Couponing Do’s & Don’ts — How to Save Money Shopping With Coupons
Are you making big mistakes when it comes to grocery shopping with coupons? See these extreme couponing do's and don'ts.

You’ve probably already used coupons at some point in your life. According to a 2020 survey by Statista, almost 90% of respondents reported having used coupons for shopping. Considering that coupons provide a fast, free way to reduce spending on groceries and essentials, it’s clear why coupons are so popular.

But to make your couponing efforts more successful, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the tips and tricks successful couponers use. The last thing you want to do is waste time collecting coupons only to realize none of them is valid when you’re checking out.

If you’re relatively new to couponing, start slowly by bringing a few paper coupons to your next shopping trip. Over time, you can incorporate more of these couponing do’s and don’ts to save more.

Couponing Do’s

Couponing doesn’t have to feel like a marathon or take up hours of your week. By following one or more of these couponing do’s, you can start to trim your monthly spending — and ultimately save more money.

1. Do Know Where to Find Coupons

The most basic step in starting to coupon is to collect them. Ideally, you can gradually build a stash of coupons for the stores and brands you frequently shop so you can always find some savings at the register.

To begin your coupon hunt, plan your weekly meals around sale products if possible. That helps you find discounts without even having to coupon. To find in-store sales, look for digital flyers on grocery store websites.

Another resource is Flipp, a free app that provides weekly flyers, deals, and online coupons for over 2,000 stores. Flipp has weekly flyers for stores like Aldi, Kroger, and Walmart. You can clip deals you find to the in-app shopping list to help you keep track.

Once your virtual or paper shopping list has all the food you need for the week, finish the list with any household essentials you need to restock, like toilet paper or cleaning supplies. You’re now ready to track down coupons for everything on your shopping list.

There are several free websites you can use to print paper coupons. These websites include coupon databases and brand websites like:

Coupons.com, Coupon Sherpa, RetailMeNot, and Valpak also have mobile apps that let you find and redeem digital coupons at the register. If you don’t want to spend time and money printing coupons, apps are your best resource. You can also try other mobile coupon apps like Grocery Pal and The Coupons App, which have digital coupons for grocery stores like Aldi, Albertsons, Kroger, Food Lion, Safeway, and Publix.

Between paper and digital coupons, you should find savings on some of the products on your weekly shopping list. If you can’t track down a specific coupon, searching online for the product name plus “coupon” is another tactic to try.

Finally, if you subscribe to a Sunday paper or get coupons and ad flyers in the mail, take a few minutes to scan for coupons you need. If you spot an incredible coupon for a product you buy regularly, you can scoop up a few extra newspapers on discount at a dollar store the following day or look online for the same coupon.

Also, don’t forget to check out those coupons they print out at the register after checkout (sometimes called Catalina coupons). Those are typically based on your specific purchases, so there may be something in there you can use. Others may be percent-off discounts on your total sale price if you spend over a certain amount.

You don’t have to go overboard and find duplicates of every coupon for your shopping list. Find as many as you can, and remember to check expiration dates so you shop in time to save.

2. Do Combine Coupons With Cash-Back Rewards Apps

Coupons usually provide a percent discount or certain dollar-off amount to let you save. But if you want to save even more on your weekly grocery haul, you can use cash-back rewards apps to earn rebates for buying certain products.

Just like searching for coupons, you can research rebate opportunities before heading to the store to earn cash back for products you were going to buy anyway. Popular rewards apps you can use include:

  • Ibotta. Earn cash back for buying specific products from Ibotta partners and uploading your receipt to the app for proof of purchase. Ibotta works with over 1,000 brands, and there are always offers on groceries and everyday essentials. You can redeem cash back through PayPal, Venmo, or free gift cards when you reach $20. Read our Ibotta review for more information.
  • Fetch Rewards. If you like Ibotta, Fetch Rewards is another must-download app. With Fetch Rewards, you earn points for buying products from dozens of popular brands. An advantage of Fetch Rewards is that you can redeem many free gift cards once you reach $3, which is possible in a single shopping trip. Read our Fetch Rewards review for more information.
  • Checkout 51. Checkout 51 is similar to Ibotta. Download Checkout 51, select offers to shop for, and upload your receipt to earn rewards. Checkout 51 works at stores like Aldi, Albertsons, Costco, Kroger, Meijer, and Walmart. You get a check when you earn $20 in cash back. Read our Checkout 51 review for more information.

There’s still nothing wrong with using paper coupons or mobile coupon apps if that’s all you have time for. But to save even more, it’s worth trying cash-back rewards apps alongside your couponing efforts.

3. Do Sign Up for Store Savings Cards

Sign up for rewards cards at the stores where you shop. Store rewards cards typically provide shoppers with additional savings in the form of reward points or discounts. Plus, some loyalty programs also send additional coupons in the mail.

