Couponing for Beginners: How to Find & Start Using Coupons

Couponing for Beginners

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Are you looking for couponing for beginners with tips and tricks? Have you ever wondered how to start couponing so you can start saving some money?

Or are you just a beginner in couponing and want to up your coupon game to save even more money?

Learning how to maximize the use of coupons is a great skill. Because the retail landscape is always changing – learning about coupons will be an unending journey.

Starting to Coupon – Overview

There are several strategies when your beginning to use coupons.

Many readers have asked us how Annette organizes her coupons. While her method may not be perfect for you, perhaps you can glean a tip or two. And by doing so, take your coupon savings to the next level.

Remember, couponing isn’t for everyone.

  • If you’re a single mom raising young kids, you may not have time for extensive couponing. That’s okay, do what you can without losing your sanity.
  • But, If you’re a dual income family with kids, you may only have time for minimal couponing.
  • And If you’re single and can carve out the time, couponing could work great for you.
  • If you’re a grandma with some extra time you can make a killing. If you can clip coupons to pick up grocery items for next to nothing, you can be a real blessing your budget and to your kids.

You Don’t Have to Become A Coupon Queen

We don’t advocate the “coupon queen” approach to couponing. You know,  where you spend entire days each month clipping coupons. Then going to the store several times each week to get hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for pennies. We just don’t have time for that.

And, we don’t believe that stockpiling a lifetime of toothpaste or mustard is helpful. Now, if you have time to do this type of couponing, and you’re willing to bless others that’s a different story. We know of some extreme couponers who advocate donating a part of your grocery hauls to food banks and low-income families in need.

Another reason extreme couponing is not our focus is because double coupons have been eliminated. When double and triple coupons were available from retailers, couponing was much more profitable.

A Balanced Approach to Couponing for Beginners

We try to take a more balanced approach to life. Here’s how our system evolved.

The Filing Systems

Years ago, Annette’s first coupon container was a little nylon zippered pouch about the size of a business envelope.

She soon came to realize that it was woefully inadequate.

She graduated to a shoe box, filled with discarded envelopes that were labeled with various coupon categories.

Later, Steve built her a custom rectangular box made from 1/4-inch Sentra (PVC plastic) that he got from a photo lab (They were throwing away scrap pieces and he asked if he could have them.)

Annette's coupon caddy and filing system.

The box fits perfectly in the seat area of a shopping cart, holds thousands of coupons and won’t fall out.

Don’t give up on this article if you don’t have a handy husband to build you a custom box; just start looking around for a container that works for you—a plastic storage box, a cardboard box. Be creative and frugal; you’ll find something that works.

The Grocery Stores We Shop

When Annette first tried to save money at the grocery store, she didn’t know about loss-leader or cherry-picker shopping strategies, so she shopped at the store nearest home. We live in a suburban area where six to ten grocery store chains, including health-food grocers and warehouse clubs.

These grocery stores all compete for market share. As a matter of fact, where we live in the Phoenix, AZ area is one of the largest test markets for grocery brands out there.

This makes for some great deals as they “duke it out” for customers. When the deal is right, Annette checks her coupons and stocks up on things like shampoo, feminine protection products, deodorant, salsa, cold cereal and other staple items.

If you live in an area where there is less competition, the deals may not be as great, but the same principles still apply. So couponing for beginners may still be worth your time.

The Grocery Coupon Categories

Annette likes to work with as few categories as possible, while Steve likes to micro-sort his coupons into multiple subcategories.

Steve’s Categories

 

Steve's coupon filing system - 2 Envelopes

Of course, he can do this because his area of the store, the outer loop, has fewer coupons than the shelf areas.

For instance, his dairy coupons are micro-sorted into cheese, yogurt, sour cream/cottage cheese, margarine/butter, and miscellaneous dairy.

Annette’s Categories

Annette likes to work with as few categories as possible—a necessity for her—because she’s dealing with so many different product types on the inner aisles of the store.

Later in the article, we’ll share a few other coupon sorting styles to help you determine which might work best for you.

Annette’s original categories included personal care, frozen foods, dairy case, cleaning products and shelf items. As time went on her coupon collection increased. As a result, she created other divisions to keep individual envelopes from becoming unwieldy.

