Coupon Basics for Beginners

When you first start to learn the ‘art’ of couponing, it can surely be intimidating. There is a lot to know. But the very first thing to know is that couponing takes practice, it takes patience, and it takes effort. And it will be worth the work!

This article covers topics key to becoming a savvy shopper and skilled couponer.

The Coupon Itself

Understanding the very basic component, the coupon itself, is essential to its skilled use. It is an offer from a manufacturer or retailer, for money off the purchase of a specified item.

The wording on the coupon is the more important that any picture or image that may be featured.
In fact, the wording is what relays the manufacturers’ true intent for the use of the coupon, not the image or even the bar code.

Often manufacturers will select their most expensive product to feature on the coupon, hoping this will persuade you to pick that item, when the wording of the coupon may encompass many other and less expensive products from that manufacturer. For example, a coupon that states “Save $1.00 on Any Huggies Diapers” may picture their top of the line Pure & Natural diapers, but can be used on the much more economical Snug & Dry line as well because the wording encompasses both products.

There are several other key things to understand when it comes to wording on coupons.

Definition of a “Purchase” Most coupons include the statement: “Limit one coupon per purchase” or something very similar. What does this mean? It can sometimes be confusing. Every qualifying item you are buying is a purchase. So if you have a coupon for $1.00 off 2, than the two items specified by that coupon are one purchase. If you have another of the same coupon, you could buy two more items, and they would be another purchase allowing you to use second coupon for $1.00 off 2 in the same transaction. The total of everything that you are buying is a transaction, and transaction is completed with payment and a receipt.

Limit one coupon per household This would mean the manufacturer or store’s intent is for only one coupon to be redeemed per household.

Limit one coupon per person, per day In this case, the manufacturer or store’s intent is not to limit each person or household to only one coupon, but to limit them to redeeming only one coupon per day.

Limit one coupon per transaction This means you can use only one of these specific coupons in that transaction, which is completed when you pay and receive your receipt. You could use another like coupon in a separate transaction.

Expiration Date All coupons include an expiration date. The coupon is valid for redemption up to and including the date list on the coupon. As of 12:00AM on the day following the expiration date listed, the coupon is no longer valid.
The only exception to this would be if a store has a written coupon policy allowing the use of expired coupons.

Understanding the coupon itself will ensure you are able to use it as intended.

Manufacturer Coupons vs. Store Coupons
There are two types of coupons really. Manufacturer coupons are issued by the manufacturer of the product. A coupon for Cheerios is issued by General Mills. Store coupons are discounts offered from the store on a specific item.  Store coupons are just another way for a store to put an item on sale, except you as the consumer must work a little harder to get that sale price, as you must be aware of the coupon and present it at checkout in order to receive that sale or discount price.

Coupon Stacking
What is coupon stacking? It is the use of a manufacturer coupon in conjunction with a store sale, promotion or store issued coupon. It is not using two manufacturer coupons on one item.

Sales, Clearance and the Coupon
One of the key ways to make coupons work and save you money is to match the coupons with store sales or clearance. In this way you are maximizing your savings. This is what the shopping lists on Pinch The Penny and other couponing blogs are doing for you.

You can use coupons on clearance items too, as long as it meets the requirements of the coupon and the store doesn’t have policy that prohibits it.

Buy One Get One Free
There are several different ways that you can get free products by buying other products (BOGO).

The BOGO Coupon by itself or the BOGO Sale by itself  You will be paying full price for one item and get the second item free.

The BOGO Sale with coupons If a store runs a BOGO promotion, you can use one coupon on each item. For example, a box of cereal is on sale buy one get one free. You have two different $1.00 off 1 coupons for that type of cereal. You can use one coupon on the full price box of cereal and one coupon on the free box of cereal. Why is this? The free box is a sale or promotion from the store and the coupon is a discount from the manufacturer.

The BOGO Sale with the BOGO Coupon This is when you can get two items for free. Again, if the store is running a BOGO promotion, one free item is a discount offered from the store, and the coupon is an offer from the manufacturer. The store will be reimbursed for the one full priced item from the manufacturer.

