Guest Post: Five Mistakes I Made as a Newbie Couponer

Today I have a very lovely post by Angela Russell from the Coupon Project that I think will be useful to many of my reader, new to couponing or not. Enjoy!

When I first realized I could be saving a lot of money by matching coupons up with store sales and promotions, I got excited. I mean REALLY excited. I sent countless emails to friends with my finds. I “scouted out” the local Kmart a couple weeks before the rumored double coupon event to strategize. I’d fall asleep piecing together Walgreens scenarios in my head. I began seeing barcodes everywhere I looked.

In all the excitement of finding the good deals, I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. If you’re new to couponing (or even if you aren’t), please learn from my mistakes…and don’t repeat them! After doing some soul-searching, I’ve come up with a list of five mistakes I could have avoided. So here goes:

1. Trying to do EVERY deal. When my eyes were open to the world of couponing, I couldn’t believe ALL the deals I was finding…diapers, oatmeal, ground beef, canned vegetables, razors, soap, shampoo…and for some reason I felt the need to get every last one. It could be that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, or my mom would likely argue that it’s because I’m a firstborn, but whatever the reason, this shopping approach is completely unnecessary. Don’t kill yourself trying to make 18 shopping trips in a week. Deals come, deals go, other deals come. If you miss a deal, there will be others. Focus on a few that make sense for your family that week. Let the others go.

2. Feeling the need to use high value coupons – even if there is no sale. Remember, the key is to manage your out-of-pocket expenses on items your family needs and uses. When I first started clipping coupons, my heart would skip a beat when I’d find a $4 off coupon for some new-fangled room air freshener product. I MUST have that! Then I’d begin the desperate search of trying to find a sale to match it with. Sometimes I’d be successful. Other times, not so much. Bottom line: a $4 off coupon is still not a good deal if the item is $17.99 and you have no intention of using it. I’ve since learned to relax and let coupons expire if I can’t find a sale. Even good $4 off coupons.

3. Not paying attention to deadlines. So in April – the final month of the Walgreens’ Easy Saver Rebate Program, I decided to wait until the last minute to enter a rebate receipt. Guess what? I missed the deadline! And I had $10 worth of rebates. What’s more, because I didn’t submit it, the system automatically processed my rebates and sent me a check – instead of letting me select the Gift Card option which would have yielded me an additional 10%. Watch out for deadlines, keep your receipts and coupons organized. You don’t want to lose out. I still shudder to think how far $10 at Walgreens could’ve gotten me this month….!

4. Not paying attention to expiration dates. Guess what? Non-perishables are actually perishable! So when you purchase enough cans of tomato soup to last you two years, you better make sure those cans of soup will actually be good two years from now. I now check the expiration dates on everything from milk to cough drops to cans of soda. Especially pay attention if there is a REALLY good sale going on a certain item. I can think of a recent instance where a store (which shall remain nameless) was offering extremely high value coupons for a certain type of candy. When I visited the store, almost every last package had expired by more than a month! Yikes.

5. Buying stuff your family won’t use. Sure, it’s great to pick up some stuff for donations to the church pantry or homeless shelter, but remember the main purpose of couponing (at least for most of us) is to save money on your family’s grocery bill each month. So make an effort at coming home with items your family will actually eat, use, and enjoy. I can recall some of my first shopping trips where I’d come home with say, 5 boxes of allergy medicine, 2 bottles of children’s cough syrup, and 3 packages of Tucks Medicated Pads. This is great expect for the fact our family uses none of these items. Again, picking these things up is nice if they are free after coupons and you have a place in mind to donate them to, but it’s even better to focus your energy on things your family needs right now.

Learning how to shop and save wisely will take some trial and error. What I’ve noticed is that I tend to make more mistakes when I fail to see the bigger picture. Don’t get hung up over a coupon or a deal – focus instead on your monthly saving and spending goals or rounding out your pantry. And if you do make a mistake, don’t let it go to waste. Learn from it!

Angela is the author of The Coupon Project, a blog chronicling her real life couponing adventures. Her goal is to encourage and educate other newbie couponers how to enjoy amazing money-saving success through easy-to-follow posts.

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  • Molly

    I love this post!! Everything she talked about was so true for me and sometimes I even find myself wanting to buy stuff because it’s free even though I’ll never use it!!! This was just great!

  • Gina

    Thank you for saying #5, especially! I see people snapping up glucometers and Depends – that they certainly aren’t ready to use at this point in their lives and wonder “Why?” The response? “Because it’s FREE” I just don’t get that!

