5 Common Coupon Mistakes

The act of using coupons has exploded across America. Although people have been using coupons for years, the popularity of shows like Extreme Couponing has helped make coupon-cutting even more popular. Everyone likes to get a good deal, and if you make the right choices and use coupons carefully, you can certainly save a lot of money.

However, the whole act of couponing can be overwhelming. Sometimes, people take on way too much at first and try to stockpile items in their pantry, or people get frustrated when they can’t go to a store and purchase $600 worth of groceries for $5 (like they see done on television). It’s easy to believe that you are getting a good deal when you use a coupon, but sometimes that isn’t the case, and you shouldn’t use a coupon if you don’t need an item in the first place. Here are five common coupon mistakes to avoid.

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1. Using too much time

Some people consider couponing a job: They save enough money by couponing that they can justify the time spent. However, serious couponing does take up a lot of time, so you need to determine how much you are comfortable spending. For many people, the first few weeks of serious couponing can take up a lot of time, but the process will take less time as you create a system. Still, you may be more comfortable just spending a little bit of time each week. In this case, you can simply cut out coupons from the newspaper, or use a coupon website. Parenting has a great list of coupon sites for moms, and you can search the Web for other sites.

If you are willing to invest a lot of time couponing each week, then that is great. But you can also start with just a few coupons each week. Karen Cordaway of U.S. News & World Report also offers suggestions for couponing in one hour each week: Look for items for specific types of products first, such as beauty products, then move on to other products when you are more comfortable. Purchasing items in season and on sale, and then freezing them, can also help you save.

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2. Buying something you don’t need

Seeing a coupon, cutting it out, and holding it in one’s hand has a specific effect on many people. It allows you to think that you are about to get a great deal. The truth is, you are only going to get a good deal if you really need the item. Don’t assume that having a coupon means you need to buy something (or multiples of the same item).

If the coupon is going to get you a great deal and you will need the item in the future, then you might want to purchase it. But if you are never going to use the item and you don’t have anyone to give it to — remember to consider donating to a charity — then you are wasting your money. Even the best deal is a waste if you are never going to use the item.

3. Not comparing prices between stores

Don’t assume that you are saving money just because you have a coupon. It’s important to check the price of the same item at several stores. If a store is generally more expensive, you might end up spending more money on the same item even when you use the coupon. It’s also important to look at store sales. If you see that a store is having a sale on that particular item soon, it can be worth waiting for that sale and then using the coupon.

You should also factor in the cost of gas. If you decide to make couponing a serious habit and you plan to regularly purchase a lot of groceries or other items, then you may find that driving to several different stores is worth the cost of gas. However, if you are driving across town to use one or two coupons at a store you normally don’t shop at and you are going to save a total of $1, you might want to rethink your plans. Also, remember to learn about each store’s individual policies — some stores will double coupons.

4. Not keeping track of your budget

The first few weeks or months of couponing are not only the most time consuming, but they can also often be the most expensive. Many people jump right into couponing and try to develop a stockpile of items to use later. While this can be an effective way to save money, it can also completely throw off your budget. Though using a few coupons each week will probably improve your budget, purchasing too many items at once can mean that you spend a lot more money than you usually do.

For people with a flexible budget, spending $200 more one week can be worth it in order to save $300 overall, but for people with a set budget, this doesn’t always work. You have to determine how flexible your budget is. Even after the initial big purchases, you might run into the same problem later when you find other items that you want to purchase multiples of.

5. Not using store loyalty cards

If you regularly shop at the same grocery store or even several stores, be sure to enroll in the store’s loyalty program if it has one. Many stores, like Kroger, send customers regular coupons. If you just want to save a little money but you don’t want to spend hours couponing each week, these programs can be a great way to do so. Some stores even send customized coupons based on what a specific customer regularly purchases. Other stores also offer fuel points for purchases, so it’s important to look into loyalty programs and sign up if your store has one.

Using coupons can be a great way to save money, as long as you avoid the above mistakes. If you are just starting out, think about how much time you want to devote to looking for coupons and comparing sales. You can always start small and increase your couponing plans in the future.

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