Couponing for Beginners

FT Contributor
A woman stands in a grocery aisle with coupons.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

If you’re looking for an easy way to start saving, couponing is an excellent way to cut back on the costs of everyday items such as groceries and toiletries. By adding couponing into your strategic financial plan or budget, you’ll see a significant impact on how much you’re able to save.

While budgeting and couponing can certainly save you money, they are not schemes to get rich quick. Instead, these methods of saving take time and a bit of effort. There are different approaches to couponing. Most people are casual couponers, using coupons here and there to save on items, such as groceries, that they purchase frequently. But there are also extreme couponers or those who use a bulk amount of coupons to get items at a steeply discounted rate or sometimes even free.

Regardless of the couponing method you wish to adopt, everyone has to start somewhere. Knowing how to effectively use coupons can make a significant impact on your personal budget and overall financial situation. If you’re just getting started with couponing, this guide will explain the best ways to do so and start seeing immediate savings on your everyday shopping trips.

Set Time Aside

Couponing takes time. From gathering different circulars to searching for the coupons you can use, you need to carve out time to coupon properly. By setting time aside each week to coupon, you’ll be able to organize a list of what you need and what you want, then analyze which items you have coupons for. Additionally, you can use this time to search for coupons for items that you didn’t know were available.

Find Coupons

Coupons aren’t only found in circulars or at grocery stores anymore. Thanks to the internet, there are a variety of ways you can get coupons. Below are some of the most popular places to find coupons for all of your shopping needs.

Store Coupons

Stores will often include coupons in their weekly circulars. They may come in your weekly paper or you’ll find them at the front of a store when you walk in. The coupons offered by a store will often mirror a sale or promotion they have going on. You can also find coupons on store websites.

Now, many stores offer digital coupons that are uploaded to your rewards card. When you check out, the coupons are applied to your order. Similarly, many stores also have apps with which you can download coupons.

Manufacturer Coupons

Manufacturer coupons are offered by companies that produce specific products. Typically, these coupons can be used at any store that sells that product and accepts coupons. In some cases, these coupons can be found on display in the stores that sell a particular product, but they can also be found in mailers, as well as online at sites such as:


Catalina Coupons

Catalina Coupons are coupons that print out of the Catalina machine, which is commonly found next to the register at check-out. Most often, Catalina Coupons are a deal that requires a certain dollar amount to be spent or a specific quantity of a product to be purchased in order to get the deal.

These coupons typically correlate with items you’ve purchased previously, encouraging you to come back for more in the future. Sometimes Catalina Coupons can be more generic and offer a discount on any future purchase at the store you receive them from.

Coupon Databases and Websites

You can find a variety of coupons online from databases and other websites. It’s important to use trusted sites that have been verified, as there are a number of sites with phony coupons on them that are expired or inauthentic. To avoid having to comb through dozens of circulars and newspapers each week, try searching one of these coupon websites for deals:

  1. RetailMeNot.
  2. The Krazy Coupon Lady.
  3. Hip2Save.
  4. Living Rich With Coupons.

Coupon Apps

Many retailers now offer their own coupon apps specific to their stores. There, you can find information on sales and promotions, as well as coupons. In addition to store-specific apps, there are a number of coupon-specific apps that allow you to search for deals. These apps allow you to find store and manufacturer coupons with ease:

  1. Rakuten.
  2. Honey.
  3. SnipSnap.
  5. Coupon Sherpa.


One of the most traditional methods of finding coupons is looking in your local paper. These inserts have coupons offered by Smart Source, RetailMeNot Everyday (formerly Red Plum), and Procter & Gamble. If you subscribe to a local paper, you most likely get these coupons in each week’s issue. To get more coupons, you can subscribe to other local publications or check local retailers for copies of the weekly paper.

Consider Cashback

There is a multitude of cashback programs that can also help you save money. While they’re not a discount at the time of purchase, these cashback programs offer a rebate when you buy specific items or brands. Apps such as Ibotta allow you to earn cashback on almost every purchase you make, which can be used to make future purchases or put away into a savings account.