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  • Sara Anders

    I’ve taken a self-imposed sabatical from CVS and Walgreens because I found myself doing a lot of these things, a lot of times. I have nearly gone through the collection of things that I had “purchased” and have either used them or given them away to someone who needed it more.

    I did go into a WalGreens this week to get the reusable bags that were on sale and I bought some packing tape that was BOGO… but I was in need of both. I did not fall apart because I didn’t get all of the deals. I didn’t cringe (too badly) that there were a couple things that were on sale that I had coupons for sitting on my desk.

    When I wrote up directions on how to coupon to give to my sister who lives in another state, I told her that no matter how good the deal may seem, if you don’t have room or money to get it, then it isn’t a good deal. And deals will come around again, if you miss it this time, wait a couple weeks, that toilet paper will be on sale again!

  • This is Angela, author of that post. Thanks everyone, for your comments! I decided it’d be worth it to be honest about past mistakes I’ve made if I could help promote a better way to coupon in the process. Thanks!

  • Veronica

    I laughed so hard at this post. Thanks for the honesty. I feel like this a lot since I’m a newbie, but I’m proud for holding myself back. I had just gone and asked my husband, “Do we need two tubes of Aquafresh that I can get for free at Walgreens this week???” I’m thankful he’s willing to listen to all my scenarios and give me his input.

  • Thanks, I could have used these tips about a year ago. It’s hard to control yourself when you are new and SO excited. I remember buying everything, no matter if I needed it, and thinking, why isn’t everyone snatching these up?

  • Kellee

    Thank you for this post! After taking 6 reusable bags full of toiletries and 2 boxes full of food to TWO donation sites…I realized that I needed to take a step back!

    So, I am doing my best to follow Number 1 and 5! I was going to WGs three times a week and CVS four times a week and for what?! Just so I can get some nail polish that I probably will use only once for a DOLLAR after RRs/ECBs?! I don’t think I’m going to WGs this week to get the Aquafresh deal since I already have 4 in my cabinet!

    Yes and I was dreaming about coupons and deals too!

  • I remember very well the desperate need to stop at CVS, Rite Aid, Walmart, Kroger, and Kmart to get ALL of the great deals that I saw posted online. While I quickly accumulated a great stockpile, I also spent a LOT of time getting these deals. Now that I have a healthy stockpile, my shopping trips are fewer! And I’ve also learned that deals come around on cycles. If I happen to miss something great this week, it will be back! Thanks for the great post!

    • Could not always be cooemspd any longer effective. Scanning this blog post reminds me of my old room mate! He consistently held chatting relating to this. I will deliver this blog publish to him. Fairly positive he will have a great read. Many thanks for discussing!

  • I made so many of these myself! Glad to know I’m not the only one. THanks!

  • These are really great tips. I really can relate to the check expiration dates tip as it seems that many stores try to dump their products that are about to expire and have the nerve to call it a “sale.”

    One of my great mistakes is doing all the work to cut the coupons, organize them, place them in and envelope and THEN LEAVE THEM ON THE KITCHEN COUNTER.

    Several times I’ve entered a store only to realize that my coupons are at home. Now as soon as I’m done cutting and organizing my coupons I place them in car glove compartment.

  • Sharon

    What a great post!
    My husband and I are both disabled and on a fixed income. Our limited income forced us into the frugal lifestyle! Using coupons and looking for deals has helped me stretch the food budget a lot! I don’t have the money to spend on things we don’t use, so I couldn’t go crazy!

  • chris

    THanks for helping with the learning curve.

  • Great tips and I think we’ve all done one of these at some point. I have to disagree with number 5 though. We’re on a tight budget in my house, and it’s pained me the last few years that I just haven’t been able to help out charities like I want to. Collecting free toothpaste, deodorants, soaps, etc. for the local battered woman’s shelter fills me with a lot of joy that I’m getting everything for free or close to free (ever so often I’ll ‘splurge’ and get some 25 cent Crest toothpaste or deodorant) that I can donate to people who truly needed. Same thing with the blood glucose monitors. Sure, I don’t need them, but there’s a senior citizen’s center here that can. And I have no qualms spending the two minutes it takes me to grab them, since I’m there to buy my Sunday paper anyway.

    There are some blogs that I read and I’m boggled, because they go to Walgreen’s five or six times a week to get the RR deals, and I think to myself, considering you have to get fillers and spend some money out of pocket, what ARE these people doing with all of this stuff?

    Anyway, I just would love to see more couponers spread the love to a homeless shelter or a battered woman’s shelter in the area with some of their excess or by starting to get some excess. Spread the love, is all I’m saying! 🙂

    Just my two cents!

