How To Get Started With Couponing

How to get started with couponingYou may have seen the show Extreme Couponing, or may have been stuck behind an "extreme couponer" at the checkout. How do they do it? Where do they get those coupons from? Does it take a long time to plan and get organized? Well, read on to find out!

I didn't use coupons until a few years ago when I discovered coupon inserts in our local flyers. When I looked through them, I would clip the few coupons I thought I would need and recycled the rest. Back then, I could hold these few coupons in my wallet and still find them easily. Over time, I realized that you could actually get free items, or even make money with coupons!

This was a whole new revelation. I began saving coupons for products that I didn't ordinarily use on the chance that I could pick up a great deal. Generally, these bargains were not on my tested and true brands. Often, I had to purchase something we'd never tried before, but it was close to free or free. At that price, we could definitely afford to try it out!

Gradually, a small stockpile began to take shape. To keep clutter to a minimum, the products that I couldn't use before the expiry date or didn't need were either donated or shared with others. My ever expanding coupon collection needed a new home, so I now keep them in a sturdy pencil case. Extra coupons that I may not use but are still valid, I keep in a letter tray.

Years have gone by since my first days of couponing and I now have enough for our household that I don't need to jump on every sale. In fact, if you do miss a sale, keep in mind that sales occur in cycles and another is right around the corner.

Related: What To Do When Something You Already Bought Goes On Sale

Know What You Need

It was a travelling salesman who once told me "it's not a deal unless you can use it". If you see a great deal on mustard, but don't like mustard or use mustard, buying it would be a waste unless you can give it away to someone who does like it. In fact, not buying the mustard saves gas in driving to the store, time picking up the mustard, and real estate in your cupboards. There are many people who start out using coupons and spend just because it's "free" or a good price. In the profound words of the salesman, it's not a deal, it just looks that way. Running out to get free or low cost items that you don't need may be one of the largest mistakes that people new to couponing make.

Related: Who Says Nothing In Life Is Free?

Take Inventory

Take note of the things you buy regularly and which brands you're loyal to. If you like a certain brand of paper towel, would you consider substituting with another if the price was lower?

Another mistake to avoid is not to buy too much. Unless the item is free, you need to be sure you have the space and the ability to use it within a reasonable time frame. Know what you have already before buying more.

Keep a Price Book

For the products that you buy regularly, keep a price book to record the lowest price you've seen while shopping. Sometimes, a highlighted deal is just a regularly priced item in disguise!

Get Coupons

It sounds obvious, but to coupon, you'll need to get them from somewhere! There are numerous places they can be found and one major source is online.

More On This: Where To Find Grocery Coupons Online In Canada

Besides online, you can also find coupons on tearpads. These are located at the front of the store (common at stores owned by Loblaws) or near the product. Coupons also are found in your local free newspaper and in flyers on a monthly or seasonal publication schedule. These publications include Redplum, SmartSource, P&G, and Unilever.

You can also find coupons in magazines. WalMart has a magazine called Live Better, issued six times per year, usually with a few good coupons to be found within it's pages. Coupons can also be traded in coupon trading forums online or facebook groups for other coupons, and stamps or gift cards are popular currencies. One such forum for coupon trading exists on Smart Canucks.

If you have a community recycling depot in your area, it can be one place to look. In some neighbourhoods, people do "recycle walks", where they go searching through the recycle bins on collection day. In my area, there is a by-law that prohibits going through someone's trash or recycling set out on city property (that space between the sidewalk and the curb). If someone were to report an ambitious coupon hunter here, the fine is $300. Alternatively, you can ask friends, neighbours, co-workers, family, etc., who won't be using their coupons to give you theirs. You can also call the manufacturer directly and ask if they have coupons available.

Get Organized

Once you have begun amassing your coupon collection, you'll need a place to organize them so they can be easily found. Personally, I group mine into three main categories; food and vitamins, personal care, and household and cleaning. You can add more categories if you need, such as baby or pets.

