How to Coupon: A Guide for Beginners and Beyond - NerdWallet (2024)

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Couponing doesn’t require spending your Sunday cutting newspapers into tiny squares. But, for beginners, couponingcan be overwhelming to dive in without having a plan. Even those who’ve used coupons for a while can benefit from a more organized approach.

From finding a coupon database to making a shopping list, here’s how to save money with coupons.

1. 'Stack' store and manufacturer's coupons

There are two major kinds of coupons that you should know about:

  • Store coupons are issued by a specific retailer and can only be used at those locations. Likely, you’ll find these in the newspaper (the Sunday paper usually has the most coupons), in retailers’ online apps or flyers in the mail. Look for “store coupon” in the fine print.

  • Manufacturer’s coupons are issued by the company that makes the product, and can be used at any retailer that accepts them.

The best scenario is using a store coupon and manufacturer’s coupon together to get an even deeper discount. This is called “coupon stacking” and it can save you big at the register.

2. Find a coupon database or a browser extension

Downloading the apps from your favorite retailers can get you access to digital coupons that you can “clip” on your phone, saving you the chore of having to present a stack of paper coupons at the register.

Another option? Coupon databases are websites that aggregate coupons in one place, so it’s easy to find deals, says Jenny Martin, the writer behind frugal-living website Southern Savers. Search online for the words “coupon database” to find one you like. Some databases allow you to search by coupon type — like a printable, newspaper insert or mobile coupon.

If you don’t feel like searching through a coupon database, consider installing a browser extension, which will do the work of finding coupons and discount codes while you shop online.

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3. Read the fine print

There’s nothing more frustrating than getting to the register to find out the great deal you thought you were getting is not valid or redeemable.

Read the fine print of the coupon: Check redemption requirements, for example what size bottle of orange juice qualifies for the coupon, and whether there's a limit on the number of items per coupon.

If you find a good deal and want to redeem multiple coupons, you’ll need a separate one for each item you buy. There also may be a limit as to how many of each coupon you can use per transaction.

4. Learn your store’s coupon policy

Coupon policies vary, so look up your local store’s rules. Martin says you can usually find these online, or go in person and ask.

Here’s what to pay attention to, according to Martin:

  • Can you double a coupon? Some stores will double your coupon, up to a certain threshold. That means if you have a 50-cents-off coupon, the store will take $1 off.

  • Do you need to join the loyalty program? You may need to create a loyalty program account with the store and scan your rewards card in order to claim some coupons or access deals. Combining coupons with store loyalty deals can help savings add up.

Once you learn your store’s policies and start shopping there regularly, you might realize that you are more in tune with its sales cycles. This will allow you to stock up on things, like your favorite cereal, when they’re on sale because you know they’re likely not going back on sale until next month.

5. Make a shopping list and use apps for more savings

Know which products you plan to buy so you can find coupons that match. An app like Anylist can help keep you organized. It allows you to create shareable grocery lists that you or other family members can edit, and organizes the list based on categories like dairy, pasta or produce to help you shop efficiently. There are also free apps that let you digitally clip coupons for products that are on your list.

And check out cash-back apps, like Fetch or Ibotta, that allow you to upload receipts and earn rewards or rebates for the purchase of featured products. The can amplify your savings further.

6. Use coupons strategically

Don’t use coupons solely because you find them, which could mean you're buying unnecessary items. And be sure to check whether there's an alternative that's cheaper than your coupon deal, such as a store brand or sale item.

Pay attention to annual sale cycles, and look for coupons to amplify savings. For example, school supply sales begin mid-summer. You can save even more if you are gathering coupons for pens, pencils, notebooks and so on leading up to those sales — but keep an eye on the coupons' expiration dates.

7. Buy in bulk

When you find a good sale, buy a few of the items — if you know you’ll use all of them before they expire. Items that are particularly good for buying in bulk are nonperishable goods (e.g., canned goods, rice, flour, pasta), personal care items (e.g., shampoo, conditioner, soap) and other household items (e.g., toilet paper, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies).

Creating a small stockpile allows you to dictate how much you pay — rather than letting the retailer dictate, according to Cindy Livesey, frugal-living expert from coupon website Living Rich With Coupons. For instance, if you run out of toilet paper, you’ll pay the current price. But if you have a few extra packages on hand, you can monitor prices and time your purchase accordingly.

This strategy can be especially important in times of inflation. If you can score a good deal on items you know you will use, that insulates you from price increases in the coming months.

8. Start small

Martin recommends browsing your store’s ad and picking 10 items that are on sale. Then, pair coupons with these items. Finally, head to the store.

“It’s kind of setting you up for a small win, which is a great way to get started,” Martin says. “You got your 10 items, you used all of your coupons, you saw that the store didn’t treat you horribly — and they took everything. And you saw how much you saved, and that’s the best part.”

As an enthusiast with extensive experience in the realm of couponing and frugal living, I can attest to the transformative power of a well-organized approach to saving money through coupons. My journey in this domain has not only involved utilizing various types of coupons but also exploring innovative strategies to maximize savings. Let's delve into the key concepts discussed in the article:

  1. Coupon Types: The article mentions two major types of coupons:

    • Store Coupons: Issued by specific retailers and usable only at those locations. These can be found in newspapers, online apps, or mail flyers.
    • Manufacturer's Coupons: Issued by the product-making companies and can be used at any retailer accepting them. Combining both types through "coupon stacking" provides significant discounts.
  2. Coupon Discovery:

    • Digital Coupons: Retailer apps offer digital coupons that can be clipped on your phone, eliminating the need for physical coupons.
    • Coupon Databases and Browser Extensions: Websites aggregating coupons (coupon databases) and browser extensions automate the process of finding discounts and codes while shopping online.
  3. Fine Print Awareness:

    • Emphasizes the importance of reading the fine print on coupons to avoid disappointments at the register.
    • Highlights the need to check redemption requirements, size restrictions, and limits on the number of items per coupon.
  4. Store Coupon Policies:

    • Encourages understanding and familiarizing oneself with the coupon policies of local stores.
    • Key considerations include the possibility of doubling coupons and the requirement to join loyalty programs for accessing certain deals.
  5. Strategic Shopping:

    • Advocates for creating a shopping list based on planned purchases.
    • Recommends using apps like Anylist for organized grocery lists and exploring cash-back apps for additional savings through rewards or rebates.
  6. Coupon Utilization Strategies:

    • Advises against using coupons indiscriminately and encourages strategic use.
    • Suggests checking for cheaper alternatives, such as store brands or sale items, and being mindful of coupon expiration dates.
  7. Bulk Purchases:

    • Recommends buying in bulk during sales, especially for nonperishable goods, personal care items, and household supplies.
    • Building a small stockpile allows for better control over expenses and helps navigate price fluctuations, especially during times of inflation.
  8. Starting Small:

    • Proposes a beginner-friendly approach by picking 10 sale items from a store's ad and using coupons for these items.
    • Starting small allows individuals to experience a tangible win, observe savings, and build confidence in couponing.

In conclusion, the art of couponing involves a combination of strategic planning, awareness of coupon types, understanding store policies, and utilizing technology for efficient savings. The tips provided in the article cater to both beginners and seasoned coupon users, promoting a more organized and effective approach to frugal living through coupons.

How to Coupon: A Guide for Beginners and Beyond - NerdWallet (2024)


How does a coupon work? ›

A coupon is a ticket or document that entitles the holder to a discount or rebate when making a purchase. It is usually provided by manufacturers or retailers to encourage consumers to buy their products or services. Coupons have been around for decades, serving as a powerful tool for both businesses and consumers.

Is couponing still a thing? ›

Paper coupons still exist, but technology has made saving money with coupons way easier than it used to be. The best coupon apps can make savings with coupons or coupon codes automatic, or they can help you earn cash back for each dollar you spend.

What is a coupon strategy? ›

Coupon marketing is a business methodology used to attract, engage and reward high lifetime value customers by using different forms of incentives.

Is extreme couponing illegal now? ›

Extreme couponers may cut off or obscure an expiration date just to use a coupon. While not illegal, it's a practice that costs everyone in the long run. Manufacturers will not reimburse stores for expired coupons and these losses get passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Why is couponing illegal? ›

It involves deliberately modifying and/or using a coupon in a way not allowed by its terms and conditions for undue financial or material gain. This is almost always a violation of federal and regional laws in the US and other countries and can result in charges such as theft, larceny, and counterfeiting.

What are the best states for couponing? ›

As it turns out, certain metropolitan areas are particularly thrifty when it comes to shopping, according to a new report from The site used couponing as a proxy for frugality. Some of the top 10 penny-pinching cities were Orlando, Florida; Washington, Charlotte, North Carolina; and New York.

What is the best store to extreme coupon at? ›

Walmart. Walmart has a very favorable couponing policy that's really great for extreme couponing. The store accepts manufacturer coupons as well as internet coupons that you can print at home, as long as those coupons scan on the store's registers and are not for free products with no purchase required.

Who pays for a coupon? ›

The manufacturer might reimburse the clearinghouse for the amount of the invoice, and the clearinghouse will send a check to the store for the amount of the coupons. Or the manufacturer will send a check directly to the store and the store then pays the clearinghouse.

Is it worth it to coupon? ›

Couponing can save you money while shopping, but might cause you to spend more money, especially if you have trouble finding coupons for items you would normally buy or lose out on better deals from cheaper store brands.

Where do extreme couponers get their coupons? ›

Extreme couponers primarily get their coupons through print sources such as store ads, newspapers or in the mail. These savers often shop with a binder filled with plastic sleeves containing hundreds of paper coupons.

Are there online coupons? ›

Downloadable coupons: These types of coupons are accessible to consumers from a number of different locations. Customers download coupons from a company's website, directly from an email or via, social media. Most of the time, these coupons are accessible from mobile devices as well.

How do you write a good coupon? ›

Use the body of the coupon to give the details on what the customer is getting. Use the large bold font of the title as an opportunity to grab attention. Good words to use are “Free”, “X% Off” or “$X Off”, start out with telling the customer how much they're going to save!

How to become a coupon person? ›

You have to look through store sales flyers.

The goal of extreme couponing is to combine manufacturer and store coupons with store sales to get items for free or for pennies on the dollar. You'll need to look through store circulars each week and look through your coupon inventory to match up sales.

What is the first coupon? ›

Coca-Cola's 1888-issued "free glass of" is the earliest documented coupon. Coupons were mailed to potential customers and placed in magazines. It is estimated that between 1894 and 1913 one in nine Americans had received a free Coca-Cola, for a total of 8,500,000 free drinks.


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