How to Coupon: An In-Depth Beginner’s Guide to Couponing
Learn the best tips and tricks to saving money with coupons in 2023.
A penny saved is a penny earned, and clipping coupons is one of the best ways to save on all the items your family uses. With inflation on the rise, saving money wherever you can has become a must. After all, groceries aren’t cheap and clipping coupons can help stretch that dollar further when you need it most, so join me to learn the basics of couponing.
Coupon TipsA coupon, by definition, is a voucher that entitles the holder to a discount on a particular purchase. Make sense, right? But, let’s talk about the important parts of a coupon – or at least the parts you’ll want to make note of. There’s the amount of savings along with the quantity required (for example, 75¢ off 1, $1 off 2, buy one and get one, or even a free-value), the expiration date, and most importantly, the terms. As easy as it is to ignore the small print, that’s where you’ll learn the important stuff. This will tell you how many identical coupons you can use on the same shopping trip. (Limit 1, limit 2, and limit 4 are the most common ones.) All this information will help you plan your shopping trips and save money!
So let’s explore the types of coupons that exist and how they work.
Did you know? Stores are encouraged to accept manufacturer’s coupons. In fact, the terms spell out exactly how the store will be reimbursed for accepting it. It’s usually coupon face value, plus a handling or processing incentive. That being said, make sure you check out your local store’s coupon policy to know exactly what they are open to accepting and what they are not!
Types of Coupons
Manufacturer’s CouponsThese come directly from the companies that make the products. Coupons are a great way to increase product purchases, drive product awareness, reward loyal customers, and re-engage with customers – they want you to buy their products and this definitely motivates us! Let’s face it, we love that. You’ll find these in the Sunday Newspapers as inserts, printable from our favorite websites, peelies which are found directly on the products (you see them in the store right on the store shelves and you can peel them off which is where they get that “peelie” name), and mailers sent to our homes. (Many of the coupons sent to our home arrived with samples, so if you haven’t already, check out how to get free samples here!
Store CouponsThese are coupons that are sponsored by the stores instead of manufacturers. They state “store” at the top, usually feature the logo of that store, and are ONLY redeemable at that store. The best part about store coupons is that you can stack a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon! This means you can use one of each on a SINGLE item, leading to even bigger savings.
Digital CouponsDigital coupons can be both manufacturer’s and store's coupons. Stores like Kroger, Dollar General, Target, and more offer both through their loyalty programs and apps. These are free to sign up for and arguably make couponing easier than ever. The only downfall is that you only get a single coupon whereas if you clip from inserts you might be able to gather up and use multiple coupons and stock up.
Cashback AppsWhile not “technically” a coupon, it works about the same. Instead of submitting a coupon to get that money “off” an item at the time of purchase, these work where you submit the receipt proving your purchase and getting that money back – like a rebate, only faster! It’s more or less reversed. Sometimes – and you really do have to pay attention because it isn’t too often – you can stack them with coupons as well.
There are many, many ways to get your hands on manufacturer’s coupons, just choose the best ways that work for you.
Where Can I get Manufacturer’s Coupons?
The Sunday morning newspaper often includes inserts or coupons for you to clip. Granted, a subscription isn’t free, but you can opt for a Sunday-only plan. If that’s not in your budget, that's okay but keep your ears open and you might find that you have a friend or a neighbor that enjoys the paper, but not the coupons. Don’t be afraid to ask around – many end up in the recycling without a second thought!
Printed coupons are often very popular! If you have the means to print with a printer at home, it’s quite convenient too. The most well-known website to print these coupons is Coupons.com! You’ll find money savings on a variety of products like baby care, pet needs, foods, drinks, personal care, make-up, and brands like Nivea, Off!, Advil, Garnier, Cover Girl, Gatorade, Welch’s, Colgate, and more! You’ll also want to go directly to the manufacturer’s websites to look for coupons! P&G (that’s Tide, Charmin, Gain, Bounty, Olay, Swiffer, Febreeze, Gillette, Downy, and more!) allow you to print coupons for their brands directly on their website when you sign up for their FREE P&G Everyday program. (A friendly note about P&G coupons, they expire 24 hours from the moment you print them, so print them the night before or the morning that you go to the store.) Read my P&G coupon guide.
Kellogg’s (that’s all your favorite cereals, Pop-Tarts, Eggo Waffles, Pringles, Cheez-its, Townhouse, and MorningStar) also hosts the ability to print coupons for their family of products from their site as well. It’s as easy as going to the websites of the brands your family uses often and seeing if they have them. Scott, U by Kotex, Cottonelle, SuperPretzel, and Angel Soft are probably all brands you recognize and have; you just need to do a little investigative work with all your favorite products!
