How To Coupon: The Ultimate Guide + Free Printables
January 15, 2021
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Whether diapers are running low or someone’s craving donuts, a family’s shopping list is never-ending. In fact, the average American makes six trips to the grocery store per month — and all that shopping can add up to a hefty bill!
While some expenses are inevitable, there are plenty of ways to save when making purchases at many retail stores.
When accompanied by a sale, couponing presents one of the best ways to stretch your dollar. You may find yourself getting more items for less money than you thought possible when you take advantage of coupons and sales.
You may be asking yourself, “How do I start couponing?” or, “What’s the trick to couponing?” While it might take a shopping trip or two to perfect your process, the act of couponing is relatively simple and is most definitely worth the effort.
In this guide, you’ll learn the basics of how to coupon and some actionable tips so that you can start saving money on your next trip to the store. We’ve broken the process down into a few manageable steps to help you learn the basics of couponing.
1. Know Your Objective
When you first begin, set an intention and remember it throughout the process. In this case, the goal is straight-forward — save money. Setting and recognizing your goal will help you focus and sustain your momentum.
- Create a list: If something is on sale, but it isn’t on your list, it likely means it’s not a necessity. The best way to save is to stick to your shopping list so you can stay on budget.
- Buy the necessities: A smart way to shop is to buy things you use consistently and stock up. So, when you find your favorite household essentials (think toothpaste, soap, detergent, diapers, etc.) on sale, buy multiples. After you have found a decent sale on an item you use regularly, add a coupon to your purchase and you will save even more!
- Plan to stock up: When you buy multiples of the same item at a low price, you’ll have enough inventory of that particular item so that you can wait until it’s on sale again to repeat the process, therefore never having to pay full price.
- Store overstock items: Eventually, you may end up with an overstocked inventory. If you have a pantry or freezer where you keep your extra items, keep a tab of everything you have with this printable pantry inventory sheet.
2. Understand Coupon Types and Terminology
There are two different types of coupons that will bring savings to your shopping cart — store coupons and manufacturer coupons.
“Store coupons” are issued from individual grocery or retail stores and can only be used at that particular store. They are essentially sales with the formality of having to present a coupon at checkout. Retailers like Target, CVS, Kroger and Walgreens are nice places to start, as they are constantly offering new coupons.
Unlike store coupons, “manufacturer coupons” are issued by the company that produces the product being discounted, such as Lysol or Downy, and can be used at a variety of stores.
To get the most savings, use manufacturer and store coupons together!
When you use a store coupon alongside a manufacturer’s coupon on a single item, it’s called “coupon stacking.” Stacking coupons is one of the best ways to guarantee you’re getting the item for the lowest price possible.
Another important aspect of couponing to consider is “doubling.” Some stores will match the value of a store or manufacturer’s coupon. This means your $1 off coupon will get you $2 off instead.
Check out the coupon barcode to determine whether or not it can be doubled.
Automatic doubling occurs with coupon barcodes that start with “5” Barcodes starting with “9” will not. However, some cashiers may choose to override the double value regardless of the barcode, so remember to ask them ahead of time.
But be sure to check with each store, as doubling policies change from place to place.
3. Start Gathering Coupons
Now that you understand the difference between coupon types, it’s time to find some of your own. Luckily, there are quite a few places where you can find high-value coupons. Some great starting places include:
- The Sunday Paper: As you may already know, your local newspaper is a go-to source for many coupons — both manufacturer and store. The extra pages added into the newspaper where these tangible coupons live are typically referred to as “inserts”. Editor’s tip: Get your newspaper at The Dollar General for cheap!
- Multiple inserts are included in every Sunday’s paper, with an increase during the holiday season. It’s also important to note that depending on the location, coupons may not be included in the newspaper, but rather by direct mail.
- Clipped coupons account for the main source of savings for most extreme couponers. Although, some find searching through the paper and clipping out individual deals inconvenient, and that’s where digital coupons come into play.
- Online: Online coupons can be found, you guessed it, online. There are tons of coupon round-up sites that gather coupons from a variety of stores and brands. You can also sometimes find coupons directly on the store or company website.
- Some benefits of finding coupons online are convenience and abundance. You can search online for “coupon” + the name of the product or store you’re looking for, and have pages of results.
- A small downside to online couponing is having to print out each deal. Since computer ink can be pricey, it is worth noting that online coupons can be printed in black and white, even if originally offered in color.
- Mobile: Another great coupon resource is your smartphone. Many retailers can access coupons directly from your phone’s screen, eliminating the need to print or clip.
- Similar to online coupons, you can find mobile deals that are offered from retail stores as well as the brand owners directly. Some companies even have their own apps where you can access these coupons directly, such as Target Circle.
- One aspect of mobile couponing that can be a bit frustrating is accessibility. If your phone has little or no service in the store, you may not be able to connect to the app or webpage.
