Couponing 101: For Beginners
We have all probably seen the T.V. Show Extreme Couponers, but I am here to tell you that in real life using coupons is NOTHING like what was shown on television (which may be why the show was cancelled). What I CAN say about coupons though, is that through proper couponing I have been able to save my family an enormous amount of money while not having to wonder if I will have enough money in the grocery budget to last us the entire month.
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I started couponing out of necessity. in 2013, I had just given birth to my first child. I was enrolled in a full time Bachelor’s program. My husband was our only source of income, and it wasn’t much. I knew I needed to do something to alleviate the financial stress. I had learned about couponing from my older sister and decided I could do it.
When I first began to delve into the world of coupons, it was intimidating to say the least. Everywhere I looked there seemed to be time consuming and complicated breakdowns, and I started to think that there was no possible way I could ever understand it, let alone have the time to make it worthwhile. I started to become discouraged, and wanted to just throw in the towel at this point, until I finally found that one blog that turned things around for me, http://mycouponexpert.com
A woman local to me by the name of Caroline, runs this amazing site with a plethora of helpful information and weekly match-ups to all of our local ads. Once I discovered her, it was like everything just clicked!
After browsing around a while, I was able to find a method which worked best for me. I decided to store my coupons in a binder for easy access. This method does not work for everyone, but it is one which I prefer. I organized my binder from A-Z by product brand name. Many people I know organize theirs by category as well (canned foods, pet supplies, baby items, etc.…), so you just need to find what method works for you and go with it!
Where to Start
First thing is first, buy the Sunday paper. Always buy in increments of two(this will be explained later). The Sunday paper is where you will find the bulk of your coupons. You can even check and see what coupons will be in the paper by visiting this site.
You will also be able to print coupons from different websites such as Coupons.com. Internet printables have a limit. You will be able to print two of the same coupon per device. I have access to three computers in my home, so I can print six total of the same coupon. Be aware, COUPONS CANNOT BE PHOTOCOPIED. This is illegal and can lead to your IP address being banned from printing coupons at all. Each coupon has a unique identifying code, and the cashiers do check for them.
You can also get coupons directly from the manufacturer! Just find brands you love and shoot them an email. For more information on getting free coupons (and even products) in the mail, check out my full post here!
Everyone will find their own favorite way to organize their coupons. I will discuss some of the most popular ones.
This is my personal preference. I use a large three ring binder, this one. Along with the binder, I utilize baseball card holders to keep all of my coupons organized. There are a few ways to organize your binder. Some do it by category, while others do it alphabetically. Either one will work well. With this method you need to clip all of your coupons and place them in the holders in the binder. I like this method because it allows me to see exactly what coupons I have at any given time. It is slightly time consuming, but it is my couponing preference.
I know a lot of people who prefer to file their inserts. This entails using a filing container similar to this one and filing the entire insert. Some people prefer this method because it does not involve clipping everything right away. You can simply pull out the insert you need and clip the coupon you need when you need it. While this works for a lot of people, I prefer to have everything clipped.
Now that you know where to get your coupons and how to keep them organized, it is time to learn how to prepare for a shopping trip!
Find Local Matchups
I live in Central Florida and my favorite coupon blogger is Caroline at My Coupon Expert. She does amazing matchups for our local stores every week. If you do not live in Central Florida, you will probably have to find someone local to you. Every area has different stores, so matchups will differ from region to region. For me, I have a Publix and a Win-Dixie. You can find local bloggers by Googling “insert your local your local grocery store here” matchups.
Once you have found your local matchups, you will be able to see what is on sale and what coupons to use. Matchups make couponing super simple for the average person because there is no guess work. You know what is on sale, you know what coupons to use, and you are able to easily make a list.
Scour the Sales Ads
Even though you have the matchups, sometimes it is still a good idea to look at the sales ads yourself. Sometimes sales can be missed by a blogger. Checking for yourself will allow you to make sure you are getting the best deals possible.
Research Your Store’s Policy
Each store has their own coupon policy. It is important to research your store’s policy before you go out on a couponing adventure. i typically shop at Publix, and their policy allows one coupon per item, even when the item is buy one get one free. So for example; if crackers are on sale buy one get one free, I will get two boxes. I am then able to use two coupons on that purchase. Each item is separate, even though one is free. This maximizes my savings. I am also able to use one manufacturer coupon and one store coupon per item. Manufacturers coupons are your typical coupons you would print or find in the paper. Store coupons are put out by the retailer themselves. So if I had a store coupon for those same cracker mentioned earlier, I could use two of those as well.
