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17 Mistakes Couponers Make and How to Avoid Them

Though I’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars couponing in the last decade, I’ve also made many mistakes along the way. I’ve learned a lot and want to share my knowledge with you! Below are 17 Mistakes Couponers Make and How to Avoid Them:

#1: Thinking you have to get EVERY deal. A phrase I think of and recite to myself when I can’t get to the store to grab a HOT deal is, “You win most, you lose some.” When it comes to couponing and scoring great deals, I really do win most of the time. Saying this phrase helps me accept that I won’t be able to get ALL the deals. It also helps me to remember that I should keep a good balance in my life.

#2: Buying the item if it is not priced correctly and/or if the coupon doesn’t scan. In the past, if a coupon didn’t scan I would still buy the item. After a while, I realized I was wasting a lot of money by doing this. For example, recently I had two coupons for baby food. I had the correct items which were priced at $1.17 each and the coupon ($1.00/1) refused to scan. The manager came and refused to put it through so I just asked him kindly to void the 2 baby food items, which he did. I usually get baby food for less than .40 each, so I would rather save that 1.17 X 2 and get 6 pouches of baby food for the same price. Bonus Tip: If the coupon had been more, say $10.00 off something, I may have pressed the issue. I’ve learned that a low-end coupon like this is not worth a battle. But if you have a high value coupon, you might put up a good argument, ask for a different manager, or go to a different store.

#3: Buying something useless just because it’s a great deal. I ask myself the following questions when I am tempted to buy something I don’t use. “Do I want to pay sales tax on this item?” “Do I want to store this item?” If the answers are no, I don’t get it. I do make one exception: if the item will make me money. If the money I make from buying the item more than pays for the sales tax, I ask myself this, “Can I gift or donate this item?” If the answer is yes, I buy it. Or rather, it pays me, and then I give it away.

#4: Failing to stock up sufficiently on an item that you use a lot. This is one of the most common mistakes couponers make. I use a lot of Kleenex and cough drops in the winter.  If I don’t stock up at every chance I get, I eventually run out and have to buy them at the highest prices of the year. Stock up when you can.

#5: Buying candy or unhealthy items because they are free or moneymakers. I gained a lot of weight a few years into dedicated couponing because the expensive unhealthy foods that I would normally never buy became either cheap, free, or moneymakers. I was so excited that I could afford all the cookies, candy, chips, pop etc. that I never used to buy that I didn’t realize how my eating habits were worsening…until my pants no longer fit.  I now eat much healthier. Before I buy something that is not obviously healthy, I ask myself, “Is this healthy enough for my family?”, “Is this worth my health?”  If the answers are yes, I buy it. That said, I still eat an occasional treat but I am much more selective. For Halloween and other candy filled holidays I start a month or two early, stock up when the deals are hot and just keep the candy in the garage and out of sight. Most people who read this will say, ‘Duh, this is a no brainer’. I guess I’m just saying it as a caution to anyone who finds a lot more junk food in their homes through the use of coupons.

#6- Having a disorganized coupon folder. I can’t tell you how many coupons I’ve lost. I found a few ways to keep organized and it has saved me a lot of money and time. Find a system that works for you and keep it organized.

#7- Not taking all your coupons in the store with you. I have found countless items on clearance shelves that I have had a coupon for in my coupon book and I got the item for an amazing deal, i.e. they were free or moneymakers. Had I not had my coupon book with me I would have not been able to get the sweet deal. Take your coupon book with you. Bonus Tip: Park near a cart return rack with a cart in it so you can just plop your coupon book right down and wheel it in.

#8- Clipping the coupon before you have the item in your cart. Everyone does their couponing system different. For me I have found that if I clip the coupons before I’m in the store I waste hours and hours of precious time. The reason? Many times the item is gone, is the wrong price, or just not that enticing once I see the product. Save yourself time and clip before you are about to checkout. Bonus Tip: I take a pair of scissors with me and the clipping goes even faster.

#9- Buying items that aren’t on your list AND are high priced. I always check the clearance racks when I go into stores. That said, randomly pulling something off the shelf that looks tasty, useful, or flashy really adds to your total OOP (out of pocket) money. I like to stick to my list and if I remember something that I really do need I grab the best deal and I don’t feel bad about adding it to the cart. It is better to realize that you need something while you are at the store rather than making a special trip back for it.