Organizing alphabetically or by expiry date will also come in handy as you'll need to keep track of which coupons you have as well as when they expire. I like organizing by expiry date within my three categories, as I generally have a good idea of which coupons I have and I can easily purge the coupons that have expired.

Finally, you'll need somewhere to store all your coupons. There are a few ways in which to do this. Whichever way you choose, I've also found that scissors, a pen and a solar calculator are perfect shopping companions! When you find a really good coupon on the package, you can buy the item, cut out the coupon in the car with the scissors, and return for another purchase. At some stores, cost per unit is calculated for you on the price sticker. Most times, I will do a calculation of the cost per unit after coupon and then add on the tax. At times like these, a calculator comes in handy. Remember that the coupon reduces the sticker price, but you still need to pay tax on the full price, if applicable.


For the beginner, it may be easiest to start out with envelopes. You can keep an envelope of coupons for products that you plan to purchase and it also doubles as a shopping list for those planned savings! You can either write out your shopping list on the outside of your envelope or use the coupons to check off your items. If you have a large number of coupons you plan to use, you can separate them into categories, one per envelope.

Accordion folder

Eventually, as you collect more coupons, they'll need a more permanent home. Vinyl accordion folders are fairly resilient to weather conditions and can easily be separated into categories. These are usually found in the stationery department of stores, and sometimes carried by dollar stores too.

Zippered bag

This one is my favourite; a repurposed pencil case, cosmetic bag, or small purse can be very handy for keeping coupons, and also likely that you already have one lying around the house. For dividers, I put heavy cardstock between each category.

Fabric coupon holder

Some of the trendier couponers use a sewn fabric holder, with built-in compartments for holding coupons. They look very professional!

Coupon binder

Not for the faint of heart, but some couponers are serious enough to have coupon binders, with trading card inserts to store their coupons. You may have seen a shopper with a binder lovingly placed in the child seat of a shopping cart.

More On This: Learn How To Create Your Own Coupon Binder From Scratch

Get Planning

Take your coupons to a store that price matches and accepts coupons. There are a few stores that will not accept coupons such as ethnic grocers, farmers market vendors, and most vendors that accept cash only. You'll want to choose a store with a convenient location, long hours, and high limits for price matching.

I like stores with long hours because I can choose a time when the cashiers are not as busy so there's less of a chance of holding up the line. One of the stores in my area advertises that they price match, but do not advertise the fact that they only price match two of any item, so that is another thing to watch out for.

Related: Planning Is The Key To Your Finances

Cashiers appreciate when you show how organized you are. Make a list and organize your price matches by flyer, grouping your items, and stacking your coupons on those items. Some couponers circle the items they are price matching with a thick black marker right on the competitor's flyer. The cashier can easily see the item, and see the matching coupon as it is scanned.

Couponing Tips

Stack Coupons With Rewards Programs

Many stores have store rewards for their loyal customers. Shoppers Drug Mart has Shoppers Optimum, Sobeys has Club Sobeys, Metro has Air Miles, Fortinos/Real Canadian Superstore/Loblaws/Zehrs have PC Plus, Target has the RedCard (a Royal Bank debit card), and Walmart has their own Mastercard. For programs that have extra cards, like Air Miles, or key tags, like Club Sobeys, I keep the extra card in the glove compartment of the car so they are not forgotten at home.

Avoid Taxes When You Can

If you have a coupon for a free, taxable item, you can use it at Shoppers Drug Mart. They have a special code in their system for free items that also includes the tax, making the item completely free! The Real Canadian Superstore, Loblaws, and Zehrs also have periodic no-tax days where they will give you a discount on your bill to counter the amount of the tax. As a bonus, these stores will also price match.

Coupons Count Towards Minimum Spending Requirements For Promotions

When I am redeeming coupons at Shoppers Drug Mart on their 20X the points days, I make a point of leaving the coupons to the end. That way, I can check to see if my subtotal meets the required minimum purchase, and then bring it down using coupons so I pay less out of pocket. You still get the points or any free gift cards, even if you don't actually pay the full amount! The exception to this rule are free product coupons as you will not earn any points or bonuses on those.

