Couponing 101

Coupon Basics – From the Very Beginning

What is a manufacturer’s coupon?
A manufacturer’s coupon is a piece of paper with a discount for a specified product printed on it. The coupon can be used at most stores that carry the specified product. To receive the discount you must purchase the product and give the cashier the coupon. The cashier will scan the coupon and the coupon amount will deduct from your purchase. You then pay for the remainder of the purchase.

You may only use one coupon one time.
You may not buy ten boxes of cereal and scan the $1.00 coupon off cereal ten times. Most coupons state on the coupon that they can only be used once.

You can use one coupon per indicated items purchased.
If you have two coupons to save $1.00 on cereal, you can buy two boxes and use both coupons. The coupon says “one coupon per purchase.” This means you cannot use both $1.00 coupons on one box of cereal. If you purchase two boxes then you can use both coupons. If the coupon says $1.00/2 then you must purchase two items in order to use the one coupon.

You may not use two coupons on one item.
You cannot buy one box of cereal and use five coupons on it. You may only use one of your coupons on the cereal. At many stores, though, you can use a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon on one item. For example, at Rite Aid, if Cheerios are on sale and you have a manufacturer’s coupon for $1.00 off of one box, and a Rite Aid coupon (usually found in the weekly ad or on the store website) for $1.00 off of one box, you can purchase one box, use both coupons, and get $2.00 total off your box of Cheerios. You need to read the coupon policy for the store to see which stores allow this.

Read the wording of the coupon carefully.
Many times a coupon will have a picture on it but the coupon will state “save on ANY Nabisco product”. There are times you may have to point this out to your cashier as well. One time I purchased Nabisco animal crackers and the cashier would not accept the coupon because the coupon had a picture of Nabisco cookies on it.  Although I showed them where it stated “ANY product” they still would not accept it. You shouldn’t have a problem at 99% of stores though. Make sure you also read to make sure how many items you have to purchase or if the coupon is only good on a certain size of the product. This will save you time at the register by purchasing the correct items.

What about using coupons on clearance items?
This depends on the store. I know for a fact that Harris Teeter (at least ours in Aberdeen) allows you to use coupons on clearance items. Lowes Food in Pinehurst will not allow coupons to be used on clearance items. The store coupon policy should state whether or not they allow it, but you can always just ask at customer service to make sure.

Coupon Limits
Most stores will allow you to use only 20 coupons per day. You need to check the store’s policy to make sure though. At Harris Teeter you can use three like coupons per transaction. At Lowes Food you can use four like coupons per transaction. So if I purchase 4 boxes of Cheerios at Harris Teeter, I can use three coupons for money off Cheerios. The exception is Internet coupons, where you can usually only use two coupons per transaction. So if I purchase 4 boxes of Cheerios, and I have two manufacturer (paper) coupons and two Internet coupons, I can use all four. Again, this depends on the store’s policy so you may need to check this.

Where do I get coupons?
There are several places to get coupons from. The most popular place is your local newspaper. If you are in a position to get two newspapers you can do that as well. I subscribe to one newspaper (Sunday only delivery). If the coupons are particularly good one week I might buy another newspaper at the store, or even a different newspaper to get some different coupons. I know some people buy up to ten newspapers when the coupons are really good. I would say there are too many coupons in the newspaper that I won’t use to make that a good deal though.

Ask your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers for coupons they aren’t using. I have found that many people don’t have the time to coupon so they will gladly give me theirs rather than just throwing them away with the newspaper. Which brings me to the next one:

Dumpster diving! Newspapers are recycled separately from all other recyclables at most places (I know the Pinehurst recycling center puts them all together though). It is NOT illegal to rummage through the newspaper bins, so even if someone gives you a dirty look, don’t feel guilty! I dumpster dive as frequently as possible and I know tons of other people who do as well. You would be SHOCKED at the amount of coupons you can get from recycling centers!

If you subscribe to magazines, many times there are coupons in there. I would never recommend subscribing to a magazine JUST for the coupons though. The one exception is the magazine All You. It was created specifically to include coupons in with the articles and usually has over $100 worth of coupons in each issue. It is sold only at Walmart or through subscription. It costs around $2.00 at Walmart (a little bit more than that) but you can usually subscribe for under $2.00 an issue. I do recommend getting this magazine if you can afford it. It has some great advice, articles, recipes and of course coupons that you can’t get anywhere else.

The Internet is a great resource for coupons. Internet coupons are so overwhelming – there are SO many websites that you can print coupons from. Rather than list all of the websites here, please see my blog for a list of the best of the best!

The store is another resource for finding coupons. Many stores have coupons around the aisles, on products or on displays. You just have to keep your eye out for these!

How do I organize my coupons?
For organizing your coupons you MUST find what works for YOU. Will it be easier for you to find your coupons alphabetically by brand? Alphabetically by product? In categories? By expiration date? You don’t have to follow what anyone else does. Make things easier on yourself!

If you only have a few coupons, you can probably start out with a coupon organizer or envelopes. Once you’ve been couponing for a few weeks you will probably need to use another method though.

You can file by newspaper insert. With this method you just file your inserts by date in a box. The reason this works for many people is because they just don’t have time to clip all the coupons they have. Many blogs will set up deals for you and you will see something like this:
Progresso Soup – Sale Price $1.25. Use $0.50 coupon from SS 1/1. Final price - $0.25.
What they are telling you is the $0.50 coupon can be found in the January 1st insert labeled Smartsource. The most common ones you will see are SS (Smartsource), RP (RedPlum) and P&G (Proctor and Gamble) which all come in newspapers.