Following so far? Good! Now, I mentioned earlier that it was important to buy Sunday papers in increments of two. The aforementioned scenario is why. When items are buy one get one free, you will want two coupons.
I highly recommend printing out your store’s policy and keeping it with you when you shop.
Make a List
Always go to the store with a list! I like to make mine using an Excel spreadsheet that I created. I’m able to put in the number of items I am getting, their price and my coupon value. Before even walking into the store, I know the amount of money that I will be spending. You can of course use a pen and paper to make your list, but I like knowing exactly what I will be spending. If you are interested in my spreadsheet, sign up for my newsletter to get a free copy!
Collect Your Coupons
Now that your list is done, it is time to collect your coupons. I like to use a little file folder like this one. I put all of the coupons that i plan on using into the folder and keep it in my purse. A lot of people bring their whole binder with them. That is perfectly fine, but I personally find it to be too cumbersome. If I happen to find a great unadvertised deal while I am shopping and I know I have a coupon for it at home, I will make a quick note of it and come back later.
Check Your Apps
There are tons of amazing money saving apps for your smartphone. The two that I use on a regular basis are Ibotta and Checkout51. (Sign up for Ibotta with my referral link and get a $10 bonus with your first purchase!). Both of these apps will have lists of items that are available for rebates. You purchase your item and when you get home, you scan the bar code and take a picture of the receipt. That’s it! Once the rebates are confirmed you will receive the money in your account! Both of these apps have a cash out minimum of $20. Once you reach that threshold, you can cash out to your PayPal account or you can keep building it up as long as you want before cashing out. I personally like to let mine build up all year and use it for Christmas money!
Know the Lingo
It is important to know the meaning of the language on your coupons. Every coupon has guidelines written on it that you need to understand. Sometimes, an under-trained cashier will not know the difference between “one per purchase” and “one per item”. For this reason, it is important that you know the difference!
- One Per Purchase- you are able to use one of the coupon per item purchased. Buying 2 items? Use 2 coupons!
- One Per Transaction- you can use one of the same coupon per transaction. Even if you are buying 2 items, you can only use one coupon.
Remember I told you to find a local couponing blogger and follow them? Well, you will probably want to know all of the abbreviations that couponers use as well! I have made a list so you will never have to question it! Feel Free to Pin the image to save for later!
The Shopping Trip
You’ve done it! You have a handle on the basics. Your list is ready and you have your coupons in hand. It is now time to take on your first shopping trip.
Filling the Cart
It is easy to get nervous during your first few trips, but just try to relax and enjoy it. Go by your list, don’t veer off course. I always double check that my items match my coups before putting them in my car. Then I will mark them off of my list and move on to the next item. If the item that you are looking for is out of stock, don’t fret! Simply head over to the customer service desk and request a rain-check( see above info-graphic). With a rain check, even if your coupons expire before the item is back in stock, you can still use them as long as they were valid at the time the rain-check was issued.
You have everything in your cart, ready for checkout now, and here comes the part when your heart starts to sink and the nerves creep in. I personally “cashier” shop. It might sound terrible, but I prefer a younger cashier. They are typically more knowledgeable than the older generation and more friendly as well. ALWAYS be extremely friendly and patient with the cashier. If they are reading and checking every single coupon, that is their job! There has been so many instances of couponing fraud recently that they need to be extra careful to ensure everything is on the up and up.
In order to speed along the check out process, I have a method that has been proven to cut time and make the cashier happy. What I do it when I put my items on the belt, I place the corresponding coupons right there with them. That way the cashier sees the item, sees the coupon, and is able to quickly ensure that the coupon matches the item.
There will be times you get a rude cashier, just smile and move along. Sometimes you can ask to speak to a manager in order to verify a coupon, but remember to always be friendly! There has been times where I have had to pull out my copy of the coupon policy and show it to the cashier so that I could use some of my coupons. I assure you, most of these cashiers aren’t out to get you they are simply protecting their jobs. Most likely this is going to be a store that you will be shopping at on a regular basis. You want the cashiers to remember you for a positive reason, not a negative!
The Wrap Up
Now you know the basics of couponing and are ready for your first trip! Don’t get discouraged if it does not go completely according to plan, because it rarely ever does! Remember, any amount saved is an awesome job! Don’t Forget to sign up for my newsletter in order to receive your FREE Coupon Shopping Spreadsheet!!!
Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave a reply below and I will get back to you as soon as possible! I love helping people learn the basics of couponing so they can save money for their families too!