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.