Centsible Saving 101:
Where to Start?

Those new to couponing often don't know where to start. While the obvious answer is 'at the beginning' . . . a little help from those on the path makes the process a little less intimidating. After I attended a Grocery Smarts couponing class, I started couponing at the grocery stores and then ventured into the drug stores. Where you begin isn't as important as deciding that you're ready to start saving more money and making the most of what you've been given.

Start Saving Coupons
Start today. Save the coupon inserts from your newspaper. You don't have a newspaper subscription? Ask your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers (anyone who is willing) to save coupons for you if they're not using them. Or call me for a centsible couponers extreme Grocery Smarts discounted subscription price.  Write the date on the outside of the inserts and drop them into a file. You do not need to clip coupons. This coupon collection is like money in the bank and is the beginning of your personal stockpile.

Make A List
Having a list of needed items - and sticking to it - will make a huge difference in your shopping budget. Impulse buying will shoot holes in a budget faster than anything I know. Retailers (armed with marketing psychologists) will do their best to tempt you in unbelievable ways. Keep your eyes on your list and your money in your pocket!

Set Up A Couponing Email Address
Many companies offer coupons online and may require an email address to print. Some may begin sending you newsletters or offer alerts (which are good things). To keep your personal email from becoming clogged with these couponing messages, set up a separate couponing account. Try gmail.com or yahoo.com (and, of course, these are free).


Coupon Basics

If you're a newbie to couponing (or even as a refresher for long-time couponers), these basics will head you towards saving money on your everyday necessities:

Manufacturer Coupons:

These coupons are issued by the manufacturer to help increase the sales of specific products. When you present a manufacturer coupon at your local store, the value of the coupon deducted will be deducted from your total at checkout. The store then sends the coupons to the manufacturer and redeems them for the value of the coupon plus a small handling fee (typically $0.08 per coupon). Retailers are NOT losing money when they accept your coupon.


Store Coupons:
  • Store coupons are issued by specific retailers and are valid only at their stores. The most common retailers issuing store coupons in our area are Target, Walgreens, CVS and Family Dollar. Store coupons from other retailers can be found on occasion.•Store coupons can be 'stacked' (or used in conjunction) with manufacturer coupons at most retailers. (Stores like Walgreens, Target and CVS allow you use one store coupon and one manufacturer coupon per item)

  • Store coupons have their own barcode and usually do not look like manufacturer coupons.
Where Can You Find Coupons?
Once you begin looking for coupons, you'll be surprised where they turn up:

  • Newspaper inserts. This will be your best source for coupons. Inserts include SmartSource, Proctor & Gamble, & General Mills among others.
  • Printable Internet Coupons. Popular internet coupon sites include: Coupons.com, Smartsource.com, Target.com, CouponNetwork.com and RedPlum.com
  • Manufacturer & Company Sites. BettyCrocker.com, EatBetterAmerica.com, Pillsbury.com, etc.
  • Family Oriented Magazines. All You Magazine - found only at Walmart (or by subscription) - is FILLED with coupons! Others include Parents Magazine, Family Circle and more. Once you become a full-fledged couponer you'll become more aware of coupons in magazines you might have passed by in an earlier life!
  • Home Mailers and Newsletters. The most important mailer locally is the RedPlum insert that is usually included in most zip codes with your 'junk mail' on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
  • Digital Coupons. Cellfire, Softcoin, and Proctor and Gamble are the most common. When using these sites, you are able to download coupons directly to your store loyalty cards (typically Smiths, Albertsons and Vons in our area). The value of these coupons is deducted from your total without your having to produce the paper coupon.
  • Facebook. Companies will often issue coupons from their Facebook sites. When you 'like' them, you can download and print.

Coupon Values:

Single Item Coupons are good off 1 Item. They are usually listed on my blog as $1/1 which means you'll save $1 when you purchase one of the items listed on the coupon.

Multiple Product Discounts are listed as $1/2 or $2/3, and so on. When using these coupons you are required to purchase multiple items in order to use the coupon.  If a coupon says $2/3 or $2 off the purchase of 3 then you need to buy 3 before you can use the coupon.  Stores won't give you a partial savings for these coupons!

Buy 1 Get 1 Free Coupons are sometimes noted as B1G1 or BOGO (Buy One Get One).  To redeem these coupons you purchase one item and get the second one.  These coupons are fantastic when paired with a Buy 1 Get 1 Free Sale at your local grocery or drug stores.