  • Hi Catwoman: Angela here again. Just to clarify #5, I DO think it’s great to share your goodies at shelters and at church, etc. I do myself all the time. However, when I started out couponing, I was finding that a good percentage of my time and energy ended up going to deals that really didn’t make an impact to my family’s bottom line. It was great to have all this stuff to donate, but I missed the point in that I really wasn’t saving my family a lot in our grocery budget each month. Does that make sense?

    I just wanted to clarify – I certainly do not want to discourage anyone being benevolent. Goodness knows we need more of it given our current economic hardships. I do want to encourage folks to focus on their bottom line though. Make sure that in getting all the deals you working to find ways to save in areas that will benefit your family. In doing so, you will have even more resources available to help others. Is that stated better?

    Thanks for giving back! Keep up the good work.

  • Andi

    I started couponing in Feb, I was SO excited. I bought things I would never use, made five trips a week to get the “good deal” and I stressed myself out to the point I had to quit and re-evaluate. I’m back to couponing but only one trip to the grocery store with CVS and WAGS are on a only NEED basis.

    Great post, thank you.

  • Oh, and I thought I was the only one who planned scenarios in my sleep. I actually woke up one morning looking for items I’d “purchased” in my sleep. Oh, the things coupons can do to the mind…

  • Tashena Lynette Gonzales

    LOL I’m a newbie. I have went shopping at 6 stores this week, two of them twice and I was really depressed that my Target did not have all the deals listed on a website and was thinking about hitting the Super Target to get the rest.

    I too am a firstborn perfectionist with a slightly obsessive personality. I will definitely keep these tips in mind.

  • very nice post! Well said! i am also a newbie and i have not abused my trips to the store or bought a glucose monitor yet! our budget is very tight so i buy what we need and will use for that week. but i am working on my stoke pile of pads, toothpaste, razors, etc. But i have stress myself out and stress my hubby because he has to hear me talk and talk about my scenarios lol its very exciting to save so much! Cant wait to be able to save enough in order to be able to donate!!

  • Rachel

    I am a ‘fairly new’ couponer. I still try to get EVERY deal I can use, and feel I must get all the freebies – even if it is just so I can donate them. I have “bought” countless monitors in order to get the overage or freebie that goes with them (RRs, ECBs, toothpaste). I feel like I am getting PAID to do good deeds! I love the fact that I have been able to make fantastic donations to a local crisis pregnancy resource center, church ministry outreach programs, etc. When I need a filler, I try to get things I need, like distilled water (my coffee maker requires it otherwise everything brewed tastes horrible!) or a candy bar. I guess that last one is a want, not a need, lol! I have tried hard to let go of the feeling of loss when missing a deal. I have often found a better deal (or just as good) a couple weeks or months later – especially when dealing with WAGS and CVS! Thanks so much for posting this to help keep it in perspective! I may need to reel it in a bit….right after I get my free stuff from Kohl’s tomorrow!

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  • Kari

    I have a question. Will anyone give me an honest answer? Seriously, what does everyone do with all that stuff? Is this how those people on e-bay can sell things for .99? I looked around e-bay and guess what I saw. All the free stuff from Walgreens. Is that capitalism or dishonesty?

  • Kari, when I started out my intention on getting the freebies was to either: 1) donate them and/or 2) make a profit off them (i.e., when the rebate/sale/coupon exceeded what I pay) and/or 3) just use them as part of my stockpile.

    I have since changed my tune and take a much more common-sense approach to couponing now. I target only deals for items that make sense to me and my family and leave the other freebies for folks who truly need/want them. My goal is to achieve true frugality – and I perceive that as being wise with ALL my resources – time, money, and space. Do I stockpile? Sure. Do I need 200 bottles of shampoo? Absolutely not.

    Do others sell the freebies? Perhaps so, but I would wager that it’s a slim minority. Of all my friends, contacts, family that coupon (and there are a LOT) I know NO one that does this. While it’s quite possible you’re finding those freebies online, that is never something I have done or would advocate to my readers. I do personally feel this borders on dishonest.

    What most couponers will tell you is that these items get donated to local food pantries, churches, and others that need it. In my own experience, this is what I’ve seen to be the case. However, in general I don’t do freebie deals just to donate them any more. I do freebie deals that build my family’s stockpile. It’s really that simple.

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  • CTAX123

    Thank you, Angela, for your honesty. I needed this because I just began my “adventure” and it really hit home. Your post remains relevant even two yrs later.