Are you new to couponing? In this difficult economy, every penny saved helps in the long run. Would you believe me if I told you couponing can save you hundreds of dollars each month… that is if you know what you’re doing!
The following is a Couponing 101 series, highlighting what I think are the most important aspects of couponing.
Where Do I Get Coupons?
Are Coupons the Only Way to Save?
Coupon Code of Ethics
Cracking the Coupon Code
I often get asked, “Where the heck do you get all those coupons?!” I get my plethora of coupons from an assortment of sources.
Sunday paper – While I don’t personally subscribe to my local paper, it is a great source for tons of coupons. In fact, I read somewhere that 90% of all coupons come from the Sunday newspaper.
Internet (Printable coupons) – With the evolution of the Internet has come the evolution of couponing. Many manufacturers often offer printable coupons directly from their websites. In addition, there are websites available that hold entire collections of printable coupons that get updated on a monthly or biweekly basis. The following are some of my favorite websites for coupon printing. This does mean you’ll need a printer, plenty of paper and ink. In some instances, if you don’t have a printer, you can click “help” on the coupon print page and request the coupon be mailed to you.
Very Best Baking
Friends and Family – My mother in law and my husband’s aunt get the Sunday paper every week and almost NEVER use their coupons! While this completely boggles my mind, it proves to be very beneficial because they give me their unused coupons! Ask your family and friends for their coupons – most will be more than happy to give them away.
The Store – This seems almost like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many people have no idea that there are hundreds of coupons at their fingertips in the stores! When I was younger my favorite thing to do when shopping with my mother was pull coupons from the “Blinkie” machine. Years later, I still pull every “blinkie” coupon I find. You can also find me grabbing “peelies,” hangtags and tearpad coupons.
Peelies– coupons attached to the actual product and must be removed by peeling
Blinkies – coupons pulled from a blinking machine
Hangtags – coupon that hangs from the neck of a bottle
Tearpad – coupons attached to a large pad of coupons that you can tear
In the Mail – I sign up for EVERYTHING that is free; newsletters, freebies, samples, coupons, you name it! Tips for signing up for these things will be in a forthcoming post; however, as a result of signing up for these things, I often get coupons in the mail, sometimes ones that are even for FREE products!
Clipping service – If there is a high-value coupon that you really wished you had multiples of, you can order the coupons from a clipping service such as The Coupon Clippers. Since it’s illegal to sell coupons, the fees charged are actually for clipping and handling. Usually the fee per coupon is around $.08-$.15.
Some others that I have tried since I tend to target exactly what coupons I am looking for to match to upcoming sales.
Our Clipping Service (name of the site, not “ours’)
Want to know if there’s a particular coupon out there in the Coupon World? Use a Coupon Database.
Coupon Database – A coupon database lists current coupons from all sources, including the Sunday paper, blinkies, tearpads, printable coupons, etc. This is a quick way to determine if there is a coupon available for an item you want or need without having to rummage through your coupon pile or search endlessly online.
In fact, coupons are just one tiny part of the whole saving process! So how can you save and reduce your family’s monthly budget?
Grocery Coupons – Most grocery coupons (food, cleaning products, clothing, products you find a store, etc.) can be clipped from coupon inserts. Others can be found on the internet and printed. To redeem these coupons, they are given to the cashier when you checkout. Most coupons have a scannable barcode that gets scanned at the register. However, some simply have a numerical or alphabetical code that the cashier manually types into the register at checkout.
When using grocery coupons it is important to be aware of some things:
- expiration dates – most stores will NOT accept expired coupons
- number of items required to redeem coupon – if the coupon states $1/2, then you need to buy 2 items to use the coupon
- size restrictions – some coupons will specify a size restriction (12 oz. or greater, excluding 2.5 oz pkg, etc.) and while some stores don’t pay attention to these restrictions, you could end up trying to use a coupon on the wrong size item and having to either pay full price or putting the item back
- coupon limit – rarely, but it sometimes happens, coupons will state “one coupon per customer”
- store specific coupons – if the coupon has the Target logo or the Lowes logo on it, most other stores will not accept the coupon – it must be redeemed at the store shown on the logo
- printable vs. not-printable – some stores and other establishments will not accept ANY printable coupons or have certain restrictions on the types of printable coupons they’ll accept; be aware of your store’s coupon policy
Online Coupon Links – Some discounts are meant to be redeemed solely online. If you are a AAA member, you can get amazing discounts at a variety of online stores, such as Target. To cash in on these discounts, you must click on a link found on the AAA member website. The same can be said of some online discounts that are emailed to you – you may have received an email for 25% off Payless Shoesource, but to activate the discount you must click on the link in your email to be taken to the specific page where the item is found.
Online Coupon Codes
Online coupon codes and promo codes are another convenient method for saving tons of money. They are usually a combination of letters and numbers that are linked to a particular discount. After adding your merchandise to your online shopping card and checking out, you apply the promo code by typing in the letter-number combination (ex. SPORK25) in the “promo code” area on the checkout page and the discount is usually automatically applied. It’s really important to pay attention to all of the conditions of promo codes – if the correct merchandise is not in your shopping cart or you have not reached a specified minimum for your order, the promo code will not work.
Rebates – Rebates usually take a little more work and elbow grease then the typical coupon or online discount. A rebate typically requires that a certain number or price-value of items be purchased in a specified amount of time. In most cases, for a mail-in-rebate (MIR), you mail in the completed rebate form, the UPC codes from the purchased items and the original receipt with the items/prices circled. In return, you will receive money back (check or gift card form), a coupon booklet or whatever other rebate payment form is advertised on the rebate form.
