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When you first start using coupons, it can seem completely overwhelming. There are a squillion coupons from so many different sources and it’s hard to keep all the rules straight. Let’s learn how to use coupons strategically and efficiently to save you money and time.
Much of what I know about coupons I learned from Jenny at Southern Savers. Her website has a comprehensive couponing tutorial and just about every coupon in the entire world is listed there. Southern Savers is a wealth of information and I highly recommend that you take advantage of this resource.
Different types of coupons
Not all coupons are created equal. This may make it a little more complicated, but it is actually good news for us. It’s part of the strategy.
This is the most common type and they may be used in any store that accepts coupons. These are usually labeled across the top as “manufacturer coupon” to make things a little easier for you. Usually these coupons will double if you are in a store with a doubling policy, but some are specifically labeled “do not double.” In that case, it depends upon the store. Honestly, most stores will double it anyway for you. Here’s the breakdown:
- Many newspapers have coupon inserts in them. I personally do not subscribe to a newspaper. I am able to get most of my coupons online. Occasionally I miss out on an opportunity to save because I do not have the newspaper inserts. I most often find this with razors as there are hardly ever razor coupons online. I buy mine on the Grove Collaborative website anyways so this is not a huge loss for me (read more about Grove Collaborative and why I love them *here). It is absolutely up to you whether or not to get the Sunday newspaper. You might try it a few weeks and see if the coupons offset the cost of the paper for you. If you know someone who gets the paper and doesn’t use the coupons, ask for them! One man’s trash may be your couponing treasure. Before you pay for a Sunday paper, be sure to do the following: 1- Check Jenny’s “Insert Preview” to make sure there will be inserts in this week’s paper (there usually are NOT any on holiday weekends), and 2- Be sure that your paper has all the inserts it is supposed to have BEFORE you shut the door on the newspaper dispenser. It is completely against the Couponing Code of Ethics, but some people will pay for one newspaper and then steal the coupon inserts out of several newspapers in the dispenser. You do not want to accidentally purchase an empty paper so be sure you check before you close that door. Also, don’t be a couponing criminal- take only what you buy. There is no enforcement of this Code, but it’s pretty universally understood that we’re all in this together and we look out for our people.
- There are three common coupon inserts: Smart Source, Proctor & Gamble, and Red Plum. Smart Source is the most frequent (most of these will be available online) and the others are present about once a month. It is a rare and exciting Sunday when all three are included. You better get to your newspaper dispenser before Sunday School on those weekends.
- Here’s my newspaper tip: Don’t cut the coupons out! Y’all, I like my life to be efficient. I am all about checking chores off my list so I can get to the fun stuff in my days. Leisurely smelling the flowers while I accomplish tasks is not my thing (I should probably work on this, but I’m being honest with you). Watching people cut out 1,000 coupons and organize them in a binder makes my eye twitch. If you are that person, carry on my friend. If cutting out coupons and placing them in plastic squares of organization brings you joy, I wish you well. Thankfully for people like me, Jenny has offered us a lifeline. In her super amazing coupon matching list, she does something that will save you one gazillion hours over your couponing lifetime. She lists the coupon with a little code beside it that tells you the insert and date where you can find that coupon! Hallelujah! This was my couponing salvation because I would never have been successful with this otherwise. Here’s how your Sunday coupon organizing should go: buy paper, remove inserts, label with today’s date, place in expandable file folder, WALK AWAY! When you go to look for it, you simply pull out that date’s inserts, find the right one, and clip the coupon.
- Unless you can get the magazine subscription for free or as a gift, it will rarely be worth it. All You magazine usually has a few coupons per issue. I have gotten a subscription to that one very inexpensively, but I still didn’t use many of the coupons. I don’t recommend this source unless you are getting the magazines anyway.
- These are the bread and butter of my couponing lifestyle. There’s very little storage involved and I can print off whatever I want when I need it. The primary cost is purchasing ink. I can save enough in coupons to buy an ink cartridge for my old-school printer in one Harris Teeter Super Doubles trip, so I consider the expense worth it.
