First things first. When you use coupons you’re not saving anything. You’re spending less. There’s a key difference there. So are all coupons a scam? No, and determining whether they are or not depends on a few things. Some of them are junk, but if you know what to look for you can spend a lot less on the things you need. There’s no need to obsess over finding the best deal and dive head first into being an extreme couponer. But having some basic coupon knowledge could help you save a few bucks here and there, which adds up over time.
How to Save Money Couponing
Basic couponing doesn’t take much at all. In fact, it can be as simple or complex as you’d like. First, identify which stores you shop at the most. Keep in mind that the idea of using coupons is to spend less money, so you’ll need to define your needs vs. your wants. For example, some sort of grocery store is most likely on your most frequented list, and you may also have your favorite clothing store. Now, there are likely both “needs” and “wants” at both of these stores. You need to buy food, but past a certain point when it comes to energy drinks, candy, junk food, etc. it then becomes a “want”. Same goes with clothing – of course you need clothes. But the pretty new dress or band tee you want to impulsively buy is more of a “want”.
Once you have a good idea of where you spend your money, take a look at what kind of coupons those stores offer. Do they have a customer loyalty program with an account or a card that you can use to earn points? Maybe they have a coupon subscription program. The reason that we identified the items that we actually need is because it’s very easy for coupons to backfire. Think about it, you use coupons to save money right? Well why do you think stores use them? To make money because they can flood you with deals that are “just too good to pass up”. Be cautious of this so you can be the most effective shopper.
How Not to Use Coupons
As you probably realize already, there’s definitely a wrong way to coupon. If you find yourself exceeding your budget and spending even more than you did before, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t obsess over chasing the deals and trying to get them before it’s gone and the prices rise. You need to question everything. With any purchase, think about if you really need the item you’re buying. Now don’t get the wrong message here, you can buy things you want. Every once in a while it’s good to treat yourself, but it can’t be constant.
Just because you see the big yellow tag with “SALE” in all caps doesn’t mean you’re getting a good deal. Again, you’re not saving. And sometimes you’re not even spending less! You can see this (way too often) if you lift up the freshest sale tag on the shelf. What’s the difference between these two sale tags?
You’re right, NOTHING! The BOGO sale may influence buyers to buy two items instead of one, but the price per item doesn’t change. Let’s say the item was $10. At 50% off, each item is $5. If you buy two items at $10, divide by two and get the same $5 price per item.
But simply changing out the tag is often good enough for the store to drive more sales. This isn’t even considering the price increase that was probably made before putting it on sale. Not to say that this is always going to be a scam or a bad deal, but it’s important to be aware of. Check out the average selling price for some of these items to gauge how much of a discount you’re actually getting.
Where to find Coupons
Coupons can be found just about anywhere that you see advertising. Here are a few places that you can look:
You can find coupons in magazines and newspapers all over, as well as fliers within stores often found near the entrance and cash registers.
You’re probably used to seeing ads on some of the websites you visit. Online advertising is a huge industry. There are even plenty of full sites dedicated to couponing and helping consumers find the best discounts.
Many stores are starting to adapt to utilizing smartphone apps for distributing consumer discounts. You may have to deal with creating an account and seeing notifications from these apps. Some will allow you to limit this to some degree, though.
Loyalty Rewards Programs
Most gas stations will have something like this, often paired with a mobile app. Most of the time these places will use cards or keychains with a barcode for you to scan at checkout. Whether it is a point system or get every 10th item free, you can often find good deals on the places you shop the most with similar programs.
Important Coupon Tips to Keep in Mind
It’s best to track your spending to keep yourself in check. Couponing can be a great thing if it’s done correctly. Some final thoughts to carry with you as you venture into couponing – remember these three things:
- You’re not saving, you’re spending
- Needs vs Wants
- “Sale” does not always mean discount