Welcome to CouponCabin University (aka CCU), a new feature that we’re developing to help you stretch your budget as far as possible. During this and future posts you will learn everything from couponing basics to the most sophisticated couponing techniques. Check out some valuable coupon secrets below! Before you know it, you’ll be a pro at saving money too, all thanks to your friends at CouponCabin.
Lesson 1: Using Coupons.
Let’s sort through all the hype and dive into how someone really starts couponing. It’s really not that difficult, so you shouldn’t be intimidated.
This first topic is all about using coupons, one of the most integral parts of bargain shopping and saving money. Did you know that almost every store in the world offers some type of coupon?
Stores offer coupons to attract new shoppers, to support new product launches, to move discontinued or out-of-date products and to reward loyal shoppers – and it is your job to find and use them!
1. Finding the almighty coupon.
There are a lot of places to find coupons, and to be a true savings expert, you have to know and use them all.
First and foremost, check the Sunday newspaper. Sometimes stores and gas stations will have extra papers and toward the end of the day will bundle two papers together to help sell them. Sunday newspapers typically cost $1.00 to $3.00 and double Sunday newspaper bundles are only $2.00 to $5.00, so you can get double the number of coupons. Sometimes a double Sunday paper is hard to find, but I can almost always find one at Walmart. Some cities do not have double Sunday newspapers at all – just ask around at stores in your area or even ask the checkout clerk.
Second, print coupons online. CouponCabin has one of the largest offerings of printable grocery and in-store coupons but there are others that we’ll mention later in the lesson.
You can also get manufacturer coupons at the grocery store checkout register with your receipt; these are known as Catalina coupons. The Catalina coupon printer, which is often right next to the cash register in most grocery stores, is usually labeled “Checkout Coupons.”
Fun Fact: CouponCabin’s original name in 2003 was going to be CheckoutCoupons.com but after CouponCabin’s founder’s mom saw the name in use at the grocery store, it was changed to CouponCabin.com to avoid trademark problems – good catch, Linda!
Product manufacturers pay the Catalina company to print its coupons based on what you purchase during your order and what other information is stored on your loyalty card. For example, if you are a woman who buys wine, you may receive different coupons than a man who buys beer, even if you’re purchasing the same item that triggers a coupon print. This coupon printing system typically invites you to purchase a competitor’s product (e.g. buy Ruffles and you’ll get a coupon for Lays) on your next visit to the store.
If you find a coupon online that seems to good to be true, it probably is. Check the Coupon Information Center’s list of known counterfeit coupons found across the web to make sure yours isn’t a fake.
2. Organizing and storing your coupons
Finding the coupon is half the battle; the other half is being able to quickly and easily locate the right coupon when you need it. I recommend one of three methods to store your coupons: envelope, storage box or binder.
The Envelope or (Pencil Holder) Method
If you’re always crunched for time, I prefer this envelope or pencil box method. I usually just have two pencil boxes (similar to the kind you had in grade school, which came with 12 pencils) and a few envelopes (plain business envelopes work but a USPS, flate-rate Priority Mail-sized envelopes are better). I start by putting all my coupons in one pencil holder and before I head to the store, I put the ones I need into my priority envelope (I’m told CouponCabin can’t endorse using USPS envelopes so I guess you should just look for something that size). I can usually make an entire shopping list based on my priority envelope because I can almost always find a coupon for everything I need, like bread, milk, orange juice, etc. If I need anything extra that I do not have a coupon for, I write a small list on this envelope. I use a new priority envelope for every shopping trip. When I am finished, the coupons I didn’t use go back in the pencil holder. Since I use a coupon clipping service (Note: we’ll talk about coupon clipping services later) I only have coupons for items that I need.
I also buy a few double Sunday papers and keep the coupon inserts in a manila office-like folder labeled by the date they were in the newspaper. This method has a very short upfront organization period but may take you a bit longer in the store as you thumb through the coupons looking for what you need. When using this method, it’s important that you only clip the coupons that you know you’re going to use and avoid cluttering your pencil box with unneeded coupons.
The Storage Box Method
If you’re fairly organized, skip the pencil box, as this is the method for you. It is basically a plastic box for office-sized hanging folders with labels, which you can find at Walmart, Walgreens, CVS or any office supply store. This one is made by Oxford and can be purchased at Office Max. You may not want to use a storage box if you have kids who might want to dump your coupons out because this method is not very kid-friendly.
Label the tabs or folders by category: frozen, dairy, meat, snacks, baby, etc. and as you clip coupons, you can store them in each relevant category. I prefer this larger sized box since it’s tall and wide enough for me to store duplicate Sunday coupon inserts that I come across. I may not always clip the same coupons from additional inserts if I’ve already clipped it once, but I do hold on to the inserts in case I see a sale and can stock up by stacking coupons. Note: We’ll talk about stacking coupons later, as well.
