How To Coupon
1 Don’t be brand-loyal.
2 Abandon the way you have grocery-shopped in the past.
3 Be willing to practice unconventional ways to accumulate coupons.
4 Keep all coupons organized.
5 Stock up on items at rock-bottom prices.
6 Familiarize yourself with coupon lingo.
7 Know each individual store’s coupon policy.
8 Discriminate among cashiers.
9 Do not knowingly commit coupon fraud.
10 Remember: patience, patience, patience.
This can be one of the hardest things to overcome as a new couponer. The way to savings is to purchase items on sale paired with coupons. It’s as simple as that. Since you can’t choose what brands go on sale with what coupons are available, you need to bend on what brands you buy. It will feel foreign at first, but you will get used to it– promise.
2 Abandon the Way You Have Grocery-Shopped in the Past
The days of making a weekly trip to the grocery store are over. Often times, couponers, will make 3-10 runs to various stores a week to get the best deals. Timing is everything, and if there is a hot sale or limited-time promotional item that can be paired with coupons to equal huge savings, you’ve got to be willing to go. I have four kids, and I still get excited to shop because I know I will be stocking my shelves for very little money out of my pocket. How can that not excite you?
A major misconception among shoppers, is that the generic brand is always cheaper than name brand. Just because it’s the generic brand, does not mean you are getting the best deal. I used to think couponing was a waste of time because the generic brand was always cheaper, even if I had a coupon for the name brand. What I didn’t realize was that those name brands go on sale at least every 4 months and eventually a coupon will coincide with a sale to bring the price of the name brand well below the price of the generic brand. That’s when you stock up.
Your shopping cart will begin to look very different. You will still buy fresh produce and bread weekly since those spoil. But the majority of your cart will be filled with stock-up items. Obviously when just starting out, you have no stock pile and will still need to purchase your normal items to feed yourself and/or your family, but as your stock pile grows, the conventional way of shopping completely goes out the window because you do the shopping in your own pantry! Bonus!
These days, there are several ways to get coupons. The easiest thing is to have a subscription to your local Sunday newspaper. There are only coupon inserts in the Sunday edition, so don’t waste your money on a daily subscription if all you are after are the coupons. Each region distributes coupons a little differently. Here in Indianapolis, IN the Red Plum (RP) inserts are mailed to homes. In other regions, you will find them along with the Smart Source (SS) insert in the paper. One, sometimes two times a month there will be a Proctor and Gamble (PG) insert. There are also seasonal inserts from different companies like General Mills (GM) or Pepsi. Sign up here http://www.sundaycouponpreview.com/ to be notified via email of what coupon inserts and what coupons you will see in the upcoming Sunday paper.
There is no way to stock up on any products if you stop at just receiving one paper. You must get several copies of each coupon insert. An easy way to do this is to purchase several copies of the paper from local retailers. Call around and find out who sells the Sunday paper the cheapest. Be sure to check that the inserts are actually in the paper before purchasing. Sometimes they get stolen or are missing due to error.
There are times where coupons will only be distributed to certain regions. When a great sale is coming up and I didn’t receive a certain coupon, I’ll pay a coupon clipping service fee or bid for coupons on an auction site. I’ll also utilize these services if I know I want more than ten of something, because I normally don’t purchase more than ten newspapers a week, therefore don’t have more than ten of each coupon.
Ask family, friends and neighbors to give you their unwanted coupon inserts. You can even offer to recycle their newspaper in exchange for the coupons.
Print coupons from the following websites: Coupons.com, SmartSource.com, RedPlum.com, and CouponNetwork.com.
The most unconventional way of accumulating coupons is “dumpster diving.” Don’t judge just yet. There are paper recycling dumpsters all over cities that are only for PAPER and not trash. So if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and sift through many papers to find coupons, you’ll see that these can be gold mines.
Now that you have all these coupons, where do you put them? I’ve adopted two methods that are both great. The first method requires you to cut out all of your coupons from the inserts and organize them in a binder using plastic trading card inserts to hold the coupons. Your coupons will be organized based on the section they belong in. For example, all frozen food will go in the “freezer” section, chips, pretzels, and crackers will go in the “salty snacks” section, so on and so forth. Don’t cut each coupon individually. Tear each page out of the insert and stack the like pages together and cut one time. This will save you ridiculous amounts of time. Cut carefully! The best aspect of having a binder is that you can take it into the store with you, so it’s very easy to locate the needed coupons on the fly. Also note, that due to regional coupons and different coupon amounts, the coupon database may not correctly reference every coupon available to you. The only way of knowing if you have a coupon is to check your binder.
For those of you with limited amounts of time to devote to couponing, the binder method may be a stretch. What you will do is keep the coupon inserts intact, but put the date the insert came out on the cover. Keep all like inserts together in chronological order in a plastic tote. The reason you date the cover is because in the coupon database, coupons are referenced by the date and the insert the coupon was released from. For example: Advil PM 16ct+ 10/30 RP. With the covers being dated, you can easily locate the insert and clip the needed coupons. The pro of this method is that it is not nearly as time-consuming as the binder method yet still very organized.
This has to do with abandoning the way you shopped in the past. You no longer shop for just the week ahead. The point with extreme couponing is to stock up on items at rock-bottom prices so you never have to run to the store and pay full price when you need the item. Of course you don’t need 10 bags of sugar for one week. But if you are only paying $.50 per bag after sale and coupons, and you know you go through 10 bags in 6 months, then buy 10 bags in that one shopping trip for $5 and now you have a six month supply that normally would have cost you $30.