You can file in a binder. With this method you clip all of your coupons and file them in baseball card holders in a three-ring binder. I would suggest at least a 2-inch binder. I usually use a 3-inch binder. I have a 4-inch but it’s pretty heavy! I found baseball card holders at Staples, not at the Aberdeen Walmart. You may be able to find them somewhere else though. With this method you carry the whole binder with you to the store and have all your coupons with you.

All about loyalty cards:
If your store offers a loyalty card, make sure to get one! Some stores only give certain sale prices to card-holders. Loyalty cards are free. Harris Teeter has the VIC card. Once you have a VIC card you then link it to the store website to get special e-VIC prices. Lowes Food has the Fresh Rewards card. You earn points by using your own shopping bags and purchasing certain items. When you get “$5.00” on your card (for example, you get 5 cents when you use your own shopping bag), a coupon will print out at the register for you to receive $5.00 off your next shopping trip. Food Lion has the MVP card. Rite Aid has the Wellness+ card. When you use the Wellness+ card you will get special pricing on certain items and you earn points to get certain percentages off shopping trips and other special promotions. These are the loyalty cards I use the most but almost every store has a loyalty card.

Double/Triple Coupons:
Some stores double coupons every single day up to $0.99. Harris Teeter and Lowes Food both do this. If McCormick cinnamon is on sale for $1.00 and you have a $0.50 coupon off any McCormick spice, the cinnamon will be free when you use that coupon. Food Lion does not double coupons at this time. Every coupon is taken at face value only. You don’t have to do anything special for your coupons to double – it does it automatically at the register. Both Harris Teeter and Lowes Food will allow you to double only 20 coupons per day. If you use 25 coupons, for example, the last five scanned will not double.

Harris Teeter does Super Double events. Because they double coupons up to $0.99 every day, a Super Doubles event means they will double coupons up to $1.98 for the event time frame. This is a great time to use your high value coupons like $1.50 and $1.75!

Both Lowes Food and Harris Teeter will occasionally triple coupons. This means that your coupons up to $0.99 value will triple during this event. A $0.50 coupon will be worth $1.50, a $0.75 coupon will be worth $2.25, etc.

For these events you can use manufacturer coupons and Internet coupons ONLY if you want your coupons to double. Store coupons, 99% of the time WILL NOT DOUBLE. One way to tell if your coupon will double is to look at the numbers on the bottom of the coupon. If the coupon code starts with a 5, it will always double even if it says “Do Not Double” at the top of the coupon. The only exception is Smartsource coupons which come from Blinkies. Many times even if they start with a 5 they will not double. Unfortunately some do and some don’t so you won’t know until you get to the register. If your coupon starts with a 9, it will never double, unless the cashier manually doubles it – which, trust me, probably is not going to happen!

Making A Plan
Use your weekly ads. Rite Aid and Walgreens ads come out on Sundays and finish on Saturdays. Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Lowes Food and most other grocery stores ads come out on Wednesdays and finish on Tuesdays. Read the ads to see what is on sale and which stores have the best prices on items you need. If you don’t get the weekly ads in your newspaper you can view them on the store’s website.

See if you can match coupons to the sale items to get better deals. Some websites do this for you!

Some stores will pricematch. This means that if grapes are on sale for $0.99/lb at Food Lion, you can take the ad to Walmart and at checkout tell the cashier you would like to pricematch the grapes. Show them the ad and they will sell you the grapes for $0.99/lb versus their higher price (supposedly). Not every store price matches, so beware!

If the store is out of an item you need, get a raincheck! Go to customer service and ask for a raincheck for the item you need. They will fill out a piece of paper with the item details and price. Then you can come back another day and buy that item at the sale price by giving the cashier the raincheck. You can still use a coupon if you use a raincheck. Some rainchecks never expire and some expire after 30 days. I know that Rite Aid rainchecks expire after 30 days but they will renew them for you if the product still isn’t in the store in 30 days.

Don’t Be Fooled
5/$5 promotions – Most of the time you don’t have to actually buy 5 items to get the $1.00 pricing. The only exception to this rule is if the ad specifically states you have to purchase five items to get the pricing.

Don’t feel like you have to use your coupon as soon as you get it! Unless you need the product right then, it’s better to save the coupon and hope that the item goes on sale before the coupon expires.

Make a pricebook. Start paying attention to prices and keep a list of items you regularly buy with the best and regular prices for the items. This will help you when you see that canned veggies are on sale for “10/$10!!!!!!!” but you know the regular price is actually only $1.05. That way you won’t rush to purchase ten cans of vegetables that you think are a great price. Stores are well-known for putting items on “sale” to make you think you need to purchase those products right then!! Don’t be fooled!

Get to the stores early, especially during special events. This especially goes for people who live far away from the store. Things run out very quickly during special events. And yes, rainchecks are nice but there are times I’d MUCH rather have the item than the raincheck!

Watch the cashier. When checking out pay close attention to the price screen to make sure everything is ringing up correctly. Also, make sure all your coupons scan and double if they’re supposed to. Coupons sometimes get stuck together or dropped and the cashier may not notice. Kindly point this out and they can check it out on the screen and scan it if it truly hasn’t been scanned.

Check your receipt. Before you leave the store try to check your receipt to make sure everything rang up correctly and all your coupons were scanned. If there is a problem go straight to customer service so they can go on and fix the problem.