How To Start Couponing To Save Money
Whether you like it or not, you’ll always need to buy groceries and other household items. Wouldn’t it be nice to save a little money on these everyday purchases?
Aside from discounts and sales, coupons are a great tool to save just a little more with next to no effort.
However, using one coupon every so often won’t do much to save money.
If you want big savings, you’ll need to actively seek out coupons. This is known as couponing.
There are many types of coupons you can find, and there are many places you can find them.
It can be a bit difficult to juggle all these, so we’ve compiled common types of coupons and common places to find them.
First, we’ll show you common types of coupons and a ton of methods for finding them.
After that, we’ll talk about how to coupon and some tips for maximizing your savings.
Types Of Coupons
There are a ton of common coupon types. Knowing each one is important to maximizing your savings.
Buy One Get One Free Coupons
These types of coupons, called BOGO for short, are a favorite among shoppers of all stripes.
Wait, so I can buy a tiny thing of coffee and then get the largest size of the same brand for free?
Stores are smarter than to let customers get away with that. These coupons come with the caveat of “of equal or lesser value”, meaning the “free” product you choose must be the same price or smaller.
Unfortunately, that means you’d pay for the large container of coffee and only get the small one for free.
With that in mind, you may as well get the largest size of each to maximize how much coffee you can get!
However, this coupon type usually specifies the size the item must be.
So you might be limited to the smaller size no matter what.
Buy Several Get One Free
This type of coupon is a slightly less useful version of the BOGO coupon. Rather than just buying one item, you need to buy multiple to get the free one.
Usually, these coupons are designed for items you consume regularly, like mouthwash or coffee.
We recommend you only use these coupons on items you use regularly and in sizable amounts. Any coupon savings you gain are mitigated if you never use the items or they go bad.
Percent Off Coupons
Another shopper favorite is the simple percent off coupon. These kinds of coupons can make for big savings if the item in question costs a good chunk of change.
Most stores won’t extend their generosity beyond 10% or maybe 20% off, but some stores will have coupons for up to 50% off items if you look hard.
Buy One, Get One X% Off
If BOGO coupons and percent off coupons had a child, it would be the buy one get one X% Off coupon.
Most of these coupons are buy one, get one half off, although you’ll sometimes see different percentages.
These obviously don’t result in as many savings as BOGO and they require you to buy something at its normal price to get a discount, but they’re still worth looking for and using.
Dollar Amount Off Coupons
Dollar amount off coupons are almost exactly like percent off coupons, except you save a flat dollar amount instead of a percentage.
For cheaper items, these are actually more useful than percent off coupons because you’re saving a fixed amount of money rather than a percentage of an already cheap item price.
Gift With Purchase Coupons
Some stores have coupons that offer you a free gift if you spend a certain amount at said store. These are different than BOGO or buy several get one free. Whereas those types of coupons require you purchase a specific item, gift with purchase coupons simply require spending some specified amount on anything in the store.
These coupons can often be found at stores that sell one type of item, such as clothes. It’s not uncommon for clothing retailers to toss in a free shirt if you spend over a certain amount.
Gift with purchase coupons are designed to make you spend more than you need to, however, so resist the urge to spend extra money just to get a gift.
Instead, only use these if you would’ve spent that amount without the coupon AND if you will actually use the gift.
Free Shipping Coupons
Online shopping is more expensive due to shipping and handling costs. Free shipping coupons help you retain the convenience of shopping online without having to fork over another $10 on top of the normal price.
Free shipping coupons usually take the form of a promotional code you can enter somewhere during the checkout process.
Similar to the gift with purchase coupon, these are sometimes offered as “spend $X to get free shipping”. Don’t overspend just to get free shipping!
Free Item Coupons
Occasionally, you’ll find a coupon that offers a completely free item. No catches, not buying other items, no extra processes, just free stuff.
These tend to be the product of a store’s marketing efforts to draw in customers, and they’re usually for very inexpensive items.
If they’re for a non-consumable item that you won’t use, most people would say to avoid using it to prevent clutter in your home.
We think you should get it anyways and try to sell it to someone for a few bucks.
After all, you aren’t paying a dime.
Lastly, we have rebates.
Rebates tend to offer more savings than other coupons, but of course, there’s a catch: you have to mail in your receipt and the rebate coupon.
That’s because the company pays you the rebate.
Rebates are excellent money-saving tools for purchases you would’ve made anyways without the rebate.
Some apps have processes similar to rebates, only they simplify the process thanks to the internet.
More on that next.
The Best Couponing Apps (Where to Find Coupons Online)
Until recent years, you had to find coupons in the real world. Not anymore, thanks to couponing apps online!