- Southern Savers has a fabulous Coupon Database where you can find coupons of all types. I start there if I am looking for something specific.
- Most coupons online may be printed twice per computer. You need to be sure that your printer is plugged in, turned on, and ready to go when you hit print. You will be very frustrated if you lose a coupon to cyber-world because your printer wasn’t turned on (or when a piece of paper misfeeds, face palm!). If you have multiple computers, you may print two per computer. The exception to this rule is if the coupon is coming from a website associated with your email. Then you may only be able to print one per email address. Those are irritating.
- You will have to download a “coupon printer” when you first print coupons online. When you click print, the coupon printer download will appear and you’ll have to finish that before you can start printing your coupons. This is pretty standard.
- Most of these websites will ask for your email address and will send promotional emails with coupon offers. My advice to you is to create a separate email address for this. I have email addresses for my blog, for important correspondence, and for coupons/things I don’t care much about. Having a separate email will keep you from getting frustrated with having to trudge through a dozen emails to find important stuff. I delete most of them, but occasionally an email will include some good coupons that you can’t get anywhere else (Dove and Kashi do this).
- In-store dispensers: I never see these because I order my groceries online with Harris Teeter (read how I save money with this service here). These are few and far between, but they do exist. Another nod to the Code of Ethics: it is prudent to take only two coupons from these dispensers. If your child pulls out seven because these things are great fun, place the pile on a shelf near the dispenser so someone else may find them easily. Note: many of these say “Do not double” and most stores obey. Don’t count on them doubling.
- Peel-off Coupons: These are closely related to the in-store dispenser coupons. These are the coupons found on the actual products. The Code dictates that you should not peel off a coupon if you are not purchasing the item. Whether or not to remove a peel-off from one flavor of Wheat Thins to use for another flavor that does not have a sticker is a gray area in my opinion. You will have to take that one up with your conscience as the Code is not clear. It is very clear, however, that removing all the peel-offs and putting them in your plastic binder for a rainy day is not cool.
There are a couple different types of these, too. As the name implies, these coupons are only redeemable at a specific store. These coupons do not double, but they do stack with manufacturer coupons. We’ll get to the beautiful concept of stacking in a minute.
Printable Store Coupons
- These bad boys are most commonly found at check-out when your receipt prints. These are often for items that you just bought and make you want to go to Customer Service and return everything just so you can buy it all again with a $2 discount. Don’t do that. It’s not worth it. Save these and use them next time.
- Note the expiration date on these, because they don’t last as long as manufacturer coupons.
Electronic Store Coupons
- Many stores have a phone app or website that you can link to your rewards card. You may add coupons to your rewards card and they deduct automatically at check-out. They must be added before your shopping trip or you will not get the discount.
- Review before you pay to ensure that they were all deducted properly. Occasionally technology doesn’t work perfectly and the clerk will have to manually apply the discount. Never be afraid to inquire about a coupon, but always be NICE. You have no idea how many times I was the one who messed up and accidentally bought the wrong size or flavor and the coupon did not apply because of my mistake. If you’ve asked nicely, this will be much less embarrassing for you.
CVS coupon printer
- Do you know about the coupon printer? This is the first place you should go when you walk into CVS. Swipe your rewards card and get your coupons. Often it will include a coupon that will make an item free with a current store sale.
I devoted an entire post to rebate app education, but we need to talk about it again here. Ibotta*, Checkout 51, and Berry Cart* are all grocery rebate apps. They are not applied like a coupon, but I like to group them with coupons because they can also stack. You won’t see the discount until you redeem your rebates ($20 account minimum), but it’s there. My favorite of the above three is Ibotta. It offers rebates for a wider variety of products and it has a $10 welcome bonus if you sign up here. It also has a referral program that will pay you $5 for every friend and family member you refer. Basically, it’s awesome. I use it every week.
