Coupon 101 Crash Course: How to use coupons

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Coupon 101 Crash Course – How to start using coupons

Couponing 101 Crash Course

Want to start couponing and saving money, but don’t know where to begin? Here are some tips to help you get started:

First Steps:

Collect coupons from the Sunday newspaper and from online sites such as Coupons.com, RedPlum.com and SmartSource.com. Contact manufacturers and request coupons. Note: you may want to collect several newspapers for the inserts, as you can score even more deals with the same coupon.

Organize your coupons in a binder, envelope or small expandable folder organizer.

Sign up for your stores reward card – a lot of deals can only be had if you have a store card.

Match up coupons with sales – and if your store allows, combine a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon to save more, and use your reward card to maximize savings.

Know a store’s coupon policies. Print it and take it with you; you might need to refer to it if a cashier gives you a hard time about using coupons that you know you can use.

How to Speak Coupon:

Wondering what “YMMV” means? You’re not alone. If you love browsing the Internet to find the hottest coupon deals, you may have come across unfamiliar terms in blogs and other coupon sites. Here’s a crash course in the language of coupons for the most widely used abbreviations; don’t worry, there won’tbe a test!

YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary. This abbreviation actually has two meanings. One, it means exactly that – you may find the deal at one store but not another. And two, the deal may work depending on the manager of the store. Some stores do not have official coupon policies, so certain coupons and deals may not be approved by all managers.

BOGO, B1G1: Buy One, Get One Free. This is sometimes also known as B1G1. Simply buy one item and get another of the same one for free. Did you know, though, that you don’t always have to get both? Most stores will ring the item up at half price, which works to your benefit in the case that the store does not allow two coupons on a BOGO deal.

CAT or CIT: Not to be confused with the pet, but rather, a “catalina” … CIT stands for “coupon-at-till. This prints out separately with your receipt and is just like a coupon. These are linked to current promotions and triggered sometimes by your personal shopping habits. They come from manufacturers and start with a “5.” These will have the store logo on them. However, if they say “Redeem at” or “Redeemable at,” you can use them at any store (like the commissary); if they say “Redeemable only at,” then, you can only redeem them at the store they came from.

SS: Smart Source Coupon Insert

RP: RedPlum Coupon Insert

PG: Proctor & Gamble Coupon Insert

Using Coupons to Save Money

Double Coupons Can Double Your Savings:

Did you know that some grocery stores and major retailers will double your coupons?  Harris Teeter doubles coupons every day with a face value of up to 99 cents!  Other stores, such as Kmart, will have special double coupon events.  That means that if you have a 25 cents off coupon, you’ll actually save 50 cents after it’s doubled. And, when paired with sales, you may walk away with free groceries.

Let’s say Colgate toothpaste is on sale for 99 cents, and you have a 50 cent coupon.  Because the coupon doubles (and if the store honors the face value of the coupon up to 99 cents), you’ll actually save $1, making the toothpaste free.

Here are a few tips to make your “double coupon” trip successful:

  • Most stores will not double a coupon with a face value of a $1 or more.
  • Know what the store’s “doubling” policy is.
  • Some will double the face value of the coupon, but some may only “double” the face value of the coupon up to a certain amount.
  • A 60 cents off coupon may only “double” up to $1.
  • Know the difference before you plan your trip.
  • There may be a limit to how many coupons can be doubled.
  • Shop early on the day the sales begin.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Know when stores in your area are having double coupon days so you can be prepared!
  • Do not try to double a coupon that clearly states “Do Not Double,” even if the store doubles coupons.
  • Bring the sales circular showing the double coupon event, in case the cashier is not aware.
  • Always, always carry a copy of the stores coupon policy.That way if a cashier gives you a hard time, you can refer to it.

How to Organize Your Coupons:

How do you organize coupons? Do you keep all your coupon inserts in one big pile, or are they scattered throughout your house/purse/car?

When you’re couponing and matching up the sales, the last thing you want is to spend valuable time hunting for coupons! That’s why you need to get organized. Here are a few of my fave methods to do just that.

Envelopes: This is one of the original methods of coupon organization, and one that still is widely used. Simply buy the standard white letter envelopes, label, clip, sort and go. Beware – the envelopes will quickly tear and become flimsy, and you’ll have to sort through each and every coupon to find the one you want.

The recipe box: This is another original tried-and-true method. Organize by brands, expiration dates, category and more. Simply flip to the section you need and pull out your coupons.