Read the Fine Print

Some coupons have fine print stating redemption requirements. In most cases, you can use more than one coupon for items in a single transaction, but there are exceptions. In some cases, you might find a great deal with multiple coupons but you’re limited on how many you can use in a transaction. If you’re able, it might be as simple as checking out in a few transactions instead of one large one. This strategy requires a bit more effort, but it can save you a lot of money, especially if you’re shopping in bulk.

Learn Your Store’s Coupon Policy

The coupon policy at your favorite retailers may vary. One store might accept multiple coupons in a single transaction, while others enforce a limit. Familiarize yourself with your store’s coupon policy so that you’re always prepared. Some questions you should ask about their coupon policy include:

  • Can I double a coupon?
  • Is there a loyalty program I need to participate in to redeem coupons?
  • Is there a limit to the number of coupons I can use?
  • Can coupons be applied to clearance or sale items?
  • If the item costs less than the value of the coupon, is the value of the coupon adjusted?
  • Does a purchase need to be made to redeem “free item” coupons?

Make a Shopping List and a Budget

Before you head to the store with coupons in hand, start by generating a shopping list and a budget. This will ultimately help you formulate your couponing strategy and stick to the budget that you create. In order to be good at couponing, you need to know what products you need or want and the typical price they are offered at.

Tailor your budget and shopping list to meet your basic needs because there’s no use in getting a great deal on a product you will never use. Blowing your budget on unimportant items just because you have a coupon doesn’t make for effective couponing or help your financial situation.

Forgo the Coupons You Don’t Need

Again, don’t waste your time with coupons for items that you won’t use. Stick to this rule: if you don’t need it, don’t bother. Likewise, a sale item may have a lower price than a regular item with a coupon. Pay attention to the average price of the items you typically buy so that you know whether you’re getting a better deal with a coupon. Similarly, learn when your store will have their annual sales and find out about the deals that correspond with these periods, as this can save you money as well.

Get Organized

To ensure your strategy works, it’s important to stay organized. After all, coupons can be small and easy to lose. To prevent any confusion, keep all of your coupons, shopping lists, and budget in an organized notebook.

You can use a plastic binder with tabulated sections to keep all of this information in order. Order coupons by category, retailer, or expiration date. It’s best to keep coupons that are about to expire in the front of the binder so that you don’t miss out on any savings.

Beat the System

Regardless of what your shopping list looks like, every item on it has a “best price.” Most often, the best price comes from combining coupons, but it can also come with a store’s annual sales. To get the best deal, couponers typically wait until an item is 40% off to make a purchase.

Track Your Savings

The best part of couponing is tracking all of the savings you’re able to accumulate. In addition to watching your strategy succeed, tracking your savings helps you be mindful of the money you can allocate elsewhere. To track this, keep notes in your budget for your spending, the discount you received, and any overage of items. You’ll be able to spot any weaknesses in your strategy by doing so, too.

Final Comments

Couponing is not a perfect science. As a beginner, you may experience a few hiccups with your coupon strategy, but don’t get discouraged. Every couponer has experienced a few bumps in the road — here are some of their solutions.

  • Coupons are expired: Prevent heading to the store with expired coupons by checking your coupon inventory weekly for expired offers.
  • Coupons are fake: There are fraudulent coupons out there. If you’re unsure about the authenticity of your coupon, search online to see if the deal is replicated elsewhere or anyone else is talking about the coupon being fake.
  • The manufacturer’s price is different from retailers: When shopping for the best deal, consider where you’re using your coupons. Some retailers mark up the price of certain products. Consult the manufacturer’s site before heading to the store to see who has the better price.

Remember, it’s important not to buy something simply because you have a coupon for it. Instead, hold out for better discounts and maximum savings on items you’ll actually use, and be mindful of the terms and conditions of both the stores and manufacturers when couponing.

If you’re living on a tight budget, couponing can help. Get started today with these couponing tips.

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