You Can Sometimes Even Make Money

Until recently, I thought "overage" was a word that was made up by a savvy couponer. At the moment, Walmart is the only place that will allow overage on items. If a product costs $4 and you have a coupon for $5 off, they will deduct the full $5 from your total, saving you an extra dollar on your purchase.

Stack Coupons When You Can

Target allows you to use a manufacturer's coupon with a store coupon on the same product. This is called "stacking" and is a great way to save on your purchases. You can use up to four of the same coupon in any transaction, so if you had four manufacturer's coupons plus four Target coupons to use on the same products, you could use eight coupons on four products!

More On This: Stacking Explained

Use Your Smartphone For Extra Discounts

You can also keep an eye out for rebates using Checkout 51 and SnapSaves. Companies want to study your shopping habits and are paying for the chance to see your shopping receipts. Once you reach a total of $20, you can request a cheque to be mailed to you.

Bring Your Own Bags And Save More

Be sure to take along reusable shopping bags to maximize your savings and to be kind to the environment. If you have PC points and pay with a PC Mastercard or debit card, they offer 10 points per reusable bag. Giant Tiger offers a $0.03 discount and Target offers a $0.05 discount per bag.

Use Couponing Websites To Find The Best Deals

If you're short on time, there are a few websites that offer coupon matchups that quickly finds you the best deals and saves you a bunch of time. For instance, Mrs. January offers weekly coupon matchups where grocery sale prices are grouped by store and category and then matched to known coupons. Links to those coupons are provided when they can be found online. Each item can also be clicked and checked off so you can print a handy check-list to bring with you so you remember all the deals and use all the right coupons.

More On This: Mrs. January Weekly Coupon Matchups

Expect setbacks

No matter how experienced you are at couponing, there will come a time when things won't go as smoothly as planned. You might experience a trip when the cashier reads the "one coupon per purchase" as one coupon per shopping trip, or when "save $1 off any" means save $1 off only products shown in the picture. Sometimes, price matching will be difficult if the words "selected varieties" are used and you have not selected the variety pictured on the coupon.

If the store is not that busy, you can ask the cashier to check with the manager, or, take the purchase to customer service and confirm the validity of the coupon there.

Just to clarify, "one coupon per purchase" means one coupon per item purchased. The wording is generally meant to exclude stacking, or the usage of more than one coupon on one product. Also, when the coupon states "save $1 off any", unless there are restrictions mentioned, it does not apply "only" to the items pictured. It really does mean "any"!

If you live in a busy, high traffic area, there may be more couponers with coupons than stock on the shelf. If you're facing an empty shelf and you're not price matching, ask if the store will issue a raincheck on the product.

Related: What To Do When A Store Is Out Of Stock

One day, I was trying to price match at a popular store. At the checkout, they denied my price match on produce because they declared that the produce in the flyer was from a different country, and therefore, lower grade than the premium quality they carried. They also would not price match time limited sales (one, two, or three day sales), even though I was there on the day the sale was valid. I happened to be at the store that I tried price matching with later in the day, and noticed that the produce was indeed from the same country, but not specified in the flyer. When I got home, I contacted head office to clarify their price matching terms.

I detailed my price match items, the prices, and the situation. In their reply, they did confirm that all my price matches were valid, and if I returned to the store and mention the head office supervisor's name, they would honour all of them. They assured me that their employees will be retrained and it was an error on their part.

How To Be Successful At Couponing

Couponing, like any other hobby or talent, takes a bit of practice. If you meant to price match, use a coupon, collect points, and pay with a rewards card, but forgot any one of those items, keep in mind that you are still saving money. Most seasoned couponers have, on occasion, forgotten their coupons at home, or neglected to bring their points card.

To be successful at couponing, try to learn from your setbacks. For instance, I remember a few cashiers who know and understand couponing terms such as "one per purchase" and I make a point to visit them when I head towards the checkout. Less hassle means both time and money saved!

Keep things simple at first. You don't have to try and give an extreme couponer a run for their money on your first trip. Even if you save just one dollar, that's a dollar saved that you otherwise would have spent.

