How To Coupon 101: For Beginners

The most common comment on my social media platforms and private messages are “I feel so overwhelmed and I want to start couponing but I don’t know how to get started”. Justifiably, people feel intimidated because there’s so much information to be learned with coupons. I’ve accumulated so much information from couponing over these past three months and wanted to share it with you too, in this beginner’s guide. It only took me about a few weeks to get comfortable, but practice does make perfect so patience is key.

My Sunday haul on 12/6/2020 (CVS, Walmart, Kroger, Tom Thumb)

Before You Start

Before you start, I recommend looking at a comprehensive list of basic couponing terms that you should know. That being said, I’ll go over the most basic terms every couponer should know.

  • MM – Money Maker. A money maker is any amount that you make (points, money, etc) as a result of couponing.
  • Manufacturer Coupons (MFR Q/QPON) – A manufacturer coupon is a coupon that a company will send out. Coupons are found in mailers, newspapers, printed from the Internet, or found online on apps. Typically many retailers allow you to use one manufacturer coupon (either paper, print, or digital) per item/offer, depending on the coupon fine print.
  • Stacking – Many retailers allow the stacking of coupons/rebates, and each retailer may have different coupon stacking policies. You want to try to stack your coupons to get the best best for your buck.
  • Rolling – Rolling is a term where you use gift cards from retailers, rebate apps, or any sort of currency to lower your out of pocket.

Typically many retailers allow you to use one manufacturer coupon (either paper, print, or digital) per item/offer, depending on the coupon fine print.

Getting Ready To Coupon

Now that you’re understanding what all these alien-terms mean, it’s time to dip your toes in the water. You don’t have to get crazy. I started small. Once I understood the basics, I ramped up the intensity of what I was doing.

The first thing I did was to obtain newspaper inserts. Newspaper inserts are couponing booklets that are in some Sunday newspapers. Every region or local newspaper vary, but typically, they include inserts such as Proctor & Gamble (P&G), RetailMeNot (RMN), SmartSource (SS), and sometimes Unilever.

Photo of Coupon Inserts

Tip: Don’t have access to buy newspaper inserts? You can go to my Coupons portion of my website and print coupons straight off my page from home! They may not have 100% of the same coupons from the newspaper but most are similar to the newspaper.

When I first started, I lived in an apartment that had 1 insert included in our Sunday mailers. In my current apartment, I don’t receive any inserts at all. I have to manually go out and buy a newspaper at the Dollar Tree for $1 each. At Dollar Tree, people will wait in line early Sunday morning to get these newspapers that include two to four inserts. If your local Dollar Tree doesn’t sell newspapers, you can also buy them at gas stations, convenience stores, and retailers. Check your newspapers before purchasing, as some Sunday newspapers don’t have inserts.

You don’t have to go crazy and buy 3 newspapers at one time. When I started out, I only used my one I got each week. When you get more comfortable, you can start buying more.

Note: you do not need to obtain paper coupons if you do not have access to it, a printer, or don’t receive newspapers at home. You are able to coupon using only digital coupons (a great app is Dollar General!) however I personally try to have the lowest out of pocket as possible and personally only go for deals that are free or money makers for me. I find that spending $10 is too much for me which is what I would spend at Dollar General. Don’t be afraid to try Dollar General couponing!

Then, I used this coupon database that you can find from Southern Savers. I believe it may be a southern region (as I am in Texas) but it lets me know what coupons may exist for a brand or item. It helps me in planning my trips.

The most important thing is don’t overwhelm yourself!! Don’t get caught up with what everyone else is doing – just move at your own pace.


COMMON QUESTION: How do I get old newspaper coupons? – You can’t, unless you get an old newspaper from friends or family. I save my newspapers from weeks ago and then I wait to use them for a good deal. I would recommend getting one insert and working with deals that you can do.

Apps To Help You Succeed

So, you finally got your hands on an insert and you’re ready to start, but you want to make sure you really maximize your savings. How I’m able to get items for free, dirt cheap, or even make money off of it is by stacking my coupons with rebate apps. Everyone’s apps may differ depending on what stores they go to, what region they live in, and what stores are available to them, but here are my favorite apps that I use on almost a daily basis.

