Don’t ever say that I don’t love and appreciate my readers, because as much as I tried to avoid writing this post.. here I am! You asked me to break down couponing in its simplest form, so I came up with the basics, how I first learned, and a few tips to get ANYONE going. Ready? Set? Save!
I’m not here to show you how to build an insane stockpile, grow a clientele, and then flip it for a profit on community boards. This post is to help the average person save a few dollars, without buying loads of newspapers each week, so that they can save on basic necessities for their family. Is that you? Great! Then I want you to first decide what kind of couponer you want to be:
- Sale Based: Someone who shops only when something is on sale (even for groceries). You’ll come to understand sale cycles, stock up when prices hit their lowest, have ample room to store items, keep an ongoing inventory of needs, and plan meals around what is in season.
- Need Based: Someone that sees a need and then looks for a deal. They may not be saving at rock bottom prices, but thats okay, they learn to save when it is needed. They don’t have room to store a stockpile of cleaning supplies or frozen foods but want to fit couponing into their regular grocery shopping routine.
At my current stage in life, I’m a hybrid of both types of couponers! I have a grocery budget that keeps me “need based,” but if an item hits a rock bottom price, I am definitely “sale based.” Either way you go is fine, do what works for you!
Pick Your Poison
I think most people fail at couponing because they try to take on too much, too fast. Start with ONE store to learn, practice, and master. You’ll find that once you get a handle on one, you can apply the basics to every other retailer. Think about where you shop most; a grocery store chain, Target/Walmart, or a smaller convenience store like Walgreens/CVS. For the purpose of this article, we’ll use Target as an example, since it’s easy to assume that most of you have one!
Step One: Head to your store’s website or do a quick Google search to find their coupon policy (read Target’s here). Note, some stores don’t actually publish their coupon policy for the public (frustrating right?) but you can request one by contacting their corporate office.. or just choose another store to tackle first. This policy is your BIBLE and should be referred to as you plan your shopping trips when you are first starting out. The store coupon policy will explain..
- how many coupons can be used per transaction, person, shopping trip, household, etc.
- if they offer store coupons and whether you can combine them with manufacturer coupons
- if they price match other retailers, and whether that is limited to an in print ad or if online prices are included
- if they issue rainchecks: an advertised sale item is out of stock so you get a “check” for another day beyond the sale period
..and other useful info particular to that store! Pay attention if the words “we reserve the right to refuse” are included in their policy. That shouldn’t discourage you from couponing with that particular retailer, just be prepared for some locations or employees to act outside of what corporate has written should be accepted.
Step Two: Find out if the store you chose has a shopper loyalty program and sign up for it! These are free programs offered by retailers in exchange for data regarding your shopping habits. By typing in your phone number or scanning a loyalty card each time you shop, a store gathers important marketing data for their business. In exchange you have access to sale prices, discounts that are specific to products you normally buy, and sometimes coupons sent to you in the mail.
- Example – Target has had a variety of customer programs over the years, but currently you can sign up for a RedCard (debit or credit version) to receive 5% off every shopping trip + free shipping online. Download their app to view the weekly sales ad, access weekly store coupons (no need to clip!), and set up a Cartwheel account. Cartwheel is an additional way to save on top of store and manufacturer coupons because you choose offers you like and simply save by scanning your cartwheel barcode when you check out.
How These Savings Stack
(Milk $5) – (Target Coupon 50 cents) – (Cartwheel 5%) – (Manufacturer Coupon 50 cents) – (RedCard Savings 5%) = Pay $3.58
The way I set up the example is the order in which Target’s register calculates each discount. Remember, we’re keeping this “simple,” so just trust me on this math.
Step Three: Does the store you chose have their own “money?” Most grocery stores don’t, but if you chose Target, Walgreens, CVS, or Rite Aid.. you have to learn how to best earn and strategies on spending that money.
- Example – Target has weekly deals that offer gift cards when you spend a certain amount or buy a set number of items. I recommend doing a deal that earns you a $5 gift card and KEEPING that gift card to “roll” onto other gift card deals. Rolling gift cards simply means you only spend that store money on a deal that will earn you another card (like play money). The point of this is so that you continue to save REAL money (that you can actually pay bills with) and give Target back money that can only be used at their store.
How Rolling Works
Buy (2) detergents $5 each, Get a $5 Target gift card
Total $10 “roll” a $5 gift card you previously had and only pay $5
.:Rolling with Coupons (slightly more advanced):.
Buy (2) detergents $5 each, Get a $5 Target gift card
Total $10 Use (2) $1 Manufacturer Coupons “roll” a $5 gift card and only pay $3
.:Now add a 10% cartwheel to the detergent scenario:.