The Binder Method
If you are extremely organized like me and don’t mind spending the extra time, try this Binder Method. If you don’t have at least one hour a week to spend managing your coupon binder, you’ll want to try one of the other options.
First, go to the store and buy baseball card binders. Yes, you read that correctly, these are the three ring binders that hold your kids’ (or husband’s) trading cards. The binders cost about eight to ten dollars at any Walmart or Target. The sheets that go in the three-ring binders hold nine cards per page and usually come in packs of 25 for less than $3.00 at Amazon.
Next, buy cheap address labels or stickers to label each page. A page will be your way to keep all your coupons for a given category, product or brand together, based on how you shop. Examples could be: a page for all “dairy” products, a page for “cheese” if you’re a cheese lover, or even a page dedicated to “Kraft cheese” if all you buy is Kraft.
These categories and separations should be based on how you shop and how much time you have to organize the coupons, so please spend a few minutes thinking about what makes the most sense for you. Essentially, the more time you have to dedicate to sorting your coupons, the easier it will be for you to compare coupons once you’re in the store looking at prices.
Once you have your binder and your pages labeled, place all your grouped coupons on one page. You will use each pocket to hold the same type of coupon, e.g. if you have five coupons for Hunt’s Ketchup, all five will go in the same spot. This is really important, so I’m going to mention it again. On your labeled page, you’re going to group your coupons by brand/manufacturer at the product level. The first coupon will show through the plastic holder and all others will be behind it.
When you’re shopping, you’ll pull out all coupons for that product and then compare the discounts on each coupon. This method will allow you to quickly compare discounts and expiration dates. This binder method will hands down save you the most money when you’re in the store because you can find coupons quickly. But as you can see, the grouping of similar coupons will take extra time at home.
Another tip: Get a small Fiskars scrapbook cutter from the craft store (or Meijer, Walmart, Target or Staples) for $20 or so, or you can buy used from eBay for about half the price. You’ll want this for when you have several of the same Sunday coupon inserts. You’ll take the pages apart from the inserts and stack them on top of each other, all facing the same direction. You can stack up to four of the same coupon inserts together. By doing this, you can cut the same coupon four times in one quick motion. These cutters can be sharp, so watch those fingertips!
3. Learn how to use your coupons.
Now that you have them, and they’re organized, let’s make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck when you use them!
There are two main types of coupons:
- Manufacturer coupons:
These are the most common since they are created by a product manufacturer (e.g. French’s mustard). These are typically what you’ll find in the Sunday newspaper, from the Catalina CheckoutCoupons printer and online from sites like CouponCabin.com, Redplum.com and SmartSource.com. The great thing about manufacturer coupons is that you can typically redeem these at any grocery store. After you redeem a coupon, the store will turn the coupon back into the manufacturer (via something called a clearinghouse) and the store will essentially receive a check back from the manufacturer for the value of the coupon. Because of this, grocery stores really don’t care if you use manufacturer coupons since the store is reimbursed for the discount from the manufacturer.
- Store coupons:
These are coupons that a given grocery store (e.g. Target, Meijer or Kroger) creates and gives out for products that they may have too many of on their shelves. When you use these coupons, the grocery store often does not get reimbursed for the discount, but they are able to move the products off the shelf, which is the end goal. Because a given store chain creates and releases these store coupons, these coupons usually cannot be used at any other grocery store.
Now here comes the fun part…
You can usually use BOTH a manufacturer coupon and a store coupon on the SAME item. Yup, you read that correctly! This is one of the secrets to the “extreme couponing” craze. Let’s walk through it.
For example, if you print a coupon from Target.com (a store coupon), you can also use a coupon from the newspaper (a manufacturer coupon) on top of it. Don’t take my word for it – here is how it’s stated in the Target coupon policy:
“To help you save even more, we accept manufacturer’s coupons. We happily accept one manufacturer’s and one Target coupon per item.” (See for yourself here)
You might be wondering how stores can afford this. Again, here’s how: the manufacturer will reimburse the store for the manufacturer coupon. This can easily allow you to get an item for free, as I’ve outlined in the example below.
French’s mustard at Target
- The mustard is on sale at Target for $.94.
- Print a store coupon from Target.com for $.75 off French’s mustard.
- Pair it with a French’s manufacturer coupon for $.30 off, which makes the item free!
Note: In this example, the cost to you is actually negative 11 cents. Unfortunately, Target won’t give you money back so you’ll have to settle for the item for free! That said though, Tom Thumb and many other smaller, local grocery chains will give you the difference back. Make sure to check your store’s coupon policy, which can often be found online or by visiting the customer service desk in the store).
CONGRATULATIONS – you have now completed your first CouponCabin University class! Stay tuned for Lesson Two: Matching Coupons to Sale Ads.