13
Feb
2010

5 Lessons I Learned Using Coupons

02/13/2010. This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Disclosure Policy.

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I know a lot of you are just getting started using coupons and I thought I would share a few things I have learned.  For those of you that have more experience please feel free to share your tips as well!

1.  Start slow. Just like with anything new there is a tendency to want to hit every store for every deal every week.  I would strongly recommend starting slow.  You might start off with one drugstore at first and do one or two very simple transactions.  Once you get comfortable with that store you can start doing more complicated transactions or branch off to other stores.  You will also want to get a feel for each of your local stores and their policies on coupons.  I have a wonderful Target and a wonderful CVS in my area, so I try to do as much of my shopping there as I can.  Likewise, I happen to have a Walgreens that is very anti-coupons so I almost never shop there as a result.

2. Read the fine print. Many drugstore deals in particular have limits on the quantity you can buy.  Typically the limit is 1- especially on deals that involve ECBs, rebates or Register Rewards.  You will want to be sure to check your local ad for any limits before you plan your trips.   Be sure you carefully read the beginners drugstore series for Rite Aid, Walgreens and CVS HERE before your first shopping trip.  I have been doing the drugstore game for a few years and I still make mistakes all the time.

3. All deals will come around again.  I promise the chances of seeing an incredible deal come back around are extremely high.  If you miss out on free Colgate this week- I just bet it will come back around next month!  I usually only go to the drugstores once every few weeks to roll my ECBs or Register Rewards.  Your time is an important factor to consider when couponing.  When I first started I made myself crazy running all over to get every deal every week.

4. Moderation is a good thing. This is just my personal opinion and your situation might be very different from mine.  If you live in a rural area and it is 45 minutes to the nearest store or you have a very large family than I would encourage you to find the balance that works for your situation.  It is easy to get a little carried away with coupons.  I see people that have 20 newspaper subscriptions or that purchase hundreds and hundreds of coupons for specific deals.  I would encourage you to really consider what you need.  For drugstore items, I usually keep 3-6 items on hand because most products we simply don’t go through that quickly.  I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this and that is ok!  Just keep in mind that you will have to manage everything you buy.  So if you buy 46 boxes of free cereal and you only go through 1 box a month, that is a ton of product that you have to store and manage.

5. Have fun!  Hopefully using coupons will become fun and fairly seamless.  Once you start to get the hang of it I hope that it gets easier and easier to do.  I have discussed my price book in the past and I have a certain price I try to pay for certain items.  I usually try to look at the big picture.  If an item hits my buy price one week and I simply don’t have time to get to the store, I will happily pay a little more the following week or I just make it work without that item until it goes on sale again.

I also have the same philosophy for stores.  If I know a store is going to give me a hard time I just don’t shop there.  My regular grocery store is a great example, I drive out of my way to a friendly Safeway store rather than go to the one right by my house.  I would rather spend a few extra minutes in the car than get treated badly and wind up angry, embarrassed and upset at a store that is not going to treat me well.  I would encourage you to do the same!  When I first started there were countless times I was near tears when leaving a store because I was treated so badly.  Now that I am a little more experienced I have no idea why I put myself through all that.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

sheila February 13, 2010 at 3:57 PM

Hey Charlene, Great post, really balanced viewpoint. I think all Walgreens are a little coupon shy, I avoid Walgreens unless I’m really excited about a deal.

Charlene February 13, 2010 at 4:17 PM

Thank you Sheila. I was bracing myself for mean comments :)

sarah m February 13, 2010 at 4:33 PM

Great Post and advice.. personally i will stock up as much as possible on non perishables when free or nearly free.. but i have at times had to stop myself .. it is easy to get carried away :)

Charlene February 13, 2010 at 4:37 PM

I used to as well. I still have shaving cream that I got for .10 at Walgreens 2 years ago. I have enough for several more months. I guess the point is to just buy what you can manage. When we moved a few months ago my husband was really thrilled with an entire box of salad dressing :) I have done several donation boxes and we still have a million salad dressings.