The good ol’ coupon binder: Remember Trapper Keepers back in the day? (Did I just give away my age?) Well, now they have even better (and bigger) binders, such as Case-It (splurge), or a generic 3-inch binders (deal). Simply buy some plastic card protector sheets and a few divider sheets, and organize your coupons by section (food, personal, pet, etc). Or, get really extreme and organize by brand, complete with a zipper pouch with mini scissors, pens, notepad, and calculator.

Expandable accordion folders: You can use the mini ones to organize your clipped coupons (kind of like the recipe box), or you can buy the larger ones and organize your whole coupon inserts by date. Find a coupon you need? Refer to the inserts date, pull it out, and clip!

How to Shop For Free with Coupons:

One of the most fun things about coupons is getting to shop for “free,” which I absolutely love to do! Avid couponers are always on the lookout for high-value coupons that will make their purchases free, or even profitable. That’s how “extreme couponing” got its name.

For example, you spot Jiffy Peanut Butter on sale for $2, and you have a $2 Jiffy coupon. You scored yourself free peanut butter.

Even better, say you contacted Jiffy and they sent you a $3 off coupon – you just made $1 on your purchase (called “overage”). Stores will most likely not give you the difference back in cash, but rather apply the overage to other items in your cart. This is when you “get paid to shop,” and how can you not like that? Think that you’re ripping off the store? Nope. If you read the coupon’s fine print, the manufacturer will reimburse the store for the value of the coupon, plus 8 cents. You may run into a few cashiers who are not trained with their company’s coupon policy. Be polite and inform them of the policy and fine print, or talk to their manager.

When you find coupons that are valued at more than the price of the item, you can use a lot of the same coupons to buy products at no cost. Coupon overage can help you reduce the total grocery bill, saving hundreds, even thousands, of dollars every year.

How to Manage Your Stockpile:

Once you start couponing and really getting serious about it, you’re going to have a stockpile that you can “shop” from … but what if it becomes too much (like when you have groceries crammed in closets and under beds and other odd areas of the house)?

When you stockpile, it’s important to keep organized so you don’t waste a good thing. Here are some quick tips on how to organize and actually use your great deals.

Create or find new ways to cook with all your groceries. A lot of times, you may find yourself with a food you’d never eat if your coupons hadn’t given you overage at the store!

Organize by type and expiration date. That way you won’t waste anything. Or, at least donate to a food bank or charity if you have too much of an item and you know you won’t be able to use it before it expires.

Keep inventory, that way you don’t keep buying the same thing when you already have plenty of it for a good while.

If you do find yourself stocking groceries and other items in weird places (bathroom cabinets, perhaps?), it may be time to rethink how you coupon. Maybe give yourself a break for a few months!

How to Find the Best Coupons:

These days, coupons are everywhere – in newspapers, magazines, online. With all the different coupon resources, it can be a bit overwhelming when you’re looking for new coupons, especially when you’re searching the Internet.

Here are a few ways to keep track of them so you’ll never miss a great deal.

Bookmark your favorite coupon sites, such as Coupons.com, SmartSource.com and Redplum.com. Their coupons change frequently and usually are reset at the beginning of the month.

Some of the best coupons mentioned at the sites above are located under some of the larger cities, such as ZIP codes 30303 (Atlanta), 90210 (Beverly Hills), 12345 (Schenectady, N.Y.), 78225 (San Antonio, Texas), and many more.

Sign up for Facebook. The majority of brands now have their own Facebook page and often offer special coupons that can only be found there. Simply click on “Like” on the brand’s page, and you’ll be informed on your news feed when new coupons become available.

Sign up for the coupon site’s RSS feed. Sites such as CouponNetwork allow you to get instant updates when new coupons are added via email.

Use coupon databases, such as the ones located here at my site or We Use Coupons, to stay on top of the latest coupons as they become available. These are updated every 30 minutes with the newest coupons from coupon inserts, magazines and online. You can even search for specific brands, as well as view the limitations and expiration dates.  You can also view the Sunday Coupon Preview anytime to see what coupons will be in this Sunday’s paper!

How to Use Store Coupons:

Did you know that you also can score some hot coupons right inside stores? Retailers will often display coupons next to the products, known as “tearpad” coupons. Keep your eye out for them and pay special attention; some may say “store” coupon, and some may say “manufacturer.”

You’ll want to collect these when you shop – even if you are not buying that particular product – because you can save them to pair with a sale, or use the manufacturer coupons at another store that is having a sale on that item.

Aside from tearpad coupons, you may see “blinkie” machines. These are small electronic devices that contain coupons and have a red light that blinks to catch your attention. A lot of times, these coupons come from SmartSource and are manufacturer coupons.

Another much larger electronic device is the coupon machine, where you scan your store’s loyalty card and coupons actually print out instantly. Two popular stores that have these are CVS and Food Lion, for example.

