Coupon clipping is a common practice for those who want to save money on groceries and other goods and services they use regularly or occasionally. Like most people who use coupons, I find it useful to keep mine organized and in a location where I will be likely to remember them when they are needed. I have used coupons to save money on food and other products at the grocery store, clothing at department stores, when eating out whether at fast food or sit-down restaurants, and at events from my town’s annual Christmas market to a night of roller skating or a play at one of the local colleges or playhouses. I have even used coupons to save money on home improvement projects, which are sent to homes in my area regularly as a way to get you to try a new service provider.
Despite the obvious money-saving benefits of clipping coupons, there are also many myths about clipping coupons that can negate the benefits of this practice if you’re not careful. Here are some of the biggest coupon clipping myths that can cost you time and money.
1. You have to cut them.
Many stores now have digital coupons that are available online or through their app without ever cutting anything. Compared to 10 years ago, I cut far fewer coupons than I used to, and my coupon holder is much lighter than it used to be because most of my grocery store coupons are now digital through the store’s app.
If you just don’t want to deal with cutting coupons, you may miss out on some deals, but there are still lots you can take advantage of even without putting scissors to paper. And if you think you would use them but don’t have time or energy to cut them out, you can assign it as a chore to your kids, who may need the practice cutting anyway and will probably think it’s fun.
2. You have to cut them all.
If I know I’m not going to use a product and that even if it were free, I wouldn’t want it, I don’t cut that coupon (or select it on the app). However, there may be unexpected deals on things I don’t normally buy but would use, so I do sometimes clip coupons that are long shot possibilities (and I end up throwing most of them away later).
If you don’t’ mind cutting them all, you can donate the coupons you don’t use to a local coupon swap (my public library has one) or to a military charity, which distributes them to military families to help them stretch their grocery dollar. Military families that live on or near base overseas can actually use coupons expired up to six months at military commissaries, so once they expire unused you can give them away and they can still get used.
3. You have to shop at a physical store.
Other than some grocery delivery services (Walmart, for instance), there are many electronic coupons available that you can use when shopping online. In many cases, this can cover the cost of shipping and more, if the site charges shipping. I never buy anything online without doing a Google search to check for coupons that might save me money on my purchase.
At Naked Zebra, a site that sells women’s clothing, for example, there are coupon codes that come up right on the homepage to save a percentage when you spend a certain amount of money. You can also search “Naked Zebra coupon code” to find other codes ranging from 20 percent to 50 percent off certain items or purchase amounts.
It’s best to stick to sites with names you recognize like RetailMeNot or CouponCabin because there are a few coupon sites that contain malware or may try to install toolbars on your computer without your permission. You can also use a service like Honey to find coupons and discounts automatically without having to search as well as earn cash back for purchases you make. If you don’t want to add a browser extension to your setup, be sure to use Ebates or Swagbucks to get cash back for online purchases, which can save you even more, though technically these are not coupons.
4. You have to know about coupons ahead of time.
While it might seem impossible to use a coupon that you don’t even know about, there have been times I have done just that by asking the cashier or other store employee whether there were any available coupons for the products I am buying. Cashiers often have copies of common coupons available at the checkout in case a customer’s coupon doesn’t work, and if you ask politely, they will scan their copy for you so you can get the discount. I do this often at craft stores and have even gotten grocery store cashiers to scan coupons from the weekly flyer for me sometimes.
There are also online apps–Ibotta is one–that allow you to scan your receipts and save money on products you have already bought. And while it might save you more money to look at what deals you can get money back on ahead of time, you can often still save something even if you don’t do that.
5. You always save money using coupons.
Back when I used to clip coupons on a weekly basis and use them a lot more than I do now, I realized that the shopping trips where I had the most coupons were also the ones where I spent the most money. Sometimes that was because I bought more items to satisfy a minimum purchase requirement or because I was buying items that I didn’t normally buy without coupons (even though I did use them). But sometimes it was because I saw some really good deals and had to have them, even though I didn’t really need the items.
Couponing does have the potential to get you to buy items you wouldn’t normally buy and may not even use–that’s part of the reason manufacturers offer them in the first place. While you probably won’t be perfect about only using them for things you would buy anyway or that you will make good use of, if you think about it ahead of time and plan carefully with a list, you should be able to avoid most instances of overspending.
And of course, unless you are loyal to a particular brand or product, you will want to compare the cost of an item after the coupon is used to the price of other brands. Some might be on sale for less than the coupon item, even after the coupon is used.
6. You can be an extreme couponer.
You might have seen the extreme couponing TV shows and been wowed by how much stuff the participants were able to get for a minimal amount of money. You may have even wondered if you could do the same thing and stock your pantry with free or nearly free stuff.
But before you get a huge binder and start hoarding coupons, you should know that it’s unlikely that you could do what these people did on TV. In many cases, the stores didn’t even follow their own policies for these televised shopping trips, which were specially orchestrated to reach the desired bottom line. Also, it has been shown that the shoppers were often using counterfeit coupons for these shows.
While you can use multiple coupons to stock up when there are exceptional deals, it is also unlikely that you could (legally) get dozens of coupons for the same item, since buying coupons is illegal and even online sites have limits on how many you can print out (usually 1 or 2).
7. You can’t use a coupon that makes an item free or gives you money back.
There are several ways to get free items with coupons or even get money back on a particular item. Couponers call items that are better than free “moneymakers,” and they happen more often than you might think. One way this happens is with double coupons, which combined with a sale, may end up giving you $1.00 off an item that only cost 75 or 99 cents, for example. Of course, a store is not going to give you money back–you have to apply your overage to other items during your shopping trip. But usually, you find plenty of items to “buy” with the leftover money.
Another way to get money back is to use reward programs at most drugstores, which can be combined with coupons to give you free or slightly better than free items. Usually, you don’t have to worry about using the overage in the same shopping trip in this case because you end up with coupons to use on the next trip as part of the transaction.
Some store checkout systems are set up to catch these overages and adjust the coupon amount automatically to the price of the item, so you can’t make an overage. But most stores do allow it.
I personally think it’s fun to use coupons, although I used them more when I was a stay-at-home mom with little kids and had more time to find, clip and organize them. I still get a little thrill looking at my grocery receipt or applying an online discount to my order and seeing that I saved a few bucks, even if it happens less now than it used to.