At Parenticular, we’re all about saving money. I’m a big couponer, and I wrote the following guide with the intention of selling it on a separate website. I’ve since decided to make the guide publicly available and 100% free. It’s nearly 4,000 words detailing my coupon strategy that I use to save hundreds every month.
The only thing I ask is that you “LIKE” this page if you enjoyed the guide. :)
Hello! My name is Stephanie Simon and I’m the sole author of this guide. I live in a small suburban town located in Northeastern Ohio with my husband and 17-month-old daughter, Natalie.. Before we had Natalie, I worked as a Registered Nurse. It proved to be quite challenging for my husband to watch her for 8 to 12 hour time-frames because I breastfed and she was very attached to me! So my husband urged me to resign so I could stay home full time while he worked in his office upstairs as a self-employed web developer.
Quitting my job was bitter-sweet. RN’s make pretty decent money and I knew it would put more of a financial burden on my husband. On the other hand, home with my baby was where I wanted to be.
I first became interested in couponing when I realized I could purchase diapers for super-cheap, if not free in some cases. I quickly realized paying full price for diapers is insanity, and from there I discovered there are many other items that fall under this same category. My interest in coupons became a serious hobby because it meant I was able to contribute more than just being a mom. I saved $756.40 in my first month using coupons. That’s over $9,000 a year I’ve saved just from taking 20-30 minutes out of my day; which works out to making$50.00 an hour. Now, try to tell me you don’t have time to coupon!
I’ve decided to write this guide to show others exactly how I coupon, and ultimately how to save as much money possible. Being a mother with a baby, I understand time is precious. That’s why I’ve made this guide short and simple with no unnecessary clutter. You can easily breeze through this guide and be on your way to saving hundreds of dollars every month.
Read this guide and read it over several times if you’re serious about saving money.
Where to find coupons
People ask me over and over again, “Where do you get your coupons?”, it is perhaps the most frequent question I receive in the coupon world. And rightly so, because if you’re clueless in the pursuit of coupons, you will get no where! It’s the first step in saving money. Fortunately there are many places to find coupons, some obvious, and others not.
For most people the local newspaper is the most obvious coupon resource. However, in the past few years the major coupon inserts (red plum and smart source) have either slimmed down their inserts or completely pulled them from many newspapers across the country. So if your newspaper gets little to no inserts, there’s an alternative solution.
Larger cities always have more coupons in their newspapers. If you’re like me and live in a relatively suburban township, you can usually buy the newspapers from the surrounding larger cities at either (a) local grocery stores or (b) local convenient stores. There’s a third option which is to buy them from newspaper dispensers, but the downside to this is the possibility of coupon theft! You put your quarters in, get the newspaper, only to find out that some person has taken all of the inserts! Avoid dispensers whenever possible.
Printable coupons are the cheapest and easiest way of obtaining coupons. There are numerous websites from which you can print coupons. For each of the coupon websites listed below, you have to enter your zip code. In the next chapter (Coupon Strategy) I will discuss how to maximize the value of each coupon based on different zip codes.
SmartSource posts new coupons on the first of every month. One thing to keep in mind is if you really want a coupon, print it as soon as you can because all coupons have print limits. Usually the higher value the coupon and the more popular the product, the faster the coupon will reach its’ print limit. I’ve seen high value coupons reach their print limit within a few hours of being posted.
The only difference between RedPlum and SmartSource is that RedPlum posts new coupons every Sunday morning.
Coupons.com is also a great source to find coupons.
Ordering Coupons Online
The second way in which the internet can be used to obtain coupons is by ordering them from a few key websites. Newcomers to the world of couponing are often frightened by this concept, but you’re buying coupons when you buy newspapers. Ordering coupons online is usually cheaper than newspapers.There are many sites to order coupons, below are a few that I like the most.
I find this site the most user-friendly and have the best prices around.
This website facilitates a coupon community. It’s a great place to buy/sell and trade coupons; both clipped and whole inserts.
Sellers on eBay usually sell single coupons in bulk. You can sometimes get great deals if you want 20 or more of a certain coupon, otherwise if you just want a few, you’re better off sticking with the other coupon services.