Free Product Coupons are most usually issued by manufacturers and do not require any other purchase.
    Coupon Tips:
  • Keep a list of needed items. And you don't have to use a coupon for everything. That may be a surprise coming from a couponer like myself, but we need to buy what we need and what we'll use. Buying a coupon item I don't need or will not use simply because it's a great bargain, is really no bargain at all -- it's a waste of my time and money.
  • Remember one store doesn't have the lowest prices on everything. But shopping multiple stores isn't always feasible. Determine where you will shop by the sales advertised each week. Or make the decision once to shop one particular store (because of prices, location, or selection) and be okay with it. It's not possible to shop every sale, at every store every week. Chill.
  • When an item is Buy One Get One Free, you can often use two coupons.
  • Try different brands. Your loyalty to a brand may be costing you money. I found my family doesn't notice the difference between Heinz ketchup (our old family favorite) and Hunts ketchup.
  • If the store is out of an advertised item, a raincheck may be available. Some offers state 'no rainchecks' in the ad. It doesn't hurt to ask. Use the raincheck (which usually has no expiration date) later with a coupon.
  • Avoid trips to convenience stores. It's just not smart when trying to save money on groceries to pay so much for saving a little bit of time.
  • Don't pay for convenience. Unless you have some great coupons for pre-packaged lunchbox items, cut your own vegetables and make your own lunchbox snacks. Buy in bulk and put things in ziploc baggies for lunches.
  • Plan your meals around the items in your pantry AND what you can purchase on sale. Once your stocked, your options will multiply and you should have all the basics for most meals.
  • If a coupon says "off any size", it's usually more profitable to buy the smaller size. I know we're programmed to believe that the bigger size is cheapest, that's not always the case. Do the math yourself, you may be surprised.
  • Don't shop when hungry. Impulse buys are more common with hungry shoppers -- everything looks good!
  • Check the expiration dates on foods (especially if stockpiling). Buy the items with the longest shelf-life.
  • Watch for discrepancies at the checkout. Make sure all your coupons are deducted.

Couponing Etiquette
    Those who have been couponing for some time, have probably dealt with other customers in line who have complained about your couponing. There are a few couponing etiquette rules that can help make the shopping experience more enjoyable for all:
    1. Make sure you use your coupon correctly. Read the coupon carefully and use it just as it is intended to be used. Pay close attention to terms printed on the coupon such as "excludes trial sizes" or "one coupon per transaction." One coupon per purchase means that you can use more than one of the same coupons as long as you have one item to match with each coupon. One coupon per transaction means you can only use one like coupon during the transactions.
      2. Do not scan or copy coupons. This is important! Some coupons can be printed multiple times, but each time you print there is a unique access or security code printed on the face of the coupon. You obviously don't get this unique code if you scan or copy your coupons. If you're able to print the coupon multiple times from the internet site, that's fine. Fradulent coupons may lead retailers to be skeptical about accepting coupons that are printed on the internet.
      3. Don't clear the shelves. Everyone loves saving money, and a good bargain is hard to pass up. There's nothing more frustrating than getting to the store and seeing a shopper who has cleared the shelves of a "hot" bargain. Leave something on the shelves for other shoppers. Shop different locations of the same store if you need.
      4. Shop big trips during off hours. If you're going to be making a big shopping trip and plan on using multiple coupons or rolling transactions, don't shop during prime hours. Other shoppers and sometimes cashiers can become frustrated. Shop during the day on week days or early in the morning or late at night on the weekends. Allow shoppers with fewer items to go before you in the check-out line. It helps make everyone happy.
      5. Be a coupon fairy. Leave coupons on the shelves for items you don't plan on purchasing. Leave coupons that are near their expiration date that you won't be using. Leave them for someone else to use. It will make their day, it will save them money and hopefully encourage them to see the value in using coupons. And share your unused coupons with other couponers. You'll save even more!
      Who Uses Coupons?
    • The average income of those who print and use digital coupons is $96,000.
    • People who use coupons have an income level 14% higher than the average American.
    • Adults with a college degree are almost twice as likely to have used coupons in the last six months as those who didn't graduate from high school.
      Isn't Buying Generic Cheaper? My experience tells me, no. Most stores offer their generic or store brands at a price right under the name-brand national items. If a name-brand peanut butter is priced at $2, the generic could be priced at $1.57. When the name-brand peanut butter goes on sale 2/$3 and you use (2) $0.50/1 coupons, you pay only $1 each for the name-brand product. Combining a sale with a coupon will bring the cost of national brands below the price of the generic.
      Couponing Takes Too Much Time! It may take an additional 30 minutes to an hour to plan your trip and clip your coupons. Because you have your list in hand and you're buying things on sale with a coupon, your saving money. You're also saving time by knowing exactly what you're going to purchase. You don't waste time looking for the best deals on the store shelf, comparison shopping in the store aisle. If you paid yourself a wage from the savings you realize at the store, you'd be making $30-$50 an hour!
      Aren't Stores Losing Money When I Use A Coupon? No, no, no. Stores actually make money on your coupons. Manufacturers pay stores a handling fee for each coupon they process (typically $0.08 per coupon). Aside from the value of the coupon, retailers know you're more likely to try new products when you have a coupon (which equates to a higher volume of sales for them). Because stores receive payment for processing coupons, as long as you're using valid manufacturer coupons withing their redemption dates, stores are happy to accept them. Just a note here: DO NOT EVER COPY A COUPON YOU HAVE CUT FROM AN INSERT OR PRINTED FROM YOUR COMPUTER. This is coupon fraud. This practice will also make couponing more difficult for each of us as stores may become less willing to accept coupons if they're consistently losing money because of fraudulent coupons.