Couponing 101

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Welcome to Couponing 101, the goal of this document is to get you familiar with how to use coupons, where you can use them at, how to stack coupons, price matching, internet resources available and maximizing your deals.

What do I need to get started:

–     A place to store your inserts

–     A coupon holder (not a binder) an envelope would even suffice

–     Coupons (we will talk about how to get those)

–     A separate email address for couponing only

–     Basic Office supplies: pens, paper, printer (w/ink), stapler

–    A List of Coupon Terminology

To help you calculate your shopping trip, download the Divalicous Shopping List (must have Microsoft Excel)

What should I expect my savings to be?

We have to be realistic, while I can show you how to get a lot of items for free, everything will not be for free; however we are aiming not to pay full price for anything if we can help it.  Average savings should range between 30 to 80% of what you normally spend at the grocery store, but in order to do that you have to change the way you shop and the way you think about shopping.

What should I know about coupons like where to find them?

all you
Coupons are everywhere! The main place to find them would be your Sunday newspaper. My recommendation would be to get several copies of the Sunday inserts. You can either purchase them, ask your friends, family, and neighbors for copies they’ll be throwing out and you can even ask your local businesses. When purchasing the paper I suggest purchasing the Chicago Tribune as it has the best coupons and the most inserts.  You can have the paper delivered directly to your door for $1.00 each (Sunday Edition Only) you can call and order the paper or order online (800-311-8500 or www.chicagotribune.com/savenow).  You also can have up to 3 papers (I have heard that some people have been able to talk them into delivering 5 papers per Sunday) delivered per Sunday.  That means you are already saving $1.00 on each paper.  If you don’t want to do the home delivery or need extra papers the local Dollar Store and Menards normally carry the paper for $1.00, however I was recently advised that some Menards have imposed a 3 paper per person limit while others have imposed a 10 paper per person limit.   Also if you are going to Menards or the Dollar Store to get your papers I suggest that you get there early as both stores have been known to sell out of papers especially on P&G Sundays.  If you want to get your papers early, you can pick them up at both Menards and Dollar Tree for $1 on Saturdays.

Other places to find coupons are:

  • Internet – The Real Frugal Divas Blog and/or Coupon Database, Smartsource.com, Coupons.com, Redplum.com, Coupon Network.com, Target.com, & product websites
  • Sign up on your Smartphone for applications that help you save money: ibotta and SavingStar are two that I use.
  • To get exclusive Kmart & Sears coupons sign up for me to be your Shop Your Way Personal Shopper, I send out exclusive coupons on a regular basis.  These coupons can only come from a Shop Your Way Personal Shopper.  Sign up HERE!
  • Facebook Pages – Companies are jumping on the Facebook bandwagon and are placing coupons on their own pages
  • In the store’s sales ad.  Often you can find Manufacturer’s coupons as well as Store coupons.
  • Store’s websites – Often the stores have exclusive coupons on their website.  Some of these coupons are store coupons while others may be manufacturer coupons.
  • ALL YOU magazine – You can get this magazine at your local Walmart or click HERE To subscribe
  •  Free Samples – Along with getting freebies, you also score high value  coupons
  • In the stores and on the products:  You can find many peelies (coupons you can pull off the boxes) and coupons throughout the store these may be found on tearpads or in blinkie machines.  Look for coupon books that will allow you to save on multiple products from a particular manufacturer, I typically find these around holidays.  However, Walgreens issues a coupon booklet monthly.  Another form of coupons are called Catalina’s.  Catalina’s are coupons which print out at the register and are dependent upon the combination or quantity of the items purchased.  Check out our list of National Catalina’s to know what Catalina’s are currently printing.
  • Writing to the companies of your favorite products.  This is a very effective method of getting coupons, sometimes the company sends coupons for FREE products.
  • Your Doctor’s office, Child’s Daycare, or pharmacy.
  • Recyclebank –

Did you know that all coupons are not created equal???
So you may be wondering what I mean by that statement…Well I plan on clarifying that 8).  Ok so you really have 2 Types of coupons.  You have Manufacturer Coupons and Store Coupons.  Manufacturer’s Coupons are coupons released by the manufacturer’s themselves. They can be used at any store that accepts them. Very rarely you will run across some manufacturer’s coupons that say “Redeemable only at STORE NAME” so be careful with those. Now, if the coupon says “Available at STORE NAME or Redeemable at STORE NAME” that’s just a clever yet creative way for that specific store to lure you to give them your business, however you are not limited to using those coupons at that store only.


Now, Store Coupons
are coupons released by…..yep you guessed it THE STORES!!! (pretty obvious, I know). These coupons can only be used at the specific store specified on the coupon with the exception of the stores that will allow you to use competitor’s coupons. For example, you may find Target coupons on their website, in the inserts, and on the Target Mobile Application.   You are not allowed to use them in any other store, other than Target (unless again you are shopping at a store that accepts competitor coupons). 
   – Store’s Website: Some stores have coupons on their website. For example, Target.com and CVS.com releases coupons on a weekly basis.

*Mobile Coupons:  Some stores such as Target and Walgreens offer daily deals and mobile coupons that come straight to your phone.  There are also other android applications such as shopkick that offer this feature as well.

Soooo Now that I have my coupons, what should I do next?

