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When people first start seriously getting into coupons, they make a lot of the same mistakes. You can save a lot of money by using coupons, but you can also end up with a pantry full of stuff you don’t need, or boxes of unhealthy snacks and junk that don’t do you or your family any good. Use these tips to avoid making common coupon mistakes, and learn how to go from Coupon Enthusiast to Master Shopper!
1. Don’t buy stuff your family won’t use
This is the golden rule of couponing: just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Write this rule down. Tattoo it onto your forehead if you have to. Just because you saw a coupon in the newspaper or online doesn’t mean you have to immediately go out and buy the item.
Let’s say you see a great coupon for a jumbo jar of peanut butter, but nobody in your household eats it. Are you going to buy the peanut butter? If you did, you’d be wasting money.
Yes, there’s always the story about the magic mom who convinced her entire family to love bran cereal or soy ice cream just because she found a coupon. You’re not magic. Using coupons to buy stuff your family won’t use is just wasting money, all around.
2. Don’t use coupons to fill up on junk
Everyone needs a good chocolate-chip cookie or handful of potato chips once in a while. However, if you’re using your coupons to fill your house with junk food, you aren’t doing you or your family any favors. There are times when it’s appropriate to use that great coupon for ice cream, and times when you need to say “we have enough ice cream already.”
Remember the coupon golden rule: just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Plenty of parents have gone to the junk-food extreme, feeding their kids chips and candy at every meal just because “we had a coupon!” If you want to be a Master Shopper, you need to learn how to use coupons to give your family a balanced, healthy diet — with the occasional cookie or frozen pizza thrown in, of course!
3. Organize your coupons by product and expiration date
If you don’t keep your coupons organized, you’re going to miss out on deals. There are as many methods of coupon organization as there are shoppers; some people use file folders, and some keep their coupons in an alphabetized stack in a purse pocket. Either way, you’re going to want to organize your coupons in two different ways: first, by product, and second, by expiration date.
That way, if you want to know if you have a coupon for juice boxes, it’ll be easy to find. Likewise, if you’re going to the store and you want to use every coupon that’s almost ready to expire, they’ll all be in one place.
4. Shop with a list
Unless you have a list in hand before you start shopping, you’re going to forget which items you have coupons for. Shopping lists are also essential for meal planning and making sure you buy everything you need. When you enter the store, grab one of those coupon papers by the entrance and quickly scan it to see if there are coupons for any of the items on your list. Then make sure to stick to your list while shopping, to make sure you don’t waste money on items you don’t need.
5. Don’t forget to compare the per-ounce price
Sometimes, you’ll find a coupon for a grocery staple that you think is a great deal, but there’s a cheaper version of that same staple sitting right there in the aisle, and you missed it. Always compare the per-ounce price; it’s the only way to find out if your coupon actually is the best deal, or if there’s a better deal out there.
6. Make sure all your coupons get scanned correctly
When you use a coupon, know exactly what discount you are entitled to, and make sure that discount shows up on your checkout register. Sometimes a clerk will wave a coupon over the scanner and it won’t go through, and sometimes not every eligible item gets tagged with the discounted price. Pay attention during the checkout, and don’t be afraid to ask your clerk if you don’t think you’re getting the right discounts.
If you follow these tips and avoid making common coupon mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a Master Shopper!