I titled this post “Couponing for Dummies” not to insult, but because I once was a coupon dummy. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago! I always liked the idea of saving money, but the thought of couponing was so overwhelming. I’d clip a few here and there from the newspaper inserts, but that was about it.
Once I got married though, and we had to budget, saving money became much more important. Thankfully, I have a friend who is a couponing genius and pretty much taught me everything I now know about it. Today I want to pass that wisdom on to you all.
Here’s the thing: I know all the reasons you’re saying you don’t want to try it. It’s overwhelming (it can be, but not if you read this:)), it takes too much time (it doesn’t), there’s never coupons for the type of food or items I buy (there are), I like paying full price (OK, if you’re saying that, I don’t understand you and you can go away right now).
First, some myth debunking. The No. 1 excuse I’ve heard on other blogs against couponing is that the only coupons out there are for processed, packaged foods and never anything good for those that like to eat healthy. This is so untrue! Whoever has said that clearly did not look too hard. I have found plenty of coupons for fresh fruits and veggies and even meats.
The No. 2 excuse I hear to not coupon is that the money saved is never worth the time put into it. That the coupons out there aren’t high value enough to add up significantly. Again, these people must not be looking in the right places because I don’t do too much, but I always save significantly. Even if I didn’t though, I would still do it because even if it’s 50 cents or a few dollars here and there, it all adds up. Proof? Check out this recent from a recent Target trip: I saved $15 just in one trip – my total just for my week’s worth of groceries and essentials went from $80 to $65.
OK, so let’s get to it! There SO MANY ways to save, and I’m going to do my best to break it down in the easiest way I can. Remember too that you can pick and choose what you do, because any money saved is good. The more you do, the better, but my recommendation is to start slow and then add new methods once you feel confident with the first. Do not start doing all of these at once, because then it WILL be overwhelming. When you build over time, you catch on fast and catch the coupon fever!
Side note: About 75% of my grocery shopping happens at Target because their prices are spectacular to begin with before any coupons or sales are applied. I have compared items I frequently buy between Target and my local grocery stores, and Target is much cheaper almost every time. I do still get some meats and produce at my grocer though because the selection is larger and is sometimes fresher.
Target also has the best coupon policy I know of. Beyond that, they offer so many additional ways to save in store, there’s really no reason to not shop there.
Cartwheel: Easily my most favorite app probably ever. If you shop at Target and don’t have this app, GET IT NOW. If you do only one thing from this list, do this one. As of right now, so far using Cartwheel alone, I have saved $114.60 at Target. How it works if you have a certain amount of “spots,” and you can search for items on your list to fill your spots. Browse the offers and add the savings! It’s often things like 5% off Charmin toilet paper, 20% Up & Up hand lotion, 5% off Market Pantry brand almost everything — cheese, eggs, pasta sauce, lunch meat, milk and more. They also include offers on clothing, personal care, household items, etc. And, they frequently have deals on fresh berries, peppers, avocados, ground beef and those items that naysayers claim don’t exist. When all your spots have filled up, generate a barcode to show at checkout to get your deals.
Target app: Yes, separate from Cartwheel, Target has its own app. With this one, find the “deals and coupons” tab, and then in “Mobile coupons,” there’s more ways to save at checkout by showing the barcode. Some items are even doubled up from Cartwheel deals, and yes, you do get both! In this app though, you don’t have to claim any deals, you just get anything on the current list by showing the one automatic barcode. Here’s what was in a recent mobile coupon:
Shopkick: Admittedly kind of hard to navigate and understand, the gist is that you just need to open the app up in any store you’re in and earn points. I earn 30 points every time I walk in Target, and 45 at lots of other stores. You can also search for specific items and scan the barcodes into the app to earn even more points. When you’ve banked enough points, you can cash them in to get gift cards.
Foursquare: Though they seem to do this less often than they used to, some retailers will offer check-in offers. For a long time, JCPenney had 10% off your total order just by checking in. Some restaurants will have deals like a free appetizer, so why not check if you have a free second standing in line or waiting to get your tab?!
Retailmenot: With an app and a website version, never check out anywhere — in store or online — without checking here first. They display all current promo codes or sales and special offers at most all stores, so that even if you don’t have a coupon on hand, you can see if there is a deal that you don’t know about.
Ibotta: I’m new to Ibotta so can’t say yet if I love it, but it seems easy enough so far. Search deals at stores you shop at, claim items/offers you want, then scan the barcode and receipt to earn cash back on those purchases.
