Using coupons to save money on groceries can be challenging. Perhaps you’ve tried using coupons, and you didn’t receive the savings you expected. You put a lot of effort into your planning and preparation, but the payoff was miniscule.
Many people collect coupons, clip coupons, save coupons, organize coupons and bring their coupons to the grocery store, only to save 20% or less on their entire order. The small amount saved by using coupons when shopping hardly seems worthwhile.
I once had the same frustrations, and I made many common couponing mistakes. Over time, however, I learned a lot of strategies and best practices for using coupons. In order to help move you from the 20%-30% savings level to the 80%-90% extreme couponing level, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the coupon mistakes to avoid, and tips to get the most savings from your coupons.
Common Mistakes When Grocery Shopping with Coupons
1. Using a Coupon on a Full-Priced Item
If you use a $1.00 off coupon on a full-priced box of cereal priced at $4.99, you don’t save much money. This actually violates the two tenets of extreme couponing: Only buy items that are on sale, and combine that sale with one or more coupons.
Wait until the cereal is on sale to use the coupon. For example, if the store has a two for $4.00 promotion, charging $2.00 for one box of the $4.99 cereal, you can buy the cereal, use the coupon, and only pay $1.00 for the box. That’s an 80% savings off of the original price! You are not obligated to buy two boxes on a sale like this.
2. Buying Anything on Sale
Just because an item is on sale doesn’t mean it is a good sale. An item that’s usually $2.99, and has a sale price of two items for $5.00, isn’t much of a sale. Wait for a better sale to splurge and use your coupons. When you use your coupons for items that are deeply discounted, you will save the most money.
Before you buy an item, calculate the price of the discount item, plus your coupon savings, to see if the resulting price offers a real savings. Remember, you set the price you want to pay for an item. If a store’s sale prices and your coupons won’t save you enough money, don’t buy the item!
3. Being Brand Loyal
Post or Kellogg’s Raisin Bran? Skippy peanut butter or Jif? Which brands should you buy? The answer: Whichever one you can get for free or close to free using your coupons.
Many people start down the road to extreme couponing because of a major impetus in their life, like a loss of income, a baby on the way, or too much debt. This is not the time to be brand loyal. You need to save money, and you can’t do that if you pass on good deals because you prefer a different brand.
If you can buy a necessary item for free or close to free, don’t worry about the brand; just take advantage of the savings.
4. Using Every Coupon
Some coupons don’t represent a real savings. For example, a coupon for $0.50 off of two boxes of brand name cereal won’t result in a real savings. That’s only $0.25 off each box of cereal. Even during a good sale, the coupon may not take the total price down to what you want to pay for the cereal. Wait for a better coupon and for another sale.
Sometimes you will have good coupons but no sales on the items you need, and the coupons approaching expiration date. Let them expire! You don’t have to use the coupons and make mistake #1, using a coupon on a full-priced item.
Our family routinely throws out expired coupons because the items didn’t go on sale, the sale wasn’t good enough, or the coupon wasn’t enough of a savings. Pass on deals that don’t represent a true savings. If you really need the item, buy one or two of them now, and wait to buy in bulk until the item is discounted.
5. Buying Every Great Deal
Only buy items that you need to buy. Otherwise, you will buy products you do not need, or buy products that expire before you have a chance to use them. Jumping on every great deal out there significantly lightens your wallet, and defeats the whole purpose of couponing.
6. Clipping Every Coupon
I used to cut out each coupon, one at a time, from the nine coupon inserts that we receive with our newspaper. Then I learned the time-saving secret that 1st graders use in art class. Stack like pages together from all of your inserts first, and then cut them out, using a single action.
If you use the coupon binder method, this saves you a lot of time. If you use the whole insert method of storing your coupons, put like pages together, and file the entire inserts. Use a paper cutter for cutting multiple inserts. In addition, make sure to quickly scan the coupon inserts and discard coupons you don’t need. This makes sorting quicker and easier.
7. Printing Coupons You Don’t Use
Online printable coupons from websites like Coupons.com can save you money. However, you must use computer paper and ink to print the coupons, which costs money and wastes paper. Many people print every online coupon available, and then throw most of them away. Print online coupons as you need them, to use during store sales.