Friday, August 15, 2008

Coupon Q&A - Notes from my Coupon Class

I recently taught a coupon class at my church. Several people (both those who attended and those were missed it) have asked me for my notes, so here they are....

*Preface: A lot of people think that coupons are a waste of time and that they don't save you enough money to make it worth it. Well, coupons ARE money. They are legal tender and are a form of currency. Not using a 25 cent coupon simply because "it's only 25 cents" is like not using a quarter from your wallet because "it's only 25 cents".

Where can I get coupons?

1. Newspaper – Dollar General has them every week for $1.

2. Neighbors/relatives – I typically get 2-3 extra coupon circulars each week from neighbors/relatives – sometimes more.

3. Print online

4. Red boxes in-store

5. Catalina register coupons

6. Magazines

7. Brochures at pharmacy and grocery store counters

8. Call your favorite companies and ask for coupons. (This really works!)

9. Recycle bin diving! J This may sound silly, but I know of people who have been very successful with this!

How long do coupons last before they expire?

That depends on the type of coupon. P&G coupons always expire on the 31st of each month but most coupons in newspaper circulars are good for 2-3 months. Internet coupons vary, but are usually valid for 1 month from print date.

Does everyone who clips coupons clip all coupons like you?

From my observations, there are three main types of couponers:

1. People who clip or save EVERY SINGLE coupon.

2. People who clip or save coupons for products they currently use or products they might like to try.

3. People who clip or save ONLY coupons for items they currently purchase.

*I started out in Category 1, but I quickly burnt out and am now in Category 2, which I find to be much better.

What methods do you suggest for organizing coupons?

The two most common methods that I know of include:

1. Binder or notebook with baseball card holders (my choice method)

2. Shoebox or recipe box with divisions

What type of organization do you use within your binder method?

There are two main options for this as well:

1. Categorically

2. Alphabetically

a. By product (I.e. "F" - Frosted Mini Wheats)

b. By brand name (I.e. "K" - Kellogg's)

*I personally file alphabetically by brand name. Why do I think brand name is better than product name? It causes less confusion, specifically with things like cereal. When Kellogg's products go on sale, typically they ALL go on sale. Why would I want to flip through all those letters to find the individual products made by Kellogg's when I could just open up to 'K' to see all of their products?

What is your system for clipping coupons?

I stack like circulars, staple on top of product picture, clip coupons, sort alphabetically by BRAND name, and file in my binder.

How long does it take you to organize your coupons each week?

Usually about 2 hours to staple, clip, and file – and it saves me up to $100/week!

Why do you use a binder instead of a box?

I can easily see every coupon I have whenever I want to without digging through everything. Also, if I ever dropped my binder (which I do ALL the time), my coupons would not spill out as they would in a box.

Why would I want to buy things I don't need?

Well, you're not buying things you don't need. You're getting things you don't need. But why would you get things you don't need? A few reasons:

1. To give away. There are several organizations (listed on your paper) where you can donate extra food and toiletry items. If you can get them free, why not give them to someone who may not know how to get them free?

2. To save for later. Let's say you have 1 tube of toothpaste in the bathroom and an extra tube in the closet. Will you need toothpaste after that second tube runs out? Of course! So why not get it NOW while it's FREE, rather than wait until later when you might have to pay a few dollars for it? If it's something you're going to need in the next 3-6 months and you can get it free or for pennies right NOW, get it and save it (unless of course, it's something that will expire between now and then).

3. To sell. This may sound silly, but I made $30 by selling HBA products at a garage sale this spring – and I didn't pay a penny for any of those products!

How can I get the best deal with my coupons?

1. Know your store's coupon policy. Coupon policies can vary within the same chain, although I think most of Indy's grocery stores have the same policies within their chains. Stores that I know of which regularly double coupons up to 50 cents here in Indy include: Kroger, Marsh, and Meijer. Some stores will only double a certain number of identical coupons (Meijer) while others do not have a max.

As a general rule, you can use 1 manufacturer coupon and 1 store coupon per item in most stores. So watch for store coupons to combine with man coupons for great savings! Store coupons can sometimes be found online, in the store's weekly ad, or in the local paper.

2. Watch the ads. The very BEST way to maximize your savings is to combine coupons with sales. I rarely buy something that isn't on sale and if I have a coupon for it, I usually wait until it's on sale to purchase it with the coupon.

B1G1 sales are perfect because, at most stores, you can use two coupons since you're technically buying two items. Oftentimes you can get items for free or almost free during B1G1 sales. This can be easily attained if you have a B1G1 coupon for something that is on sale for B1G1!

Specifically watch for 10 for $10 sales. A few months ago, Meijer had an AWESOME 10 for $10 sale. Due to their coupon policy about only doubling up to two identical coupons per transaction, I had to split my orders up but I wound up with $170 worth of groceries and household cleaners for only $48!

