Beginner Couponing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
We’ve all seen those crazy extreme couponing shows where a person has three shopping carts full of mouthwash, nail polish and cheese, right? And the whole lot cost them $2.58. While totally nuts, I still have to admit it’s an impressive feat of organization.
Even though no one on earth could possibly need that much mouthwash, it’s still mesmerizing to see how they calculate, clip and organize their way to the extreme. I know I don’t have the time or energy to do that, much less those organizational skills.
When I started couponing, I found myself on the other end of the spectrum. I’d end up clipping one or two here and there, but I’d either forget to apply for those in-app rebates that I meant to get afterwards, or I didn’t check Cartwheel to see if there was an additional discount.
Couponing well takes some practice, just like anything else. Along the way I stumbled often, but I learned a lot during a short period. And I’m happy to say after a month or so, I got it down pat.
If you’re just starting out with couponing or feel like it’s not worth your time, I’ve pulled together a list of my most common couponing mistakes and how I fixed them so you can avoid them.
Not knowing what the stock up price is for the items you want to purchase.
Figure out key items that you need to regularly purchase, and keep a mental note (or a note on your phone) as to what a good stock up price for each is. That way, you’ll quickly know if you’re looking at a great steal or not.
A great example of this is diapers. Price per diaper varies greatly not only by size, but by brand as well. How do you know you’re getting a good deal if you don’t know what the stock up price on Huggies size 4 are?
Sales on items like diapers can be very misleading. I’ve seen what I thought was a great sale, but when I divided the total price by the number of diapers in that package size, I was shocked to see 26 cents a diaper. Yikes! Try closer to 12 to 15 cents a diaper, depending upon the size and brand you’re looking for.
You can easily find stock up price databases on sites like Penny Pinchin Mom, Passion for Savings, or create your own from a printable spreadsheet for the particular brands that you want to purchase.
Trying to get ALL the deals at ALL the stores every week.
When I first started couponing, I had read that you should only start with 1 – 2 stores and build up. I tried with three, and found myself constantly running around town trying to get deals. Even the adrenaline of getting a great deal isn’t enough to counter wasting your time and gas running around all the time. Plus, you’ll just end up burnt out and most likely give it up altogether. Start with one or two stores that you frequent anyway and build up from there.
Not Knowing when the sales cycle ends for your favorite stores.
I also found that it was better to wait towards the end of the sales week so that more deals have been posted by then on couponing websites. If I’m going to drag myself out of the house to shop, I’m going to make sure it’s worth my effort and that the sale is still going on. Most groceries restart their sales week on Thursdays, and stores like Target reset their sales week on Sunday. Just double check the flyers or online so that you don’t get to the store with your list and coupons in hand, only to find out that the sale ended yesterday.
Not speaking up when something scans at the wrong price.
You’re the one who’s responsible for making sure your money stretches as much as possible, so follow through at the register if something’s not right.
I’ve gotten over my awkwardness on this really quickly. If the scanned price doesn’t match the ad, or what’s shown online, I will whip out my phone and show the clerk (politely, of course!). Is it annoying? Probably. But what’s the point in putting your time and effort into clipping coupons and finding deals if you’re not going to actually get them?
I’ve also walked away from the checkout without purchasing something if the coupon won’t scan, if they won’t accept it, or if they won’t match or correct the price. Once again – if you’re not getting it at a good deal, or if they won’t honor what you think you should get, politely ask to remove that item from your purchase, or simply tell them you’ve changed your mind.
Not knowing the coupon policies for the stores you’re shopping at.
It’s important to know what the coupon policies are for each store that you shop at, since they can vary so greatly from store to store. Without knowing them, you won’t know if your coupons or pricing is being honored correctly. You can even find and print out a copy of the policy to have on hand, so that you can politely reference it if you feel something’s not being handled correctly.
Not following up on mail-in rebates.
It’s so easy to completely forget about submitting a rebate or missing the deadline. Try to have the paperwork ready prior to the purchase, so you can just submit everything as soon as you get home and it’s already taken care of.
Making the purchase on a credit card that isn’t paid off.
There is NO point in couponing and searching for sales if you’re just going to slap that purchase on a credit card, and not pay it off in full before its due. Scoring a great deal means nothing when you are paying months of interest on it. While we all need toilet paper and love a good deal, no one should be paying interest on paper that gets flushed, amiright?
Work on buying the only the essentials as needed until you’ve paid off that credit card, or tidied up your budget to make room for a stock pile line item.
Not using store apps to find and use coupons rather than printing them.
A lot of store apps are starting to let you save coupons to your account, so that you don’t have to print them out anymore. For example, Target lets you save manufacturer coupons to your Cartwheel (now Target) app. This saves ink, paper and a ton of time hunting down coupons and printing them.