Today, I have a respectable stockpile. It's not grand by any means. We're still able to park the car in the garage, and I do not have a mountain of BBQ sauce. However, it's nice to know that I don't have to rush to the store to buy toilet paper for $11.99 because we're down to the last roll. I try to use coupons effectively to gain that freedom.

Of course, the best part are those trips where I can price match the best sales from different stores, use coupons, collect points, and pay for it with a rewards based credit card in a single transaction. Eventually, you will too if you do your homework and keep using coupons!

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Cheeky Saver
Cheeky Saver's picture
There are a few things missing here. There are 4 stores that allow for overage on coupons. Zellers, Walmart, Giant Tiger and Sobey's. (Sobey's has to be in the west) Zellers, Walmart and Giant Tiger all price match and allow for the overage. When to use free coupons isn't as easy as not paying taxes. We can get ahead in Alberta by using these types of coupons at stores like Save On Foods on the once a month customer appreciation day. $50 worth of free coupons = $55 total worth of groceries. Coupons do only count towards your totals at some stores. At safeway your totals are calculated after coupons are applied. Knowing policy is a important key to success. Get the freebies that can be donated while you're out on a trip. I don't do it every time but I do it often. If you have local charities registered with the government of canada it is a absolute legit donation you get a receipt for. You do need to know your charities and what they will take. For example they probably won't take any medication like Advil, but mustard is ok! You get a receipt for the actual retail reasonable value not the price you paid for it. If you are going to claim it on your taxes you do need to keep records within G.O.C. requirements. Price matching competitors ads and sales are the key. Coupons are usually 15-25% of the product value. If you wait for a half price deal you have knocked down your cost by up to 75% off retail. The better the price match or sale the better the deal. Generally here in Canada we have a 2 - 3 month sales cycle. So when you are shopping for non perishables and your getting them for 10% of the retail price or less you want to get a 2 - 3 month supply. In the first while there are always so many deals to get and a trap many fall into is spending a fortune to save money. You don't have to do that. Keep reasonable limits and the first month keep your budget the same as it is now and stock up a bit. The next month you won't need to buy those things so you can reduce your budget by 10% and repeat it as you go along. What are couponers eating? Well I can say it isn't all hamburgers and hotdogs. In fact we just went months without having hamburger in the freezer because.... steak was cheaper, chicken was cheaper, pork was cheaper. We also get tons of fruits and veggies, cheese, and there always seems to be a pizza deal. We eat real food, sometimes it does include a hot dog but only great brands purchased at a fraction of the cost. I do well with coupons and you will never see me with a 4 cart shopping trip like on extreme couponers. There are only 2 of us so we don't need a lot of stuff. I am the quiet person with a half a cart of groceries. Good luck everyone. (Change anything you would like to Stephen) :)
June 07, 2014 @ 9:32 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
Thanks for all the additional detail. Knowing policies is definitely a good idea as it can certainly vary from store to store as you pointed out. You definitely want to get familiar with the policies of the stores you plan on shopping at the most. No need for any changes :)
June 07, 2014 @ 10:11 pm
Char's picture
I have an accordian binder with trading card pages. There are thousands in there. I used to get frustrated with the time spent trying to match them with flyer deals. The day that I thought to try and scan them into my computer, and store them in a categorized folder was a game changer. Now I sit in my easy boy, with my lap desk, and type the brand name in the search bar, and the computer does the looking for me. I even entered all the deals from checkout 51, snapsaves, SDM and PC Plus offers this way to, so it also helps me with stacking deals. And with the expiration dates entered into the file names, when I have to purge expired coupons, they are quickly found by searching by date! :)
June 08, 2014 @ 12:42 am
sherri's picture
The VERY easiest way to pricematch is to use the FLIPP app on your app and saves TONNES of time! The cashiers love that I can find it instantly and the date is right there to see. I use a small photo album with the covers ripped off and it fits in my purse. (like this one Couponing is work, but there is a game theory to it, so it feels more rewarding!
June 08, 2014 @ 1:15 am

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