Amy February 13, 2010 at 4:55 PM

Really great post. I do like the moderation thing, that is one of my philosophies as well. I could have a humongous stockpile, but I choose not to. I have a donation bag for toiletry type items that I take over to a local ministry for women every once in a while. Sometimes I pick up that extra tube of toothpaste or bottle of shampoo when they are free just to get my total up to use a $5.00/$20 type coupon, and I just don’t need them (or want to add to the stockpile.) So I throw them directly into the donation bag and then when the bag fills up, I donate. When I first started couponing, it was with the goal of providing for my family on a tight budget–but now it has the awesome side benefit of being able to give to others as well. Thanks again for the thoughtful post!

Angela February 13, 2010 at 5:02 PM

I am local to you and was wondering what Safeway you avoid and which one you shop at?

Brenda February 13, 2010 at 6:18 PM

Great thoughts! I shopped for months at a Walgreen’s store that’s just across from my normal grocery store. It was a convenient location, but they have consistently given me a difficult time for using lots of coupons & RR’s to have very low out of pocket. I would leave the store frustrated every time & not wanting to ever return, but I would because the deals were good & I needed to stretch our money. I finally realized there was another Walgreen’s the opposite direction that was very customer friendly & I’ve switched to doing all of my shopping there. I leave much happier & way less frustrated. It’s worth going a little bit out of the way to cut my stress.

Charlene February 13, 2010 at 7:30 PM

I agree completely!

Melissa R. February 13, 2010 at 7:35 PM

Hi Charlene – I love your post! I just started couponing about 6 months ago and I agree…it’s easy to get carried away. I am just now seeing that deals do come around again and it’s okay not to get every one. My husband tells me all the time “it’s not a great deal if you don’t really need it!”. Thanks for sharing and for all that you do to help us all have great “frugal adventures”!!

Charlene February 13, 2010 at 7:36 PM

Angela, I have been treated so rudely at the Stanford Ranch one I refuse to go there. They have also decided you can’t stack Safeway coupons and MQs and there are all sorts of stupid new policies that apparently start when I walk in the door. I do fine if the manager checks me out but otherwise I pretty much know I am in for trouble.

I really like the Granite Dr store. It is smaller but they just seem nicer except one crazy lady that works at U Scan.

Michelle February 13, 2010 at 8:50 PM

Thanks for a wonderful post, I wish I had read this when I first started! I got carried away for awhile there, stocking up on products we barely use and driving myself crazy trying to hit multiple stores a week with a toddler. Now I just go to CVS every few weeks (I have a very coupon friendly CVS, I love them!). Much less stress :)

Stefani February 13, 2010 at 7:51 PM

Hi Charlene,

Great post. I just started getting into coupons last month and have saved about $250 this year using coupons. I also agree with moderation. So far I am just doing the deals at Walgreens. Now I really want to get some of the other deals at CVS and Rite Aid but right now I am trying to take it slow.

This week was a totally cool week for diapers. I ended up going to Walgreens three times to take advantage of this deal. I also sort of local, I am in Citrus Heights. The Walgreens that I have been going too has not given me any problems with coupons yet.

denise February 13, 2010 at 9:50 PM

I absolutely love your site, it is by far my favorite, because you tell it like it is, and you always sound so happy : ) My tip is when you first start out, to only look for deals on things you already buy. I drove myself crazy getting deals on all kinds of different brands, and things that we don’t normally use. My husband saw how stressed i would be when a deal wouldn’t go the way I wanted, and he told me to treat it like a job. No one know what they are doing in the beginning, you learn as you go!