#10- Not knowing the coupon policies of the stores you shop at. Some clerks will just tell you that a coupon is bad if it will not scan. If you have their coupon policy with you or on your cell phone, you can simply show it to them and they will need to put the coupon through or call a manager.

#11- Using coupons on the larger-sized items. Typically coupons are good for a certain minimum size and up. For example, a coupon may be good for Colgate toothpaste 4.0 oz. and higher. Using the .50 cent coupon on the largest size of toothpaste is not going to give you the biggest bang for your coupon. Most, if not all of the time, you will save more money by using the coupon on the SMALLEST size you can. Bonus Tip: To buy multiple smaller items, get more newspapers, have a coupon clipping club (trade coupons), and/or make sure to print each coupon off twice from each computer you have access to. Hit the back button and it will either print the coupon again automatically, or you can re-select and hit print again.

#12- Not sending in your rebates. If you get an item at a great price with a rebate and fail to send it in you are losing money. The old adage, ‘out of sight, out of mind’, is true in this case; don’t put it away until you have submitted the rebate.

#13- Failing to watch the computer as items and coupons are scanned. Don’t look away from the checkout screen for more than a few seconds. SERIOUSLY. Or you may miss a $3.00 coupon that didn’t scan or miss seeing an item ring in for more than it was marked. If an item was more expensive than it was marked don’t be afraid to ask the cashier how much it rang up for. If there is a big line behind you, pay and go directly to customer service and ask for them to correct the issue.

#14- Not obeying coupon wordage. I cannot tell you how many restrictions have been put on coupons and coupon policies in the last decade (especially since the show Extreme Couponing became popular).  A lot of people wanted to replicate what they saw on the show and they were willing to do anything they could to save BIG. Some were even putting their own honesty and integrity on the line for a good ‘deal’. It’s not worth it. If the coupon is expired, throw it out. If the coupon is good for one per person and you need to use multiple, take a friend, a kid(s), or someone else. If the coupon excludes a certain size or requires another item be bought with it, follow it. Millions have been lost due to fraudulent coupons, expired coupons, or people using coupons incorrectly. With that said, even a seasoned couponer may miss something and send a coupon through that shouldn’t have scanned. If that happens to you, let it go and try to do better next time. If you want to be extra sure just re-read the fine print. Something funny I heard once was this: “The big print giveth, the small print taketh away”. Read and follow that small print and keep your integrity.

#15-Buying something even if the generic is cheaper. You get to the spaghetti sauce and there is a close-out deal. The generic brand is actually .50 cents. It’s the same size and .30 cents cheaper than the Ragu you planned to buy (even using that shinny coupon of yours). I know you want to search for your Smart Source insert, find the coupon, clip it, and hear that coupon beep as the cashier scans it… but restrain your inner coupon-voice! Count yourself lucky that you found something EVEN cheaper and all you have to do is put it in your cart. … Joking aside, sometimes you are going to find great last-chance or generic deals that beat the brand name on sale, with a coupon. Do a quick comparison (pay close attention to size, quantity, or weight) when you are grabbing stuff from the shelves and you will save. Bonus Tip: It is okay to have a few items that you are loyal to, but being brand or product loyal on everything is going to really cost you in the long run. Try new things and you’ll get the best deals.

#16- Being an inefficient couponer: When you first get started you may spend more money and time than you expect. It takes a while to hone in the couponing skills. It also costs in ink, paper, newspapers, gas, and time to coupon. After a few months or so, you’ll want to evaluate how much time and money you are spending on couponing.  Some ‘Extreme Couponers’ have very unbalanced lives, worrying about the next deal and always couponing (I’ve been there). It is addictive. Just keep in mind that if you aim to be efficient in couponing this can be a very valuable hobby/skill that you can keep and continue in while living a practical lifestyle. Bonus Tip: Subscribe to my blog to find out how to be more efficient and balanced in money matters and couponing.

#17-Expecting every coupon experience to be ‘extreme’! Using coupons even moderately is going to save you HUGE in the long run. Don’t compare yourself to those ‘Extreme Couponers’ out there; and don’t get discouraged if you don’t save  over 60% or more on your totals.  It takes work, time, and effort; and sometimes you just need to buy an item and pay full price. Comparing yourself to others is just going to discourage you. Do what you can and enjoy it.