Expect to wait 4-6 weeks to receive whatever bounty was offered in the rebate form.
Some companies online offer cash back simply for shopping through their website. In a way, these offers are similar to rebates – if you purchase a certain item, you’ll receive a certain amount of cash back. I use Ebates all the time – in fact, when I pair it with Restaurant.com offers, I end up getting 20% of what I spend back. Ebates will mail you a check once you’ve earned at least $10 Ebates and new members automatically start out with $5 cash back!
Like with other deals and discounts, it’s important to read all of the terms and conditions that go along with cash back offers. In some cases you can combine the cash back offers with other discounts, coupon codes and promotions. In other cases, if you cash in on those other promotions, you will not get the cash back.
Reward Programs – You may have heard of Frequent Flyer Miles – this is one type of reward program that can help you stretch your dollar. In the case of rewards programs, stores reward the consumer for buying certain products with points that can accrue and then be redeemed for something else – free items, gift cards, money off another purchase, etc.
I’ve enrolled in Swagbucks, which is simply a search engine. Everytime you search using Swagbucks, you have the chance of earning “Swagbucks” or points that can later be redeemed for some awesome rewards like Target or Amazon gift cards.
Coupon Code of Ethics – In general there are two types of coupons: manufacturer’s coupons and store coupons.
Manufacturer’s coupons – The manufacturer issues these coupons and typically these coupons can be used at any store that accepts coupons and that sells the product specified on the coupon. The manufacturer reimburses the store at which you redeem these coupons.
Store coupons – The store/retail establishment issues these coupons. Typically they can only be used at the store that issued these coupons. For instance, you can use a Target store coupon at Target, but not at Walmart. In some rare cases, retail stores will accept “competitor’s coupons.
1. Coupon Stacking – In some stores, you are allowed to “stack” coupons. This means you can use a store coupon AND a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item. For example, if Oreos are $3 at Target and you found a Target coupon for $1/1 pkg of Oreos and you also had a manufacturer’s coupon for $2/1 pkg of Oreos, you can use both coupons and get your Oreos for FREE! Always check your store’s coupon policy before attempting this.
2. You can only use a coupon once. If you bought four package of Oreos and had a coupon for $1/1, you cannot scan the coupon 4 separate times. Once you give the cashier your coupon and she scans it, you cannot use it again.
3. You can only use one manufacturer’s coupon (or store coupon) per item. Let’s go back to the Oreos example; if you have 2 coupons to save $1/1 pkg of Oreos and you only buy one package, you can only use one of those coupons. If you really, really wanted to use both coupons, you would have to buy a second package of cookies.
4. It is illegal to copy coupons. It is actually considered coupon fraud. I’m not sure if there is some secret Coupon Police, but I wouldn’t want to be holding up a long line of customers at Walmart because I tried to pass fraudulent coupons. There are legal ways of getting lots of copies of coupons.
5. Clearance and marked-down items are not exempt from coupon-use! I wouldn’t recommend going through your store’s self-checkout if you have marked-down items and are planning on using a coupon, but only because I’m almost guaranteeing the register will not accept the coupon without it being manually entered.
You can use coupons on clearance items because at the end of the day, the store will still be reimbursed by the manufacturer for the face value of the coupon. If you end up with a cashier who gives you a hard time, I’d ask to speak with a manager – in the end it’s totally worth it.
6. Ignore the picture on the coupon! The pictures on the coupon sometimes don’t even match what the coupon is discounting. It’s important that you read the entire coupon so you don’t buy the most expensive Suave brand item when you could have bought the $1 Suave conditioner instead.
7. Be confident! If you’re following all the coupon rules and the cashier is still giving you a hard time, stand up for yourself! Ask to speak with a manager or a shift supervisor. Many times the cashier is misinformed or the computer system isn’t working properly to ring in your coupons. If you still get nowhere, write a letter to the corporate headquarters after your shopping experience. In most situations, I’ve received a response and some sort of compensation for my troubles.
Here’s the coupon code – cracked!
- P&G – Procter & Gamble
- RP – Red Plum
- SS – SmartSource
- GM – General Mills
- BC – Betty Crocker
If I list a coupon matchup as 10/3 SS (exp 12/31/10), this means you can find the coupon in the SmartSource insert that was published on 10/3 and the coupon expires 12/31/10.
- $1/1, $3/2, etc. – One dollar off one item, three dollars off two items, etc.
- BOGO – Buy one item get one item free
- B1G1 – Buy one item get one item free
- B2GO – Buy two items get one item free
- B2G1 – Buy two items get one free
- ECB – ExtraCare Bucks, “money” you can use only at CVS; earned by purchasing specific products
SCR – Single Check Rebate, Rite Aid’s rebate program
- RR – Register Rewards, Walgreens’s “money” you can use only at Walgreens; earned by purchasing specific products
- MFR - Manufacturer
- OOP – Out of pocket
- OYNO – On your next order
- WYB – When you buy
- MIR – Mail-in rebate
- PSA – Prices starting at
- UPC – Universal Product Code, scannable bar code on a product
- GC – Gift certificate/gift card
- Blinkies – Store coupon dispenser with blinking lights
- Cat - Catalina coupon, prints from a separate machine when your receipt prints (common at Shaws & Stop&Shop)
- Peelie – Peel-off coupon you find on the package
- IE – Printable coupon link can be accessed using Internet Explorer
- FF – Printable coupon link can be accessed using Mozilla Firefox