Ebates: Cartwheel aside, this is the second most important thing you should take away from this post. Seriously guys, any time you buy ANYTHING online, go through eBates. It’s a cash back site, and all you need to do is use their click through link to earn it. It sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. Just by clicking on the links to Amazon, Best Buy, Petco and more, you earn cash back which is mailed to you via check each quarter. My last check was for $6 and I hardly had to do anything extra. You’re already buying it; just click through, people! Shout if you want an invitation sent to you, because they also reward for referrals. This is such an easy way to save online.
Target printable coupons: Yep, in addition to Cartwheel and mobile coupons, you can also use their printable coupons off their website. It’s super easy to search for items and they have a nice variety. Again, item offers are often repeated, so you can get 5% off cheese with Cartwheel, $1 off cheese with the mobile coupon and 50 cents off with a printed coupon.
Printable-coupons.blogspot.com: Great for online shopping at various retailers, they post the best and current deals/sales/offers all over the web and in store. Check it before you leave your house.
Coupons.com: The one thing I hate about this site is it’s not searchable, so you have to scroll forever to see all the deals. There’s always at least one or two coupons for things already on my list there though, so it’s worth checking the pages and printing out a couple.
Swagbucks: I only just started using this a couple weeks ago so am not super confident in it yet, but other bloggers are raving about it. I hate the site design itself because it’s way confusing, but so far what I’ve found easiest is to earn points by taking a daily poll, enter promo codes that I get via push notifications and watch a few videos. You can also install their search bar and earn points just for searching what you’re already searching for. What I like most is that they also are integrated with Coupons.com, so you can print off your coupons through them and not just get the coupon deals, but also earn points on Swagbucks for doing it through their site instead. Earn enough points and cash it in for gift cards.
-Bring your own bags to Target and get 5 cents off per bag. I always bring in my reusable cloth bags, and it’s an easy way to save just a little more. Pay with your Target debit or credit card and get another 5% off the total purchase there.
-Watch the sales! Sign up for email newsletters at the stores you shop at because 1) You often get a nice welcome offer with a discount or coupon, and 2) You get advance notice of special sales so you can plan around them. My local grocery store has a meat sale every few times a year where you can get 5 packages of meat for just $20. I stock up every time and freeze the extras. I come away with chicken thighs, ground hamburger, sausage links, pork loins and more. Target also offers great sales on everyday items that rotate, and usually you can add them on to the coupons you have to save in every possible way.
-If all else fails, just Google it. If I don’t have a coupon and there’s nothing on an app, I do a quick search before I check out just in case I’m missing a deal. Try googling “best buy coupon codes” or “Macy’s sales May 2014” and see what you get. Sometimes a random blog or website will have a tip you otherwise wouldn’t have found.
-Does your grocery store have an attached gas station where you can save on gas? Mine offers 1 cent off per $10 spent, so if I spend $40 on groceries, I get 4 cents off per gallon of gas. I also know that they accept up to three gas coupons at a time, and when I cash in 3 at once, my gas total always goes down several dollars. On the back of my grocery store receipts, they also have a coupon for the liquor store next door, so I save $2 on every purchase there too! Speaking of receipts, do those surveys attached to some receipts. PetSmart often offers a post-shopping survey online to save on your next trip.
-Frequent buyer programs are great if you already shop at those stores. The best programs are free, like punch cards at restaurants where you get your 10th purchase free, or stores that give you a free gift on your birthday (Victoria’s, Ulta), coupons based on your total spending (Express, Victoria’s and Macy’s), lower costs for members (PetSmart), but I even find that some are worth paying for. I pay $20 for the Barnes & Noble membership because I save 20% extra on most purchases with it, and so far every single year it has paid for itself and then some.
-Don’t throw away expired coupons. Bring it in and see if they’ll accept it. Some stores will accept coupons past their expiration date. I know for sure that Bed, Bath & Beyond does, and some others might too. The worst they can say is no, so may as well try.
-Check return policies. Sometimes if there’s a sale on an item you recently bought, you can bring in your receipt for an adjustment and still receive the sale price. Target does this, and I’m pretty sure Kohl’s does as well.
-If you want to earn more gift cards for free, you can also take surveys to earn rewards. I’m a member of several panels and get enough gift cards to eat out for free a few times a year and give out as gifts. It can be time consuming, but to me it is worth it. I most recommend IPSOS i-say, eRewards, YouGov and MyPoints. Shout if you want me to send you an invitation to join any of them!
There’s a lot here, but none of it is hard. I promise. If I can do it, so can you. There’s no need to try and be on “Extreme Couponing” but a few simple steps like these can help you save significantly.
Did I miss any of your favorite ways to save? Let me know your best money-saving tips in the comments!