Keep an eye out for coupons on products themselves. These are called “peelies,” as they peel right off the product. I’ve seen quite a few high-value ones, and you’ll want to read the fine print to see if you must buy two, or just one, of that item, to be able to use the coupon.

Hangtag coupons are found around the neck of the product. Most of the time, hangtags are “Try Me Free Rebate” forms, but sometimes you’ll see a coupon on them.

Lastly, catalinas, which are coupons that print alongside the receipt printer after you check out, are good for your next purchase. Pay close attention to these, as they have a special phrase written on them, along with their store logo. If these coupons say “redeem at” or “redeemable at,” you are free to use them at any retailer that will accept catalinas. However, if they say “redeemable only at,” the catalina is treated like a store coupon. Two popular stores that accept catalinas are Walmart and the Commissary.

All About eCoupons:

If you’re looking for more ways to save and love signing up for store loyalty cards, you’ll want to check out eCoupons, which are basically electronic coupons that you load onto store cards. No clipping, sorting or organizing required.

Simply scan your loyalty card at the checkout and watch your balance decrease. Plus, one of the best things about these coupons is you can “stack” them with paper coupons for even more savings.

The main way to load eCoupons to your store card is to click on store websites. They usually have a savings section just for this purpose and encourage you to use the feature. Select the coupons you want to add to your card and hit submit. The coupons will get uploaded based on the number corresponding to the card you entered when you signed up.

Not all stores have their own eCoupons, but some major companies online will allow you to download them to your card and/or smartphone. Check out these eCoupons and mobile coupons:

Commissary Rewards Card

SmartSource Xpress

Upromise.com

SavingStar.com

Cellfire.com

Shortcuts.com

PGesaver.com

Target Mobile Coupons

Walgreens Mobile Coupons

CVS Mobile Coupons

Rite Aid Mobile Coupons

My personal preference is to add all the coupons you can to your cards and keep a running list (preferably by brand name and product) of the coupons you’ve selected. That way, as you’re doing your regular coupon match-ups, you can add the eCoupons to your savings, and you won’t forget what coupons are on your cards!

Beware of Fake Coupons:

Couponing has taken on a whole new look over recent years, thanks to frugal coupon blogs, television shows and (unfortunately) our economy.

It’s now considered trendy and favorable to use them and create mountain-high coupon binders, toting them proudly through aisles. However, as with any new, popular trend, there are scam artists out there who churn up ways in which to profit themselves. And that means, as far as couponing goes, creating their own.

Using counterfeit coupons costs businesses millions of dollars every year. Take, for example, the 2009 Dorito coupon for free chips that circulated so much that it was nearly impossible to trace back to the coupon bandit who created it.

The last thing you want to do is (unknowingly) hand the cashier a fake coupon, have the register beep at you, and learn from the manager that it’s phony – you could wind up in serious trouble. So, here are a few tips on how to spot a counterfeit coupon and avoid humiliation, as well as how to be an ethical couponer.

  • Beware of printing coupons online for free products.
  • The majority of the time, these types of coupons will be mailed to you by the manufacturer.
  • Look for an expiration date on printable coupons. Coupons always will have an expiration date in the upper right-hand corner.
  • There are a few rare paper coupons that do not have an expiration date (I’ve seen this with 3M products), but these usually are legit.
  • Do not buy coupons online on sites such as eBay. While these sellers just charge a “clipping fee,” it still is illegal to sell coupons.
  • Read the coupon in its entirety and check the spelling.
  • Legitimate coupons are scanned over and over for errors, even by the company’s lawyers, so if you see a misspelling, that should raise a red flag.
  • If you can see the coupon fully on your computer screen, clear as day, beware.
  • Legitimate companies will not show the coupon while you print it (ex. coupons.com), or will disguise some of it, so as to prevent mass reproduction. Companies allot only so many coupons to be used during a certain timeframe.

Want more tips on how to spot fake coupons? Have a coupon in question? Want to report a phony? Check out couponinformationcenter.com.

How to Use a BOGO Free Coupon with a BOGO Free Sale:

Don’t you just love all those Buy One, Get One Free (BOGO) deals?  I do, knowing that I can pair them with coupons, especially a BOGO coupon and get both items free!

Sounds confusing, doesn’t it?  It’s actually quite simple.

When stores advertise BOGO free deals, the stores are taking a loss on one of the products, meaning they are paying for the free one you get!  And when you use a BOGO free coupon, the manufacturer is paying for you to get the free product, by reimbursing the store the value of the coupon, plus 8 cents.  You pay for the first item, and get the other one free.

