You may have heard that I’m all about couponing as of late. It’s true. I’m old and miserly. Whatever. I’m also eating well and not broke so SHUT UP.
Several people have asked me what it takes to start your own couponing system and I’m here to offer some helpful tips.
I plan on explaining most jargon as I go, but before we get started, a bit of lingo:
Manufacturer Coupon – These are coupons you regularly find in the paper inserts or print. These are easily differentiated from store coupons by a note at the top. Don’t be fooled by coupons with Wal-Mart or Target’s name on the front. If they say Manufacturer on them, they can be used anywhere.
Store Coupon – These coupons are meant only for the store where they were distributed. These will be clearly marked to identify which store they came from and cannot be used elsewhere (unless that other store accepts competitor’s coupons.)
Stacking- Combining a store coupon with a manufacturer’s coupon to get the largest discount possible. Add this to an already reduced price item and you’ve got a deal!
Doublers- Some stores (Albertson’s, K-Mart, Safeway) allow you to double your coupons either by pairing your coupon with their doubles coupon, or simply by having a rewards card with the store. Ordinarily you can only double coupons up to $1.00 in value and cannot double more than 3 or 5 coupons per transaction.
Moneymakers- Also called overages. Coupon/Sale combinations that exceed the price of the item so that the store pays you to take their items! Keep in mind that only certain big box stores will let you make money off of their sales (Wal-Mart is among them!) so always check the store’s coupon policy before trying this.
Part 1: Collecting Coupons
Before you go on a crazy extreme couponing trip, you need to build up a collection of coupons. Where can you find coupons, you ask?
1. Check Your Local Paper – The more urban the better. If you live in a suburb or small rural town outside of a metro area, try to pick up the bigger paper. It will generally have more coupons. Where I live, the Lewiston Tribune and Spokesman (out of Spokane, WA) are the two papers that carry coupon inserts. The Moscow-Pullman paper does not. Coupons generally only come in Sunday papers, so don’t bother digging through daily papers. Wednesday papers often feature inserts with new sales events, but rarely do they include any major coupons. Buying all of the local papers (or multiples of each if you’re WAY extreme) can get costly, so here’s my secret to getting these coupons without even the minimal cost of the paper:
A. Be super trashy and hit up businesses late Sunday night when they’re discarding their daily papers.
B. Go to a local cafe or business that buys the paper (I prefer going to McDonald’s because they buy multiple papers and who cares about McD’s?) and steal the inserts. Come in with your binder and other inserts and no one will notice.
C. Dumpster dive for additional papers. If it’s worth it to you, you can get tons of coupons this way. It’s worth a try!
D. Just steal them. I’ve done this before at places I hate, like WalMart.
If you want to make sure that all of this criminal activity is worth a few coupons, use the Sunday Coupon Preview to find out what you might find!
2. Use Online Coupon Sites to Print Coupons - This is likely the easiest way to get coupons, but it comes at a price as well and depending on your printer, it might be quite high. A few things you need to do this:
A. A couponing email address where you can direct all of the spam and advertisements you’ll receive after signing up for these sites. Don’t try to sign your friends up as a prank, because many require an email verification.
B. A printer. This is a necessity for any serious couponer. I purchased a printer from WalMart for $39 that included ink cartridges. It was cheaper to buy a new printer than it was to replace the cartridges in my old one, so I went for it. This HP1000 also has some of the cheapest ink on the market so it’s a good option if you want to start printing coupons but don’t want to invest in a nicer printer.
C. A Fake Facebook Account. Use that coupon email address to sign up for a dummy FB account. This will help you get all of those high dollar coupons offered on Facebook without having to be embarrassed by publicly liking Preparation H.
D. These pages bookmarked:
If you can only choose one of these to check daily, I would recommend Coupons.com. They have the largest selection, however, they do not feature the highest value coupons. I try to keep up on these sites and print the few new coupons that appear each day (around 6 on average) so I don’t find myself overwhelmed with all of the coupons that crop up in a given week (or more). This also ensures that I don’t miss out on a deal!
Common Kindness is a must-see for socially responsible couponers. This site allows you to pick a local charity or organization and counts your acquired coupons toward a donation to this group. There are opportunities to donate $50 or more to these organizations through your frugality! You don’t spend a penny! This site also offers coupons for many organic, gluten-free, and vegan foods that you won’t find on the other coupon sites.
3. Pick up Coupons at Your Grocery Store or Pharmacy - You can often find coupons right where you shop. These in-store coupons come in several different forms. Here are a few:
A. Blinkies are coupons dispensed from little machines next to the product they apply to.
B. Peelies are sticker coupons on the package of their corresponding product (but be careful, sometimes peelies are advertising $1.00 off of a different product with purchase.)
C. Peel-pad coupons are similar to blinkies, featured next to the product they advertise. Some stores are better about distributing these peel-pad coupons than others. Keep in mind that these are manufacturer coupons and do not need to be used in the store where you found them.
D. In-Ad coupons are featured in your stores weekly circular. Some stores have great store coupons that can be combined with manufacturer coupons. This is called stacking and it’s how you get the best deals. To tell the difference, look at the top of your coupon for details. More on this later!
E. Coupon books are common at some stores like Walgreen’s and are a great way to save big bucks by combining coupons. Every month Walgreen’s puts out a new book of impressive coupons. These coupons are yours for the taking. You can pick up as many books as you think you’ll use!
F. Catalinas are the high dollar coupons that print out at the register after you make a purchase. These are awesome and valuable little slips of paper, so be sure to save them!
4. Load Coupons onto Your Rewards Card - Many places offer opportunities to save on paper and put coupons directly on your rewards card. This method is a little difficult for me, because I tend to forget what I put on which card. And don’t forget SavingStar, where certain purchases made with your rewards cards add up to gift cards (or cold hard cash!) This site’s discounts are connected to your rewards cards and can be combined with any other coupon. Check it out!
And last but not least . . .
5. All You Magazine – sold exclusively at Wal-Mart, All You is exactly what you might expect from a Wal-Mart affiliated publication. Its pages are filled with images of boring women looking frumpy and supportive of their husbands. Nothing flashy. Nothing of high quality. Just standard females modelling clothes they would probably wear anyway. Its only winning feature in my book is its dedication to showcasing only affordable fashion. All of the outfits in the magazine are easily purchasable by their readers — a feat never before accomplished by a print magazine (to my knowledge)! If you’re interested in being shocked by this magazine’s dedication to offending NO ONE, then by all means, read it, but if you want tons of coupons, buy it for $3.00 each month and clip the shit out of this mostly terrible publication.
Whew! That should be enough information to get you started on collecting coupons. Next up, Part 2: Coupon Organization!
If you want more info from the pros, check out these awesome websites: