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.