17 mistakes couponers make and how to avoid them

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17 Mistakes Couponers Make & How to Avoid Them

  |   Why You Should Shop 364 Days Early »»

44 Responses to 17 Mistakes Couponers Make and How to Avoid Them

  1. Karly says:

    I love this list. I am a terrible couponer! This will help me be more motivated! Thanks Anita!

  2. Kristy says:

    I love this post! I agree with every thing on here!

  3. Carol M. says:

    I have to say this is very helpful, new to couponing and I would like to know what not to do just as well as knowing what to do to be able to save myself from unnecessary work and time, and I think your information has done just the job. Thanks a bunch!!!

  4. Joy Holt says:

    These are really great tips! I have a problem buying the unhealthy items too because there is a coupon. I have been trying to work on that a lot.

  5. Gracie Mata says:

    Awesome tips! I am new this but your tips gave me the boost I needed….thank you for sharing 🙂

  6. Shanna Ward says:

    Thanks for this article. I try really hard to coupon, but discovered that I have made some of these mistakes. I became a stay at home mom in the last year and tend to look at saving our family as much money as I can part of my job description, so when I dont do as well one trip I have a tendency to beat my self up about it. This article helped me see that you do win some and lose some as you said, but that there is hope of getting better. 🙂

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Shanna- Thanks for the kind comment. Yes, I used to beat myself up too if I forgot a coupon or missed an important deal. I have since changed and couponing is now less stressful because of that mindset. You are doing great just saving! Thanks again!

  7. Lucrezia says:

    I am still confused….if you do not cut your coupons out before you get to the store, how do you know you have a coupon for a certain item or which inset it is in. Do you have to look through all your inserts for all your items. That sounds like that would take a lot of time while you are in the grocery store.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      I use match up coupons sites that show me the sale and the coupon discount. These sites always disclose where the coupon is and in which insert. I only have to pull out the specific inserts and clip once the item is in my cart. Yes it takes a bit more time in the store but it saves hours and hours on the front end because I never clip anything until the item is in my cart.

  8. Christina says:

    Hi. I like the list-thank you….what is your way of organizing coupons? I have mine sort of organized but I’d like to do it better.

  9. Julie says:

    Where can I sign up for your blog?

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Julie thanks for asking! Up in the upper left under my photo there is a box that says Subscribe. Just type your email and click ‘subscribe’. Thanks again!

  10. Carmen says:

    I am expecting a new baby girl and my family is on a very tight budget. Does anyone know where I can get multiples of coupons and how do I get started? Also I do not have much space to stock up on a lot of items, i just need baby items and basic home needs like soap, detergent, tooth paste, ect…help

  11. Jan Hardee says:

    I get frustrated because I use some of these sale/coupon match up websites, but end up going to the store and not finding the same things on sale. I narrowed the store search down to my zipcode. Sometimes it just doesnt work though. Any suggestions?

    Jan Hardee

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Jan- This is why it is really important not to clip coupons until you get to the store. This has happened to me countless times. It comes with the couponing territory. That said, using coupon match up sites that are in your own state or area may be more mistake-proof. I usually don’t go out to a store unless there are a few great coupon deals in case one is sold out or not available. Have you tried the app Favado? It’s pretty regionally correct. Please let me know. Thanks!

    • Esther Anders says:

      I suggest checking your stores weekly flyer as well before leaving the house. I use to go to the coupon match up sites, but find that most of what they have I don’t need. So I do my own now, but I’ve been doing this for over 2 years, so it’s easier; but I still follow certain sites and ask for help.

  12. Cynthia says:

    When I print coupons off my printer when I use my coupon toolbar it isn’t accepted at the stores. They cannot be scanned at Walmart, What am I doing wrong they are legit coupons. However I always leave the store feeling defeated.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Cynthia- I don’t know why they wouldn’t be working. Walmart’s scanners can be really old and very glitchy though. Have you tried printed coupons at other stores like Target or Smiths/Kroger? Do they work there? It may be the scanners at your Walmart. I really dislike when the coupons don’t scan either! Try another store and please check back. Thanks!

  13. Bryan P says:

    I disagree with #11. Not taking into account sales or coupons, everyone knows buying the bigger item is cheaper per unit. ie. 99 cents for 6oz or $2.99 for 32oz. Obviously, the bigger one is cheaper for the amount you get. Then add the coupon, and it’s a bigger steal.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Byran- I encourage you to try it out. I can almost guarantee that you will get a much better deal buying smaller sale items with high value coupons than you will with bulk or bigger items and using a coupon on those. After over a decade of couponing I can tell you through experience that buying the smaller item with the coupon maximizes savings about 80% of the time!

