Couponing 101 for Beginners

Using coupons is a great way to save money, but learning all the rules and lingo can be VERY confusing! I recently sat down with some friends who were totally new to couponing – they were starting with just the knowledge that coupons come from the paper! We worked through the very basics of coupons and how to best maximize your savings when you start out using this information (I also included some of the acronyms so you can better understand the other coupon blogs you read). They left feeling empowered to purchase their first paper and get started on their coupon adventure. Happy Saving!

(Personal note: Our family mostly shops at Meijer stores, which have the MPerks progam, but the coupon basics apply even if you don’t shop there.)

Before you begin there are two important rules to remember….

Rule #1: Just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean you HAVE to use it! You aren’t saving money if you are purchasing things your family doesn’t use. That being said there are ways to wisely stack and use the coupons you do have to save your family money!

Rule #2: Start small. Even a small savings is better than no savings. Take all the things you learn and start with one or two action items. Once you have the hang of it, add a few more things! I have been couponing for a long time and still don’t always go for the ‘money makers’ because it’s a lot of work and takes extra time shopping to make sure you have everything just right. Be realistic about what your time allows you to do.

Coupon basics:

  • Every coupon is assigned a value. Some are lower value like 40 cents, the ones I look for most are high value, $1 or more.
  • Coupons will specify how many of an item you need to purchase to get a discount. I look for ones that are a savings with only purchasing one or two items. When they require you to purchase more items the savings usually aren’t as good. On coupon sites these are usually indicated by $1/2 = savings of 50 cents off each when you buy (WYB) two.
  • It is usually best to buy the smallest size item the coupon allows WHEN IT’S ON SALE as it helps your out-of-pocket cost be lowest. Keep in mind it is sometimes cheaper just to buy a bulk item so be sure to double check the cost savings ounce for ounce.
  • There are two kinds of coupons –
    • Store coupons: these are coupons provided by the store. Sometimes stores will accept other store’s coupons (the Meijer stores in West Michigan will accept store coupons from other grocery stores within 30 miles – like Target, Walmart, or Family Fare)
    • Manufacturer coupons (MFG or FMR or MQ): these are coupons provided by the manufacturer and will say it listed on the coupon.
  • Stacking coupons is when you use more than one type of coupon to purchase an item. You are allowed to use both a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon at the same time. You can also stack coupons with sale prices, rebate apps and catalina bonus for even larger savings.
  • Take advantage of buy one get one (BOGO) sales. Keep in mind you can only use coupons on the items you are actually purchasing, so if it’s buy two get one free you can only use two coupons even though you are going home with 3 items.
    • These sales vary so read carefully – Buy one get one free (B1G1 free), Buy one get one 50% off (B1G1 50%)

 Creating a stock-pile:

  • The ultimate goal is to stock-up on the items you use regularly so you only have to purchase them at their lowest price. Meaning, buy enough chips at the lowest price to last until they are at their lowest price again (could be weeks or months, depending on the item).
  • Sales and coupons have trends. If you watch ads closely items will be marked down for different prices, so you want to wait until it’s at the lowest price to purchase. For instance, Wheat Thins are $2.77 normally and often are on sale for $2.50. However, once in a while they are only $1.99 and if you have a coupon that’s even better!
  • Typically a ‘stock-up price’ (meaning the price where you want to purchase large quantities) are when you can get an item for 50-75% off.
  • The only way a stock-pile is worth your effort is if you are using what you have. Make sure you have organized shelving to store items and put the items that will expire soonest near the front so you grab them first.

Maximizing your savings:

  • You can typically use up to 4 of the identical coupon in a single transaction so you can ‘stock-up’ quickly. And if you want to shop more than once a week you can use 4 of the same coupons each time you go to the store which will allow you to create an even larger stock-pile. Beware – this isn’t using 4 coupons on the same item, this allows you to purchase 4 items with 4 coupons without having to pay for them separately.
  • Places to find coupons:
    • MPerks – digital coupons that you must clip BEFORE your purchase and enter your phone number at check out.
      • Beware some are store and some are manufacturer. You can’t use both an Mperk and paper manufacturer coupon on the same item – they’ll force you to choose one or the other.
      • You can also clip ‘rewards’ that add your total purchases toward a rebate in addition to your coupons (for example, spend $40 in apparel get $5 reward to clip and apply to your next purchase).
    • Purchase papers (avid couponers get at least 4 each week). There are three types of coupon inserts in the paper – Red Plum (RP) and Smart Source (SS) usually every week; Proctor and Gamble (P&G) once a month.
    • Printable coupons – you can print two of each coupon from each device. So if you have access to two computers you could get 4 of each coupon from each site. I use this one most often: coupons.com.
    • Catalina (CAT) – these are coupons that print out from the machine when you check out. Some are manufacturer, some are store, and some are like cash on your next purchase after you purchase a specified amount of items.
    • Peelie or Tear Pad – these are coupons you find on/near an item in the store that you can take and use right away.
    • There are online sources to purchase coupons – I’ve never tried it and would encourage you to do your research before sending money to someone you don’t know!