Also know items go on sale with the seasons. Just as stores do, manufacturer’s release coupons with the seasons. In the summer, condiments like ketchup, mustard and bbq sauce will be at stock-up prices. In the fall and winter near holidays, baking ingredients will be at stock-up prices; at the beginning of the year, diet products will be at stock-up prices, etc. Be aware of when the best time is to stock up. You may even want a year supply of something if it won’t spoil.
As a model couponer, you will also find yourself purchasing items you never would have purchased in the past. Usually this is because the item will make you money to use toward other purchases you actually need. This is a hard concept for many to understand, but it’s pretty simple. Say there is an in-store promotion on brown rice: if you buy 5 bags of brown rice the store will give you a $5 coupon at checkout good towards your next in-store purchase. The brown rice is on sale for $1.50 each and there is a $1/1 coupon available. Use 5 $1/1 coupons. Your total went from $7.50 to $2.50 for 5 bags of rice and you now have a $5 store coupon. Turn around and buy two pounds of ground beef and use your store coupon to get it free. You have five bags of brown rice and two pounds of meat (something you actually intended to buy that would have cost you $5), all for $2.50. Now you can try new dishes with the brown rice you purchased or donate it. It’s a win-win situation.
6 Familiarize Yourself With Coupon Lingo
$1/1, $1/2: One dollar off one item, one dollar off two items, etc.
2/$1, 3/$2: Two items for one dollar, three items for two dollars, etc.
B1G1: Buy one item get one item free
B2G1: Buy two items get one item free
Catalina: Catalina coupon, a coupon that prints from a separate machine after you pay at checkout
CRT: Cash register tape: used in reference to CVS coupons that prints at bottom of receipt
DND: Do not double
ECBs: ExtraCare Bucks, CVS loyalty rewards program
ETS: Excludes trial size
GC: Gift card
IVC: Instant Value Coupon, Walgreens’ in-store coupons found in ads and monthly booklet
MIR: Mail-in rebate
NLA: No longer available
OYNO: On your next order
OOP: Out of pocket
OOS: Out of stock
Overage: When the value of the coupon is higher than the item being purchased, creating a credit due to you
Peelie: Peel-off coupon found on product packaging
PSA: Prices starting at
R: Regional coupon, will be listed after insert date as applicable
RRs: Register Rewards, Walgreens’ Catalina coupons
Stacking: Using both a manufacturer’s coupon and a store coupon on one item
UPC: Universal product code, bar code
Tearpad: Pad of coupons attached to a display, shelf, or refrigerator door.
WYB: When you buy
No two stores are identical when it comes to coupon policies– sometimes not even within the same chain! One major difference is doubling coupon values. Many grocery stores will double the value of $.50 (or less) coupons. Some stores, though, have a limit on the amount of like coupons that will double in a single transaction to avoid losses.
Major department stores such as, Wal-mart and Target do not double the value of coupons. Wal-Mart, however, will accept every coupon at face value, even if the coupon value is higher than the item being purchased. This creates overage. The overage can be used toward other items in your order or you can receive cash back. Target on the other hand, distributes store coupons that can be stacked with manufacturer coupons for double savings per item. Target does not, however, give cash back or credit for overage. CVS and Walgreens also have store coupons that can be stacked with manufacturer coupons; they to, do not give overage. All retailers I shop at that don’t give overage (Kroger, Marsh, Meijer, Target, CVS, and Walgreens) will adjust the value of the coupon down, if necessary, to still make the item free. Differences like these are what you need to familiarize yourself with, to know which store is the best to use a certain coupon.
I am baffled at how few cashiers and managers actually know their own store’s coupon policy. If you assume that the staff knows everything, you will miss out on a ton of savings. Knowledge is power and if you learn the coupon policies of each store and abide by them, you will win every time. A key to success is having a copy of the store’s coupon policy with you while shopping, so you can reference it when there is a discrepancy. Most store websites will have one available to print.
Yeah, I said it. And I’ll say it again. You will get out of the store faster if the opposite sex checks you out. It’s that simple. It’s not that you are doing anything wrong, but I find that women cashiers love to scrutinize my coupons. I don’t witness this when I have a male cashier for the most part. Also, don’t fret if your kids have to go to the store with you. While the shopping part can be a nightmare, a lot of the time, you’ll get the cashier’s sympathy which will make for a quicker check out. But don’t let those kids distract you from the computer! Make sure everything rings up for the correct price and the full coupon amount is applied.
You will be tempted–everyone is at one point–but don’t do it! Only use coupons for the specified item. If the manufacturer’s coupon is for 6 rolls of paper towels, don’t try and use that coupon for 2 rolls. Although the coupon may go through at checkout, that doesn’t mean it should have.
Don’t use expired manufacturer coupons. But store coupons can be a little different. I’ve experienced that some stores will allow you to use their store coupons past the expiration date, but always ask first.
Coupon fraud can come in many forms and with the ability to print coupons, it’s become rampant. When you print a coupon from the Internet, usually the website only allows two prints per computer. However, some people make copies of the printed coupon. This is wrong. The store will only get reimbursed for the two originals and none of the copies; therefore, its stealing. Prices go up and coupon policies become stricter and everyone loses, including you.
This applies to so many aspects of couponing, from the check out to creating a stock pile. You need to practice patience or you will go mad. At check out, a thousand things can go wrong from the register beeping, inexperienced cashiers screwing up your transaction, rude customers, etc. Breathe deeply and know you WILL get through it and will feel so accomplished when you do.
There is a lot to extreme couponing, especially when you have to learn how to do it at different stores with different policies. But like anything, the more you do it, the less foreign it will become. It took at least three months to really get a grip on how to use coupons at what stores.
Building a hefty stock pile takes time. You can’t expect to have stock-up prices on everything within the first few months of couponing. As mentioned before, store sales and coupons available often times go with the seasons. Give yourself a full year to experience all sale cycles and coupons to really see what you are capable of!