A coupon mailer is a free book of coupons mailed to you directly from a single manufacturer such as Proctor & Gamble. You have to visit the manufacturer’s website and signup to receive their coupons. Mailers are not subscription based, so you have to keep an eye out on each company when they choose to have a new mailer promotion. One of the ways to keep tabs on these promotions is to “Like” them on Facebook. If they don’t have a Facebook page, you can routinely check their website for mailer announcements.
Blinkies & Tearpads
People tend to overlook coupons that are offered in store. A blinky is an electronic machine that some stores offer in which anyone can use to access coupons. A tearpad is a book of coupons which are physically located next to the product in the product aisle. Both blinkies and tearpads are easy ways to access free coupons, so do not overlook them!
Organizing your coupons
Over the years I’ve used three different organizational methods. The difference between the three I’m about to outline is quite varied and the method you choose will most likely vary depending on how much time you want to dedicate to couponing.
The Whole Insert Method
My favorite method of coupon organization is what I call the “whole insert method”. This method involves absolutely no clipping until you’re actually ready to use the coupons. It’s perfect for mom’s of small children and others who have a limited amount of time. It’s also a great method to use if you follow some of the popular online blogs, which write up weekly coupon match-ups and refer to coupons by the week in which they were released. Here’s how it works.
Obtain your coupon inserts from the variety of ways described in Chapter 2.
Separate your coupon inserts into type: Smart Source, Red Plum, Procter & Gamble, General MIlls, Target, etc.
Write the date of the coupon inserts on one of each insert type.
Place all of your organized inserts into a file folder with the date written on the folders tab
File your folder in your filing cabinet.
And that’s it! Your coupons are now organized according to the week they were released. The only downside to this method is that you will spend approximately one hour every Friday or Saturday night clipping coupons for Sunday morning shopping. But I honestly find my weekend coupon preparation fun.
The Binder Method
The Binder Method has many, many benefits. Many hard core couponers choose this method because it typically allows them to save more on-the-spot money. For example, you’re out doing your Sunday morning coupon shopping and you come across some awesome clearance, of which you know you have coupons for. If you use the binder method and have your binder with you (as all couponers who use the binder method usually do) you’ll be able to easily find the coupons you need in your binder and get an awesome on-the-spot deal. If you are using the Whole Insert Method, you’re out of luck because your coupons are at home! (This is the major downside to the Whole Insert Method.) Here’s how the Binder Method works, step by step:
First, you’re going to need to go out and buy a binder and either baseball card organizers or coupon organizers. You can buy baseball card organizers at most large supercenters, like Target, or at arts & crafts stores. Coupon organizers can be purchased at many different online stores, including e-bay and amazon. You will also need 10 to 16 tab dividers. On each tab divider you will need to write category names. This will vary from person to person based on couponing needs and personal preference. You can be very specific or very vague when doing this. For example, you can have a single tab labeled “Food” or you can create multiple tabs based on food types, such as “Frozen”, “Breakfast”, “Canned Goods”, etc.
Create coupon categories on your workspace.
- This will make your life much easier when you are filing your coupons into your binder. I use 3×5 index cards and have specific categories written on them. Here are the categories I use. You can tailor your index cards to fit your individual needs.
7. Health & Beauty
Once you have the index cards arranged on your workspace you can start clipping. As you clip, you simply place your coupons near the index card with the correct category.
Clip your coupons.
- For most couponers, it is pointless to clip every single coupon from every single insert. Your best bet is to go through each insert and clip the coupons which you are most likely to use. For instance, I don’t have any pets, so I will not clip any pet coupons. Organization is key at this point or you will waste a lot of time. You should start with one insert and one coupon at a time. For example, gather all of your Smart Source inserts and start clipping the first coupon that you want from each insert, putting like coupons in piles. Continue until you have all of the coupons you want clipped, clipped.
Place the coupons in your binder.
-This is the fun part. You should already have your binder set up according to the instruction above. So, using your already prepared binder, you simply place the coupons in the correct categories in your binder. Easy as pie!
The Coupon Folder or Envelope Method
This is more of a coupon storing method than an organizational method, but I’ve seen many people coupon successfully by using this method. You simply clip the coupons you anticipate using and place them in either a coupon folder, which can be purchased at almost any super center, or place them in envelopes and then into your purse. Now, you can organize your coupons by categories with this method. The coupon folders have tabs which you can put labels in and you can use separate envelopes for each category, with the category written on the front.