Total $10 – (10% Cartwheel) – (two $1 Manufacturer Coupons) – ($5 gift card) and only pay $2
Reading Sales Ads
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with a store, it’s time to learn how to read a sales ad with a savings mindset. The things that stores WANT you to buy, and are usually the best prices, are marketed in the following ways..
- On the front page – nothing screams BUY ME like the front page of any ad. These are the deals that stores are highlighting and products they’re looking to drive that week.
- One day/Limited time section – more common with grocery stores, these one day/limited time sales are their best deals of their seven day ad. Think $5 Friday at Safeway, $5 Monday at Raley, or 3 day weekend sales at other retailers.
- Month long deals – Usually found in a booklet separate from the weekly sales ad, these month long promos give shoppers enough time to get in on a good deal. Be aware that if it’s a REALLY good sale, the store is likely to sell out quickly and there’s no guarantee that they’ll restock before the end of the month, so get a shopping round in as soon as possible. Retailers that often use this strategy are Costco, Safeway, and Sprouts.
This isn’t to say that you can’t find a good deal on a product in the middle pages of the ads, because you totally can! But understanding how retailers strategically place products that they want to market will help you dissect a sales ad for optimal savings.
Know Your Resources
Most people beginning to coupon want to go from zero to extreme couponing right out the gate and buy TONS of coupon inserts. True story.. my first week couponing I printed EVERY SINGLE printable on coupons.com.. it happens to the best of us! Massive amounts of coupons are not necessary, most likely you won’t use all of them.. which ends up being a waste of printer ink and money when the goal is to save! So know that you can totally grow a decent stockpile with a computer, your phone, and a few newspapers.
- Coupon Database – Some awesome people have put some hard work into creating a database for you to easily search the location of a coupon. I highly recommend SouthernSavers.com but there are other great ones out there! Simply type in the brand name into the search field and the database will tell you if the coupon is in an insert or provide a link for you to print from!
- Printables – The three websites that I use most often to print coupons are Coupons.com, Smartsource.com, and MamboSprouts.com . They all offer a variety of manufacturer coupons, electronic devices can print two coupons each (so two on your computer and two on your phone will give you four total), and while they add new coupons weekly, each website will reset available coupons on the first of the month.
- Inserts – No need for a newspaper subscription, simply head over to your local Dollar Tree or 99 Cent Only Store on a Sunday for $1 papers that include that week’s coupon inserts! Some counties also provide residents with free newspapers, simply Google search “Free newspapers in (insert county name)” to find out if your region participates!
- Miscellaneous Coupons – Ever been out shopping and see a coupon tear pad or blinkie machine? Manufacturers place these in retail stores with the hope that shoppers will take one (or a few) and use it to buy their product.. so go for it! Manufacturers also attach coupon peelies to their products so that consumers can save on a future purchase of the same or similar product.
When accumulating coupons, ask yourself the following questions to help you decide whether you need the coupon and how many you should collect;
Is it a product I use often?
Is it a product I’ve been wanting to try?
Is it a high value coupon?
Does it have a long expiration date?
Finally, how will you keep track of your coupons? There are many methods and you’ll have to find one that best fits your style. Organization is key to preparing for a shopping trip, making sure good coupons don’t go to waste due to expiration, and so that you don’t accumulate clutter!
- By date – Filing your coupons by the insert date (not expiration) will help you to locate them when using a database
- By brand – alphabetical order is always helpful!
- By aisle – This helpful if you only shop at one store and you want to be able to find a coupon by department (household items, health, beauty, etc)
- By type (what I do) – I don’t keep a lot of coupons on hand so I separate my printables, blinkies, and peelies. Because I focus on groceries, those are the coupons I keep on hand at all times, and I print all other household coupons right before I shop for them.
Reality check! You will mess up. It’s guaranteed but it’s also part of the process so just embrace it. Don’t be afraid to walk away from or RETURN a transaction that doesn’t go as planned. I understand it can be frustrating when you’re at the register, so go home to think about what went wrong, then return the products on your next visit. There’s no point in keeping ten bottles of shampoo that you mistakenly paid two dollars each for when they were supposed to only be a quarter. Remember, the point is to save money.
Keep at it little grasshopper. Learn the ins and outs of one store, build your confidence, and then move on to the next! Google is your best friend when you don’t understand something, reading (whether it be a caption on IG, in the comments, or fine print on a coupon) is SUPER important, and always remain positive.. you’ll get the hang of it! I hope you found this post helpful. Please forward it to anyone that is trying to start couponing, encourage them to follow me on Instagram, and tag me in your beginning hauls!