How to Save Money With Coupons: A Beginner's Guide To Couponing
If you have read my couponing story, you would know that I am not an extreme couponer. I do not spend endless hours clipping coupons each week to obtain a lifetime supply of dental floss. I most certainly do not drive a minivan or haul 3 carts at a time at the grocery store. I keep my couponing simple and to the point, building a stockpile slowly but never spending a cent without knowing I'll get at least one cent in return.
Many of you may be interested in saving money with coupons but are unsure of where to start. This coupon guide will share my methods from start to finish, so that you too can get in on these crazy savings. By following these simple steps you'll learn how to save money with coupons, without being overwhelmed or wasting time out of your busy life. Don't be surprised if you get hooked either, because once you walk out of a store with an armful of products for free without shoplifting, you'll want to do it again. And again. As soon as possible.
Step 1 - Gather Coupons
An obvious way to get started is to get your coupons! You can get coupons in many ways, but for this tutorial we will just start with the most straight forward method: Newspapers.
This Sunday, purchase two newspapers that have coupon inserts. Be careful, because not all papers have coupon inserts. Generally if the paper is enormous it has coupons inside, but you can leaf through and double check to be sure first. You can order to have your Sunday papers delivered, but in my area it's actually cheaper just to go to the store and buy them every Sunday. I always buy two because you will find that a lot of deals can be done twice. Would you rather have just one free tube of toothpaste, or two? There is no limit to the number of coupons you can have, but like I said I try to keep it simple so two works just fine for now.
When you return home, dig through the advertisements until you come up with your coupon inserts. In each Sunday paper you should generally have one SmartSource and one RedPlum. Once a month you will also receive a Procter & Gamble as well. Still following? Let's continue.
Take a marker and write the date of that corresponding Sunday on the cover of each insert, then find a home for all of your inserts (shoe box, plastic bin, etc.) and keep them inside for later use. This is the simplest approach to couponing that doesn't require a lot of clipping.
The latter approach is to clip every coupon from each insert and keep them organized in a coupon binder with tab dividers. There are pros and cons to both methods, so try both ways and then see what you like best. Keeping all of your coupons intact in their inserts until you need them means less work initially, but it also means you can't have your coupons on you at all times in case you come across a hot deal in a store. You can do this if all of your coupons are ready to go in your coupon binder, but you have to spend more time that initial Sunday clipping them. I personally do a bit of both, but overall in my opinion it is wiser to go ahead and clip them all so that if you're at the store and realize that you really need dish soap, you can see if you have any coupons first before splurging.
Okay, you've already completed the initial step to couponing! Feelin' frugal yet? Just think of all of the potential that lies in that little coupon box...
- If you have access to a large recycling bin or dumpster (at an apartment complex, near your job) you can find abandoned inserts from non-couponers who actually buy the Sunday paper to read the Sunday paper! I only do this from time to time, and only because I have a paper recycling bin at my apartment complex so it's easy access.
- Some places, like nursing homes, buy newspapers and never use the coupons inside. If you know of a place, you can ask them if they'd keep the papers for you in return for you recycling them when you're done.
- If you have a neighbor or friend who buys the Sunday paper but throws out the coupons, ask for them! You could eventually have a pretty big collection coming from just friends alone!
- In my area I have a local paper that is free and delivered to every doorstep in town. Upon opening it out of curiosity I found a SmartSource! And then proceeded to steal all of my sister's and friend's papers. Your area might have secret coupons lurking as well, so keep your eyes open!
My Current Store
Step 2 - Choose Your Store
You may now have a small collection of neatly arranged coupon inserts resting peacefully in their coupon box. So where do you want to start getting deals? If you're a true novice to the coupon world, start with just one store, and master it. Pick a store that is close to home, because you'll be going there once a week depending on how hot the deals are.
I choose drugstores because my local grocery store is not listed on my favorite coupon blog. My absolute favorite store to find all of my deals was CVS, but unfortunately after I moved, my beloved CVS wasn't as accessible as my new one is. I have since then switched to Walgreens, and sometimes Rite Aid. Don't worry, I haven't completely ditched CVS, I still visit when I'm in the area and have a great deal to take advantage of.
When you've found your go-to store you are ready to take the next step.
Step 3 - Choose Your Site
Okay. You have your coupons ready and a store or two chosen, now what?
If you're like me, you have a blind eye when it comes to combining coupons with deals and store discounts. This is why we let someone else do the work for us. Start browsing the internet for couponing sites that cover many stores, or one store in specific. These sites are designed to find every deal possible in the current week's ad, and match it with the coupons that are available and haven't expired yet. The result? You sit back and sift through your site for a half an hour while someone else decides which one of your coupons goes best with which products that week.
If there is an extreme couponer reading this, I know you're thinking "But wait! There are deals that the website might not catch! You must learn how to see the deals yourself to fully understand couponing!" No, you really don't, not if you're just in it to do the bare minimum and still get big benefits. If you've found that you're really starting to catch onto this couponing thing, that's great. I'll try to find deals from time to time, but I put most of my trust in the masters because I find myself constantly second guessing everything. This is why couponing can be overwhelming; there are so many rules and regulations to follow, but if you leave it to the "professional" couponers you won't have to worry about that because they take the regulations into consideration as well.
Below is a list of helpful couponing websites that literally do all the work for you. In this tutorial I will be using my all-time favorite coupon blog as an example:
- The Krazy Coupon Lady - This is my absolute favorite coupon site. It's the only one I need, and the only one I use. The Krazy Coupon Lady is actually two women who find deals for many different stores, including grocery stores and supercenters like Walmart and Target. They have a Facebook page that is updated every day, every time a new deal is discovered. They also find printable coupons at retail stores, freebies, they have a live podcast weekly that teaches you about couponing, lessons on their site, etc. Basically, it's a one-stop go-to place for a couponing newbie.
