Couponing is a great way to save money. Once you get the hang of where to shop, and how to use coupons effectively they are a great way to save money.
However, it’s so easy to make couponing mistakes, especially when you are first starting out. If you’re a beginner couponer, or even if you’ve been doing it a while, check out these common couponing mistakes, and avoid them if you can.
1. Spending too much money
Just because something is on sale or on sale and you have a coupon for it, does not mean it’s automatically a deal. This is a common couponing mistake and can be easily corrected. I know you’re excited about using your coupons, but don’t buy just for the sake of buying. The coupon has won if you end up buying something you don’t need, won’t consume period, or won’t use by the time it expires.
2. Spending too much time chasing every deal
Couponing can be quite time-consuming. Clipping digital coupons. Sifting through the Sunday paper and physically cutting. Removing expired coupons from your organizer. Organizing and filing new coupons. Looking through circulars and store flyers to find the best sales. Matching up sales with coupons in your possession.
Then there’s actually driving to multiple stores to get the best deals. Couponing can suck up a lot of time if you’re not strategic. Don’t try to chase every single deal, it’s a couponing mistake you can’t afford to make. Find a method of acquiring coupons you like the best and a store or two to shop at. Master those then add as you can. Don’t try to become a master couponer overnight.
3. Not being organized
Organization means both your coupon organizer and your pantry/stockpile. It’s so frustrating to get excited to use a coupon only to realize it expired last week. Or to sift through a mountain of coupons looking for the specific one you know is in there. But because they aren’t categorized or organized it takes you forever to find.
Then there’s the stockpile or your pantry at home. Forgetting you already have enough salad dressing or other condiments there’s no way you’ll be able to use them all before they expire. But then you buy more. The more organized you are with your actual coupons, and your stockpile or pantry at home, the better. You’ll shop more efficiently by not buying just to buy and be able to locate coupons to use easily.
4. Trying to get every deal at every store around
Stick to a few stores you know you can master. You will drive yourself (literally and figuratively) nuts if you try to capitalize on every single sale out there. It’s a large time commitment to drive around to multiple stores. Time is money, but gas is also on the rise. Do yourself a favor and try to stick to a few stores, and combine trips to make your time and gas most efficient.
5. Buying things you normally wouldn’t or don’t need
It’s not a deal regardless of how much you spend if it’s an item you don’t need or want. If you bought something you don’t need with the intention of donating, that’s awesome! Good for you, keep it up. If coupons or savings swayed you into purchasing something you truly don’t’ need or want, it’s wasteful. Even if it is cheap.
6. Throwing away your receipt
Don’t make the mistake of getting rid of your receipt after the transaction. You can use it to make more money, and or you may need it for a return. You can leverage post-shopping apps like Ibotta, Fetch or Checkout51 to get grocery savings. Additionally, you can use an app like CoinOut to earn cashback by taking a pic of any receipt.
7. Clearing the shelves
It’s not in good form to simply buy out the entire stock of an item just because you can. Do you really need every single one that’s in stock? If you find a deal that’s too good to be true, take advantage. But be mindful that others may want the deal too, so only take what you can reasonably use and share the wealth.
8. Not using printable couponing websites
There are many places online that allow you to print coupons. Coupons.com is a mecca of coupons you can print from home. Typically, you can print 2 copies of each coupon so check the website out before you shop to snag any last-minute coupons you think you can use before you go shopping.
9. Not Stacking coupons
Stacking an in-store offer or coupon with a manufacturer’s coupon is the best way to score amazing deals on items. When you hear of people getting items for free or for pennies, it’s usually because they were able to take advantage of both a store offer and manufacturer offer in one transaction.
In many cases, you can stack an in-store promotion (think sale price) with an in-store coupon (Catalina) and a manufacturer coupon. This trifecta is awesome to really bring the cost of an item down!
10. Having too high of expectations
Don’t compare yourself to the extreme couponers on t.v. who appear like they buy $500 worth of groceries for $3.59. It’s not realistic. Understand what stock up prices look like for products you regularly buy, and cash in when you find a good deal. Depending on how you already buy groceries, it can take a lot of work to save a lot of money.