In addition to the five groupings previously listed, her categories now include cereal, pet supplies, snack foods (crackers, chips, granola bars, candy, and cookies) and paper products. The paper products category also includes batteries, games, and books—don’t ask why—it just does! Actually, it was one of the thinnest envelopes and had room for additional stuff.

Within each envelope, she groups similar items together to make finding them easier.

For example, the “Paper Products” envelope contains groupings for toilet tissue, tissues, paper towels, plastic zip bags, foil and disposable tableware.

Creating the groupings made filing and finding coupons a snap—unless Annette asked Steve to find some coupons. It seems that one person’s filing system is always a mystery to another person.

The Largest Category

The “Shelf Items” envelope—a real “monster”—is arranged based on the aisles of the store at which Annette first shopped.

It has coupons grouped in the following order: peanut butter; jelly; ketchup, mustard and mayo; pickles; olives; vinegar; salad dressings; canned fruits and veggies; canned meals; meats; soups; rice; pasta and Italian products; Mexican products; chocolate drink mixes and syrups; baking supplies—sugar, oil, evaporated milk, cake mixes, chocolate chips; tea; coffee; juice; soda—and a few others we may have left out.

Our Grocery Couponing Strategy

Having a coupon strategy is really important.

Annette doesn’t just buy something because she has a coupon. Coupons are strategically used (unless we are having a craving for ice cream).

We use coupons to keep our grocery budget as slim as possible. We want to spend less on groceries so we can spend more on paying off our home, or taking vacations or socking money into retirement.

 

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Use Coupons on The Smallest Items

Coupons combined with sale-priced items are good, but the best deals occur when you use those same coupons for the smallest-size items possible and get them for free or just a couple of pennies.

Here’s an example:

Salsa recently went on sale for 99 cents (regularly $2.89-$3.29). Annette had a coupon for $1 off the purchase of two jars. So each bottle ended up costing 50 cents. She used every coupon she had and stocked our pantry for the next six months.

For her, the real value of couponing is playing the game to get the highest percentage off the retail price. And as a result, ultimately, the least amount of money flows out of her wallet.

Even though a smaller item may start out at a higher price per ounce, after we apply the coupon, it ends up much less expensive.

The only exception to this rule is for items that we use in large quantities and that seldom go on sale.

For instance, Teriyaki sauce for marinating chuck steaks—we buy the large bottle and use the coupon for it.

Where To Look for Coupons when Beginning

Where do we get all our coupons?

Newspaper and Grocery Circulars

We get the majority of our coupons from the Sunday newspaper or the coupon flyers that come in our mailbox.

We have developed a sharing network of relatives, friends, and neighbors. You could add co-workers if you find some thrift-minded buddies.

Clip the coupons you want to keep, then pass the “leftovers” to someone else who takes what she wants and passes them along again.

Because we all have different tastes, at the end of the sharing loop, some pretty valuable coupons remain. Using this method you could end up with multiple copies of some great coupons.

Many people who get the newspaper don’t care to “mess with” the coupons. Just ask them to throw the coupon inserts into a plastic grocery bag and give them to you every couple of weeks.

Apartment Mailboxes

Our eldest daughter Becky lives in an apartment complex. She regularly finds grocery ad flyers as well as the coupon flyers in the trash next to the mailboxes all the time.

Online Coupon Sources

There are several websites that distribute grocery coupons along with coupons for other products. A few of them require downloading special software to your computer to track the downloading of coupons.

You might think that tracking of coupon downloads is an invasion of privacy. But when you consider that coupons, to the manufacturer, is like giving away cash. They want to control how much money they give away, and where the coupons are distributed from.

While this may seem like a hassle, it’s worth doing to get the savings.

Two of the online coupons sources that we’ve used are:

Grocery Store Apps

Downloading the app from your local grocer is one of the easiest ways to get coupons. We use the Frys (Kroger) and Safeway apps. Both of them allow you to digitally “clip” coupons. The coupons are linked to your store loyalty card.

All we do is pick up the item that we’ve “clipped” a coupon for and then check out. When your loyalty card is scanned, the coupons will be activated.

You’ll want to double check your receipt to make sure that the coupons were applied properly. If you happen to pick up the wrong sized item, the coupon won’t work.

