don't need when they shop with coupons. These newbies just need a little help learning HOW to coupon effectively. Take the time to share with them what you know about couponing.

Wheat said...

Thanks for all the tips! I have been couponing for just over 2 years now and it is such a fun, addicting habit!! It is still fun to learn though and see what others do that work for them.

As far as a spreadsheet that was mentioned, I have found this helpful - it lists prices of items and rates them depending on how good of a deal it is. Hopefully this helps someone!

And as always with couponing...YMMV!!

Anonymous said...

my post was REALLY long... so long in fact that I had to split it up - I eceeded the aharcter count

- Christina from Richmond

Wendy said...

This ? is a little off topic, but I am hoping you can help. Have you ever sent your expired coupons overseas to military families? I am sometimes saddened by the amount of coupons I throw away and would love for them to maybe get a second try somewhere else.

Davina said...

Im new to this so this may sound stupid.
How can you use more than one coupon (stockpiling?) when it says limit one coupon per purchase?

Anonymous said...

I had the same exact question... how can you use more than one coupon when it says only one allowed?? Thanks for all the advice!

Amber said...

Hello there,

So I am new at this coupon can you tell me...are you usually allowed to use a coupon for more than one item or do you have to have the same amount of coupons for each item? If so do you have to do these all in different transactions? Just confused on some of the posts it says but 8 and use the $3/1 coupon and you pay a total of $2 can you purchase all 8 items at once? Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Couponing seems like it has been around forever, but I don't know of many that use this wonderful helpful tool in our society! Most will say, oh, I don't have time...but you know, people MAKE time for their priorities and what they really WANT to do. And what I look forward to doing is saving as much money as I can from here on out, using coupons! And better yet, pairing it with a sale. Last night, as I was walking around I was passing many things on the shelf and finding myself saying, well, that is not on sale & I don't have a coupon for it, so I just didn't buy it! Saving money, in any form, can ultimately save your family lots of money down the road. For many different things. I am a stay-at-home Mom, and my husband's hours at his job have been cut since last Oct. So this is perfect timing for us! Last night I was in a hurry and didn't have the best plan 'scenario' w/me for what I needed to buy in CVS but I did save around $10 when it was all said and done. Previously, I would have walked in their and had NO savings! So, big change for me! Kuddos to you & keep it up!

dawn said...

If i am shopping and i have a coupon that is about to expire and the deal isn't that great or i do not need the product i just leave it on the shelf so the next person who need it can save a little. I am a coupon fairy!!!