Reward cards also help you earn more with Ibotta since you can connect cards from retailers like Meijer, Kroger, and Wegmans to your account. Once you connect a card, Ibotta automatically detects whether your purchase qualifies for cash back and pays you.

4. Do Stay Organized to Maximize Savings

Organize coupons to keep them easily accessible when you shop. The last thing you want is to miss a coupon when checking out or — even worse— forget your coupons at home.

Your organizational system doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. For casual couponers, a coupon wallet on Amazon costs around $10 and comes with dividers to group coupons into different sections, like meat or produce.

If you prefer managing everything from your smartphone, you can also use the free SnipSnap app to transform paper coupons into digital ones. Once you snap a picture of a paper coupon, Snip Snap uploads it to its database so you can use it while on the go. The app also tracks expiration dates and sends reminders about expiring coupons.

5. Do Know Your Store’s Coupon Policy

Does your grocer double coupons, price-match, accept competitor coupons, or give rain checks if sale goods are out of stock? If you don’t know, research coupon policies online. Grocery stores and general retailers like Walmart and Target outline coupon rules on their websites. To find a policy, use a browser to search for the name of your store of choice plus “coupon policy” (for example, “Kroger coupon policy”) or look for a frequently asked questions section on the website. These policies help you save even more money, and they aren’t always prominently advertised. Things to stay informed about include:

  • Price Matching. Stores don’t like losing a potential sale because a competitor has a slightly lower price tag, so many are willing to price match. Price matching is when a store adjusts its price to match a sale at another local store.
  • Competitor Coupons. Your store may accept competitors’ coupons, but you should clarify who their competitors are. For example, Publix accepts coupons for competitors’ private-label products, whereas Meijer doesn’t take competitor coupons at all. But some stores are more specific than Publix. Lowes Foods accepts competitor coupons only from select competitors, like Aldi, Food Lion, Target, and Walmart.
  • Rain Checks. When you want to buy an out-of-stock product, some stores issue rain checks, which guarantee the current price when it’s back in stock. But many stores have specific rules for rain checks. For example, Publix only issues one rain check per household per day (in addition to other, sometimes product-specific restrictions).

6. Do Know Local Stores’ Best Deals & Sale Patterns

You can get the most out of any coupon when you shop at the stores with the best deals for that product type, such as canned goods or toiletries.

That requires paying attention as you shop around. Over time, you learn each local store’s pricing quirks and sale patterns. For example, perhaps your local Walmart’s bakery section regularly puts bread and bagels on sale during certain days of the week. Or maybe your town’s Kroger has better prices and more frequent discounts on frozen meals than your local Publix.

As you learn this type of information, you can be more selective about where you shop for individual products. You don’t have to waste time and gas shopping at multiple stores for a single grocery trip, but for specific products, it can make sense to coupon at stores that are more likely to have deals or just better prices on that product category.

7. Do Start Slowly

When you first start couponing, it feels intimidating if you’re redeeming dozens of coupons and have a lot of numbers to crunch.

For your first few shopping trips, focus on the highest-value coupons, the ones you know are worth using. That might look like bringing three 50%-off coupons or your highest-dollar-value-off coupons.

You can even try using coupons on sale products, but don’t get too creative until you’re comfortable calculating whether things are good deals and handing over coupons at the register.

8. Do Try Stacking Coupons

Combining a coupon with a store sale is a simple way to stack savings. But you don’t have to limit yourself to just stacking coupons with sale prices. Stores like Dollar General, Meijer, and Target let you stack a manufacturer’s coupon and store coupons to save even more.

For example, if Target has Planters peanuts on sale for $2, you can use a $1 Target coupon for Planters products and a $1 Planters manufacturer’s coupon to score a free can of peanuts. You can find store coupons online or in your favorite store’s weekly flyers.

If you can’t get something for free, try stacking coupons with store sales and apps like Ibotta to maximize savings.

For example, there’s a 50%-off clearance sale on a $3.99 Red Baron pepperoni pizza, bringing the price down to $2. If you have a $1 manufacturer coupon, the price is just $1. But since Ibotta has a $0.75 rebate on Red Baron pepperoni pizza, you just scored an entire pizza for only $0.25.

To top it all off, shop with a cash-back credit card to earn even more. The goal of couponing is to find deals whenever possible and get creative to stretch the value of every dollar you spend.

9. Do Use the Overage

When your coupons exceed the sale price of a product, it produces an overage. While that doesn’t invalidate the coupons, most often, that means you get the product for $0.

However, certain retailers apply overages toward other products in your shopping cart. For example, say you get an overage of $0.50 on a box of Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix by using a manufacturer coupon and sale price. Overage-allowing retailers apply the $0.50 overage to another product in your cart.

