Have you ever used a coupon? Trust me– it’s not as scary as you think. This essential information will teach you the basics, so you can start saving money with coupons! And, you’ll find out soon enough why so many of us do it, and have fun with it. So, relax! I got you! Let’s do this together.
*Now, I know that stepping into the world of coupons can be overwhelming, and pretty intimidating. So, let’s start with the basics, and grow from there. In time, you’ll find your inner “Frugal Ninja” and you’ll be saving with confidence. And, maybe even inspire your friends and family to do the same!
The most important rule in couponing is- always be kind and courteous. It helps build good relationships with store employees, and it helps change the not-so-great stereotype of a couponer.
Let’s begin with…
Know Your Lingo!
Yes, couponing has it’s own lingo. But, it’s not very complex–mostly abbreviations. But, let’s go through them, so you can refer back, if necessary.
Q = Coupon
PQ = Paper Coupon
MQ = Manufacturer Coupon
SQ = Store Coupon
IP = Internet Printable
SS = Smart Source insert
RP = Red Plum insert
P&G = Proctor & Gamble insert
TQ = Target coupon
CW = Cartwheel. Target’s digital app coupons & discounts
RA = Rite Aid
Wags = Walgreens
CVSQ = CVS coupon
ECB = Extra care bucks (CVS rewards)
IVC = Instant Value Coupon (Walgreens)
RR = Register Reward (Walgreens Rewards)
BR = Balance Reward (Walgreens Rewards)
CAT = Coupon that prints from the Catalina machine next to the register)
CRT = cash register tape (aka your receipt, we also commonly use this phrase when referring to CVS coupons that print from the red box)
GC = Gift card
PM = Price match
PP = Plenti points (Rite Aid rewards)
DD= DEAD DEAL = Deal no longer valid
STACKING = Using both a store coupon and a Manufactuer’s coupon on one item
DND = Does not double
OYNO = On your next order
WYB = When you buy
YMMV = Your mileage may vary
OOP = Out of pocket
RC = Rain check
TRU/BRU = Toys ‘R’ Us/Babies ‘R’ Us
HTH = Hope that helps
NLA = No longer available
BOGO = Buy One Get One
TEAR PADS = A pad of coupons on display in a store (manufacturer coupons)
BLINKIES = Coupon that comes out of a machine on a display in store (these are usually manufacture coupons but once in awhile can be a store coupon)
PEELIES = Coupons on products that can be peeled off (manufacturer coupons)
HANGTAGS = Coupons hanging on a product
Now that you have learned the “secret code” (haha), lets talk about…
How to Get Coupons!
There are so many ways to get coupons. Mostly I get them from the Sunday newspaper. Those booklets inside the newspaper are inserts. Start out with 2 papers a week to get you started. Get more when you’re ready to up your game, or stick with two if it works for you!
You can also get internet printables (IP’s) online. There are great sites to get manufacturer coupons (Coupons.com). You can often times find tear pads, hang tags, peelies, or blinkies in store (refer to your lingo list if you need a reminder).
Another thing that I like to do, is ask companies directly if they’ll send me coupons! Lots of companies are more than happy to send you some coupons because it means you’re interested in trying more of the products they offer! Pretty nifty! I’ll talk about some of the companies I KNOW will send them to you in another post.
So, we have the lingo covered, and the how/where to get coupons. Now, let’s move on to…
Organizing Your Coupons!
You’d be surprised how quickly these money saving clips can become a hot mess of stress! So, here are a few ways to stay on top of them. You’ll figure out which method works for you.
Envelopes. You can start by clipping and putting them all in an envelope or an accordion check file. They come in different styles, and sizes. Click here for some nice ones to choose from.
*I use envelopes only for my current shopping trips. I label each envelope with the store name, then I slip in only the coupons I need for that trip.
File by insert. With this method, you just file your inserts by date in a box and use an online coupon database to find the coupon you need. This method doesn’t require much work, but you might miss out on unadvertised deals by not having all of your coupons with you at the store.
*I use this method to store my coupons. And, just check an online database every couple of months to see if the last of the insert’s coupons has expired. And, toss accordingly.
Coupon Binder. With this method, you clip all of your coupons and file them in baseball card holders in a three-ring binder. This way, you can carry your binder to the store and have all your coupons with you while you shop. Click here for some binder options.
*I personally find this method too much to keep up with, but it works for many people.