Here are some of the best.
Ibotta has exploded in popularity in recent years. It’s a couponing app that’s focused on in-store purchases rather than online shopping.
It’s absolutely free. There are no weird purchases or membership upgrades you need to buy in order to reap all the benefits.
Ibotta offers coupons for all sorts of grocery items at tons of stores, from frozen dinners, to laundry detergent, to batteries, to even Apple Music. There are occasional hotel discounts on there too.
Many of these discounts are specific to certain retailers, but some let you get the same item from the retailer of your choice.
Now, the premise behind Ibotta is “earning” money through savings. You essentially scan your receipt after shopping and send it to Ibotta to earn your discounts in the form of cash. You can redeem your cash when you’ve racked up at least $20 in redemptions.
Before you go shopping, you can browse Ibotta’s deals either on their phone app or on their website.
When you see a deal that appeals to you, you add it to your Ibotta shopping list.
Once you’ve accumulated the offers you want, you go and shop like normal at whichever store the coupons are for.
Upon checking out, ask for your receipt. You’ll need to take a clear picture of the receipt, select the Ibotta offers you’d like to redeem (based on the items you purchased), and submit it to Ibotta in the “Redeem” area of the app.
Some retailers require you to scan a QR or barcode, but Ibotta should let you know of that.
Your account is credited between 24 and 48 hours upon successful offer redemption.
If you have loyalty accounts at any retailers, Ibotta lets you link those to your Ibotta account for streamlined offer redemption. The process remains the same, except Ibotta automatically credits you for purchases using your loyalty account.
Hold onto your receipt until your account is credited though, just in case something goes wrong.
Ibotta allows for online shopping savings through their app too. You don’t need to save any receipt since you’re buying through Ibotta, but they do ask to hold onto your confirmation email until your account is credited in case anything comes up.
The best part is Ibotta’s deals can be combined with the store’s deals.
Regular Ibotta users have the chance to save huge amounts of money if they spend a few minutes each week browsing for the best coupon offerings.
You can read our full Ibotta review here.
Ibotta’s useful for in-store purchases, but its online shopping is slightly limited.
Ebates and Rakuten used to be separate companies, but Rakuten acquired Ebates in 2014. Until recently, they operated separately, but they’ve now combined to be simply Rakuten.
Rakuten is one of the largest internet marketing companies in the world. They have a massive online couponing platform with over 2,500 stores and thousands of offers to choose from.
They aren’t just partnered with grocers, either; Rakuten also has offers for travel, electronics, gifts, apparel, even eBay is one there!
The business model is simple: Rakuten is essentially a giant affiliate marketing company. They make affiliate commissions by sending shoppers like you to one of their thousands of affiliate partners.
When you buy something through Rakuten’s online platform, Rakuten earns a referral fee. They pass part of this referral fee onto you.
As for the deals, they are plentiful. Most offers are simple cash back opportunities, which function the same as percent off coupons. Some of these offers, such as a Magazines.com offer we recently saw, can climb as high as 25% cash back!
Rakuten will sometimes have special double cashback offers available as well. Going back to the Magazines.com offer, they currently offer almost double cash back at 42%.
And like we said, all you have to do is purchase through the link and Rakuten will credit your account with the proper amount of cash back rewards.
They have a browser extension as well that notifies if the site you’re on has any deals, so you don’t even need to visit Rakuten’s site.
There’s an app, too. The app occasionally has mobile-only flash sales, so it’s worth a download.
Still enjoy the in-store experience? No problem. Rakuten has a ton of in-store cash back opportunities too. Just link the in-store offer on Rakuten to the card you plan on buying the offered item with, and Rakuten will automatically credit you upon purchase with that card.
In terms of payment, Rakuten doesn’t stick you with nothing but gift cards. You can opt for PayPal, check, or gift cards if you’re really adamant about them.
Payment is made quarterly. The payment schedule is as follows:
- Earnings for 1/1 – 3/31: Paid on 5/15
- Earnings for 4/1 – 6/30: Paid on 8/15
- Earnings for 7/1 – 9/30: Paid on 11/15
- Earnings for 10/1 – 12/31: Paid on 2/15 of the following year
You’ll be automatically paid via your preferred payment method as long as you have at least $5 in your Rakuten account. Otherwise, your balance is carried over through pay periods until you have at least $5.
Rakuten looks like the single best option for dedicated savers out there.
Oh, we should also mention that Rakuten gives you a free $10 just for signing up.
That’s free money, so we’d suggest you sign up today and start poking around their offers.
