March 11, 2016

23 Common Coupon Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes

Make the most of your coupons by first understanding the common mistakes people make. We have 23 mistakes that are preventing couponers from getting the most savings.

© F Delventhal (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Mastering the art of using coupons means understanding how they work, where they're accepted and what the secrets are for multiplying their value.

If you've been using coupons to try and carve a few extra bucks out of your grocery budget or save on other purchases but you're not having much luck, here are 23 things you may be doing wrong.

1. Using coupons for things you don't need

This is arguably one of the biggest errors you can make when couponing.

The call of the coupons tempts you into spending money you wouldn’t have otherwise spent - just to get some savings. The only time it makes sense to use a coupon for something you don't need is if it would be free in the end and you're planning to donate it to charity. In fact, many shoppers use buy 1 get 1 deals at the grocery store to keep 1 item for themselves and drop off the second item at the food pantry donation box on their way out.

Related: Impulse Buying Statistics

2. Underestimating the value of being organized

Expert couponers know that organization is key when you're trying to save money. Clipping a bunch of coupons does you no good if you're not able to find them when you need them.

Keep those coupons in an accessible binder, envelope or file folder so that you don't lose track of any potential savings.

Tip: Beginner's Guide to Couponing

3. Skimming over store policies

Before you venture out with your coupons, you need to be clear on what the store's policy is for accepting them.

Some grocery stores, for example, offer double or even triple coupon days, which can yield even more savings. Many stores list their coupon policies on their website, and it's worth taking the time to read through the rules carefully.

4. Overlooking the fine print

Besides the actual deal itself, coupons also feature lots of fine print that you can't afford to gloss over.

All that tiny writing may be hard to see, but it can tell you where the item is located in the store, where the coupon can be used, and whether it can be combined with another coupon.

5. Forgetting to stack coupons

Typically, you're only allowed to use one manufacturer's coupon for a particular item, but most stores will allow you to pair it up with a store-issued coupon for added savings.

This is what's known as coupon stacking, and the practice is allowed at stores like Target, Walgreens, and CVS.

6. Not paying attention to expiration dates

Most coupons come with an expiration date, which means the clock starts ticking once you get your hands on it. If you’ve ever been stuck in line behind someone who didn’t bother looking at the expiration date, you know how much a pain this mistake can be.

However, some stores, like Bath and Body Works, do offer a grace period for using expired coupons, so it doesn't hurt to ask if you've got one that's a day or two past the cutoff date.

7. Relying on a single source for coupons

The Sunday paper isn't the only place to find coupons.

You're going to miss out on plenty of deals if you're not taking the time to research other sources. Some of the places you can find coupons include weekly store ads, coupon websites, retailers' websites, magazines, and your mailbox.

8. Not using your store loyalty card

Just about every store has a loyalty program these days, and using it in conjunction with your coupons can shave even more money off your final total.

CVS, for example, offers coupons through the ExtraCare rewards program that can be paired with printed store coupons and manufacturer coupons for triple the savings.

9. Shopping online without a coupon

If you prefer to do your shopping from home, you shouldn't click the checkout button without looking for a coupon code first.

There are dozens of sites, including CreditDonkey, that offer promo discounts for online use, and a quick search should turn up codes for all your favorite stores.

Related: Online Coupons

10. Not using a coupon for sale items

Just because something's on sale doesn't mean you shouldn't use a coupon for it. Even if an item is advertised at a great price, knocking an extra $1 or $2 off makes it that much more of a bargain.

11. Buying brand name when generic is cheaper

Using a coupon to purchase a brand name item isn't always the smartest move, especially if it’s next to a generic item that’s just as good but much less expensive.

When it comes to certain items, like paper products and prescription drugs, there's very little difference between the name brand and the store brand, with the exception of the price. Having a coupon shouldn’t prevent you from comparison shopping.

12. Failing to check for exclusions

Just because a coupon seems like a good deal doesn't mean you'll be able to use it.

Many retailers exclude certain brands or items, narrowing the scope of how the coupon can be applied. Know ahead of time what brands and items are excluded. You don’t want to be tempted to purchase the item anyway — at full price — by the time you get to the register and find out you won’t get the discount you were counting on getting.

13. Trying to chase down every deal

Thinking you need to score savings on everything you buy is only going to leave you tired and frustrated at the end of the day.

Be patient and realize that stores routinely rotate their sale items, so if you miss out on something the first time around, there's a good chance you'll be able to snag it at a discount later on.

14. Not comparing prices between stores

Knowing what different stores are charging for the items on your shopping list is the best way to maximize your coupon savings. Browse the sale ads online or use an app to do the price-checking work for you to take the hassle out of finding the best deals.

15. Taking too much time to coupon

While it does require a certain investment of time to do properly, couponing shouldn’t eat up your entire day. Spending an hour or so a week to organize your coupons and look for new ones should be more than enough to keep you on the right track.

Related: Why Coupons are Bad

16. Purchasing an online coupon and not using it

Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial are great places to find discounts on things like dinner out, entertainment, or a day at the spa — but only if you're going to make use of the savings.

The deals offered on these sites are usually only good for a limited amount of time, so if you're not sure you can fit it into your schedule, you're better off holding on to your money.

17. Shopping without a list

Heading to the store without a detailed list of what you plan to buy is a recipe for overspending. You’ll be more likely to go over budget and miss out on some savings since you didn’t take the time to see what coupons you could have brought with you. Whether you write it out on paper or keep tabs on your list with your smartphone, coming up with a shopping strategy is always a must.

18. Not calculating the per ounce price

For certain items, like laundry soap, it's actually cheaper to spend more upfront and buy a bigger bottle. The price per ounce comes out to less money. If you've got a coupon for something that's a specific size, figuring out how the other sizes compare in terms of the per-ounce price can tell you if it's really a good deal.

19. Not checking to see if you can use a competitor's coupon

One of the lesser-known policies of couponing is that some retailers will allow you to use a competitor's coupon in-store. Each store has its own rules as far as exclusions go, but it's worth it to ask if you can apply another retailer's coupon to your purchase.

20. Not making sure your coupons are scanned correctly

Allowing yourself to zone out at the checkout is a big no-no if you're serious about couponing. There's always the chance that the cashier could miss a coupon or it could scan incorrectly, which eats into your savings.

21. Trying to redeem at more than one store

If you live close to couple of grocery stores and can take advantage of their various coupons and sales, that’s great. But most people would have to drive a bit to go from one store to the next in a day. It’s usually best to limit the amount of time you spend — and gas you’ll burn through — by picking just one store that will give you the best deal.

Tip: How to Save Money on Gas

22. Not reading the purchase requirements

While coupons are typically offered for a single item, some specify that you have to buy multiple quantities in order to save. If you have a coupon for something that requires you purchase two or more of the same thing, consider whether you'll actually use them before you hand over your money.

23. Overestimating your savings

Thinking that you're going to be able to cut your grocery bill by 90% right out of the gate is a major fallacy, especially if you're trying your hand at couponing for the first time. In 2013, the average face value for coupons that were distributed was $1.56, while the average redeemed value was $1.27.

Be realistic about your savings expectations before you go on your next shopping trip to avoid feeling disappointed with the final total.

Related: Credit Card Promotions

More from CreditDonkey:

Coupon Statistics

Why Coupons are Bad

Infographics: Grocery Shopping Plan

Save Money on Groceries

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