Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tips & Tricks for Beginning Couponers

I wouldn't call myself an extreme couponer (yet), but I do what I can to save a buck or ten. After explaining my strategies to a fellow couponer, she told me that in all her years of couponing, they were the best strategies she had heard.  Because of this, and since I have had many friends ask me to teach them, I wanted to share my routine with y'all.

Before beginning, I want to give a piece of advice.  START SMALL.  Pick a store or two to begin rather than starting with five or six.

STEP ONE / / Browse the ads of the store(s) of your choice and write down every item that you use and see in the ad(s), even if you already have it. I always write down the items from the ads in black ink, I'll explain why in a second. For example, I grocery shop at Publix and Kroger, so I take two pieces of paper, write "Kroger" at the top of one and "Publix" at the top of the other. Then, I browse through the ad and write the products that I will use and their price under the appropriate store name.

STEP TWO / / Browse through your coupons and see which coupons match up with the items you have written down from the ad.  If you don't get the Sunday paper, (or even if you do), you can print coupons here or look on brand websites.  Write down the coupons you have next to the items from the ad, but use a different color ink. (It helps to make a color coded key at the top of your list).

Additional info on coupons: Different coupons appear in the Sunday paper each week, unless it is a holiday weekend. You can find the list of inserts here.  If you don't get the Sunday paper, you can use the list of inserts to determine if you want to buy the paper each Sunday.  I find that the P&G inserts have the coupons with the best discounts.  You can also buy inserts from "Coupon Fairies," but I'm not extreme enough for that yet so you'll have to do your own research on that!  As far as printable coupons are concerned, I like to go through the website once a week and print off anything I MAY use in the future.  Often times sales for products come out, but the coupon is no longer available.  If you've already printed it then you don't have to worry about that!

STEP THREE / / Download the apps for the stores you shop at and browse the digital coupons.  As you go through the app coupons, write the discount down in yet a separate color next to the product that you wrote down from the ad. Remember to add the color to your key at the top of your paper!  I have explained some of the apps that I use below:

KROGER: First and foremost, you need to have the Kroger card to get the majority of the sales and special prices.  (It's free, you can get it from the store and then register it to the app downloaded onto your phone). The app offers digital coupons that you can save to your card. There are a ton of benefits that you can use the Kroger rewards program for.  Often times they have sales like $5 off 5, where if you buy 5 of the advertised items you save $5.  Within these sales, you can pair paper coupons OR digital coupons.  You cannot, however, use BOTH a digital AND a paper coupon on the same item.  Another great thing about the app is that you can search products and it will tell you what aisle the product is in at the store you are at. It also tells you the price which is awesome because sometimes the price on the shelf isn't updated.  For example, we were buying gnocchi the other day, and the original price was $3.49, but since we searched the product on the app, we found that the whole wheat gnocchi was only $0.90, so we bought them all!  Kroger also allows you to build fuel points with their program so you can save money on gas at the Kroger station or some Shell stations. Kroger offers a free item every Friday.  It is listed at the bottom of their ad each week, but you can also find it by searching "free" in the digital coupon section of the app. I've heard from someone in a couponing group that there are sometimes other "free" coupons hiding in the app for some customers, but I've haven't been the recipient of any of those yet!

PUBLIX: The Publix app is similar to the Kroger app. You do not get a card with the Publix program, you just register your phone number and type it in at the register.  You also do not have to be registered in order to get the special pricing/sales. Like Kroger, you clip the digital coupons to your invisible card.  Also like Kroger, you cannot pair the digital coupons with paper coupons.  One great thing I love about Publix is that they frequently offer B1G1 FREE on a lot of their products.  This works great for products like cereal, where coupons frequently offer $1 off 2 or $1 off 3.  The $1 off 2 can be applied to two boxes of cereal, one of which is free, so it's really like getting the full dollar off of one box. The $1/3 can be applied to four boxes of cereal, you get two free and the $1 comes off of the two you are paying for. Like Kroger, Publix also offers free items, but they aren't advertised (as far as I know).  I find them by searching "free" in the digital coupons section of the app. I just discovered this a couple weeks ago and have so far been able to snag two free yogurts, a free strawberry cream cheese, and free banana chocolate chip pancake mix!