So there you have it. Three different coupon organizational methods to choose from. I have personally experimented with all three, and go from one to the other based on what’s going on in my life. In the end, it’s about doing what’s easiest for you and what allows you to save the most money!
In order to “coupon” successfully you have to use coupons strategically. There is a specific strategy one must use in order to maximize coupon savings. Most people I meet mindlessly clip a coupon and immediately use it. This saves them very little money. If you want to maximize your savings, you have to follow a strategy, and that strategy consists of matching coupons up with good sales and reward offers.
I’ve spent a lot of time developing my own strategy which has helped me to save thousands and thousands of dollars per year. Below is the exact outline of this process.
Step 1 – Acquire Coupons
As outlined in Chapter 2, finding the coupons is the very first step. Chapter 2 outlines all of the sources in which you can find coupons.
Step 2 – Watch & Wait
Couponing is a game of watching & waiting.
Sales are cyclic. Most couponers agree that the normal length of a sale cycle is approximately 3 months. For example: there’s an amazing sale and coupon match-up for body wash in January. Odds are there will be another identical sale in about 3 months time. So if you can’t get your hands on the coupon you need for the sale or can’t get out shopping for one reason or another, don’t fret! In a few months the sale and coupon will more than likely return.
The waiting game comes into play when you get your hands on a really great coupon and want to use it immediately. Don’t do it! Marketers are not stupid and when a high value coupon is released they will most likely have a sale on that item as well. The trick is to hold onto that coupon that is burning a hole in your pocket until the right sale comes along. This can be difficult, even for me. I will admit that there have been a handful of occasions where I waited too long and the coupon expired. But that’s just part of the game! I would have been beating myself in the head if I had used the coupon and missed out on a fantastic deal.
There are a few things to keep in mind here, though. If you absolutely need something and are going to buy it anyway then use whatever coupons you have. Don’t save a coupon for a sale if you need it right now. This is where a stockpile comes in handy. Once you get stocked up on your daily necessities, you are able to hold out for good sales and coupons because you never need to pay full price for anything (except produce and meat of course). I haven’t paid full price for ANY health and beauty products in over a year. This includes toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, feminine hygiene products, and DIAPERS. Out of every thing you can learn from this guide, the previous few paragraphs are the most important.
Step 3 – Matching the Coupon to the Sale
In Step 2, I emphasized the “Watch & Wait” technique. Obviously, you are waiting for a sale to match your coupon to. This seems pretty straight forward, but it is more complex than you may think. You need to know what’s on sale at what store, and the farther in advance you can get this information, the better. There are many online resources for this. My personal favorites for the drug stores are www.iheartriteaid.com, www.iheartwags.com, and www.iheartcvs.com. These websites have circular previews of the sales in the upcoming weeks. Sometimes they post the circular previews up to 4 weeks in advance! One of the biggest reasons you want to know what’s going to be on sale in the weeks to come is because you want to save your coupons for the best sale possible. Stores usually run similar sales around the same time. But there is ALWAYS a superior sale. So check the three sites I listed often and compare sales.
Other stores, like your local grocery and Walmart, usually release their sale ads about 2 days in advance and you will most likely get these in the mail or your local newspaper. This can make it slightly more difficult to compare sales because you don’t have weeks to prepare.But don’t fret! Some websites, like www.afullcup.com, have members who are able to get their hands on even these ads a few days early. All in all, I don’t worry too much about the grocery stores. Their sales are obviously geared more towards food, and if you find a good match-up then go for it!
When it comes to matching the correct coupon to the correct sale, there are a few other things to bare in mind, one of which is double couponing. If your stores “double” coupons then your best bet is to use your low value (i.e. under $1) coupons at that store with a sale. I have gotten items for FREE on so many occasions by doing this. For example, a few months back toothbrushes were on sale at 10 for $10. I had $0.75 coupons for these particular toothbrushes, so when the coupon doubled I got them for free!