- As a workaround, browse mobile coupons in a place where you have reliable service beforehand and screenshot the QR or barcode to access later.
4. Learn Your Store’s Coupon Policies
The coupon policies at some stores may surprise you. While one store in your area may not accept any type of coupon, another might even take competitor coupons.
Become familiar with each store’s rules for couponing so that you’re not surprised by regulations at checkout. If there isn’t any information on coupon policies on their website, give the store a call and ask.
Some important questions to ask at each location are:
- Does the store accept competitor coupons?
- If so, is there a limit per customer or per day?
- Can coupons be doubled or tripled?
- If so, is it only on certain days?
- For BOGO coupons, will the price of a single item be halved or do you need to purchase two to get the deal?
You may even be able to find details about coupon rules for some well-known grocery and retail stores by searching online.
5. Get Organized
Before you hit the road to shop, get organized. There is nothing worse than getting in line to check out, only to realize you forgot or misplaced a coupon.
- Organize by coupon type and purpose. To minimize in-store frustrations, have your coupons clipped and sorted according to the store and department if you’re able.
- Use a couponing binder. An accordion file or a three-ring binder will work great for keeping your clipped coupons neat and easy to find. You can use these coupon organizing labels to add to your file labels or binder dividers! Just print out the sections relevant to your typical shopping list, and glue or tape them where you can see them clearly.
- Keep a couponing inventory. Another great way to keep your coupons organized is by keeping a coupon inventory chart list that details item price, coupon value, number of coupons, and final cost.
- Print out a chart. For each store that you plan to shop, print out a coupon inventory chart prior to leaving the house to simplify the process. We’ve included this printable coupon inventory chart to make it even easier.
6. Start Saving
Once you’ve determined which store you’re headed to and gathered your coupon binder/envelope, it’s time to hit the aisles!
As you browse the store, remember your objective: to save money. If items are not on your list or not on sale, be smart and don’t make any impulse purchases.
To make sure you’re saving the most when shopping, use your coupons and follow these quick tips, as well:
- Shop generic brands
- Buy in bulk
- Compare sales
- Use a calculator while shopping
- Freeze perishables
- Shop based on meal plans
- Shop tops of aisles and end-caps (the items at eye-level are usually most expensive)
- Shop for fruits and veggies that are in season
7. Track Your Savings and Adjust Accordingly
Make sure your couponing efforts are successful by tracking your spending and savings. The time spent searching for, clipping, downloading, printing and shopping should be rewarded in savings.
Instead of trying to analyze time spent per dollar saved, revisit your grocery list and your receipt when you get home and compare your spending to how much you would typically spend on average.
Did your total decrease significantly? Did your savings make up for the preparation time? Did you get notably more items for the same price? If you answered yes to any of those questions, chances are you have effectively made smart shopping choices.
Tips for Successful Couponing
Couponing doesn’t have to be complicated. These quick tips will help guide you through your process:
- Start small: Get into your coupon groove by making smaller purchases while still in the learning stages. You will begin to see patterns on when items go on sale, how quickly you need to replace them, which items go to waste, etc.
- Stockpile your items: Once you learn which items are used most often at your home, consider creating a stockpile. By purchasing necessities in high quantities while on sale, you avoid having to ever pay full price.
- Use online coupon sites: To get a lot of free coupons, take advantage of the internet by frequenting online coupon sites. It’s much easier to search a webpage for a specific sale item than it is to skim through all the inserts (but we recommend doing both!).
- Price match: Compare sale price and coupon availability between stores to increase efficiency and savings. Editor’s tip: Don’t forget! If you find a coupon for a store you didn’t plan to shop at, see if your go-to store will accept competitor coupons so you can save a trip. Win-win!
- Learn advertisement schedules: Find websites that offer previews of the Sunday coupons to get a jumpstart on your clipping plans.
Bonus: Coupon with Your Little Ones
We know that children are always wanting to mimic what they see their parents doing, so use this opportunity to teach them about couponing!
Have your kids choose a treat, like PopTarts or even a pizza, and help them to find a coupon for it. If they’re able to find a coupon, reward them when shopping and buy the item.
By showing younger children how to be frugal, you’re teaching them the value of money and encouraging them to spend it wisely.
To make sale shopping more fun, we’ve created a worksheet for your kids to fill out when they’ve found a coupon for an item they would like to get at the store.
After playing this game enough times, they may even begin coupon clipping on their own.
After reading this beginner’s guide to couponing, you should feel confident and excited to make your first purchases. You’ll see the benefits of your hard work when the original total at the cash register goes down further and further with the application of each coupon.
Once you see how much money you can save after learning how to coupon, you won’t want to go back to shopping any other way. If you’re feeling ready to kick-start your couponing journey, check out these Target coupons to use on your next trip!
We hope that you found this blog helpful. Our content is not intended to provide business, legal, tax, or financial advice. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional. Capital One Shopping does not endorse or guarantee any information or recommendation.
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