What is couponing etiquette? I think of it as showing consideration to all the other shoppers out there who do not use coupons. They may see the person in the checkout line with lists and envelopes and stacks of coupons, trying to sort them, looking for that one coupon they know they clipped. It can be really frustrating to the non-couponer to be standing in line behind that person, waiting. These are a few of my favorite points of coupon etiquette:

Be Organized Make your shopping list, gather your coupons, know your goal. This will not only save you time inside the store actually shopping, but you won’t be searching for the coupons you want to use when you are at the register. Of course, some substitutions may be made while shopping, you might see a great clearance item and know you have a coupon to match. And that is just fine. Just find a nice little corner or deserted aisle of the store to sort and gather your coupons and have them in hand and ready before you get in that checkout line. Your cashier will appreciate it and so will anyone in line behind you.

Limit Two Please There are lots of occasions where you may want to pay for your items in separate transactions. CVS and Walgreens often have deals that can save you bundles by splitting things up and paying separately. But if the store is busy and there is only one cashier open, it’s best to not stand there and try to do ten separate transactions. Depending on how busy the store is and how many people are waiting in line, maybe only one transaction at a time is appropriate. But even if there is only one person in line behind you, two separate transactions are the most you would want to do out of courtesy to the person(s) waiting behind you and the store employees.

If you are the one and only person in the entire store shopping, you could certainly do more than two transactions back to back, but ask or inform the cashier first! And be prepared to step aside and wait if after transaction 4 of 10 another customer comes and is ready to check out.

Be Polite Not all cashiers are knowledgeable on the ins-and-outs of manufacturer coupons, and some may not even be as aware of their own store policies as you are. So if you meet opposition at the register, remember to always stay calm and if necessary, request a manager to clarify the matter. Most often, that is all that is necessary to clear up the matter. If you are following the intent of the coupon and the store policies and still are denied use of your coupons, then you have a decision to make. Either continue with your purchase without using your coupon or politely request that the products in question be removed from your order. In both cases, a call to the corporate offices of that store would be appropriate to get final clarification on the matter.

There are many facets to ethical couponing. These are just a few of the most important things to know about what is right and wrong about coupon use.

Using a coupon for an item you have not purchased. Some try to slip and extra coupon or two in a large stack, hoping the cashier won’t notice and push it through. Others decipher that a coupon will go through for a product that clearly does not match the intent of the coupon (this is referred to as bar code decoding). Either way, it is wrong. The stores lose money, the manufacturers lose money, and ultimately it hurts all coupon users, as it affects store policies and even the value and availability of future coupons.

Photocopying Coupons is Illegal Any sort of copying or reproduction of a coupon is illegal, regardless of if it were being done for distribution or for personal use.  There are many legal ways of obtaining multiple coupons. Purchasing extra newspapers on the weekend, for example.

Sources For Coupons
There are lots of places to get your hands on valuable coupons.

Newspaper Inserts The most traditional resource. On almost every single Sunday out of the year, your local newspaper will carry a variety of coupon inserts. SmartSource, RedPlum and Proctor & Gamble are the three most widely distributed. Your local area may have more/less. Always keep in mind, newspaper inserts are very regional and can vary greatly depending on where you live.

Internet Everything is on the internet in this day and age and coupons are no exception. Internet printable coupons is one of the fastest growing avenues for manufacturers to release their money saving coupons. This is due to the reduction in expense and time it takes to issue a coupon online vs. the more traditional printed insert. The following are some great online coupon resources:

Betty Crocker
All You
Box Tops 4 Education

Magazines There are lots of magazines that are full of good and sometimes exclusive coupons. The most notable is the ‘All You’ magazine, which you can purchase only at Wal-Mart. You can also get a mail subscription.

Friends & Family It is estimated that up to 94% of all coupons issued by manufacturers go unused. You likely know at least a couple people who don’t use many coupons, if at all. Let them know you welcome any and all of their unused coupons. You’ll be surprised how many you may get.

Store Displays Grocery stores are covered in specialized displays for many of the different kinds of products they sell. Often times these displays also hold coupon booklets or tearpads. Keep your eyes open for these on all of your shopping trips. But be polite, don’t take more coupons then you actually need or will use.

The Manufacturers You are looking for coupons, right. Why not just ask! Many manufacturers will send coupons to customers if they simply call or email to request them. Also, go online directly to a manufacturers’ website. Many manufacturers have coupons for their products available for printing right on their own websites.