Another detail you have to remember is what the coupon limits are at the particular store at which you are planning on shopping. For example, Giant Eagle (my local grocer) has a limit of 12 like coupons per day and 2 like printable coupons per day. Rite Aid has a limit of 4 like coupons per transaction. You will have to obtain the coupon policy from each individual store in your area. You can usually find these on the stores website.
The last detail to remember when matching coupons to sale is if there is a reward offer with the sale. For instance, Rite Aid may have Nivea bodywash on sale at 4 for $20 and if you spent the $20 you get a $10 reward, which Rite Aid refers to as an “+up” reward. Now let’s say you have 4 coupons for $2 off one Nivea bodywash. Pair that coupon with this sale and your total out of pocket cost is $12. BUT if you factor in the reward you will get at the end of your transaction, your net expense is only $2! This is one of the main reasons that Rite Aid is my favorite place to shop.
We’ve all been there before; stuck behind some crazy couponer with 30 different coupons delaying us all from moving on! We’ve also all been behind someone in a checkout line that has caused a delay, either because of confusion over a coupon or an error scanning one. This is one of the primary reasons in which people don’t want to bother couponing; fear of becoming an inconvenience to other people.
The best way to avoid any potential delays in a checkout line is to have full confidence in your coupons and how they work. It’s important to understand the store(s) policies as well. Nothing will prepare you as good as having actual experience. If you’re hesitant or fearful of “causing a scene” with your coupons, start off with just a couple! Eventually that experience will translate to confidence.
At that point, it’s only a matter of choosing the right aisle! It’s a no-brainer, if possible, you should shop at times in which stores aren’t busy. It also goes without saying you should stick with a cashier that you know is friendly.
If you have a lot of coupons and someone shows up behind you, kindly let them know you have quite a few coupons and they should consider moving to a different line; just in case. Most people will respect the honesty.
Develop a Thick Skin!
It’s hard not to become frustrated with impatient people, but over time you will naturally adapt. In the end, it’s only a matter of a few minutes, and you will never have to see those people again. And again, once you become a good couponer, you will encounter fewer delays as you learn store policies and coupon policies.
Isn’t Couponing Embarrassing?
Some people won’t use coupons, or many coupons because it embarrasses them. Why?! You know what’s embarrassing to me? Paying full price and throwing money down the drain. You wouldn’t believe how many people behind me in a checkout line are amazed at how much I save, and actually confess they wish they knew how to coupon like I do. You will find that more often than not, people respond positively rather than negatively, by a large percentage.
I encourage everyone to track their coupon savings regularly. It allows you to really see how quickly the savings add up, and it’s also very important to at least initially stick with it! The incentive to coupon is the savings, and it’s difficult to fully realize those savings without tracking them.
There is no right or wrong way to track your savings. Some prefer to use a pen and paper, and others an excel spreadsheet. I used to track in an excel spreadsheet until I had my husband build a free web-based service for tracking coupons! I found it to be much easier and it’s great because it has several visual charts that show you how your savings add up. The website is www.couponrecord.com and it’s free to join!
Sticking with it
Whenever we set out to accomplish new goals, it’s very exciting. But eventually the excitement dies down and it becomes a matter of will power and consistency. Successfully couponing is no different. One thing that makes couponing a little bit easier than other goals is we can see an instant pay off with every trip we make to the store. $20 saved here, $5 here, etc., while the individual trips aren’t a significant payoff, if you consistently keep it up for a year, the payoff is definitely huge!
The bottom line in the game of couponing is saving money. Your incentive to save money is directly proportional to your financial situation at home. Those who live comfortably will find it harder to put in extra time to save money, but those cases are few and far between with our current economy.
If you find the process tedious at times, remind yourself that it’s about being smart and saving money. If the money you save from couponing isn’t a necessity to pay bills or even survive, consider that a year of couponing can easily pay for a family vacation, or a semester or two of college. If you’re like most of us who coupon and understand that couponing *is* a necessity, sticking with it should not be a problem! When you realize the system outlined in this guide actually works, it’s a no-brainer to continue using it. Otherwise, you’re simply throwing away thousands of dollars every year by paying full price and not effectively using coupons.
I hope you enjoyed this guide! My goal is to simply help others discover the enormous savings potential of effective couponing.
Thank you for reading,