Walmart and Kroger are two major retailers that apply overages to your cart. And Walmart is one of the few retailers that pays cash back for overages (except on purchases made using government benefits, so save coupons for purchases you make when you’re not using your SNAP and WIC benefits). Kroger issues overages on a merchandise return card (essentially, a Kroger gift card). If you’re in doubt, look up your store’s coupon policy online to learn about overage rules.

10. Do Present Coupons in the Right Order

You can maximize your savings by handing the cashier your coupons in a specific order. For example, if you have a store coupon for $5 off a $20 purchase, use that coupon first. Otherwise, your other coupons might negate the $5 coupon by discounting the total amount of the sale to less than $20.

Some stores automatically apply your coupons correctly, so the order doesn’t always matter. But to be safe, give the cashier the price-minimum coupon before you use any other coupons.

11. Do Get in & Get Out

Know what you plan to buy before you go to the store, and stick to your shopping list.

If you stay in the store too long, you become susceptible to their marketing ploys, and you may end up spending more money. Get in, get the deals, and then get out.

If you shop during less busy grocery shopping hours, like during the week or at night, your trips will also be faster than battling weekend shopping crowds.

12. Do Stock Up

If you spot an incredible couponing opportunity on nonperishable goods or products you use frequently, it’s generally a smart move to stock up. It ensures you benefit from the deal as much as possible and lets you use more coupons before they expire. It’s an excellent way to set up long-term emergency food and supply storage.

Stacking coupons and store sales lets you score the lowest price possible when stocking up. For example, if Green Giant canned corn is on sale for $0.99 per can and you have several BOGO coupons or manufacturer coupons for $0.50 off per can, you can stock up on as many cans as possible to build your food storage for less than half the regular price.

Some stores limit the number of sale products you can purchase at once. If a store puts a limit on something and you need more of it, visit other store locations to create your stockpile.

Stocking up also lets you be pickier about when you use coupons. For example, if you run out of toilet paper, shop your emergency pantry first. You can replace your emergency supplies when you’re able to stack a sale and a coupon rather than buying full-price TP without a coupon.

That’s especially important for edible pantry goods. Canned and dried foods last a long time, but even they eventually go bad. This method ensures your emergency supplies are always safe to eat. If you have to throw them away, you won’t save any money (and may be in trouble if you need them during a bona fide emergency).

But before you come home with 30 cans of creamed corn, make sure you have a place to store it. You can convert a small area of your home, like a guest room closet or second bathroom linen closet, into your emergency pantry.

13. Do Donate the Excess

When couponing, you sometimes encounter scenarios where you can get so much of a free or cheap product that you can’t even use it all before it expires. It’s still a better deal than purchasing without a coupon, but the thought of letting all that product go bad doesn’t sit well with most people.

Instead of turning down an incredible deal, look into ways to donate excess couponing successes to people in need. Charities like homeless shelters, food banks, and women’s shelters make excellent candidates for donations. You can also reach out to local churches and community outreach programs to see if they need certain supplies.

You may even be able to take a charitable contribution tax deduction.


Couponing Don’ts

If you ever watched shows like TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” successful couponing looks like hours of dumpster diving for coupon flyers, endless clipping, and (in some cases) being way too frugal.

But couponing doesn’t have to become your full-time job. You don’t need to make things overly complex either. As long as you follow couponing best practices and avoid some common couponing mistakes, your savings can benefit without transforming your living room into a coupon-clipping factory.

1. Don’t Shop Without a Meal Plan

Shopping with a meal plan is an often overlooked couponing tip, but it’s crucial to saving money. If you don’t have a plan to use the products you’re buying each week, you’re more likely to waste food.

Additionally, shopping without a menu makes you more likely to buy convenience food: frozen pizzas, hot dogs, and other fast meals. While these are delicious, they’re not conducive to eating healthy on a budget.

When building your shopping list, plan dishes that line up with products you have coupons for. For example, you find a $1-off coupon for two bags of Sargento cheese, a $0.25 coupon for Classico pasta sauce, and a coupon for $1 off two boxes of Mueller’s pasta. You can plan to make lasagna for dinner one night that week and macaroni and cheese as a side for another meal.

Or perhaps you find a coupon for an ingredient that’s central to many dishes, like chicken or ground beef, that also happens to be on sale. You can plan to make several recipes that use that ingredient, then stack the sale and coupon for even more savings.

If that sounds intimidating, affordable meal-planning services like $5 Meal Plan provide a month’s worth of dinner recipes and various breakfast and lunch ideas for only $5 per month.