What is Stacking?
“Stacking” is the combination of a manufacturer coupon, a store coupon, and possibly even a rebate for the same item. This can theoretically triple your savings on one thing. Imagine if this item were also on sale… this is how you can get paid for buying things. Let’s walk through an example. Say you need shampoo and conditioner and Harris Teeter has Dove shampoo and conditioner listed 2/$6. Side note: in a grocery store, if an item is listed 2/$6, it will ring up $3 each so you can buy an odd number and still get the discount. In a drug store, it will NOT ring up that way unless you buy two. The first will ring up full price and the second will be discounted. Don’t let that trip you up. Back to the example- you have printed an online coupon for $0.50 off of a Dove hair styling product. You also happen to have a store coupon that printed at the register last week for $2 off your purchase of $5 or more on hair care products. Ibotta has a coupon for $1 off one Dove product. Using your new coupon knowledge, you combine these to create the following strategy:
Buy 1 Dove shampoo and 1 Dove conditioner ($6)
Use two online $0.50 coupons. Harris Teeter will double coupons up to $0.99 value unless it’s Super Doubles and then they will double up to $2. That’s ($0.50 x 2) + ($0.50 x 2) = $2 off
Use your $2 off $5 purchase: $2 off
When you get home, you redeem your $1 off with Ibotta on one of the items
You spent $2 and will get a rebate for $1 more. That’s $1 for a full-size, name-brand shampoo and conditioner.
Unfortunately, you will not often luck into a situation where all three types of coupons are available at the same time, but you can really hit the jackpot when you do. Many times the item will be free and you can make money with the rebate. Those purchases are super exciting! They also don’t last long, so jump on these deals quickly when you find them.
Rules of stacking:
- You may not combine two manufacturer coupons or two store coupons, only one of each.
- You may, however, get rebates on the same item from more than one rebate app
- Stores aren’t stupid. They usually have a limit to the number of products you can get with coupons. This is why I will never understand the Extreme Couponing show. It’s completely rigged. Harris Teeter’s Coupon Policy states it will only double up to three identical coupons in a transaction. Their policy also limits you to a maximum of 20 doubled coupons per day per VIC card. Most other stores have similar policies.
- Most stores, including Harris Teeter, will only discount your item to $0. In other words, if the item costs $1 and you have coupons totaling $1.50, you will not usually get an additional $.50 off. Bummer. The exception to this rule is the rebate apps. They will pay you the rebate as long as you bought the item.
- You can check out a comparison of store policies here.
Finally, the Grocery Shopping Strategy (drum roll…)
Now that we have a basic understanding of the different types of coupons, where we can find them, and how we can redeem them, let’s discuss the fun stuff: saving money! We discussed in Introduction to Grocery Store Savings about the importance of purchasing items at rock bottom sale prices, but we only briefly discussed coupons. The goal is to purchase your groceries at their lowest prices and then combine with coupons to get ridiculously great deals. I’m talking never-pay-more-than-$1-for-cereal kind of deals. If you do this, you can get toothbrushes, toothpaste or body wash for $0.50 or less. This may seem inconceivable to you right now, but here’s a fantastic list from Southern Savers of our goal buying prices for grocery items. Aim to purchase at these prices.
Jenny’s website is my go-to resource for grocery shopping. She has a weekly list for each store that matches that week’s sales with all available coupons. It makes this part SO EASY! She has literally done the hard work for you and all you have to do is check the box beside the items you want to buy, find the corresponding coupons, and go shopping. Here’s the link one more time: southernsavers.com.
This post has a TON of information in it, but it’s good stuff! This takes practice so don’t be discouraged if you get there and you accidentally chose the wrong item or forgot to bring a coupon. Just remove the item from your cart and try again later. You are not the first person who has made a mistake with coupons and the store clerk has seen it before. If you’re nervous about making people wait, go at a time when the store is not busy and let the people behind you check out first so you can take your time. You’ll get it but you have to let yourself learn.
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