Mary February 13, 2010 at 10:07 PM

A number of years ago I did a great deal of couponing and stockpiling. I still have some products left. I took a long break. Now that I am back using coupons I had forgotten how certain stores and clerks can become rude and uncooperative and treat me as if I were stealing their property. At Target recently as the clerk slowly read through each coupon twice and held and examined each item to match it with the coupons, challenging me on almost every purchase, I finally said, forget it, I asked for all my coupons back and told them to keep their goods and left. It was so humiliating. I went to another Target and it was much friendlier.

AnnMarie Webster February 13, 2010 at 11:33 PM

Great Post! This is what I’ve been meaning to type up! Hope you don’t mind but I linked it to my blog for my readers!

Jenna February 13, 2010 at 11:55 PM

Thanks for the great post. I threw my back out this week and have been driving myself crazy all week that I’m missing out on free Dove Men’s Body Wash at Rite Aid and Walgreens. Seriously, is my life really going to change because I miss out on a few deals? This is a good reminder to me to just take a chill pill and relax already! I’ve only been couponing for a couple of months so tips like these are great and add to the learning process. And, BTW, your site is my fave – I’m so happy to find someone local – keep up the good work!

Charlene February 14, 2010 at 12:31 AM

Jenna– I am going to check at Target tomorrow and I will report back but there should be a really sweet deal there on Dove. So no worries!

janaki February 14, 2010 at 5:55 AM

The article shows the level of maturity you got overy couponing. Love your thoughs and need to be followed by most of us.

When i first started couponing i will drive to stores like crazy and will buy all the deals simply becoz i have a coupon for those item but at the end i will end up not using those.

For moderation it requires lots of maturity and its not easy. I always remind myself that the deal will return and i can buy that again.

Thanks for reminding me these little values regarding couponing.

Kristin @ Making Cents Out of Life February 14, 2010 at 7:12 AM

I took a break from couponing for several months at the end of last year and I’m still not back in it full swing because the “fun” was outweighed by the additional stress I placed upon myself to grab the deals and use all of a certain coupon and roll my bucks and rewards before they expired and….the list just went on and my heart was not in it. I love it, usually, but it was a stressful time in my life and some times you have to take a step back. I learned that the hard way, with extreme burn out. I do buy typically 10 of a freebie or super cheapie when I find it because my family also benefits from my couponing. My parents use the free toothpaste and shampoo, my brother lives on his own and can use it, and honestly the things I can get for free are far better quality than what they’d buy and spend more on. Its about time I get back in it…I’m getting excited now thinking about it again!

Thanks for the great reminders of something that I enjoyed AND saved money doing!

Jasmine February 14, 2010 at 7:52 AM

This is why I love your blog. You manage to be a coupon queen without being over the top ridiculous with it. I too overdid it when I first started couponing, and have since learned my lesson about moderation and that something isn’t a deal if it is just going to sit around not getting used (or get freezer-burn!). I have had to find a balance between scoring really great deals and buying the things my family actually needs. I think this is definitely something that comes with practice.

Terri February 14, 2010 at 8:56 AM

Hi Charlene,

I personally will never step foot in a Walgreens again. I’ve actually had a checker grab my coupons out of my hand and tell me that I was cheating him. I left the store without my products and cried in the car. I’m now a loyal CVS customer! Our local Safeway (San Anselmo, CA) is fabulous and they love to show off my receipt after a successful shopping trip. Thanks so much for your website – it’s my favorite one.

Sharon Ervin January 20, 2011 at 3:31 PM

Do you shop at Walmart?

Charlene January 20, 2011 at 4:17 PM

No Sharon I do not typically shop at Walmart for a variety of reasons.

