Couponing 101

Welcome to the wonderful world of couponing!  Simply by cutting out a few pieces of paper from the Sunday inserts or from printed coupons, you can learn how to live comfortably on a budget without sacrificing some of your favorite foods, clothing items, or social events!  This post is specifically aimed at helping you understand what a coupon is and how to use it properly and the basics of how to coupon!

The 7 Coupon Commandments:

  1. You can only use a coupon once.  If you buy 5 bags of chips for $2 each and expect to use only one coupon for $1 off of 1 multiple times, the store will lose out on getting reimbursed the $4 for the four additional times you scanned the coupon since only one physical coupon will be redeemed.
  2. You cannot use more than one manufacturer coupon on one item.  You cannot buy 1 case of soda and use 3 manufacturer coupons on it.  Store coupons can be stacked with manufacturer coupons, but I will get deeper into that in a later post.
  3. You cannot copy a coupon.  Copying coupons is illegal, fraudulent, and can land you in jail or heavily fined.  DO NOT DO IT. If you want more of a specific coupon, please read my post about where to find “extra” coupons to help you score a deal.
  4. You can often ignore the picture on the coupon.  The manufacturer will often put a picture of one of the more expensive products on a coupon to make the consumer more apt to buying that specific product.  Therefore, READ what the coupon says and abide by that, as it will usually say “save $X.XX on ANY BrandX product,” which translates into any BrandX product qualifies for this coupon.  If the coupon states “save $X.XX on THIS BrandX Product,” you must buy the specific product listed in order to use the coupon correctly.
  5. You can use coupons on sale or clearanced items to score a better deal! If the cashier tries to tell you that you cannot use it, simply ask to see where that is stated in their coupon policy to clear it up quickly.
  6. You CANNOT use expired coupons, even if they scan!  Please consider sending any expired coupons you have to overseas military families who can use them up to 6 months after the listed expiration date.  Using expired coupons is fraudulent.
  7. You can use multiples of the same coupon in the same transaction, depending on what the coupon says.  Most coupons will either have a limit of the like coupons you can use in a transaction, or no limit at all.  Most Procter & Gamble product coupons typically say “Limit 1 coupon per purchase and 4 like coupons per transaction.”  Per purchase and per transaction are two completely different things.  “Limit one per purchase” means one coupon can be used on that one item.  “Limit four per transaction” means up to 4 of the same coupon can be used in the same shopping trip on 4 units of the product listed on the coupon. Clear as mud? Let me know if you need some more help understanding this.
5 easy steps to begin couponing:
  1. Find the best place for you to purchase newspapers or coupons and hold on to them until they expire.  Not all of the same coupons are distributed throughout the US, so they vary extremely by region.  You can pick up coupons locally through buying the Sunday paper, or seeing if any neighbors or friends would be willing to let you use them if they do not.  You can also get coupons through picking them up in the grocery store (these are called blinkies, tearpads, or peelies), magazines, brochures, clipping services, eBay, and through trading on deal forums.  I recommend looking for a preview of the coupons that will be in Sunday’s paper so you can know how many you want/need to buy.  More experienced couponers buy multiple papers so they won’t need to use a clipping service or have to trade with someone online.  
  2. Organizing your coupons is no easy task.  There are many ways to sort and organize them.  I personally use a binder system with dividers, but other couponers I know use a file box, compact file folder, or plastic baggies to hold their coupons.  You can sort them by item type, store aisle, or what insert or source they came from.  
  3. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  Planning your shopping trip ahead of time can save you some hassle at check-out.  I highly recommend printing out the coupon policy for every one of your favorite stores so you know if they have a limit on coupons as well as how they handle any doubling or tripling.  Find your store’s ad online if you do not have it in print to check out any weekly specials and if any prices have changed for the items you want/need.  Make a list of which items you plan to buy, the price of the item, as well as what coupon goes with it so you can roughly figure out your subtotal to make sure that you don’t have overage from too many coupons (most stores won’t pay you the difference, so I suggest getting “fluff” items to cover any overage you get)
  4. Shop ’till you drop!  Be sure to bring your coupons with your list.  I usually bring my entire binder with me just to make sure that I don’t miss a good deal!  Pick up the items on your list, and be sure to check out the sale and clearanced items for any other good deals that you might have a coupon for.  At check-out, watch the register carefully and be prepared to say something if an item’s sale price is coming up incorrectly or if the coupon doesn’t scan properly.  Don’t be embarrassed if it’s taking a little longer than you are used to in the check-out lane because of using coupons.  Cool people use coupons!
  5. Stockpiling 101–Constant couponing will lead to stockpiling.  No, stockpiling isn’t necessarily hoarding, even though some of the stockpiles on “EC” were rather large for the family size.  The goal of stockpiling is to buy multiples of something at your rock bottom price (free or extremely cheap) so you won’t have to pay full price for it when you need it.  Sales tend to cycle every three to six months, so most couponers stock up enough to last them until the next sale cycle rolls around. 

Be sure to check out the FAQ page for more information on other aspects of couponing!

This information was accumulated by myself through my own knowledge as well as an accumulation of other information I found in various other blogs and sites over time.

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