A Beginner's Guide to Couponing

By Katie O'Shea

Coupons can be a great money-saving resource. You just have to know how to put them to their best use.

If you have not made couponing a regular part of your shopping routine, it may seem intimidating. However, there are some basic ways to start using coupons on a regular basis in order to save more money.

Here are 7 things to keep in mind as you get started with couponing:

1. The Sunday Paper Isn't the Only Place for Coupons

While the Sunday paper is the most traditional place for people to get coupons, there are many other places where you can find coupons nowadays. Some other coupon sources include:

  • Coupon Websites - websites like Coupons.com give you the chance to find and print out (often in multiples) coupons for your favorite products.
  • Social Media Pages - if you "Like" or follow certain brands and stores on social media, you can sometimes get the scoop on their current deals.
  • Email - by signing up for store's email lists, you may get coupons sent directly to your inbox.
  • Your supermarket circular - see whether your supermarket's weekly ad includes coupons as well.
  • Coupon Apps - if you have a smartphone, there are lots of apps that let you access coupons on the go. Some examples include the Coupons.com app or the RetailMeNot app.

2. Consider Using a Coupon Binder

If you watch the show Extreme Couponing, then you know that committed coupon-clippers use file boxes or three-ring binders like you probably used in high school to keep their coupons organized. While these may look unwieldy and draw unwanted attention in the aisles, they can be a good way to keep your coupons sorted in a way that makes sense for you.

3. Read Your Supermarket Circular

The best way to maximize coupon savings is to match coupons with items on sale. Whenever your supermarket sends out the next week's circular - in the paper, in the mail, or in an email - set aside 10 minutes to see what's on sale in the coming week. Then compare the ad with the coupons you have on hand.

Ideally, you'll plan meals for the coming week based on these sales and coupons. You may also be able to plan whether to stock up on specific items when they're cheap if you know you will be able to use them for future meal plans.

4. Don't Forget the Clearance Aisle

You probably know that clothing stores have clearance sections. But did you know that supermarkets do, too? While it may not be an entire aisle, it is usually a set of shelves, often in a distant corner of the store, where you may find overstocks of holidays goods or "dent and scratch" items - boxes, bags, and cans that are slightly damaged but may contain perfectly good food.

If you can find something on clearance for which you also have a coupon, that's even better. For example, recently I found refried beans on my supermarket's clearance rack. Normally, these cans sell for $1.50, but these were reduced to $0.75 each because they were dented. Since I had a coupon for $1.50 off two cans, I was able to buy two cans for free.

5. Visit Multiple Stores To Save You the Most

When gas prices are on the expensive side, I wouldn't advise people to drive from store to store just to save a few dollars on groceries. However, if you live in a place where a Walmart, Save-A-Lot, and Target, for example, are within a couple miles of each other, your coupons may go further if you match them to the lowest prices at each of your local stores.

6. Shop at Stores that Double Coupons

Doubling coupons - using more than one store coupon on one shopping trip - can be a great way to save money. Still, not every supermarket will allow you to double coupons, and those that do may have some rules and restrictions for doubling. It's a good idea to pay attention to the fine print so that you can strategize your shopping in order to save more money.

For example, the store where I used to grocery shop would double coupons with a face value up to $0.99. However, if I had multiples of that same coupon, the store would only double the first coupon. The rest were "worth" just their face value, meaning that, if I was trying to stock up during a sale, I would need to break my shopping up into multiple orders.

7. Find Ways to Stack Coupons

Stacking coupons does not mean making a big pile of them, but it does mean piling on the savings. In some cases, you can "stack" (or use simultaneously) a manufacturer's coupon and a store coupon, which could help you get even more savings. These are prime opportunities for coupon users.

As you start couponing, keep in mind that there is no one right way to use coupons. You can use as many of these strategies as you like - the key is really to fit your coupon strategy to suit your needs. If you start by adapting couponing strategies to your situation, you'll be on your way to becoming a couponing champ.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of OneMain. The information in this article is provided for education and informational purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose. The information in this article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial, legal or any other advice. The information in this article is general in nature and is not specific to you the user or anyone else. The author was compensated by OneMain for this post.