When you use a BOGO coupon with a BOGO sale, the store pays for the first item (their form of a “store” coupon), and the manufacturer pays for the second one, by reimbursing the store.  So that means the store may actually profit, if not, break even, from the sale!  And you walk away with both items for free!  Drugstores are great examples for scoring these awesome deals!

Kind of sounds too good to be true, and in some cases, it is.  Some stores do not allow stacking BOGO coupons on top of a BOGO sale to get both items free. If you want to use a BOGO coupon, you must pay for at least one item to get the other two items free (one free from the store BOGO sale, and the other free from the BOGO coupon, after paying for at least one item).

Other stores will ring up the items of a BOGO sale half off, which means you don’t have to buy both products.  You can buy one at half off, instead.  Even better, if you have a BOGO coupon, you’ll still pay half price for the first item, and get the second one free.  You can even use a coupon on the free item if you have one.  For example, if you have a $1 coupon, you can use it on the free item, and still use the BOGO coupon!  Food Lion and Harris Teeter are just two local stores that have BOGO sales where items ring up at half price.

How To “Un-Extreme Coupon”:

Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you’ve seen it: the show “Extreme Couponing” on TLC has garnered mixed emotions, of which the majority are negative. You may have asked, “Why do people need 50 cans of shaving cream?” Extreme couponers would answer, “Because they were free!”

Some people who appear on the show say that they donate to food banks and disaster relief efforts, but when they show someone stashing their frugal finds underneath their children’s beds and in their closets, it brings new meaning to the term “extreme couponing.” No offense to the people who have done this, but I believe children should have their own space, and not have to move toilet paper rolls out the way to find their toys. But if you find yourself in this situation, here are some “un-extreme couponing” tips to help you take a step back and catch your breath:

Buy or collect two or three Sunday papers, rather than 10 or 20. You’ll still get an adrenaline rush snagging three free items as you would 20, plus save some time clipping coupons.

  • Some coupons, such as P&G, have a limit of “four like coupons per transaction.” This is not intended for you to go to your car and unload your groceries and then go back in the store to do another transaction and repeat this process two more times. Is it really worth the time and energy, unless you really are donating to those in need?
  • Do not clear the shelves. How is this fair for someone who doesn’t coupon who really is in dire need of deodorant?
  • Clip coupons for items you and your family really do use on a regular basis. Sure, some people are picky, but there are some brands that just work better than the ones you could get for 10 cents with coupons, and not everyone in your family may agree on the same product.
  • Be a coupon fairy. Have an extra coupon or two? Leave it next to the product at the store for the next person to use. Doesn’t it feel good knowing that you helped someone save $5 on something they needed to buy, anyway?
  • Don’t let couponing consume you. Cut back the hours you spend couponing, and spend more time with family. And don’t be afraid to splurge on yourself; after all that time you spend saving money, you deserve to treat yourself.

If you’ve enjoyed this course, please consider sharing this post on Facebook, Pinterest and everywhere else :) And of course, leave us some comment love!

Comments

  1. Hi There,
    I’m tryingto keep track of the companies I e-mail and somewhere in between taht letter looking for coupons. Anyways do you know of any way or already made spread sheet I can keep track of the companies I contact?
    Thank you
    Jacque

  2. Kimberly B says:

    I like the idea of coupon fairies – there are quite a few in the stores in my area and it’s helped me out a time or two. I always try to leave one if I have extra.

  3. C. McPheeters says:

    I didn’t know that I was a “coupon fairy” but I guess that I am, since I always have more coupons than I really need for certain items, AND I tend to clip coupons for things that I “thought” that I wanted and then change my mind at the store, so I leave my extras and surplus in the section of the store that the items are in.
    Thanks for the good tips!

  4. Bobby Tarumi says:

    Thanks for the coupon rundown. I especially learned from the section about identifying fake coupons.

  5. Wanda Bergman says:

    I don’t use coupons as often as I should but this post has really inspired me!!

  6. Angela Cash says:

    Love the Coupon Fairy idea! I have often passed along coupons to other shoppers but have never thought to leave some on the shelf next to the product.

  7. Deborah Caudill says:

    Thanks for the free lessons on couponing. I haven’t taken the course, but plan to very soon.

  8. Great information

  9. Thanks for this valuable information and for translating some of the lingo.

  10. Loris Ayoub says:

    saving money big time

  11. Sharon Siqueiros says:

    Thanks for the tips and the meanings of the abbreviations. I realize now there’s alot more to couponing than just stuffing them in my purse and using them when I REMEMBER they’re there hehehe

  12. We do not have this system here in my part of the world but I am fascinated by the things one sees done with coupons!!! magic indeed.

  13. Great informaiton!

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