Many times, stores will have their own apps with coupons such as Target, Kroger, CVS, and Walgreens. I highly recommend downloading any applications of stores near you to see what store coupons they have. A good thing about store coupons is that you can usually stack them with coupons and rebate apps. My favorites are CVS, Target, and Kroger. However, I do also have Walgreens, Tom Thumb, and Sprouts in case I need them.

This list is a summarized list of what apps I use, but read more on my 5 Must Get Apps For Couponing. I go more into depth into more apps including the store apps, how to use them, the pros and cons of each app, and much more!

Ibotta, Shopkick and Fetch logos (not owned by couponlikecindy) - also rebate apps I use for couponing

Ibotta is definitely my favorite rebate app, hands down. I love that I’m able to get cash directly into my bank. How Ibotta works is by clipping the items you want to receive cashback. Then, you purchase the item and you redeem the receipt on the app. Ibotta will send you that cashback onto the app. Once you reach the $20 limit, you are able to withdraw it as a PayPal transfer, bank transfer, or even convert it to a gift card to your favorite retailer/restaurant you use. The trick with using Ibotta is finding items you can get for extremely cheap, free, and then hitting the bonuses that they give to you.

(My referral code is NJGJUPQ if you’d like to sign up. When you sign up, you can receive up to $10-$20 in bonuses after making qualified unique purchases!)

Another rebate app I thoroughly enjoy is Shopkick. Shopkick works similarly to Ibotta except you get points back for items you buy. You can redeem these points back via Paypal or gift cards.

(My referral code is YAY821676 if you’d like to sign up. When you sign up, you get 250 points ($1) back to your account.)

Another one that is extremely easy to use is Fetch. Fetch is a rebate app that lets you scan any receipt (gas, food, retailers, etc) to get cashback. Every 1000 points = $1. You can redeem your points to gift cards to places like Olive Garden, Amazon, CVS, and more.

(My referral code is FQJAH if you’d like to sign up. When you sign up, you will get 2000 points ($2).)

Lastly, I recommend downloading the Coupons.com app. It’s newer, and essentially works as a rebate app. Now, you can only still use manufacturer coupon per item but it will refund you the amount of the manufacturer coupon if you forgot a coupon at home that qualifies.

Using Coupons in Stores

Now, the next thing which is usually the hardest part is learning how to use the coupons in stores when you get them. Learning how to read the coupon’s fine print is probably the most valuable skill that you can learn. Once you really get a hang of how to properly use coupons and get familiar with the store’s couponing policies, it’ll be a piece of cake!

On each coupon, there should be coupon limits that tell you exactly how many coupons you can use for each offer/item you want. On the back, it says “Limit of One Coupon Per Purchase.” Many people get purchase confused with transaction. However, a purchase is when you are purchasing one set of that item/offer. If you are getting two of an item, and the coupon says one per purchase, then you are purchasing two items. A transaction is a culmination of your many item purchases.

Photo of couponing fine print

Above, it says “Limit One Coupon Per Purchase” and “Limit of 4 Exact Same Coupons Per Day”. There’s a limit of 4 exact same coupons because you are allowed to use up to 4 coupons in one transaction/day.

As an example, you have 3 Dr. Scholl’s products priced at $7.95. You can use 3 coupons in one transaction. Later, you return and pick up 2 more products, but you can only use one more of the same $5 off coupon. However, you also have a coupon that is $3 off Dr. Scholl’s. Although it’s the same brand, it’s not the exact same coupon so you can use both the $5 and $3 off.

I always try to read coupon fine print because coupon limits differ. As a reminder, read this page for further explanations.

Manufacturer Coupons: The Difference

Manufacturer coupons are found through the mailer, newspaper, printed from the internet, or found digitally on the apps. Usually, I’m able to tell the difference by seeing if there’s an address on the coupon or if it says “MFR” somewhere on the coupon with a photo of the brand photo.

Address portion found on a newspaper coupon that indicates it's a manufacturer coupon
Newspaper coupon

Here is an example of a digital coupon, on Target. You can see that it has a “send coupons to” address to the manufacturer. This is how the store gets reimbursed for these coupons, digital or not.