I’ll talk briefly about manufacturer coupon limits. Many coupons, not all, will actually have a limit on how many you can use per household per day. Make sure you read each coupon and follow the limits on each one.
Using Coupons in Stores !
First, and foremost- know your store’s coupon policy. Every store has it’s own, and it’s available on their website. I like to keep them as a bookmark in my phone’s browser. You can also print a copy of each store’s coupon policy, and keep it in your binder or accordion file. We all want to do a good job– save a lot of money– and, we all want to do it right. So it’s just a responsible couponing practice. From time to time you’ll encounter a cashier who is not quite familiar with their own store’s policy (It happens. We’re all new, at some point.) Having that store’s policy at hand is helpful to avoid any kind of fuss.
*Just as an aside– Don’t argue with store employees. It’s just not helpful, and it really puts all parties in a rotten mood afterward. Instead, either complete your purchase as-is, or explain you’re going to cancel your purchase, and politely leave the register. At this point, you can calmly head over to the service desk, and ask to speak with a manager. Or, leave the store, and call that store to calmly speak with a manager. Please, oh please, make calling or emailing corporate a last resort. I worked in retail for years, and every store wants the opportunity to make the situation right. Only if they fail to do right by you, should you consider contacting corporate. Also, no matter how salty you feel in the moment, never, never ever smash, trash, or take a nasty dig at a company on social media. Real talk incoming– the only thing it accomplishes is making YOU look bad. Couponers are sterotyped as rude, unprepared, or fraud committing freeloaders (oh, yes.. and much worse I won’t share here) ALL. THE. TIME. So, let’s all do our part to prove them wrong. Okay, okay.. stepping down from my soapbox now. lol
Loyalty cards. If your store offers a loyalty card, then make sure to get one. Some stores only give the sale prices to card-holders. Loyalty cards are free and frequently work in conjunction with a store’s app, allowing you to clip coupons digitally and use them with your loyalty account.
Double/triple coupons. Doubling or tripling coupons is when a store multiplies your coupon for extra savings. For instance, during a double-coupon even, a store will take your 50¢ coupon and double it to make it worth $1. This is done automatically at the register; you do not have to do anything to take part in this promotion. First, find out if your store doubles or triples coupons. If they do, find out the maximum double/triple value and how many they will double/triple. My Harris Teeter doubles coupons up to 99 cents every day. From time to time, they have “Super Doubles” events, where they double up to $2.00 face value coupons. (That’s $4.00 off!) The limit for coupon doubling (for any amount) is 20 per day, per household. You can use as many coupons as you want to, but only the first 20 will double. (So, make sure you place the most valuable coupons on the top of the stack you hand over!)
Stacking coupons. Some stores will allow you to use one store coupon and one manufacturer coupon per item. With store coupons, the discount is provided by the store. With manufacturer coupons, the discount is provided by the manufacturer. These can stack for big savings. These are most common at the drug stores. Some grocery stores offer occasional store coupons like $10 off $50, which you can stack with MQs. Just refer to that store’s Q policy.
Printable coupons. Find out if your store accepts printable coupons. Some do not, so it’s better to know ahead of time. Also, some will accept them, but place limits on quantity per day.
Competitor coupons. Some stores will accept competitors’ coupons. (Like using Publix coupon at Harris Teeter)
Expired coupons. Some stores will accept expired coupons, though it is rare.
Digital coupons. Some coupons can be clipped digitally from that store’s app, and used on in-store (sometimes online) purchases. Find out if your store offers or accepts any digital coupons.
Okay, Eager Beavers..
We’re not quite ready to WOW ourselves with the mad skills we picked up so far.
Just a few more things to go over to make sure you’re adequately prepared to succeed!
Planning Your Shopping Trips
Weekly ads. Read the weekly store ads to see what is on sale and which stores have the best prices on the items you need. If you don’t get the weekly ads delivered, you can usually view them on the store’s website. Also, you can download the Flipp app. You can see all the store ads in one place!
Coupon matchups. Match coupons to the sale items to get a great deal! Don’t just go out and use your coupon immediately! Wait until that item goes on sale, then use the coupon. If your store triples coupons, then your toilet paper coupon could be worth three times as much! Matching sales with coupons can get you a great price. Combining sales, coupons, and another promotion (rebates, double coupons, store coupons) can get you an even better price!
