You don’t need to be knee-deep in debt to learn how to start couponing.
If you’re looking to save money, but can’t sacrifice your Starbucks fix or unsubscribe to your Netflix account, you’d be surprised that a little organizing, planning and commitment to really make couponing a part of your daily life can make a huge dent on your finances.
Couponing isn’t exclusive to a particular class in society either.
This is true:
Once you’ve learned how to maximize coupons and save money, there’s a big chance you’ll never want to stop and including coupons from your day-to-day life becomes a natural thing.
This guide on how to start couponing should help you figure out a plan and avoid getting drowned in unnecessary coupons.
How Do Coupons Work?
Different kinds of coupons exist.
Manufacturers, your favorite local grocery store, and other companies all create coupons for consumers. They do this to promote their products, get rid of overstock, introduce new items, or just bring in new customers.
As a consumer, these coupons can save you hundreds of dollars in cash simply by buying products against them.
You don’t have to do anything more.
Just watch the savings pile up and continue couponing even if you feel you’ve saved enough…
Get exclusive discounts from a specific grocery store, brand, manufacturer, and so on.
It is so natural that millions are processed every day and manufacturers reimburse up to 8 cents per coupon.
7 Steps to Learn How to Start Couponing
Couponing isn’t as serious a change as starting a family, or moving houses, but it’s a big enough change that requires commitment for it to actually work to the advantage of your finances.
If done right, couponing can save cash from your weekly grocery budget, stock your pantry with discounted goods, buy in bulk to resell as retail, or even to help underprivileged people.
Follow these steps to couponing, if you’re ready to make money grow out of thin air:
1. Get Your Couponing Supplies Ready
Couponing can quickly overpower your life if you’re not prepared, which is why you should do a bit of planning before you get started.
GET SUPPLIES: First off, get some supplies. A calculator, pair of scissors, and a couple of envelopes or binders you’re not using. Get your printer out of the storage, if you have one.
MAGAZINES & NEWSPAPERS: Organize your mail subscriptions and Sunday newspapers. Of course, you may not need traditional coupon sources (magazines/newspapers) if you can find some online or straight from your local store. It will depend on what coupons are available for your unique situation and spending habits.
TIME: While you’re still a beginner and getting used to couponing, set aside a few hours each week for acquiring the coupons. You can set this a day before your grocery day, or Monday (once your Sunday newspaper and other subscriptions reach home). You’ll get the hang of scheduling your couponing as you go.
LEARN THE LANGUAGE: It can be confusing to jump into the world of couponing if you don’t know the different terminologies. Here are some common terms used:
- Store coupons – Only valid at the specific store.
- Manufacturer coupons – Not valid at all stores, but those that accept coupons and have products from that specific manufacturer may consider these types of coupons.
- Store coupon policy – Know that stores don’t have the same policies, so if you’re new at couponing and want to see if your favorite stores will accept coupons, then ask about their policy while planning.
- Expiration dates – Coupons are only valid for a limited time, so make sure you check out expiration dates first before using them. Use the FIFO (first in, first out) rule.
2. Seek Out Local Coupons
The most obvious source of coupons near you is your local grocery store, but you’d be surprised there are other ways of finding coupons nearby.
At the store, be on the lookout for:
- Coupon booklets – Aside from store flyers, stores also print out booklets or mini magazines that contain a year’s worth of coupons. You can get these free usually near the cashier.
- Coupon printers – If you’re lucky to have store with in-store coupon printers, you don’t need to snip-cut-and-store your coupons. You just have to get a loyalty card, scan it on the printer and you’ll receive current and valid coupons. These types of coupons can be used in conjunction with manufacturer’s coupons.
- Coupons hidden on aisles – Sometimes, either the manufacturer or store places a bunch of coupons in front of the product you can use them for. They have varying expiration dates as well, so if you buy this item regularly, save a couple for your collection.
- Store receipt – This isn’t for those with bad eyesight, mostly because the print can be so small, but some stores print out coupons with your receipts. This isn’t general coupons either – stores print coupons specially for you based on your loyalty card, purchase history or commonly-bought products. FYI, the register printer is called a Catalina, which is why you’d hear the term “Catalina coupons” when referring to store receipt coupons.