Digital manufacturer coupon example from CVS.
Digital manufacturer coupon example | CVS

The Secret To Couponing Is…

Like I said earlier, the secret is stacking coupons, rebate apps, and store sales altogether. It allows you to get the item you want off at its very cheapest. Here’s a scenario on how I come up with an item I want to get. Each store has its own coupon policy. Make sure you read over it briefly or get familiar with it.

Scenario #1

Target is having a special sale. Whenyou spend $25 on select beauty and skincare items, you get a $5 Target gift card. You have four of these printed manufactrer coupons from Maybelline.com. You also have an Ibotta rebate for $1.50 back for each foundation you use. Let’s say for the sake of it, there is a limit of 4 like coupons you can use in one transaction, a limit of 4 Ibotta rebates you can redeem on Ibotta per foundation, and you happen to have 4 coupons.

Photo of Maybelline foundation on sale at Target
Target Sale: Spend $25, Get $5 Gift Card on select Maybelline
Coupon printed from the internet (image borrowed from @ips_here from Instagram)
Photo of Ibotta rebate for my coupon scenario
Ibotta Rebate for $1.50 on Maybelline Face Product

4 Maybelline foundations at $5.99 come out to $23.96 without tax. You need to reach $25 so you add in your cart a $1.99 pack of cotton rounds that qualify for the spend $25. Your total comes out to $25.95 pre-tax.

Photo of cotton rounds in my couponing scenario
Secondary item that fits into the spend limit (cotton rounds)

So let’s do the math real quick. Your total is $25.95. There is a total of four $3 off Maybelline face product coupons ($12 total). You know that you can use a limit of 4 of the exact same type of coupon per transaction. Additionally, there is also an Ibotta rebate of $1.50 back for each Maybelline foundation you buy.

Your total at the register is $13.95 pre-tax. Then, you will receive a $5 gift card for spending $25 at Target on qualifying items. You’ll also receive $6 back from Ibotta after you submit your receipt. As a net total, your total for all of these products come out to $2.95 after rebates and cashback. And there it is – a couponing scenario!

Coming Up With Your Own Couponing Scenarios

For me personally, it was extremely difficult for me to come up with my own couponing scenarios. Why? It takes a lot of time. Around my third month in is when I finally began to find my own deals. You’ll need to understand that it’s okay to rely off others for help – I learned best by learning from others, and following what they did. I highly recommend following a few couponers that shop at stores that you like to shop at, or even Tik Tokkers that come up with video scenarios!

After awhile, you begin to see that many of the same deals roll around and sale cycles always come back around. Then, you’ll begin to start stocking up on your favorite items, free items, and so much more.

Final Piece of Advice

My most important piece of advice is to:

  • Start small. Buy items that you actually want to get for free, cheap, or items you will actually use.
  • Try to only get items that are free, or money makers.
  • Set a budget for yourself. It’s okay to not want to spend more than $10 a week.
  • The goal of couponing is to save. Even if you save $8, that $8 might be snacks, groceries, or a lunch.
  • It’s okay to be timid at the register – if anything goes wrong, politely void the transaction and always remember to be nice to cashiers. Move on with your day if it doesn’t work out. And if it doesn’t work out — don’t spend money on items you weren’t planning to buy.

I hope that helps a little!! There will be a lot more information that I’ll remember as I go on but that’ll be in future posts. If you have any further questions, please let me know and I’ll be more than happy to try to help.

HAPPY COUPONING!!

12 thoughts on “How To Coupon 101: For Beginners

  1. Hi! I loved reading this guide. I’m thinking I can really help people with couponing. I’ll be able to donate a lot more and it just seems like so much fun and a thrill! Will you please point me to Canadian couponers? A lot of the stores you mentioned aren’t in Canada which doesn’t really matter but to follow someone’s example I’d need them to be buying from Canadian stores also the apps you mentioned aren’t avail in Canada. Thanks

  2. Thanks for making this website, it helps so much!! I hope to save $$ in the future. Do you know of any other sites like the Southern Savers for other states, in the midwest area of the US?

    1. HI Kristen, as of right now I’m not sure of any similar ones for the midwest but you can use SS as a general guide for what inserts are for general areas! From what I’ve seen, inserts don’t vary *too* much 🙂

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