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Couponing doesn’t require spending your Sunday cutting newspapers into tiny squares. But, for beginners, couponing can 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.
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.”