TARGET: Target used to be my go to shopping store, but I've found I get better deals at other stores.  That being said, Targets are everywhere, so its good to know how to navigate the bulls-eye couponing world.  Beauty products and household products typically offer the best deals at Target since they often have gift card rewards.  The best time to buy products here is when they offer, for example, a $5 when you buy 3 of a certain type of shampoo.  Target no longer offers Target coupons like they used to, but you can print manufacturers coupons from their website.  The Cartwheel app, which I believe is now integrated straight into the Target app, offers discounts that you can clip to your account.  You just have to show the QR code on your phone at the register, which they will scan and you will get the discount.  Typically Cartwheel discounts are % off,  which you CAN pair with printed coupons.  Just be aware that occasionally Cartwheel offers manufacturers coupons which cannot be pair with paper coupons.  Sometimes your out of pocket may be a little higher when you're buying items that result in a giftcard, but if you frequently shop at Target, you can get some pretty good deals.

WALGREENS:  I used to never shop at Walgreens because their every day prices are so expensive, but now it is one of my favorite stores. First and foremost, sign up for a rewards card and download the app.  You don't have to have a physical card, I just use my phone number and type it in at the register.  The reason I love shopping at Walgreens is because every purchase you make builds points. You can also become a "beauty enthusiast" (for free) to earn extra points on beauty items. Anyway, to the couponing.  The Walgreens app offers coupons that you can clip to your card.  The beauty of Walgreens is that you can typically pair the digital coupons WITH paper/printed coupons.  (If the digital coupon says "with card" then you can pair it with a paper/printed coupon, if it does not then it is a manufacturer's coupon and you cannot pair it).  They often have bonus points days.  For example, the other weekend was beauty weekend, and if you spend $20 on beauty products, you earn back 7,000 points, which is seven dollars worth of points.  Walgreens also has really great clearance.  You never know when its going to be, but if you're there, its really easy to wander all the aisles and check out the orange price tags.  Its not uncommon to see $30 products for less than $5.

Walgreens often offers Register Rewards (RR) with products (they are advertised in the weekly ad).  Register Rewards are a dollar amount that you can use on your next purchase.  TYPICALLY, you cannot pay with register rewards and receive more register rewards on a product, even if it is advertised.  Additionally, TYPICALLY you cannot pay with points and receive points, even if there is a point bonus advertised. (There are times that you can, but since this is a Beginning Couponers post, I'm not going to get into that). However, you can pay with points and receive RR, and you can pay with RR and receive points.  Walgreens also has a monthly coupon booklet at their stores that contain store coupons.


STEP FOUR / /  Your next step is to download ibotta. Ibotta is a cash back system, and all you need to do is scan your receipt and maybe a bar code or two after you're home from your shopping trip. (Bonus points if you use that link to sign up- it will give me extra credit!) Search for the store that you will be shopping at, then find the products on your shopping list.  You can "search" for your products, but I recommend browsing all of the items as sometimes the search function pulls up products from other stores.  Write down the cash back in a fourth color next to the items that you wrote down from the ad.  If you connect with your friends who also have ibotta, it can help you build bonus rewards.  Ibotta is mainly for groceries, but has a vast amount of stores connected to it and may also have health or beauty items listed.

Another app you can use like ibotta is Checkout51.  It doesn't have as many offers as ibotta does, but only takes a couple minutes to check, upload a receipt, and scan your products so I think its worth it to check.


STEP FIVE / /  Browse through your list and see where the good deals are.  Best case scenario you can buy something on sale with both a digital and paper coupon, then get cash back on ibotta. (For example, the other week Crest toothpaste was part of the Buy 5, Save $5 at Kroger.  After the sale and using a coupon it was 24 cents, then there was a 25 cents back on ibotta, making me a penny!)

It doesn't always work out that way, but once you can build a small stockpile, you can be a little pickier about how much you're willing to pay for things.  Now that I have a couple extra toothpastes and a handful (or four) of shampoos and conditioners, I will only buy these items if I can get them for less than a dollar, ideally for less than 50 cents. It seems like a lot but once you've done it a time or two it becomes a pretty easy routine and can be done during your nightly Netflix time!