At home, you can also find coupons directly in your mailbox from things like local newspapers, store flyers, manufacturer flyers, and so on.
Before throwing products in the trash, check for coupons hidden inside the box, can or other types of packaging. If you find one, check expiration dates and keep valid ones with the rest of your stash.
3. Find Coupons Online
Finding coupons online is trickier than getting coupons traditionally, because the internet is vast and can quickly turn into a black hole if you’re not careful.
To maximize your time finding coupons online, here are 3 websites you should focus on:
Check if your favorite store like Target has an app.
Download it, so you’ll be able to check coupons easily.
For stores without apps, check if they have a Facebook page, Twitter account or an official website. Bookmark these sites, so when it’s your schedule to gather coupons again, you can access updates to your favorite stores quicker.
Familiarize yourself with manufacturer names of the products you love.
Bookmark the webpage where a particular manufacturer publishes coupons.
For example, Proctor & Gamble is the manufacturer of Gillette razors, Pantene shampoo, Crest toothpaste, Herbal Essence hair products, Pampers, and a whole lot more.
Some coupons here are printables (you print it the old-fashioned way), while others can be loaded onto a card (like Rite Aid).
There are hundreds of websites that find, upload and organize coupons for you.
This may sound like a good thing now, but it can be overwhelming to check hundreds of sites every time you need coupons. As such, choose only a handful (preferably the most complete, up-to-date, regularly updated and has many products you’re interested in).
Your personal list of coupon websites and apps will probably change as you go, but make sure you keep your list down to 3 or a maximum of 5 sites.
Here are the 10 most popular coupon sites:
- Coupons.com – It is the most popular couponing aggregator around.
- Swagbucks – This site is an all-around money-generating goldmine that turns your ordinary tasks like web browsing or grocery shopping into cashbacks. Use Swagbucks’ coupon aggregator, which earns you 1 Swagbuck for every coupon redeemed in store. You can exchange 100 Swagbucks for $1, or load your Swagbucks into gift cards.
- Ebates – This site has been around since 1999. Get coupons, rebates, cashbacks from hundreds of brands.
- Amazon coupons – If you love shopping on Amazon, bookmark the coupon page to check for relevant coupons before checking out.
- Groupon – It’s a popular discount site for restaurants and getaways, but this site also has coupons for many brands like Adidas, ASOS, Bed Bath & Beyond, American Eagle, and a whole lot more.
- Don’t Pay Full – Ideal for online shopping across multiple online stores, Don’t Pay Full has tons of online coupons you can redeem without a catch.
- RetailMeNot – Get coupons to use on pharmacies, health stores, restaurants, all-around stores like Target, Best Buy, JCPenney and so much more.
- Savings.com – You can find coupons per brand like Banana Republic, GAP, or by store like The Home Depot, Macy’s, Kohl’s, HP, Walmart, etc.
- RetailMeNot Everyday (formerly RedPlum) – Known best for coupons you get via mail, RedPlum acquired the online coupon site RetailMeNot for $630 million in 2013 and rebranded to RetailMeNot Everyday. You can find both online and in-store coupons here.
- SmartSource – Available as Direct2Card or printable coupons, SmartSource organizes coupons by category (food, drinks, household, personal care, etc.).
Like coupon websites, coupon apps can take up a lot of your free time. Check Google Play or the Apple Store and you’ll find dozens of coupon apps available for free download. I recommend choosing just an app or two to prevent getting overwhelmed. Here are the most popular coupon apps:
- Ibotta (Android/iOs) – This app has reportedly gave back $500 million to consumers. It’s free to use and allows users to scan items while shopping.
- SnipSnap – If you’re getting overwhelmed by your couponing, this app can help you get your printed and online coupons organized digitally. Its “near me” filter feature is super useful to learn which coupons are valid locally.
- Yowza!! (Android/iOs) – Unlike other coupon apps wherein users upload coupons, this app also lets retailers and brands share coupons directly into the app.