Did you know? The first day of each month is the biggest printable coupon release day. It’s out with the old and in with the new. Most printed coupons have a 30-day expiration from the date you print (though some can be 2 weeks), so you’ll want to leap on those when they first come out. They are limited in availability and can go quickly, but you’ll have the time to find an accompanying deal.
Digital coupons really do make couponing easy. Most of your favorite grocery stores (Kroger, Food Lion, Giant), dollar stores (Family Dollar and Dollar General), drug stores (CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid), as well as Target offer programs where you “clip” or add the coupon to your account (which are always free to set up) and redeeming by simply using a loyalty card or phone number at the checkout. These coupons are taken off automatically. Talk about convenience!
Cashback Apps are the newest version of coupons though they work “backwards” as explained above. I personally love these! Every cashback and coupon app I need is on my phone. All that I really have to do is take a picture of my receipt when I get home (which IS sometimes the hardest part!) You basically save the offers you want to redeem to your account or list and then go buy them! There is even a feature on these apps that allows you to scan the barcode of the item while you’re at the store to ensure you’ve got the right item to be able to get your money back. AND, in most cases, you can get multiple redemptions too! Meaning, if you want to buy 4 boxes of cereal because it’s on sale, you can get cash back on each one! Sometimes you’ll discover bonus offers that award you even more cash back! You do need to pay attention to how long offers are valid for as they do have expirations as well.
Ibotta is also a couponer’s favorite with Fetch as a close second! Shopmium’s offers nearly always mimic the coupons released in the Sunday paper or on Coupons.com but is limited to one redemption. Checkout51 and Shopkick might also offer you some savings on select products. So, here’s the best part about these apps – you might find an offer for your product on several of them! It’s a stacking dream! (One word of caution, you won’t always be able to stack with paper coupons for the same item. Read the details of the offer to see if using a paper coupon in addition to claiming the offer is forbidden or not. Paper coupons will show on the receipt and the app will recognize it.)
Did you know? Some of our favorite points and shopping programs like MyPoints and Swagbucks offer points on specific grocery products! It’s under Magic Receipts! Check it out!
Expert Tip: While you’re scanning receipts, there are apps that award points for each receipt image that you upload. It does take a while to bank points to redeem, but it’s super easy and only takes a few moments. So if you’re interested in those, check out CoinOut, Receipt Hog, ReceiptPal, and ReceiptJar!
Keep Coupons Organized
Keeping coupons organized can be very advantageous. Whether you prefer an envelope system, an accordion file, or something even bigger like a binder, as long as you know where your coupons are and have some order to them, that’s what matters! That way, when you spot a clearance or unadvertised deal in the store that you have a coupon for, you’ll be able to quickly locate it to take advantage of it. It’s also a good idea to clean out your coupons on the last day of every month. That’s when the majority of coupons expire, so get in a habit to get rid of the old and add the new.
For the binder method, you cut your coupons and sort them into either category or alphabetically. You then place the clipped coupons into sheet protectors or what I call "baseball card protectors". The number of categories is up to you. Some couponers find it useful to organize their coupons categories by brand.
I have used this method in the past, and I no longer use it because I think it takes a lot more time than the Filing Method.
Here is how I made my MySavings binder:
- 3-ring binder
- Sheet protectors, plastic sleeves or baseball card sleeves
- Dividers or Stickers
The filing or file box method allows you to only clip your coupons when they are needed. File your inserts by date. If you are unsure of the date, look on the fold of the insert. It is printed there in a small font.
- Simply label a file folder with the date.
- Place all inserts into the folder.
- Place the labeled folder in your file box.
This makes so much sense because when it is time to find a coupon, MySavings.com will always list the coupon(s) you need along with the insert name and date. This makes locating your coupons easy!
Top Coupon Lingo Abbreviations:
There's alot of abbreviations on the couponing world! Below are just some of the common couponing lingo and abbreviations you may encounter when looking for deals on couponing and deal-hunting.
BOGO or B1G1 - Buy One, Get One Free
SAVE - formally called Red Plum (RP), Sunday Newspaper Insert filled with coupons.
SS - Smart Source, Sunday Newspaper Insert filled with coupons!
PG or P&G - Procter and Gamble coupons.
IP - Internet Printable
OOP - Out-of-pocket cost, What you pay
DQ - Double Coupon, Some store double the value of coupons up to $0.99.