 

  • Use the on-your-next-purchase (OYN) offers! Meijer frequently offers Catalina print-out bonus if you purchase a certain number or spend a certain amount of money in a single transaction. This is when having multiple coupons comes in handy because you can get all the items you need at a discount. But beware, often they limit you to only one of each of Catalina bonus’ per transaction so even if you purchase enough to qualify for two rebates only one will print out!
    • These print-outs will come after your purchase so don’t walk away from the machine before it beeps at you. Watch the expiration dates as they don’t usually last long!
    • These print-outs are also often how people make money on purchases (called ‘money makers’ on the coupon sites). You will have to pay for the items when you buy them, but you’ll save on your next purchase essentially making them free. For instance, there was a deal last week that if you purchased 3 Garnier shampoos you got a $5 OYNP of beauty items. I had 3 $2/1 coupons so I purchased all three for $4.77 and got a $5 on my next purchase at checkout – making these free and I got $.34 off what I was going to buy anyway!
  • Let someone else figure out the best price for you! My favorite place to check for the weekly sales and coupon match ups for printable coupons is http://www.meijermadness.com/. They post individual deals, but also have a post that looks at everything listed in the Meijer ad so it’s super helpful when making a weekly list. Another good option to look at is http://www.meijercoupondeals.com/. I also follow the “Practical Couponing. Learning To Save Thousands!” Group on Facebook and enjoy Rachel’s match ups. The “Meijer Coupon Deals” Group is a bit overwhelming, but you can find a good deal matchups people put together if you are willing to wade through the extra stuff.
  • Rebate Apps are one of the ways people save even more because these can be used in addition to the coupons. Be sure to read each rebate carefully because it is very specific on items and sizes – which don’t always match up with sales or other coupons even if it looks like it! (These sometimes will ‘reset’ so you can re-use the same rebate more than once.) Once you purchase a specific item you take photos to upload your receipt and money will be added to your account within the app – once you hit the payout limit you can request the money be transferred to your Paypal account or have a check sent (this all varies by app). I use MobiSave, Saving Star, Checkout 51, and Ibotta each week; you can read more about using them HERE.

Words of Caution:

  • Have a plan – couponing requires time and organization or you’ll just be overwhelmed and spend more than if you just bought things as you need them.
    • As our family needs something or is something is starting to run low we put it on our weekly grocery list. I don’t purchase everything off this list each week, but watch for the items we need to be on sale in the coming weeks. Your best savings are if you can be patient to purchase items over time.
    • Organize your coupons! I store my coupons in a small accordion file that fits in my purse. I carefully staple the matching coupons together (don’t cover expiration date or barcode with the staple) and separate them by categories (cereal, chips/crackers, health, cleaning, meat, pet, snacks, freezer, drinks). I know lots of people who store their coupons with baseball card inserts in a binder and that works too (I just don’t like how much cart space it takes up).
    • Each week I start by looking at the sale ad. Then I clip out all the coupons from that week’s inserts and pull out the ones that are for items that are on sale. As I’m putting the unused new coupons away, I pull out expired coupons and set any additional coupons for sale items that particular week in my pile. Once I’ve got all my coupons out I go back to the sale ad to figure out which coupons I’m using – then write those items on my shopping list and put the coupons into my envelope so they are handy at checkout. I am careful to list what brand and how many I need to purchase (for instance I’ll say “Crest toothpaste 5oz x2” if I need to purchase two this week). After I’ve dealt with coupons I go through my Mperks account and the rebate apps then add or modify qualities as needed.
  • You can’t be brand-loyal if you want to use coupons for everything. Often coupons are for new products so it’s a great way to try things, but it’s not always reasonable to find more coupons later for those same items.
  • Sometimes store brand or bulk items are just cheaper, no matter how much you stack your coupons and watch for sales. And sometimes you need to just scrap it all and go to Aldi J
  • Not every sale item is listed in the weekly ad! I double check the Meijer website for the items I have high value coupons for to see if they are on sale. I also bring all my coupons with me to the store in case I stumble upon an unexpected sale while I’m shopping.
  • Don’t use the MPerks rewards on a purchase you may need to return as it lowers the return amount – I always save them for purchase on my groceries only to cover the cost of things I can’t find coupons for!

These are three shoppers, who with a bit of time and effort, saved a TON at the store by shopping smart!

I hope you were able to learn some new ways to save your family money! I can’t wait to hear all about the savings you find. Don’t hesitate to comment if you have questions or other great tips to share with coupon newbies.

I share some other great shopping tips here!

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