If you’re trying to learn how to coupon, there is a good chance you’re trying to live a more frugal lifestyle. Before you can dive into the world of extreme couponing as a beginner, you need to get something first. You’re not saving money when you coupon, you’re just spending less money.
Does that mean you shouldn’t coupon? No, quite the opposite. It’s good to keep in mind that coupons are really marketing attempts from companies to get you to buy more of their product. There are a few ways you can get the most of the coupons you have, like stacking them or matching them to sales, but for the most part you’re going to have to sift through a lot of bad deals before you can find some good ones.
You’ve probably seen it on the news or on social media – extreme couponing is crazy and these people are getting some amazing deals. The part they don’t tell you is that it is almost a full time job and actually costs you money (usually in subscriptions) to get all of the coupons and to find the deals. There is no need to be an extreme couponer, but having some basic coupon knowledge could help you save a few bucks here and there, which adds up over time.
What Are Coupons?
It’s good to not confuse a coupon with a sale. A coupon is a voucher (piece of paper) that gives you a discount for a product. The type of discount varies and how that discount applies varies as well. You can have digital coupons, join “perk” groups companies set up, and get paper copies from your local newspaper or shoppers.
The most common types of coupons are:
- Discounted Price
- Buy One Get One (BOGO)
- Buy One Get One Half-Off
- Buy Several, Get One Free
- Members Based Coupons (If you sign up you get rewards.)
- Free Item with Purchase
- Free Shipping
- Percentage Off of Total Purchase or Item Price
- Mail In Rebates
All of the above are meant to get you in the store and shopping. You’ll most likely see the discounted price coupons and BOGO type coupons in stores and papers. You’ll find the free shipping, percentage off, and rebates ones online most likely.
How Do You Start Couponing?
There are several steps to learn how to coupon but it takes time, practice, and resources to find the best coupons and to create the best deals for yourself. As we said above, extreme couponing is basically a full-time job and we suggest you stay away from it unless you really want to dive into it.
The five basic steps to start couponing are:
- Find Coupons
- Read & Research Coupons & Store Policies
- Get an Organizer
- Create a Shopping List (around the coupons)
- Shop and Use the Coupons
It’s pretty easy to find coupons once you’ve worked through how to get the resources. The most common ways to find coupons are in the Sunday newspapers, magazines, printable coupons online, manufacturers, weekly store ads, and sometimes you even find coupons inside the store. Be sure, once you find some coupons, to read the policies. It’s easy to burn yourself if you’re not paying attention. In some cases stores limit how many times you can use a coupon or how many times you can match coupons to an item. A lot of stores typically stop anywhere in the 2-5 coupon range, depending on the items being purchased. The stores have gotten smarter in how they apply coupons so they make the most money, so there is no real order in which you should have them scanned.
An organization strategy is almost a must if you’re going to take couponing seriously. You don’t have to be an extreme couponer but organizing your coupons based on grocery, general merchandise, needs, wants, or whatever way suits you the best is a smart move. You may have just a few coupons or you may be juggling 50 coupons that you want to use, staying organized is key to maximizing your coupon savings.
Part of being organized is to only get coupons you will actually use or if it pertains to products you currently purchase. A bad habit many couponers get into is buying items they don’t need, or even want. It helps to create a shopping last catered to your coupons. You’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for sales as matching a coupon up with a sale, or even the lowest price for an item, can give you the most bang for your buck. Keep in mind, you’re not really saving money, you’re just spending less.
Can You Actually Save Money?
Yes, you will “save” money by couponing. The best way to look at it as earned money. You’re still spending money but you are “earning” that money back by spending less at the checkout. It works out like this. You just spent 3 hours finding coupons and saved a total of $75 on your bill. That’s actually really good! But, the way to look at it is that you “earned” $75 to use elsewhere because if you didn’t have those coupons you would have spent it anyways. What you do next with that money is important. The best thing you can do with the savings you’ve earned is to start investing small amounts of it. Make sure you pair your coupons with a sale, otherwise you are barely “saving” any money off of the purchase.
Benefits of Using Coupons
There are a few key benefits with using coupons, aside from earning back money you would have spent otherwise.
The biggest benefit you can get with couponing is building up a stockpile of items at a much reduced price. This is a great tactic to avoid buying items at full price and controlling how much of your money you spend. It also aids in managing your budget. For example, let’s say you were able to purchase 5 of the same item that is originally at $5 for only $1 each. You may only need 1 of those items for the time being, but having 5 of the item for the same price as 1 can allow you to save even more money in the long run since you’re not paying full price in the future.
The other benefits are the reduced price, ability to save (earn) money back to use elsewhere, build that stockpile of your most used items, and avoid buying things that you don’t need.
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 if you want to set yourself up for a strong financial future.
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.
Best Places 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