Not using online rebate programs when shopping online.
Online rebate sites like Ebates and TopCashBack not only give you rebates, but can provide discount codes on your purchase as well. Both Ebates and Honey have a browser extension that you can use that reminds you every time you’re on a site that they can offer a rebate for.
Not verifying that the rebate is still available before purchasing.
With rebate apps like ibotta and Checkout51, rebates are often limited on how many can be claimed. I’ve made the mistake of waiting to purchase, and then as soon as I went to submit my claim, that rebate was gone. Often in-app rebates have an expiration as well, so make sure you hit those deadlines by submitting them as soon as you get home from shopping.
Buying something you don’t need because it’s on sale and you have a coupon.
Even if the deal is a moneymaker, don’t buy it if you don’t need it. Unless you’re planning on donating it to charity, it’s wasteful to get something and let it sit on your shelf, only to throw it out later once it’s expired. Not to mention you’ve also wasted your time, gas and energy running out to get that item as well. Leave it for someone else who truly needs it. There’ll be another great deal out there that you need, I promise!
Not asking for a refund if you see a price drop.
Many stores will honor this, but each store has its own policy on how far back they’re reimburse you. Either way – it can’t hurt, to ask, right? Some stores will even match other stores’ pricing, you just have to bring in the sales ads. Even Amazon will adjust pricing on TVs purchased as well. It’s always worth asking!
Another way to easily get a refund on a price drop is to use Paribus. It’s an app that automatically finds lower pricing on items you’ve already purchased, and files price adjustment claims for you.
Just sign up for a free account at Paribus and connect your mailbox where you get receipts sent. Next, shop online as you normally would. If Paribus finds an opportunity for cash back, they file a price adjustment claim for you and you get 100% of the difference back! Sign up for your free account here.
Now that you know what couponing mistakes to avoid, it should be much easier to not only find those great deals but to actually score them correctly! Have fun bragging to your friends about your latest crazy money-saving deals. And, don’t forget where you learned it all if you end up on one of those extreme couponing shows, pushing that cart full of mouthwash! ?
Looking for even more ways to save some cash? Check out How to Easily Triple Stack Your Savings on Any Purchase or 14 Frugal Living Tips with a Big Impact.
Do you have any additional couponing tips? Share them below, I’d love to hear them!
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A forty-ish web designer/developer by day, a budget & financial fanatic by night. I’m a mom, wife, avid reader, and DIY enthusiast who’s tracking our journey to debt freedom. Read More
Great tips. I basically only coupon at two stores unless I really need to stock up on something and it’s on sale at another store – such as diapers. The two stores I go to are very close to my home. Proximity was key. I usually go to both once a week or every other week and I didn’t want to be driving across town. I like your point about paying attention to the price at the register. This can be difficult if the cashier is chatty. I sometimes feel rude because I am focused on watching the screen. Also, sometimes if they require a rewards card to get the sale price if the card is not entered immediately there can be a lag time in seeing the sale price on the display – super annoying! I prefer to catch an item while it’s rung up because it’s a hassle to get back in line to return an item, or even worse, to drive back to the store.
Hi Holly! Yes, I’ve accidentally done that before – asked why something didn’t ring up correctly, and then realized it’s because I haven’t given my rewards card yet. Oops! It sounds like you’ve got a great couponing method down pat though, good job!
Great tips! I especially agree with speaking up if something doesn’t scan correctly. Many stores have a scan-right guarantee and will give you 100% of your money back plus you get to keep the product. Well worth spending a few minutes at customer service!
Andrea, absolutely! Definitely a great reason to keep your eye on that register and receipt! 😉
Great tips thank you! I’ve never been into couponing but have been trying a bit lately. This is very helpful!
Stephanie, sure thing! Good luck with your couponing, now’s a great time to start with all the holiday sales around the corner!
Ha! I’ve made so many of these mistakes! I also felt overwhelmed by couponing so I don’t do it so much anymore. Now when I do have a coupon, I tend to forget about it :l
Wow, what a fab list of tips! I agree it’s important to watch when things are scanned at the till and correct them if something doesn’t go through at the price you expected.
Great ideas. I don’t do coupons shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joes.
I thought I was the coupon master Tana but I’m a mere apprentice compared to you. I salute your amazing organisational skills and general couponing prowess.
If there is one thing that my granddad taught me it’s to check your receipts! The amount of times multi buy deals have been missed on my shop is unreal *side eyes ASDA*
As someone who never really uses coupons but wants to start this is a really helpful post thank you! I’m definitely going to start looking out for deals and coupon codes next year.
Such a good point about couponing and credit cards. What’s the point if you’re bring charged interest on your purchase.
these are some really great tips. i’m always looking for a way to save a little money and looking for a discount or coupon.