There is no right or wrong way to organize your coupons. Well, there is a right way. The way that works best for you. Here are three of the most popular methods for organizing coupons:

In The Insert Instead of clipping lots of coupons, sorting them and finding a storage unit for it, you leave the coupon insert unclipped. Instead, you file the insert according to either the date or the insert type so that you can easily relocate the exact insert you need in the future. But how will you find your coupons?  Since Pinch The Penny and many other blogs do the work of finding the deals for you, it’s easy to locate just the coupons you need by keeping them in the insert they came in. The deals will reference the $1.00/1 from the 2/7 SS. This means you’ll go to the SmartSource insert that came in your 2/7/10 newspaper and you will easily find the coupon needed for that deal.  If this is a method you choose, I highly recommend that the first thing you do when you open your newspaper is to carefully staple your insert close to the spine to keep it all together and neat in your filing system. Second, take a large black marker and mark the date on the front cover of the insert to help you quickly see the date of that insert. You can always find the insert date on the spine, but you may need a magnifying glass to do so!

Coupon Box A small box or container, usually with some sort of divider system (tabs, envelopes, etc.) setup to separate your clipped coupons. This makes it easy to carry all of your coupons with you every time you shop.

Binder System Using a 3-ring binder with clear plastic pages to hold either your entire unclipped coupon inserts or your clipped coupons. For the whole insert, use a full page pocket for a 3-ring binder. For clipped coupons, I recommend using baseball card holders for a 3-ring binder, they are the perfect size for coupons.

I use a hybrid version of both 1 and 3. 
I keep my inserts unclipped and filed by type, then date. I also use a 3-ring binder for other coupons, like all of my internet printed coupons, home mailers, peelies, etc. that do not come in an insert. These are divided by categories.

Use whatever method works best for you!

Interpreting Couponing Blogs
Are you confused by what is being said on the shopping list on Pinch The Penny or other couponing blogs? Here’s a breakdown.

A deal is listed as follows:
McCain Potatoes - $2.50
$0.75/1 from 2/28 SS
$1.00/1 from 2/7 SS
Final Price: as low as $0.50 with doubled coupon

The first line is telling you is that McCain Potatoes are on sale for $2.50.

The next line is telling you that there is a coupon for $0.75 off the purchase of one McCain Potatoes product, and you can find it in the February 28th, 2010 SmartSource newspaper insert.

The third line is telling you there is another coupon, this one for $1.00 off the purchase of one McCain Potatoes product, and this one can be found in the February 7th, 2010 SmartSource newspaper insert.

The last line then says, if you use one of these two coupons on this item, you will end up paying as little as $0.50 for that product if you have that coupon doubled at the store you are shopping at.

Here’s another example:
Gillette Fusion, Venus Embrace or Breeze - $8.99
Get $4.00 ECBs (limit 1)
$4.00/1 from 2/7 PG for Fusion
Final Price: $0.99
This is an example from a CVS shopping list. It is telling you that these listed razors are on sale for $8.99

The next line is telling you that if you purchase one of these razors for $8.99, you will receive $4.00 in CVS Extra Care Bucks. But you can only get this ECB reward one time for this promotion period.

The third line is telling you that there is a coupon for $4.00 off the purchase of one of these razors, and you can find it in the February 7th, 2010 Proctor & Gamble newspaper insert.

Final Price: you will get his razor for $0.99 after the $4.00 coupon and your $4.00 ECB reward.

Common Couponing Lingo
There are lots of abbreviations and acronyms used on couponing blogs, and it can be like a foreign language at times. This is a list of some of the most frequently used abbreviations on Pinch The Penny.

SS: SmartSource coupon insert
RP: RedPlum coupon insert
PG: Proctor & Gamble coupon insert
GM: General Mills coupon insert
IP: internet printable coupon
OOP: out of pocket expense
WDC: with doubled coupon
BOGO or B1G1: buy one get one __
WYB: when you buy
MIR: mail in rebate
Catalina: the machine that dispenses coupons for you when you buy things at various stores
RR: Walgreens' catalina coupons
ECB: Extra Care Bucks, CVS reward system

You can find this list at all times on the right hand side of the main page on Pinch The Penny.

Original Post By: Pinch The Penny © 2010 Jennifer Spencer



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