Frankly, you should start doing any and all shopping through Rakuten if you can. It’ll add up quickly.
Groupon is similar to other online couponing services, except you don’t have to earn any cash back or points to effectively receive your coupons discounts.
That’s right: they actually give you the coupon up front. You get the convenience of online couponing without having to “earn” your coupons.
Groupon’s big strength aside from the upfront coupons is the personalized nature of the offerings. Whereas Rakuten offers generic discounts at big store chains and other multi-location or online items, Groupon takes note of your location and offers coupons to places near you.
Another area where Groupon shines is the variety of coupon locations. You aren’t just presented with grocery or other retail coupons; almost any business near you will have a Groupon offer.
For example, if there’s a trampoline park in your city, Groupon might have a coupon for that specific trampoline park.
Groupon coupons don’t hold back. Many coupons go as high as 70+% off. They even have 3 free months of Pandora available currently.
Groupon has holiday specials too. Makes for big savings on your holiday shopping.
But you’re probably wondering about how to actually use these coupons.
Groupon has a few couponing methods.
One is discount codes. Groupon provides discount codes for certain items that you can use on the site they’re offering the code for.
The other more common method is with vouchers. Groupon lets you buy a voucher for the deal in question, which you can then print or save on your Groupon account for later. Groupon will also email you the voucher just in case.
And if you don’t want to print your voucher, Groupon has a mobile app with most of the functionality of the main site. Just flash your coupon to the business you’re patronizing and you’re all set!
Fun fact: Ibotta (and probably other coupon providers) offer coupons simply for shopping through Groupon.
What a way to stack your savings.
Other Ways To Get Coupons (Find Coupons Locally)
Apps make it very easy to find and track multiple coupons online, but they aren’t the only coupon-getting method.
Mail is a goldmine for finding coupons. Most people usually toss out anything promotional or salesy, but doing so can cause you to miss out on a lot of savings.
It’s true that a lot of the coupons you get in the mail are for stores you don’t usually shop at. However, you could save more if you were willing to try a new place, even just once.
Who knows, maybe you’ll actually find your new favorite store AND save big bucks on groceries!
And if all else fails, you could try trading coupons with someone else who has a coupon more suited to your shopping habits.
Those coupons the store prints immediately after you pay for your groceries are called Catalinas. Their expiration dates are usually quite soon after you receive them, but the savings are pretty good.
If you can time it right, try to save multiple Catalinas for a more expensive product (like meat) and use as many as you can at the same time to bring down that purchase price.
Oh, and websites like Coupon World will actually let you know what Catalinas your preferred stores are currently printing.
There are also online forums where couponers tell other couponers what Catalinas are currently printing at certain stores.
Eliminates the guesswork of using Catalinas!
Just Ask (In Writing)
Are you a big fan of a certain product? Why not ask the manufacturer themselves for a coupon?
Hop on your favorite companies contact form and give them a short blurb about your loyalty and love for their products. Give them your mailing address.
Check your mailbox a few days later, and you might find that your favorite company gifted you some coupons.
Asking for coupons only takes minutes, and you don’t even have to speak to a company representative if you don’t want to.
You can also ask for coupons if you were disappointed with a product, too. Some people exploit this and lie about the status or condition of the product they bought just to score some free goodies.
Large companies don’t care all that much. After all, a free frozen pizza is just a drop in the bucket to them.
Still, this is morally questionable and we don’t endorse it. Save it for legitimate complaints.
Family and Friends
Asking friends and family if they have any coupons is a tried and true way to save a few bucks at the store.
See, most people just toss those coupons they get in the mail as well as the Catalinas they get at the store.
Someone needs to use those coupons and save some money. And if your friends and family have no interest in spending less money at the store, then that someone should be you.
How Couponing Works, And Some Tips
Couponing is more than just clipping a coupon from your mailbox or downloading an offer and bringing it to the store.
Effective couponing is a bit of a process.
To start couponing, you must first set aside time solely to look for coupons.
You might think that looking for coupons is an easy task you can do while distracted, but you’ll save a lot of time and energy if you block out just an hour of time to browse for coupons.
And think about it: if you spend an hour to collect coupons that save you $30, aren’t you essentially making $30 an hour to dig up coupons?
Anyways, couponing works best by following the concept of “stacking”, which just means using multiple coupons on one item.
This can lead to big savings, but not all coupons can be stacked. Stacking for maximum savings takes a bit of strategy.
Anyways, you will most likely have some coupons left over after shopping if you really put in the effort to save.
Which leads us directly to our first tip…
Tip 1: Organizing Your Coupons
Naturally, you’ll have a few coupons left over after visiting the grocery store.
