Are You Making These Rookie Couponing Mistakes?

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Kelly Gurnett. Kelly runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

If you’re like most PF readers, chances are you’ve dabbled in, if not dove straight into, the couponing way of life. 

It’s an easy way to shave money off the things you normally buy…but only if you’re doing it the right way. If you’re not, you may actually be costing yourself money rather than saving.

The following are several of the most common newbie couponing mistakes to avoid.

Mistake # 1 – Failing to Develop a System

A couponer is only as good as the system he or she has in place. If you really want to start saving serious bucks, it’s not as simple as clipping a few coups, heading to the store, and seeing what you can do. You need to be organized to get maximum savings.

First things first: Find a way to physically organize your coupons. Some people use accordion-style wallets with dividers in them, others use large three-ring binders filled with baseball card inserts (just the right size for coupons!) Whichever method you prefer, just make sure it does two things: 1) lets you find coupons quickly (by dividing them up by categories) and 2) lets you weed out expired coups on a regular basis (by keeping them in order of date).

You’ll also want to create a system for keeping on top of your clipping. Designate one day a week to go through the coupon inserts that come with your Sunday paper (and to search coupon sites online), as well as to compare coupons against store circulars (more on that in a moment).

Mistake # 2 – Buying Something Just Because You Have a Coupon For It

Manufacturers are smart; they don’t put out coupons from the goodness of their hearts. They put them out as a way to lure you buy their product—and it works. That’s why you, as a savvy couponer, need to be careful to make sure you’re really getting a good deal with your coupons, not just being suckered into buying something.

Let’s say you have a coupon for $1.00 off a name brand toothpaste. That may seem like a good deal, but you need to take a look at your other options. Are other name brand toothpastes on sale for less? Is the store brand (generic) toothpaste still cheaper, even after all the sales and coupons? Don’t just look to see what coupons you have in hand; look to see what item is ultimately the best deal. It may be something you don’t have a coupon for at all.

Mistake # 3 – Not Comparing Unit Prices

How do you know which item is really the best bargain, especially when different manufacturers offer different-sized packages of the same item? Look at the unit price, which most stores list on the upper corner of the item’s price tag on the shelf. (If your’s doesn’t, you may need to break out the calculator app on your phone.)

You may think the “value size” of Dish Soap A is the best bargain, but by looking at unit prices, you could discover that the smaller bottle of Dish Soap B actually works out to less cost per ounce. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting twice as much if it’s costing you twice as much to do so.

Mistake # 4 – Not Doubling Up on Your Savings

Clipping coupons is just a part of the puzzle. If you really want to maximize your savings, you need to use those coupons in combination with other bargains. When you clip your weekly inserts, also take a look at store circulars to see what sales they’re running that week. If you’ve got a $1.00 off coupon (or, the golden ticket, a Buy One Get One coupon) for an item that’s also on sale at your local pharmacy or discount store, you can stack your savings for massive gain.

Quick pro tip: You can use one manufacturer’s coupon and one store coupon on the same item. To really save, try to find items that are on sale and have a store coupon and manufacturer’s coupon.

Mistake # 5 – Leaving Your Coupons at Home

By far the most frustrating mistake (which even pros have made at times) is going through all this hard work and math, only to realize you’ve left your coupons at home. Nothing is more annoying than standing in front of a shelf and seeing your favorite shampoo on sale, only to realize you have a Buy One Get One coupon at home you could use to really rock your savings.

So, cardinal rule no. 1 is to always have your coupons with you. Whether you keep them in your car or in your purse, don’t leave home without them! And don’t think you only need to bring them when you’re specifically heading out to shop—you never know when you might visit the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, only to notice a great couponing opportunity as you leave the store. Always come armed!

How about you all? Have you made any other (or any of these mentioned above) couponing mistakes we should be wary of? 

Forewarn us in the comments!

***Photo courtesy of


  1. Great advice! I'm guilty of #3 and #5. I never used to look at unit prices until I started shopping with my husband. It's amazing how much more value you can get out of a product when you determine the per-unit cost. Since I kept leaving coupons at home, I downloaded a mobile coupon app to keep them all in my phone. I use Coupon Sherpa and it's awesome! Mostly for retailer and restaurant coupons but that's where I use discounts the most.

  2. I've done #2 and #5 before! Sometimes I get in the mode of oooo…I'm saving money that I get tricked! I've become more wary of that since and don't even bother with coupons of food that I don't usually buy. #5 I usually don't buy that item til the next trip if I can.
    My recent post Thoughtful Gifting

    • I’ve gotten sucked into the “what a great deal!” impulse buy, too. Now, I keep a list of everything we currently need. If the great deal isn’t something we already need, or something we’ll use eventually that will keep until then, it’s not worth it.
      Cordelia recently posted…QUIT: Our Little HouseMy Profile

  3. CordeliaCallsIt says:

    I need to get into the mobile apps for coupons. Keep adding on layers of savings like that, and you can really make out like a bandit!
    My recent post Link Love & Cordelia Around the Web (6/7/13)

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