2. Don’t Use a Coupon on a Full-Price Product

If you use a $1-off coupon on a full-price two-pack of SlimFast protein drinks for $5.68, you still pay $2.34 per beverage. But if you wait until SlimFast is on sale, you can save even more money. For example, if SlimFast goes on sale for 20% off, you can buy two drinks for $4.54, use your coupon, and pay $3.54, or $1.77 each, saving nearly 40% on your purchase.

That’s why operating with an emergency pantry is such a good idea. If you need to restock on an ingredient or product that day, you have to use coupons even if you miss a sale (or worse, pay full price without a coupon). But if you can afford to wait, you can save money in the long run by shopping during sale periods and with coupons more often.

3. Don’t Buy Something Just Because It’s on Sale

Don’t let sale prices trick you into buying something you don’t typically use just because it looks like a deal. If you use coupons without thinking, you inevitably buy things that are a waste of money or products that expire before you have a chance to use them.

Jumping on every great deal out there significantly lightens your wallet and defeats the whole purpose of couponing. That said, if you find a fantastic deal on something you can donate, there’s nothing wrong with couponing for charity.

4. Don’t Be Brand-Loyal

Prego or Ragu spaghetti sauce? Skippy peanut butter or Jif? Which brand should you buy? The answer: whichever one you can get the cheapest using your coupons.

Many people start couponing because of a major life event, like job loss, pregnancy, or too much debt. Those aren’t the times to be brand-loyal. You need to save money, and you can’t do that if you pass on deals because you prefer specific brands.

And sometimes, the cheapest bet is to go with the store brand, even if it means passing up on a coupon or sale for another brand.

For example, at Walmart, the Great Value line is extensive, covering a range of affordable grocery products and everyday essentials. If your coupons can’t beat Great Value, it’s probably best to save them for another time.

Plus, many retailers give coupons for their own brands through register coupons and coupon mailers, so you can still find ways to save on already affordable store brands.

5. Don’t Use Every Coupon

Some coupons don’t represent real savings. For example, a coupon for $0.50 off two boxes of brand-name cereal doesn’t result in much savings. That’s only $0.25 off each box. Even during a good sale, the coupon may not take the total price down to a better deal than the store brand. Wait for a better coupon and another sale.

Sometimes, you also have good coupons nearing their expiration dates but no sales on the goods you need. Let them expire. You don’t have to use the coupons, especially if you have to buy a brand name at full price to do so.

Couponing is about saving money, not getting good deals on brand-name products.

If you really need something, buy one or two of them now and wait for a sale to buy in bulk.

6. Don’t Waste Time

It’s easy to fall into the couponing trap of spending so much time searching for deals and preparing to shop that you’re turning couponing into a part-time job (there are better side gigs to make extra money).

Start by asking yourself how much time you want to dedicate to couponing. The answer could be 15 minutes on Sunday to look through coupon apps or a couple of hours every week to do more thorough research.

With a time commitment in mind, you should also work efficiently. Some tips to save time when couponing include:

  • Only clipping paper coupons you know you’re going to use
  • Turning clipping into a family activity (don’t forget safety scissors for the younger ones)
  • Linking store loyalty cards with apps like Ibotta to avoid preselecting rebates before shopping

You can also order groceries online and use coupons to save both time and money. Online grocery shopping gives you plenty of time to scout deals and coupons and do the math without feeling pressured. It also saves you from clever marketing tactics that induce impulse buys. They try to do the same things online, but you have more time to talk yourself out of it. And you can typically use the same or similar coupons online you do in stores.

For example, at Kroger, you can load digital coupons onto your Kroger Plus card and have them automatically apply to your online grocery order. And if you pick up the order, you can also use paper coupons (Kroger only accepts their own digital coupons for delivery). Just make sure you hit any free pickup minimums to ensure you’re really saving.

As long as couponing is enjoyable and effective, you’re on the right track. Plus, as you gain experience, you’ll find certain coupon apps or websites work best for your shopping habits and become even more efficient at growing your coupon supply.

7. Don’t Print Coupons You Don’t Use

Online printable coupons from websites like Coupons.com can save money. But you still use computer paper and ink to print the coupons, which costs money and wastes paper.

Many people print every online coupon available and then throw most of them away. Print online coupons as you need them. Save any you’re interested in but don’t need as a PDF or browser bookmark.


Final Word

In many ways, learning to coupon is a series of stages. At first, you use a few tips that are convenient to save, like buying products you have coupons for. As you become more comfortable, you start to mix in tricks like coupon stacking and simply using more coupons per shopping trip. If you start loving the process, you eventually graduate to extreme couponing, where it’s possible to score entire grocery hauls for almost pennies on the dollar if you get it right.

Whatever stage you’re in, the goal of couponing is to save more of your money. How much time you spend on it is up to you.


Source: moneycrashers.com