  14. Leslie says:

    Very well written, I completely agree and already live buy all of these (except free candy, lol)! I just wanted to give ya some kudos!

  15. Amanda Ross says:

    Thank you for being so down to earth about it. I got really discouraged a while back with all the craziness. People stealing peelies, the shelves being cleared, this blog says look here for x coupon while my insert doesn’t have that one at all, every time I downloaded coupon printing software (from reputable sites) our computer would get malware. I mostly have up and went back to just using what I could get on what I needed. This inspired me to give it a fresh perspective.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Amanda you’re welcome! Yes it really is sad what the TLC extreme couponing series has done to the couponing industry. I hope you can find savings in a laid back way that doesn’t stress you out or overwhelm you!

  16. I think my biggest issue is that I never could save, like, a ton of money. But I did save.

    I would spend all that time going through the coupon sites and clipping. Then I’d get to the store and the size or exact brand would be off. So I finally gave up.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Stephanie- that can be very frustrating! I’m sorry you had a bad experience couponing! I have multiple stores around me and many of them issue rainchecks. It is important to be efficient with your time and if every time you clipped a coupon it resulted in a zero savings that could be tough. This is the reason I don’t clip coupons until the item is in my cart. It saves me heaps of time and grief and is much more efficient. There are plenty of other ways to save. In the book that I”m about to publish I have a whole section on how to save money on food without clipping coupons!

  17. Irma says:

    i agree with everything except clipping your coupons before checkout. There’s no way. Especially if you go with kids. If you are prepared before your coupons should be clipped. If the items isn’t there just put the coupon in a separate place for next time. Clipping at the store to me would be a hassle and take more time and frustration. Just my opinion.

  18. Kara says:

    I am so late to the game and am just now reading your posts. They are so informative and I am so excited to start couponing more! Thanks so much for sharing your words of wisdom with us, Anita!!!

  19. Esther Anders says:

    Just one more point to add. If you’re shopping at a store that you receive rewards back, like at Rite Aid, or Walgreens where you get points back, or CVS where you get Extra Care Bucks, that is still money. It’s not free if you used rewards, although your out of pocket expense may be low or even $0 balance, keep in mind how many rewards you used to get those items. I like to figure out what my complete total is out of pocket, and divide and see if I like the price. If I am going to use rewards to pay for stuff, I better be happy with what I get and it should come to cheaper then if I bought it at Walmart or another package store. Hope this helps.

  20. Christal Roberts says:

    OH MY, I AM SOOOO EXCITED!! I have been wanting to learn how to coupon “the right way” and I’ll admit I love to watch the extreme couponing shows LOL! We use mostly generic, so I’m gonna start looking to see if what we normally buy in generic is any cheaper in name brand with coupons. When I worked I couponed all the time and saved lots or so I thought it was only about 25% but I was VERY brand loyal plus with a special needs child and full time job I didn’t really have the time to coupon “the right way” I was already having to look out for dyes and preservatives. I use to spend around $200 a week on groceries, now I spend that a month but the foods not very healthy and I have to supplement with food banks. I’m not ashamed of that I’d just prefer giving than receiving. I also took notes on your couponing for beginners post. My hand hurts LOL. Thank you so much for this I can’t wait to dive in, get familiar with WalMart’s policies and start slowly growing my stock pile.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Christal- wonderful, I hope that you are able to do this successfully and save lots! I like how you mentioned slowly growing your stock pile. With a child with special needs and with having to watch out for certain dyes and preservatives that makes it more difficult. You must be very busy! You may want to try out my training under the products tab at the top of my site for a training on how I plan and save for each shopping trip in about 45 minutes. Thanks again!

  21. […] minutes on your hands, you may want to take a look at this Pinterest article I found. It’s ’17 Mistakes Couponers Make and How to Avoid Them’.  There are great tips included and it could help save you even more […]

  22. Lisa says:

    extremely helpful

  23. […] the better deal is and make sure you’re getting the best discount. A smart shopper knows when to walk away from a bad deal. A coupon might seem compelling at first, but it’s possible to actually spend more because of it. […]

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