This is what using coupons can feel like when you're starting out. Sure, you may save a buck or two, just like you may have gotten one or two questions on the test right. In order to do well, you need to study. The following are some things that will help you prepare for using coupons effectively and to your benefit.
The most common resource is the Sunday newspaper. Please do not be discouraged if you got a paper one week and found only five coupons. There is a cycle, a method to the madness. The first Sunday of the month is usually your best bet for a large amount of coupons.
There are a few different kinds of inserts:
Red Plum (formerly known as Valassis)
Proctor & Gamble (Released once a month)
Specific Store Insert, such as Dollar General
Keep every coupon, even if you don't think you'll buy the item. I thought I would never purchase Glade Air Freshener products. Then, I made a profit of $18.51 just for doing so.
In Stores/On Products
Next time you're shopping, look out for coupons. They may be on a stack or tearpad. They may be in little machines with blinking lights. They may be on the products themselves.
All You is the best magazine for finding coupons, and it is only available at Wal-Mart or through a subscription. Woman's World and Woman's Day usually have a few as well.
Being able to print coupons at home on my computer is like printing my own money. The downside--not all stores accept Internet coupons.
Biggest Rookie Mistake: Printing every single coupon you can. Doing this will waste your ink (and that's not very frugal), and most coupons have quantity limitations. If you print off everything right now, you won't have access to that great coupon when a sale comes up. Be honest with yourself and selective of what you print.
Coupon Distributor Websites
There are websites that collect the coupons from the newspaper and distribute them by charging a "handling fee". They do not sell the coupons, per say, but their services in clipping, sorting, and mailing the coupons.
This comes in very handy when you want multiples of one coupon or when you live in a region (like me) that doesn't get some of the great coupons that other regions get.
I recommend The Coupon Clippers. They have good prices, good in-stock quantities, and are fast and reliable. There is a 50 cent Admin Fee per order, a shipping charge, and a handling fee per coupon.
However, I wouldn't recommend running out and placing a huge order until you've started using coupons frequently and have a decent understanding of working the system.
If there's a particular product you like, go to the manufacturer's website. Sign up for their e-mails or newsletters. Send them an e-mail telling them that you like their product. Many times, they will respond with coupons.
Before you do this, sign up for a free e-mail account at yahoo! or hotmail and have all these e-mails go to that address. Your inbox fills up fast, and you don't want to bog down your personal e-mail address.
Beware of giving out your phone number. Only release it to reputable companies and when absolutely necessary.
Knowing the Language:
Use $1/2 from 9/7 RP, get $4 OYNO Cat
Does that look Greek to you?
Here's a list of translations for when I start speaking in couponese:
MQ or MC=Manufacturer's Coupon
FAR=Free After Rebate
OYNO=On Your Next Order
Cats or Catalinas=These are coupons that print out of a machine near the cash register when you make a purchase
B1G1=Buy One Get One (Usually refers to Buy One Get One Free, but not always)
Peelies=Coupons on packages in-store
Blinkies=Coupons from a little box with a blinking light in-store
Tearpad=Coupons in stacks in-store
$X/X=Dollars off a minimum quantity (Example: $1/2=One Dollar off Two items)
WYB="When You Buy", as in "Get crackers free WYB cheese"
OOP=Out Of Pocket, what you actually pay
Stacking=This is when you use more than coupon for an item, like a store coupon with a manufacturer's coupon or a $ off coupon with a Buy One Get One Free coupon.
RP=Red Plum Insert from Sunday Paper
SS=SmartSource Insert from Sunday Paper
P&G=Proctor & Gamble Insert from Sunday Paper
When referencing the above inserts, you will usually see a date before the abbreviation. This tells you what newspaper the insert came from.
Knowing Your Store's Policy:
These are the questions you want answered:
Does your coupon policy vary by store or is it a corporate policy?
Do you double or triple coupons? If so, to what maximum amount?
How many of the same coupon will be doubled or tripled?
Do you accept Internet printable coupons?
Can I combine store coupons and manufacturer’s coupons?
Do you have a coupon limit per transaction or per day?
Who do I contact if I have a problem using coupons in-store?
Finding the Deals:
You've already taken the first step by reading blogs about couponing, frugal living, etc.!
Forums are a great place to find deals in your area or at specific stores. A Full Cup, Hot Coupon World, and Slick Deals are the most popular. These forum sites also have great tools like coupon databases and coupon generators.
If you are short on time, you may want to try The Grocery Game. My region varied too much for it to be worth the expense, and I have more time to research than working mothers. It was definitely worth the $1 trial though--I did learn a lot from the process.
Using the Coupons:
Here's the big secret: combine coupons with sale prices and purchases that earn you rewards. That's it! Sounds easy, right?
In the blogosphere, we call it "Stockpiling". When an item is at it's lowest price and you have coupons for it, stock up. That means you won't need it when it's full price.
Final Words of Advice:
Don't feel like you have to run out and do every deal you see or use every coupon you have before it expires. There will always be another deal and more coupons--companies need our business too much!
As much as I will use coupons to my advantage, I will not purposefully deceive a merchant or participate in illegal activity. We must maintain our ethical and moral boundaries.
Be nice & considerate! Don't use the "express lane" with 20 coupons. Be friendly with employees and other customers. Even if you encounter problems, which at some point you will, be respectful.