Make a list. Don’t go to the store without a list. Lists remind you what you came for and keep you from buying items you don’t need.
Price match. Some stores, like Walmart, will price match. Price match usually only applies to local competitors. However, it can be a great way to enjoy savings even if the store offering the sale runs out of the product.
Rain checks. If your store is out of the sale item, get a rain check! Some stores offer rain checks that allow you to get the discounted price once the product is back in stock. Go to customer service and ask for a rain check for the item you wanted. They will fill out a piece of paper with the item details and price. Then, you can come back another day (usually no more than 30 days) and buy that item at the sale price by giving the cashier the rain check. This also gives you more time to gather coupons for the item since you can generally still use a coupon if you are using a rain check. (Refer to the Q policy for that store)
Things to Keep in Mind!
10/$10 promotions. You do not have to buy 10 items to get the $1 price! The only exception to this rule is if the ad states that you must. Those times are rare and are usually for items that are buy x get y free.
One per purchase. Some cashiers will try to tell you that that means you can only use one coupon per transaction/day. This is NOT true! One per purchase means that you can only use one coupon per item purchased! So if you are buying 5 items and have 5 coupons, then you can use them all! However, you may have to explain the meaning or speak to a manager to use multiple coupons.
Make a price book. Start paying attention to prices and keep a list of items you regularly buy, recording the best and regular prices for those items. This will help you determine whether sales are the right opportunity to stock up or if you should wait for a better deal. Excel sheets work great!
Limits. Stores will sometimes put limits on the item to make you think it’s a great price. If cereal is on sale for 2/$4 you might not even notice it. But if it’s on sale “2/$4 — limit 2,” then you will likely think it’s a great price since they had to put a limit on it. Pay attention to the price to make sure it’s actually a good deal.
Shop early. If you have couponers in your area, then it’s best to get to the store as early in the sale as you can to make sure there’s still stock left.
“Bigger is better“? The cost per unit of the bigger box of cereal may be less than the smaller one, but when combining coupons with sales, the smaller box is likely the better deal. Also, even without coupons, if you’re not going to use up the bigger box before it expires, it’s not really a deal anyway.
Watch the price screen. When checking out, pay close attention to the price screen to make sure everything rings up at the correct price. Also, make sure that the cashier scans all of your coupons. Coupons sometimes stick together or get dropped or the cashier will scan the coupon but not realize that it didn’t go through. Kindly point out that they missed one, and they will correct it.
Check your receipt. Before leaving the store, look over your receipt to make sure everything rang up correctly and all of your coupons were scanned. If there is a problem, take it to customer service immediately so they can fix it. If you leave the store and come back at another time, then it might not be fixable. If the cashier missed a coupon and you notice right away, it’s easy to see the mistake. But if you come back later after several other coupons have been added to the cashier’s stack or the stack is gone, then there is no way to prove that the cashier missed a coupon.
Building a Stockpile!
Start slowly. Don’t buy a ton of everything as soon as you get started, or you will blow your budget! A stockpile takes time. Set aside a portion of your weekly grocery money for stockpiling and do what you can with what you have.
Buy for the future. If an item goes on sale for a great price (or free), then buy more than you need for just the week. Typically, sales go in 12 week cycles, so you only need to buy enough for 12 weeks. If you eat one box of cereal per week, then when you find cereal at a rock-bottom price then you should buy 12 boxes. This way, you have cheap cereal that will last you until you can buy it at a rock-bottom price again.
Know how much you use. Start paying attention to how many bottles of shampoo, packs of diapers, boxes of cereal, etc. you use. This will help you to have a better idea of how much you should buy and avoid going overboard! If you only eat 1 box of cereal a month, then there is really no need to buy more than a few boxes or they will just go to waste.
Donate it. You can enjoy getting a good deal and helping others. I have a few places that I regularly donate to, so if I can find something useful, for little to no money, I grab it for the donate section! *See my list below of great places to donate that may not even be on your radar.
So, Who’s Ready to Try Couponing??
This coming Sunday..
-Grab a couple of newspapers
-Check your flyers & match up your coupons
-Make your lists
-COUPON. SHOP. LIKE. A. BOSS!
*Great places to donate
Local churches, senior centers, developmentally disabled organizations. and if you live near a major hospital, there’s likely a Ronald McDonald House near you. Consider these places for any donations you may have.