If you’re already cost-conscious and look for sale items today, you may find clipping coupons simply isn’t worth it. If you’re the opposite and buy everything in sight regardless of coupons or sale prices, you may find you can more significantly cut your grocery bill down. But your bill won’t go to zero, probably ever.
11. Couponing during busy times
I find it much more relaxing and calm to go through the checkout with a stack of coupons when the store isn’t bananas. It’s not like you can’t shop at a busy time. But it’s stressful and can be time-consuming to shop with a lot of coupons when the store is packed. Specifically when there are shoppers who have one or two items to purchase as they make a quick stop on their way home from work. Do yourself and others a solid and if you can, find a time to shop when the store isn’t crazy busy.
12. Not reading the fine print
For example, “One coupon per purchase” means one coupon per item you purchase. Not per transactions. So if you’re purchasing two boxes of diapers and you have two Pampers coupons, you can use both. Also watch for expiration dates, quantity needed to get the deal, and if there are any unit of measure or special flavors or types you specifically have to purchase to get the deal. The fine print will make or break your transaction.
Another example is a store coupon and manufacturer coupon. See below two Catalina coupons that were printed from my local Meijer store. A Catalina is a coupon that is printed at the register.
Both of the coupons above have a store logo on them: Meijer. But the manufacturer coupon is technically a manufacturer coupon. So you may get pushback using it at a store other than Meijer, but you technically should be able to. It says “Redeemable at…” not “exclusively redeemable at” or “only redeemable at.”
13. Not understanding coupon verbiage or knowing coupon rules
Many Buy One Get One coupons or BOGOs are not truly buy one get one. In many cases, they are buy one get one 50% off or buy one get one 30% off. Don’t let them tempt you into purchasing more than you would have normally, especially when it’s not a good deal.
Buy one get one is typically great deals. Buy one, get one for a percentage off may not be as good. Also, know that in some cases you can use two duplicate coupons on a buy one get one at a percentage off. But you may not be able to use two duplicate coupons on a true buy one get one because one is technically for sale.
14. Not using competitor’s coupons and price matching
This is a no-brainer but very few people take advantage. It’s totally worth the effort if you shop at a store that takes competitor’s coupons. It eliminates the need to shop at multiple stores. Also, don’t underestimate price matching. It’s a very simple process and shouldn’t take much of your time to get a price match at customer service. If you see a similar item priced more aggressively at a competitive store, and the store you’re shopping at matches prices, give it a try!
15. Photocopying coupons
Yikes! Never never never do this. Coupon fraud is a very real thing and there are unpleasant consequences. While it might be tempting to do this, do not. When you print coupons online, you generally can print two copies. Take them and run with them, but do not attempt to create copies.
16. Not downloading the store’s app to save a bundle!
Apps are such a great resource to save while shopping in your favorite store. Many times they offer special coupons just for those using the app. They also contain many of the same coupons you find in the Sunday paper. So if you missed the paper or are looking for a second copy of a high-value coupon, you may be able to find it in your store’s app.
17. Failing to submit mail-in rebates right away
If you are purchasing something due to a mail-in rebate, complete the paperwork and mail it in immediately. The longer you wait, the more likely you will to lose the receipt, not have the barcode or simply forget to mail it in by the deadline.
Do yourself a favor and once you get home and the groceries are put away, immediately complete the form for the mail-in rebate and put it in the mailbox or submit online.
18. Not watching for peelys
I have to remind myself of this all the time. Just when I think I’m good about to this, then I find even I miss a coupon that was on a product I just purchased. Take a quick glance on all sides of the product as you put it in the cart to ensure you’re not missing a hiding coupon.
19. Not calculating deals based on units of measure
Taking into account the price per unit of measure once the coupon is applied is the most accurate way to find a good deal. For example, if you have a $3.00 off coupon for detergent, and it’s valid on both the 100 oz. and the 50 oz. bottle, do a quick calculation. You may find that the per-ounce price after the coupon is better for the 50oz. bottle.
20. Not watching the register as items are rung up
If you find that an item you purchased has run-up for the wrong price, say something. At the register is a great time to catch price discrepancies between the stated sale price and what rings up.