YMMV - Your mileage may vary, meaning the deal depends on location, store, or cashier.
WYB - When you buy
RR - Walgreens Register Rewards
WC - Walgreens Cash
ECB - CVS Extrabucks
MM - Moneymaker, means you end up making some money back on that purchase
MQ - Manufacturer Coupon
SQ - Store coupon
RC - Raincheck
OYNO - On Your Next Order. Store promotions such as Spend $25, save $10 on the next shopping order. OYNO refers to savings that will not be seen on the first transaction but that may be applied to the next purchase.
OOS - Out of stock
MIR - Mail in rebate
Q - Coupon
WSL - While supplies last
Need More Coupon Advice?
Study up: Know your “regular” prices and sale prices and what makes it a deal. Pay attention to the cycles of the sales. As you start to watch the weekly ads over time, you’ll note that about every 3 weeks your favorite cereal goes on sale, save your coupons for those weeks! Use those lower-priced opportunities to stock up, stretching you until the next sales week. A little planning can go a long way!
Make a list: Not only does it help me remember what I need to buy, but it helps me note what items are on sale, which ones have a coupon, the ones that I have a cashback offer for, and on and on! I also have a tendency to do the math as I’m listing it out. It helps me know if it is a good deal and if I want to stock up or if it’s just mediocre and I might consider waiting.
Calculate your savings: Please, please, please do this! Nothing will feel better than seeing what you have saved! When you see the value of your efforts, you’ll be motivated to continue, and this is what makes couponing so fun. Before you know it, you’ll have a savings tally for a month and realize that you are able to do things with that money you never thought you could! But you CAN do it. And you’ll probably even wonder why you didn’t do it sooner…
How to Coupon: A Beginner’s Guide to Couponing (FAQ)What is the trick to extreme couponing?
There is no trick to it, but knowledge is power! To get into extreme couponing, you need to be very familiar with store couponing policies as well as develop a familiarity with coupons, both manufacturer’s and store and how they work. You’ll also want to pay attention to store sales and the cycles they follow. When you start combining them with sales, you’ll see the bigger savings. If your local store does double or triple coupon events, these are even more exciting opportunities to save or get items for FREE!
How do I start couponing step by step?
Do as little or as much as you’re comfortable with. Start with looking for coupons for items your family regularly use. Then once you’re comfortable with using coupons, start watching for sales to go with them. Keep it simple and as you go, you’ll become more proficient with it. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Have fun with it. There will always be some deals that don’t go as you had planned, but use those as learning opportunities – don’t get discouraged! Every penny does help your budget, so take pride in what you can do to save money for your family.
What is the secret to couponing?
There is no secret, but there are some very helpful things that can really benefit you and make couponing truly work for you!
Follow blogs, websites, and social media that do the math for you! They’ll tip you off to some of the better weekly deals and step you through exactly what you need to do the deal yourself!
MySavings is your source for the latest and greatest coupons and store deals! Sign up for the daily newsletter as well as follow on Facebook, Telegram, Instagram, and Twitter so that you’ll be the first to know when they are available!
TIP: Join our exclusive Facebook group for even more fun with like-minded couponing friends!
You might also consider having a couponing buddy! Maybe you use Colgate toothpaste while your friend prefers Crest. You’ll be watching out for coupons for each other and encouraging along the way! It’s more fun to do coupon shopping with a pal!
How do I know if my local store accepts coupons?
Most stores have a coupon policy posted on their website spelling out their rules for coupon acceptance. They are sometimes very difficult to find – well hidden, like going on a scavenger hunt - but if you Google your store name, followed by “coupon policy”, it usually finds it faster than you can if you dig around on their site. Some of the important things they call out are whether or not they accept printable coupons, how BOGO (Buy One, Get One Free) coupons are handled, and any other potential exclusions. Walmart has one, as does Target.
Can use a coupon where the discount is worth more than the item?
Yes! In coupon lingo, it’s called overage. A couponer’s dream is to find that item on sale or clearance for less than the coupon value. You have to play it smart though. The stores aren’t going to give you the cash back for that overage, so it will more or less be used against the rest of your purchases. So having said that, make sure you have a “cushion” to use that up if you are going to be getting an overage.
Can I get coupons by mail?
Yes, sometimes! Frito-Lay has a program where you can request coupons for their products (Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Lays, Ruffles, and Quaker products) by mail every 2 weeks! It’s one of my favorites and I wish more companies did that. Sometimes reaching out to manufacturers through their “Contact Us” link on their websites and letting them know how much your family likes their products will yield coupons by mail.