Beginner’s Guide to Couponing

Is couponing worth it?

“Extreme couponing” seems to go in and out of fashion — spending time collecting, combining, and using coupons to pay cents on the dollars for weekly groceries. But regardless of the popular opinion, the reality is that even mild to moderate “couponing” can really save you a lot of money in the long term if you’re willing to stick with it.

Let’s get one thing straight before we begin: couponing takes time. The hardcore couponers spend about a part-time job’s worth of hours on it, but for most people an hour or so a week should be absolutely plenty.

Getting coupons

There was a time when the only real way to get coupons was the Sunday newspaper, but those days are long past. The Sunday paper is still a great way to get them, however, so it’s worth subscribing to your local one.

Luckily today there are other methods, such as store flyers, bulletin boards, and perhaps most convenient, websites and apps dedicated to coupons. Some stores today even have their own dedicated application for deals, while others are readily available through aggregators such as coupons.com or savings.com.

Internet searches are also a good way of finding coupons that you might not be able to readily get your hands on. It can be a good idea to get a printer, or at least get access to one, to print digital coupons out for use in-store.

Organizing your coupons

To get the most of the coupons you collect you’ll need to be able to store and organize them. Folders and ring binders are ideal for this, as they allow you to sort coupons by date or store or product type.

If you’re getting your coupons digitally, then your phone or computer will be good enough at storing them conveniently. If you want to make sure all of your coupons are in the one place, print your digital copies and combine them with your printed cutouts.

Organizing just lets you keep on top of everything and start to build a plan for your weekly shopping. You’ll start to see multiple coupons for a single store, or see many coupons you can use in stores you know are close together.

Getting the most out of coupons

There are several tips for getting the most results from your coupons:

  • Combine store and manufacturer coupons: It’s not uncommon to see a limitation on the number of items a coupon can be used on, or the number of times a coupon can be used per transaction. However, one common loophole is adding a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon on specific items. This allows you to double-dip on savings that you otherwise might not be able to.
  • Use coupons on sale and clearance items: If you know a local store has an item on sale and see you already have a coupon for it, you can often combine the already reduced price with your coupon to get a further discount.
  • Price-match first: If the store has a price-match policy it’s worth your time to research if any competitors are offering the item for a lower price. After matching, apply the coupon for a further discount.

By using savings-stacking combination like these it’s sometimes possible to go into “overage”, where the price of your shopping bill is actually less than the total of your discounts.

Sometimes this can result in a refund, but more commonly it’s paid as in-store credit for future purchases. Some stores don’t allow overage at all, so you’ll need some small-ticket items to account for the difference.

And of course the most important way to get the most out of your coupons is to read the terms and conditions carefully. Make sure you can actually use the coupons the way you think, and if you’re unsure, always check with the store before shopping to save wasting time at the checkout.

Don’t spend more than you save

This is where many people go wrong when it comes to successful couponing. There’s no sense spending as much time collecting coupons as you could working a part-time job: you’d be better off trying to get the job, and would get much better financial results.

It’s also important to never get into a trap of getting a deal for the sake of it. Driving out to a shop to get a discount on something you don’t need, or get something for free that you don’t need, isn’t actually a deal. More than that, you end up spending money on fuel that will more than likely set you back more than the amount you saved.

Couponing is about saving money at the checkout. Through a bit of dedication, organization, and planning, you can get some great results — just be sure not to waste more on couponing than you save.