As you accumulate these coupons, keeping track of them becomes a chore. Plus, there are multiple variables such as coupon type, item, store, and expiration date that affect when you can use each of your coupons.
An Excel spreadsheet and some Pivot tables will serve you well in your coupon tracking efforts, as organizing them by these variables allows you to know exactly which coupons you should withdraw from your coupons collection.
Speaking of storage…
Organizing them can save you a lot of time digging through your coupon collection.
The simplest way to organize your coupons would be to hole punch them and stick them in a binder. Sort by coupon type, store, or item, whichever makes the most sense for you.
If you take your couponing very seriously, you could invest in one of those accordion file folders. The most serious couponers could benefit by making subfolders so they can organize by multiple categories, instead of just by item or coupon type.
Digital coupons require next to no organization effort. If the coupons are in an app or on a website, you don’t need to do anything as they usually organize the coupons for you.
However, you might want to make a coupon folder in your email and redirect any promotional emails there. Use labels to sort each email in a way that works for you.
Whichever way you organize your coupons, make sure to account for any expiration dates. It’ll save you the embarrassment and disappointment of trying to use a mass of expired coupons on your next visit to the grocery store.
When you do use your coupons, make a physical note of each one you’re using on a slip of paper and keep the coupons in an envelope when you go to the store.
The envelope prevents you from having to dig through your pockets for your coupons, as well as ensuring you don’t lose those slippery pieces of paper.
Delete or check off each coupon from your spreadsheet as you use them.
Tip 2: Visit Multiple Store Locations
Once you have the coupons, you then head to your store of choice and use them when you check out.
However, most stores won’t accept an onslaught of coupons; they tend to limit the amount of a certain coupon you can use.
In that case, if your store has multiple locations, you might have to spread out your grocery trip among every store to use as many coupons as possible.
Perhaps the best coupon type to use at multiple stores is the Catalina. Their short expiration period means you have to use them almost immediately or you won’t use them at all, so why not head over to a different location and use them that same day?
Then, when another Catalina prints, rinse and repeat.
Tip 3: Have An Open Mind
Stores won’t offer coupons for every brand of a specific item. Sometimes, it’s worth bailing on a family favorite if you save a few bucks.
Just make sure that the new brand isn’t of appreciably lower quality or taste.
Tip 4: Don’t Buy What You Don’t Have To
Businesses make coupons with the intent of making you spend more. The goal is that by offering discounted items or knocking a few dollars off your total bill, you’ll grab stuff you normally wouldn’t.
If you go buying a ton of items you won’t even use just to burn through your coupons, then you may as well actually burn your coupons.
In a similar vein, don’t buy more expensive brands just because they have a coupon attached. Consumers don’t typically do the math on their purchases, so businesses easily get away with offering coupons on brands that are still more expensive post-coupon than other brands.
Unless you already shop for that higher-priced brand or its taste/quality is appreciably higher than your current brand, don’t spend more just for the appearance of saving money.
Tip 5: Lastly, Be A Considerate Couponer
Big savings on groceries might be a victory for you, but careful of when you coupon.
Shelling out 5 coupons while you have a line of people who just got off work behind you is not the greatest way to go about saving money.
If you have to use a ton of coupons, try to go when the store isn’t as busy.
Of course, you can go during peak hours and hold up the line if you want; it won’t prevent the cashier from taking your coupons.
You’ll just get a lot of impatient stares from fellow shoppers.
Building Your Shopping List
Now that you have a ton of coupons at your disposal, it’s time to alter the way you create your shopping list, albeit not too drastically.
You’ll most likely have enough coupons to cover a lot of your everyday purchases, so try to build your shopping list around those items.
Make sure to check for brand names. Most coupons only let you get an item from a specific brand, so you might have to stray from brands you’re familiar with.
Clip Your Way To Big Savings
Everyone has different financial goals, but the first step to achieving those goals tends to be cutting back on all but the most necessary expenses. That way, you can start saving money.
That’s not always enough, though: some want to save even more, but can’t find ways to cut back on their predictable or relatively fixed expenses.
Coupons help to drop your spending so you can redirect more funds towards those financial goals while managing your money responsibly.
And then there’re people whose financial situation is tight; they’re living paycheck to paycheck, yet they’ve cut all kinds of fun and convenience out of their life just to barely survive.
Again, couponing is an incredible tool here. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, saving just $10 per week on groceries could be enough to make a difference.
Yes, it takes time and dedication.
But when it comes to saving this much money on stuff you’ll have to buy no matter what, isn’t the few hours a week spent couponing worth it?