We have experienced a few glitches with the Safeway app. Like having a coupon on our loyalty card, but the price not being applied to the purchase. When something like this happens, we go to the customer service counter and ask for help.

The Safeway employees have been super helpful in resolving the issues. They have said that the app often malfunctions.

Where to Download Grocery Store Apps

Most grocery stores have their own app for Android and iOS. You can usually get some awesome deals by downloading and using the app.

Annette regularly uses these grocery apps:

Other Grocery Store Apps for Coupons and Discounts

  • Aldi App:            Android      AppStore
  • HEB App:            Android      AppStore
  • Publix App:        Android       AppStore
  • Stop & Shop:     Android       AppStore
  • Target App:       Android       AppStore
  • Walmart App:    Android      AppStore
    The Walmart Grocery App doesn’t have Coupons, but they do have Savings Catcher. Savings Catcher will discount the items you buy if a competitor is selling it for less.

Pick the grocery stores near you and the ones you visit most often. Download those on your phone and bookmark them on your desktop.

It makes using coupons so much easier. The digital platform for coupons brings you savings with very little effort.

Online Coupon Sources for US Consumers

Here is a list of the top online coupon sources:

For coupons outside the USA and sites that give you cash back for shopping, see the lists at the bottom of the page.

 

How to Process and Sort Coupons

3 sets of hands clipping coupons

Many people ask how and when do we clip and organize coupons?

When the kids were younger, Annette would clip and purge coupons after dinner while Steve reads a chapter book to the family.

At times, Annette will do clipping and weeding of expired coupons while watching a family movie, at a Little League game or while waiting for a doctor’s appointment.

Opportunities abound if you want to make this work. Sometimes we give each of the kids an envelope or two to weed out expired coupons—this really saves time.

Abbey became very proficient at this when she turned 8 years old.

Once clipped, the coupons are piled into categories and then filed into the envelopes.

And of course, loading coupons on your phone apps can be done anytime you a few minutes. Annette might do this in the car when Steve is driving or while waiting for an appointment.

How to Use Coupons

Annette plans the dinner menu and makes her shopping list using the stores’ flyers. At the same time, she will often pull out coupons that she can combine with store specials. These are put into a separate envelope for use at the store.

No brand loyalty here—this is war—we go for the best quality products at the lowest price. Once inside the store, as we walk the aisles and come across close-outs or manager’s or unadvertised specials, we grab our coupon caddies and search.

Once we find the coupon we need, we calculate the price and decide if it’s a good enough deal. If it’s a killer deal, we text or call each other in the store, give a whoop of success and toss the item into the cart. Couponing for beginners can definitely be worth your time. Earlier in our marriage, we used walkie-talkies to communicate in the store. This was before cell phones became less expensive.

Is Couponing Worth Your Time?

We don’t think it’s crazy to use coupons. But we also try to balance the time it takes with the rest of our daily priorities.

During a few months of the year, when we are extremely busy with kids’ activities, coupons are sometimes clipped, but rarely sorted, filed or used at the store.

Keeping life simple and sane is more important than making a killing at the store.

If you live in an area with only a couple of choices for groceries, chances are that couponing won’t be your best way to save.

If you have young children to take care of, don’t stress over coupons—you don’t need another thing to do. But if you’ve got school-aged children or a very helpful husband, enlist their help.

Families need to work together to stretch their cash. It builds unity, develops an understanding of consumer habits and can teach valuable math skills to your kids. Couponing for Beginners can definitely be worth the time.

Just remember that the best thing about being a smart couponer is not necessarily using the coupons at the store or saving money or getting things for free.

It’s seeing the next person in line, who is waiting with their six retail priced items and their jaw on the floor as they watch you buy those same items for next to nothing. Now that’s really crazy.

Other Sources for Coupons & Cash Back

United States

Canada

United Kingdom

Australia

Other Apps for Saving on Groceries

  • Filpp – lets you see all of the ads in your area    Android      AppStore
  • OutofMilk – easy to use shopping list builder   Android      AppStore

Author: Steve & Annette Economides
Founders of MoneySmartFamily.com

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Special thanks to our friend Laura Ford from LifeoftheDifferentlyAbled.com for sharing coupon sites from Canada.

Couponing for Beginners with paper or digital coupons.

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