3. When double/triple coupon days roll around – STOCK UP! About once or twice a year, some of the grocery chains run a double/triple coupon weekend. This usually consists of double coupons up to $1 and triple coupons up to 50 cents, but it could vary by store. When these events happen, DO NOT MISS OUT. This is the time to stock up on ALL dry goods. You can get TONS of items for free (and oftentimes even make money on your groceries during these sales). Again, DO NOT MISS THEM!

4. Know how to read and interpret coupons. Coupons are generally interpreted by the text – NOT the photo. If your coupon says "any variety", it means any variety. Just because there is an expensive variety in the photo doesn't mean you have to buy THAT variety. Get the cheapest one for the best savings.

If the coupon does not specifically say "excludes trial size", it is valid on a trial size. (You may have cashiers that argue with this, but in general they know they can't fight it since it's not there in writing and it scans just fine.)

5. Always check the clearance isle. I have found so many great deals in the clearance isle, whipped out my coupon binder and found a couple for those items and paid pennies for them. If you have time, always glance at the "rejects".

Drugstore Deals


1. Get an Extra Care Bucks card if you don't have one already.

2. Register in online to get your $4/$20 coupon.

3. Pick up weekly and monthly ads.

4. Scan in-store coupon boxes for store coupons.

5. Use to purchase items which give ECB (CVS money)

6. Make money by purchasing "Free after ECB" deals and using coupons (store and man).

*Positives: Instant rebate. Better deals. Easy to understand.

*Negatives: Limit per customer.


1. Pick up a few Easy-Saver books.

2. Pick up weekly ads.

3. Combine Easy-Saver coupons with man. coupons with in-ad coupons to maximize savings!

4. Use coupon on "Free After Rebate" items and send in for rebate (or file online) to make money! Choose the Walgreens gift card over cash and receive 10% extra on your gift card!

5. Figure out and use Register Rewards (similar to ECB).

*Positives: Lots of coupons = big savings. No limit per customer since no card is required.

*Negatives: Rebates are a pain. Register Rewards cannot be used toward the same purchase (For example: $5 Register Rewards on 2 Dove haircare products cannot be used toward another purchase of 2 Dove haircare products in order to receive $5 RR.)

What should I do with my expired coupons?

1. Many stores accept expired coupons. You can try them at the register or just ask the manager on duty.

2. Military families overseas can use coupons several months beyond the expiration date. Visit the site listed below to find out more info.

3. Keep them for your children to learn math, how to save money, and to play "grocery store". J


The following is a list of resources (both websites and books) that I have found helpful in learning how to use coupons, bargain shop, and save money in lots of other ways! (Thanks to Crystal @ MoneySavingMom and Gretchen @ ExtraordinaryOrdinaryLife for helping me out with the printable coupon lists!)

Printable Coupons

MoneySavingMom's coupon printer

Red Plum

Smart Source

Eat Better America

Cool Savings

Box Tops 4 Education

Betty Crocker

Coupon Bar

Mommy Saves Big

Kroger 1

Kroger 2


Organic Printable Coupons

Horizon Organic

Mambo Sprouts

Organic Valley

Seventh Generation

Stonyfield Farm

Earth's Best

Nature Made

Santa Cruz

Coleman Natural Beef

Brown Cow

Organic and Natural Food Coupons

Recommended Books on Saving Money and Using Coupons

Shop, Save, and Share by Ellie Kay

Half Price Living by Ellie Kay

Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom by Stephanie Nelson

Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy

The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn

Living Well on One Income by Cynthia Yates

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

Recommended Internet Resources


PP Gazette

Coupon Mom

Hot Coupon World


What Can I Do With Expired Coupons?

Overseas Coupon Program

Where Can I Donate Extra Food/Toiletries?

Cut Out Hunger

How Do I Get Started at CVS?

CVS 101

Making CVS Work for You

How Do I Get Started at Walgreens?

Walgreens 101

Coupon Jargon (you might see these words/abbreviations online)

SS = Smart Source circular (found in newspaper)

RP = Red Plum circular (found in newspaper)

P&G = P&G Saver (found in newspaper)

Catalina = grocery store register coupon

ECB = CVS Extra Care Buck rewards

CRT = CVS register coupon

ES = Walgreens EasySaver catalog


Lindsey said...

This was a great class! I have been "couponing" in some sense or another since as long as I can remember. My parents would point to the pictures of things to cut out, and I tried so hard as a six year old to stay in the lines and neatly cut out the coupons. I even did a speech in 7th grade about my coupon hobby- what a dork!:):) Anyway, despite years of couponing, I still learned A LOT at your class! Thanks!!

Extraordinary Ordinary Life said...

Wow, I am impressed with your organization of all of that information. Great job!