- Coupon Mom - Coupon mom is very similar to The Krazy Coupon Lady blog. It covers many different stores, and even lets you create a "shopping list" to print out, easily saving you 40-50% in each shopping trip. I started with Coupon Mom, but liked the user-friendly feel to The KCL more.
- Wild For Wags - Wild for Wags is a blog devoted solely to Walgreens deals. This is a great place to go if you think there might be some deals that other sites might not have caught at first.
- Deal Seeking Mom - Deal Seeking Mom has a broader range of stores to choose from, more like The KCL and Coupon Mom.
Choose a site that suits you best, or search for a completely different one. Once you find one that works with you and your store limitations, the fun part comes next!
Krazy Coupon Lady Book
Step 4 - Choose Your Deals
For this step I will be using The Krazy Coupon Lady blog as my example. When your store releases its weekly ad, your coupon site will post all of the deals that you can get during that week. If you are using The Krazy Coupon Lady, find your store in the drop down menu on the top left hand side of the site. Once the page for your store opens, the first tab will automatically be opened. It will say "(Your Store)'s Coupon Deals: Week Of (Date)". Scroll through the deals until you find one that catches your eye. When I find one I'm interested in, I either copy and paste the text to a blank word document, or hand write it on a small sheet of paper. Don't worry about understanding the lingo or anything at that time, that comes next.
Do you have a list of deals? Here's how to decipher the strange wording. It looks confusing at first but it's very simple. Below is a screen shot taken from The KCL blog:
Walgreens Deal Example:
Lets break this deal down into bite sized pieces.
- The first line in bold tells you what products this deal works with. In this example it only works for Triaminic Cold, Cough, Fever, or Allergy Relief Liquid, Thin Strips, or Infant's Fever Reducer Drops. The price of these products is listed to the right, but keep in mind that not all states list the products under the exact same price, so your medicine might not be exactly $5.00.
- The second line in italics lists the deal from the store's weekly ad. On this certain week, Walgreens will be giving you $5.00 in Register Rewards in return for buying any 2 of these Triaminic products in one transaction. A Register Reward is a coupon called a "catalina" that prints with your receipt. Catalinas act as cash, meaning you can use this $5 catalina to get $5 off a future purchase at Walgreens. Taking advantage of these is a great way to spend little to nothing every time you shop.
- The next lines list the coupons you should use. The first option states "use 2 $3.00/1 Triaminic Fever Reducer Pain Reliever Product, any from SS 12/4". In translation, that means you will need two coupons. The SS is short for SmartSource, and the 12/4 refers to the Sunday that the SmartSource came from. Remember when you put the date on the cover of your coupon inserts? Now you can go to your coupon box, locate the December 4th SmartSources, and clip two coupons for $3.00 off one Triaminic Fever Reducer Pain Reliever Product. This is a perfect example of why I always buy two newspapers when I get my coupons each week. If you only had one SmartSource, you'd only have one coupon and then the deal wouldn't be nearly as good!
- The last two lines are pretty straightforward. Assuming you did have two SmartSource inserts, and therefore had two matching coupons for $3.00/1 each, then in the end you would pay $4.00 (plus tax) out of pocket for both products. Thanks to Walgreen's weekly deal though, you would spend $4.00 but you would then get a $5.00 catalina to use at Walgreens again in the future, so overall it's like gettting paid $1.00 for something that would normally cost $10! See how it works? Just think if you had a Register Reward from a previous purchase to use towards this transation, you'd spend even less!
Step 5 - Start Saving!
Now that you've printed your deals and clipped your coupons, you're ready to head to the store and start saving! Head to the store and see what you can get for little-to-no cost. This tutorial only covered the basics of what you can do with coupons, and the deals can only get better as you learn more. I promise that the minute you step out of the store with a bag of products that you paid nothing for, you'll be hooked.
Tips And Things To Keep In Mind:
- Not all coupon inserts will have the same coupons. Bigger cities tend to have more coupons in their coupon inserts than smaller areas. Kind of a bummer but it happens to everyone from time to time.
- Be sure to learn your store before you go. Every store has its own set of rules when it comes to couponing. The Krazy Coupon Lady website has both video and written tutorials for couponing in many various stores, as well as copies of those stores' coupon policies.
- Print out a copy of your stores' coupon policy and keep it with you when you go to the store. You'd be surprised to see how many employees (and managers) don't know their own store's rules.
- I don't like to spend more than $1 at a time whenever I coupon. I do this by only choosing deals that will get me Register Rewards (or a similar catalina-type coupons), or making sure I have a Register Reward to use beforehand. If you stick to that, you will never run into a problem where you don't have a catalina to use, because you will constantly be "rolling" your catalinas to the next purchase. If you wonder how people on the TLC show "Extreme Couponing" pay so little for so much, it's usually because they have so many dollar-like catalinas to use from their previous purchases.
- Try to get at least two of each coupon insert every Sunday.
- The initials for each coupon insert are RP for RedPlum, SS for SmartSource, and PG for Procter & Gamble.
- Take it one step at a time and try not to overwhelm yourself with too many things. The first time you shop try doing just one deal and seeing if you can get it to work right, then you can try more.
- Remember that not all products are the same price in every state, or even county. Just because a Colgate toothpaste will cost $2.97 in Texas doesn't mean it's going to cost $2.97 in New York. Also remember that sales tax varies from state to state, so your ultimate total might be skewed by just a few cents.