- GroceryIQ – Made specifically for grocery coupons. Works with loyalty cards.
- Coupon Sherpa – Coupons arranged by brand, store and type of product.
4. Know Your Coupon Rules
Every store and manufacturer have different coupon policies. It may be confusing at first, but you’ll eventually get the hang of it if you keep on using coupons for a particular store or brand.
Some common coupon rules include:
- Print on the coupon must be legible and clear; Barcode should be visible and scannable
- Remit address printed should be valid
- Expiration dates must be indicated or printed with “No Expiration Date”
- Manufacturer coupons are printed with “manufacturer coupon”
- Photocopies of a coupon is not allowed
- Stores accept only one manufacturer coupon per item
- Maximum coupons a user can use per brand, per manufacturer, per day depends on the store
- Coupon limits exist and vary between stores to avoid extreme couponing
- Coupons can be printed black-and-white or colored – they will be valid as long as text is legible
These rules can change without prior notice.
Some stores regularly tweak their policies, usually when manufacturers publish new rules.
5. Start Doubling Your Savings
You can double your savings simply by taking advantage of the following:
Join Loyalty Programs
Coupon sites and apps sync with loyalty programs of popular stores, so it makes sense to join loyalty programs of your favorite stores if you’re going forward with couponing.
If you have extra coupons for an item, you can use it against other items in your cart that don’t have coupons.
For example, you have a coupon for $5 off Listerine mouthwash and you get a bottle on clearance for $2. With your coupon, you can use the $3 difference on something else in your cart.
Know that some stores frown upon coupon overage, while others accept this with open arms.
Check with each store to know which stores you can use this trick with.
Price Match Policy
If you have proof that competition has a price lower than what your store has, you use this price-match policy on top of a coupon for extra savings.
In this trick, you “stack” a manufacturer’s coupon with a store coupon and use together within a single transaction.
Double check the store’s coupon policy if this is allowed.
Buy One Get One (BOGO) Coupons
BOGO coupons are common among drugstore chains and big stores like Walmart.
This can be a huge price saver, especially if you’re a fan of bulk shopping.
“Double and Triple Coupon Days”
What’s cool about these kinds of promos is that the store doubles or triples the value of coupons (up to a certain amount).
Not all stores do this, but if you’re lucky enough to be near a store that does, make sure you know the schedule for additional savings.
Become a Reseller
If you’re able to buy a lot of the same products, you can resell them for profit.
Note that stores have policies to prevent hoarders from buying unnecessary amounts of products of the same likeness.
Learn all about these policies if you decide to become a reseller.
6. Go Shopping!
Now that you’ve gathered and organized your coupons, now is the time to use them.
Make a grocery list as you normally would, then bring out your binder of printed coupons, coupon app, or coupon websites, as you figure out which coupons you can use.
List the coupons beside an item on your grocery list ($1 off from eBates, 50% off via SnipSnap, and so on).
Your strategy, or the time you use your coupons to incorporate as much money-saving combos possible, will get better over time. But it won’t improve until you practice using all possible coupons.
Learn when stores send out coupon flyers, schedule when manufacturer coupons are updated, special coupon deals of brands, and so on.
Once you’re at the cashier, see if the coupons are being used. If issues occur, ask the cashier why a coupon isn’t valid. With practice, you’ll understand the process and follow coupon rules smoothly.
7. Reorganize your Coupon Stash (and Repeat)
Always clean your coupon stash for expired coupons. Reorganize, then go back to step 1.
How to Make Couponing a Habit
You’ll find that every coupon saves you just change (cents to a dollar or two).
This may not seem like a big deal, but if you add up all the savings you get from your weekly food grocery, monthly clothes shopping, or quarterly stock up of household supplies, using coupons can actually improve your finances quite a lot.
Couponing is free. You just need a bit of time and effort to master how to play the game.
Track how much money you save at every transaction.
Make a log book of your receipts and savings. Doing this gives you plenty of motivation, especially if you’re trying to save for a vacation without the stress, or bulking up your retirement fund.
With practice, couponing can become a habit your finances will thank you for, and be an effective way of earning mindless money.