21. Not scanning your receipt for errors immediately after the transaction
If you are purchasing many items, it may be hard to unload your cart and keep your eyes locked on the register and what is ringing up. Immediately after the transaction, scan your receipt. Were you charged correctly? Did all of your physical and digital coupons get applied? It’s so much easier to fix errors now than to go out to the parking lot, unload your groceries, get in your car and then find the error.
22. Not having your coupons on you at all times
It never fails…I only have a few things on my grocery list. I run in to purchase with just those coupons and I end up wanting to use another coupon I left in the car. Or I’m running non-grocery errands and my husband texts that we need something, and I left my coupon organizer at home. Keep your coupons on you at all times, you’ll be happy you did!
23. Arguing or getting salty with the cashier
In many cases, you probably know more about the store’s coupon policy than they do. And there is very little they can do, especially with a line of people behind you, to help if there is a big issue. If you think there is a discrepancy on your receipt, check out, and head to customer service. They can reimburse you for anything you may have overpaid for. Or, you can always return things that didn’t go the way you planned. Getting mad or frustrated with the cashier will not help.
24. Not checking for expired product
Not all the time, but in many cases, clearance items are at or near the expiration date and that’s why they are on sale. You may see a near expiration date and choose to purchase the item anyway. But if you don’t look you may end up purchasing something that has an expiration date or use-or-lose date that you will never be able to consume by then. Do yourself a favor and check expiration dates on products and try to choose one with the furthest date from today.
25. Going to the store without a plan or a list
Seriously, don’t do it. Take some time to craft your plan before you go. Know exactly what you’re going to buy and even organize your list by store aisle to make the shopping trip that much more efficient. Stick to the list to not only shop in a time-efficient manner but to avoid impulse purchases.
26. Using your coupon too soon
There is no exact time for using a coupon, and you never know when a sale price is going to come up. But the best way to save on a product using a coupon is to pair it with a sale price or in-store offer. So if you have a coupon that has an expiration date relatively far in the future, don’t feel like you need to use it right away! Save it and wait for a better deal. If you are coming up on expiration, then yes, of course, us it now!
27. Not knowing the total of the transaction
If you created a shopping list in advance, you can add up approximately how much you think you’re going to need to pay for your groceries, and only take that much cash into the store with you. It’s also a good gauge or checkpoint to see if the transaction was calculated properly if you know approximately how much the transaction should be.
I realize for large transactions where you purchasing hundreds of dollars this may not be realistic. But if you’re going into the store for a few things, make a mental tally of what the total should be. That way if it’s more you can ask questions at the register and ensure everything rang up as expected and avoid going to customer service.
28. Buying the wrong size or wrong type
There is nothing worse than getting to the register, having your items scanned, only to find out that you didn’t grab the correct product. Maybe you grabbed the wrong one entirely, or it was only valid on select flavors, types or sizes. Either way, the register is denying your coupon.
Take an extra glance at the coupon when you put the item in your cart to ensure you have the right item in the right size in the right quantity. This will avoid you having to run out of line and back to the aisle to grab the right product.
29. Not leaving your frustration in the car
Don’t underestimate the value of a positive attitude. Be nice the cashier and they will likely be nice to you. Always be pleasant, even if the transaction doesn’t go the way you planned. The cashier’s hands may be tied and they may be unable to help you if the register won’t accept a coupon. You can always to go customer service after the transaction to get it cleared up, so don’t get heated.
30. Being too scared to start couponing
Don’t worry about making a mistake. It’s inevitable, you will do something “wrong”. I recall forcing a young cashier to take off two coupons: a manufacturer coupon, and a store coupon. At the time I thought all coupons that printed at the register were in-store coupons. The poor kid did push both through. Then I did the exact same thing at a self-check and the register wouldn’t let me use both.
I argued with the attendant at the self-check until she opened the register, pulled out the coupon and showed me that the one I used was a manufacturer coupon and the second one I was trying to use was also a manufacturer coupon. I was convinced the first was an in-store coupon. I was mortified and so embarrassed by my behavior. But I learned something that day. to try, learn, make a mistake, and learn some more.
Couponing is a fun way to save money at the grocery store. By leveraging in-store promotions and coupons, you can get some fantastic deals and lower your grocery bill. Watch out for common couponing mistakes, and avoid them if you can. This will create a more time-efficient, cost-effective, pleasant trip to the store!
What’s the biggest couponing mistake you’ve made?