Tonya February 7, 2011 at 2:42 PM

Charlene- I love all the great advice you have! I just started couponing about 2 wks ago. I’m curious as to why you don’t shop at Walmart? I have to drive a little over an hour to get to a town that has a Walmart, Target, and Walgreens. And I’m already starting to notice that Walmart is more expensive than the others.

anna April 6, 2011 at 1:26 PM

from what i found(like sac bee..) must be sactown like me!
i totally agree with you on walmart. so far i haven’t had too horrible of an experience, (if it comes close i contact corporate) most of stores near me is very friendly and helpful. i just get embarassed going everyday though(cause i find good different deal everyday). so i drive up to other stores time to time. personally cvs is the best with coupon, then target, walgreens(had couple troubles, once manager was great the other manager wasn’t), rite aid i haven’t used much yet. but i hate going to walmart. maybe my region but most of cashiers are not friendly(coupon or not) and it’s hard to breathe with so many people shopping there.
i am so glad to have found a close (even if not sac) blogger who has market deals also, which is so helpful!
thank u!

Lorena April 15, 2011 at 8:12 AM

Hi Charlene
I’m not sure where I found your blog but here I am and am so thankful to have found you. I have only started reading but am learning alot. I find myself with a tight budget and learning to coupon (things got so bad we were using credit cards for grioceries) I have become a more “concsious” buyer and definately looking out for coupon and sales. I just needed to stop what I was doing and thank you for this great blog.

beverlee May 29, 2011 at 10:30 AM

thanks for all the info! you talked about watching for limits on coupons, so if i have a coupon without a limit does that mean i really dont have a limit? i can use one coupon for multiples of that item?

Charlene May 29, 2011 at 10:53 AM

Beverlee- in theory yes. Let’s say you have a $1 body wash coupon and the body wash is $2. If the coupon does not have a limit you could in theory buy as many as you have coupons for. Keep in mind that you never want to be the party pooper that grabs every single item a store has so everyone else goes home empty handed. The store for sure has the right to limit coupons so if they feel you don’t need 172 body washes, they can certainly tell you no. One other thing if you are using a ton of coupons, you always need to cut them yourself. If you have 5 or something no biggie- but if you are practicing for the coupon Olympics and have a mountain of like coupons- make sure you are not cutting them with those huge paper cutters or whatever. The store won’t be reimbursed :)

Rita July 6, 2011 at 2:54 PM

I have been shopping at the Stanford Ranch Safeway for a couple years now. I really like their just4u program but its not as great as they want you to think. I just started using other coupons there and have been having problems. Apparently a lot of the coupons they offer on thier website are already MC and cannot be doubled with other coupons. There is no way to tell, that I can see, which ones are MC and which are store coupons. Of course their cashiers don’t know either, they don’t seem to know much about the program in general. have you run into this problem?

Theresa July 15, 2011 at 7:37 PM

My first coupon experience didnt go well. I bought 3 newspapers at 2 different stores and someone had stole the coupons out of two of them!! then I went into a local Walgreens and did two purchases and the cashier acted like he put them both into one bag: needless to say when I got home there was only one of the purchases in the bag; the manager watched the playback video and the cashier had acted like he was putting it in my bag but was actually throwing them under the counter;; she did give me my stuff but i had to drive back to the store to get it. I said local but all my local stores are about 15 miles away from me. So not a good start but Im not giving up yet.

Lorina August 14, 2011 at 1:29 PM

Since I am just starting, So you should collect coupons first then look for the sales in the paper is that correct.

Rose August 18, 2011 at 3:39 PM

8/18/11

Hi I heard on the news about extreme couponing and I have gotten alot of coupons and have tried to match the coupons to sale items to see if I could get any free bees or spend a small amount of money like one experienced couponer said. It seems to me that I must be doing something wrong because the only good deals that I can find is the buy 1 get one free items, the buy 10 for 10 if you have a dollar coupon for whatever item you choose. Otherwise you can save money but I have yet to learn how to get the majority of my groceries for practically free. help…
thanks,
rose

lanoi November 18, 2012 at 12:49 PM

I am just starting out. we don’t have any safeways around here, just Ralph’s Food 4 Less, and Stater Brothers. witch of these are more coupon friendly and how dose the mulipal coupons work, like whats the limit? it’s om the coupon and store policy..

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