Well before you can really look for deals you have to get organized.  There are many methods of getting organized with coupons however my preferred method is the clipless method.  I don’t clip my coupons when I get them.  Instead I leave them whole and go to http://www.sundaycouponpreview.com/ to print a listing of what coupons were in the inserts.  I compare what is on the list to what is in the circular being sure to add/delete any coupon that I don’t have.  I then store that on top of my pile of circulars.  Put them in a binder clip and store them under the date they were issued along with their title.  So today’s Proctor & Gamble will be stored under 1/29 P&G. – Remember those abbreviations from earlier, get used to them because you will see/hear them a lot.  Here they are again:

SS = Smart Source insert
RP = Red Plum insert
GM= General Mills insert
P&G = Proctor and Gamble insert

 Print A Complete List of Coupon Terminology From Here.

So why are these abbreviations and dates so important?

Believe it or not there are a lot of people out here that are dedicated to couponing and they want to share the information with others and often do it via blogs, just as I have done with the blog I created.  When deals are posted on the blogs we tell you exactly where to locate the coupon by referencing the date of the insert and the name of the insert.  So 1/1 SS would mean the coupon is found in the January 1st Smart Source Insert.  Other abbreviations that you will also see are:

ECB = Extra Care Bucks at CVS
RR = Register Rewards at Walgreens
WYB = When you buy
BOGO = Buy One Get One Free
ONYO = On Your Next Order
MM = Money Maker
EXP = Expires
MIR = Mail In Rebate
CAT = Catalina
GC = Gift Card

Rules of Couponing:

  • Rule 1:  Learn the coupon policies of the stores you will be shopping at.  I suggest downloading copies of the stores policies or knowing at least where they are at just in case you need to refer to them.
  • Rule 2: NO STORES IN IL double coupons on a regular basis.  There are times when stores will offer coupon doubling as an incentive to get people in their store, but there are normally limits to the coupon doubling.  Kmart is the only store in IL right now that is currently offering a doubling special.  Their requirement is for you to spend at least $25.00 and they will also only double up to 5 coupons per customer per day.  And you must be a “Shop Your Way Rewards” Member.
  • Rule 3: Read your coupons carefully.  There is a difference when there is limit one per transaction vs limit one per purchase.  In couponing a transaction is defined as your total order.  A purchase is referred to the ITEM in particular.
  • Rule 4:  When you print coupons from the internet there is a 2 coupon per computer limit.  DO NOT COPY THE COUPONS.  Coupon copying is illegal, think of it this way when you use coupons towards your purchase you are paying the store.  It’s a form of money, well if you copy the coupon you are copying money.  Due to copied coupons and coupon fraud stores are on the lookout for customers who copy coupons so whatever you do…DO NOT COPY THE COUPONS.
  • Rule 5: Adhere to the expiration dates on the coupons.  Try to use the coupon, however if it does expire you can use it for up to 30 days after expiration at Ultra Foods or Strack & Van Til.
  • Rule 6:  It is ok if you don’t use EVERY coupon in your circular. Any coupons that you don’t use can be sent to the military as they can use them for up to 6 months after the coupons have expired.  If you are interested in this program please see my blog.
  • Rule 7:  You have to be willing to change the way you shop and eat.  You have to be willing to try new things, if you want to maximize your savings.  While Jif peanut butter is my favorite recently I had to make the difficult decision of paying $2.37 full price for 1 jar of Jif Peanut Butter or paying $2.00 for 2 Jars of Planters Peanut Butter..Guess which Peanut Butter won??  The truth is price is what is going to drive your shopping now and not brand.  The best part of this is that when you are on a budget you will no longer be forced to shop for the store brand to fit your budget you can now get name brands at prices cheaper than store brands using coupons.
  • Rule 8:  Save ALL YOUR RECEIPTS and if you purchase diapers, wipes or dvds save the UPC codes.  You will thank me for this when we get into Couponing 102 and talk about Mail In Rebates.  Yep money back on items that you have already paid dirt cheap prices on.  Many of the mail in rebates allow you to submit multiple receipts so that purchase you made 2 weeks ago may have qualified you for that rebate you just found out about today..and guess what you have the receipts to claim your rebate check…It’s what’s called found money in couponing!!
  • Rule 9:  Start Slow!!! Rome was not built in a day if you try to learn every store and every policy and figure out how to use every coupon and get every reward and get every discount…you will get overwhelmed and you will quit before you start.  Choose two stores to begin with, my suggestion would be a grocery store such as Jewel and a major store such as Wal-mart.  Start just trying to get your deals at these stores.  Keep in mind that Wal-mart does price match so if you see a deal at another store you want to take advantage of you can price match at Wal-mart.
  • Rule 10:  Use my blog.  I created it for my friends and family who saw what I was doing and wanted to know how I do it.  I post every deal that I find myself as well as deals that I find on other sites.  It’s kind of a great way to not have to surf the net to find deals as I try to consolidate them on my blog.  Now I have to be honest I don’t get every deal as there are thousands out there, but the ones I find I do post.  If you do want to do your own surfing I have listed some blogs below that I love and are reliable (that’s also the key, not all blogs are reliable) and that I use to find deals.  I just ask if you find a great site, that you share it with me 8)

My Unspoken rule is K.I.S.S.  Keep It Simple Sweetie.  Couponing is easier than you think don’t complicate it because you are overthinking your strategy, learn the basics and I promise you everything else will just click once you have the basics down.


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