STEP SIX / / You're ready to go! There are two ways to shop:

If you are sticking to a very strict budget, it is best to make sure you're equally strict in sticking to only items on your list. Go in with your list, grab your items, and check out. In, out, and on with it.  This may end up costing you more in the long run, but if you're pinching pennies it may be the better option.

Option two, and my preferred method of shopping, is slow and steady.  I like to go in with my list and all of my coupons, pop in my headphones, put on a podcast, and start at aisle one.  Walking up and down every aisle gives me the opportunity to find sale items that may have not been advertised, as well as clearance items.  Since I always bring my whole set of coupons, I'm always prepared for unadvertised savings.

ADDITIONALLY / / You can join couponing groups on facebook.  People often post their hauls, including sale prices and which coupons they used. I will list the groups that I am a part of, but if you shop at stores other than these all you have to do is search "STORE couponing" to find a group.

Walgreens Too
Walgreens Couponing
Couponing at CVS
Kroger Krazies
Couponing at Kroger
Couponing at Target
Target Couponing
You can also follow the Krazy Coupon Lady and The Couponing Couple on Facebook for deals

  • To truly save money, you can't be too picky on brands. That doesn't mean you have to go generic with everything.  Often times canned products like beans or tomatoes are cheaper if you buy the store brand (roughly 50 cents), but I find that I can get a better price on beauty and health products (shampoo, tampons, toothpaste) buying brand name when there are sales and I have coupons
  • Stock up! The trick is to "stock up" before you need it.  Waiting until you're out is a great way to be forced to pay full price. 
  • Be willing to go to multiple stores (if your location allows for it).  As I mentioned in step one, I shop at both Kroger and Publix, and since both these stores fall on the main road I drive I don't have to go out of my way to hit both in one shopping trip.
  • Always bring all your coupons with you! You never know if you will find an unadvertised deal or an item on clearance that you can apply a coupon to.  
  • If you're beginning your pantry stockpile, use the $5 strategy.  Bring along an extra 5 bucks on your grocery shopping trip for cheap items that you use often.  Examples of these items are: beans, condensed soups, canned tomatoes, etc.
  • The most difficult things to get cheap are meats, fruits, and veggies.  I usually just watch the ads for sales on these products.  Every now and then ibotta has rebates for fruits and veggies.  If you have tricks for savings in this area, please share in the comments!
  • DO NOT GO TO THE STORE ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE SALE. It is always packed with people, and often times the sales aren't all marked yet.  There is nothing more frustrating than finally getting to the front of the checkout line and finding out after all your items have scanned that you grabbed the wrong item because the sale wasn't marked yet, only to have a line full of people waiting after you!
  • Pay attention to the size of your product.  Make sure that the size of the item on sale matches the size of the item that your coupon is for.  Also make sure this matches the size of any rebates you may have.
  • Did you know that Amazon has coupons?? I am an avid user of Amazon Prime, and I just found out that Amazon has coupons for some of their products! If a coupon exists, they let you know at or before checkout.
  • Not a tip or trick, but keep donating in mind when you're couponing.  Some couponers, myself included, don't keep a spare room solely for the purpose of storing their stock piles, but that doesn't mean you have to pass up a GREAT deal when you see one.  You can always donate products to homeless shelters or food banks.  Another great place to donate that isn't often thought of is places like humane societies or other animal rescue places.  They are often in need of things like laundry detergent!


When I first joined couponing groups they were using all these abbreviations and I had no idea what they meant!  In case you decide to join one, I wanted to leave a brief guide here of the most commons terms I have come across so you aren't as lost as I am when others share their hauls!
  • OOP: out of pocket
  • MM: money maker
  • MFC/MQ: manufacturer's coupon
  • IVC: Walgreen's instant value coupon from monthly coupon catalog
  • CAT: catalina coupon (prints from register after purchase of certain items at stores like Walgreens and Kroger.  Cannot be used on current purchase, but can be used on next purchase).
  • PEELIE: coupon that you peel off of a product
  • WYB: when you buy
  • YMMV: your mileage may very (basically the deal depends on the store)
If this post interested you, I have another couponing post in the works! Stay tuned!

No comments:

Post a Comment