How to Find and Use Coupons to Save on Food

Knowing the Different Types of Coupons Affects Savings

Coupons
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Finding ways to save on the cost of food is an ongoing concern for many families. A lot of shoppers use coupons to offset rising food prices. However, unlike in years past, grocery coupons have branched out of the comfort of the Sunday newspaper and are now available through several different avenues.

This makes understanding the different types of coupons and how stores normally redeem each type somewhat confusing to both beginning and even some seasoned couponers.

To help simplify couponing, the following information includes easy-to-understand descriptions of the different types of coupons, where to find coupons that you want, and the different policies most often used at grocery stores when shoppers redeem coupons.

How Grocery Coupons Work

A coupon is a certificate that has a specified value when shoppers purchase specific products. Most coupons have a monetary value and can be redeemed just like cash. 

For example, a coupon offering 50 cents off a specific brand and size of dog food will be processed by a cashier just as if the shopper handed them the cash. The number one responsibility of the shopper when using coupons is to make certain they purchase the exact item displayed within the terms of the coupon.

Two Major Coupon Categories

All grocery and drugstore coupons fall under one of two major categories; manufacturer coupons or store coupons. While both types of grocery coupons may look similar in design, there are significant differences in the information printed on the coupons.

First, let's take a look at how manufacturer coupons and store coupons differ.

Manufacturer Coupons

Manufacturer coupons are distributed by the companies that make the products that are found in the aisles at stores. This type of coupon is treated similarly to cash at any store that accepts coupons.
Manufacturer coupons come in all amounts, sizes, and designs, however, over the years manufacturers and retailers have worked hand-in-hand to produce universal uniformed elements in the design of the manufacturer coupon, particularly how a coupon can be verified as legitimate by the store accepting it.

What are some of these design elements that are universal on manufacturer coupons? First, the words "Manufacturer Coupon" should be on the top of the coupon. Usage terms should be displayed on the coupon which describes how the coupon can be used, including limitations and expiration dates.

A manufacturer's address, to which a store should send the coupons in order to be reimbursed for accepting it, should be clearly printed within the terms of the coupon.

Because coupons are treated as money, most manufacturers now include 
two barcodes and up to 74 numbers that can include expiration dates, coupon identifiers, and other numeric data.

Finding Manufacturer Coupons

Manufacturer coupons can be found in a variety of places including:

Another good source for manufacturer coupons is online sites that offer printable grocery coupons. These sites work with the national manufacturers to help control and distribute the coupons.

Store Coupons

Store coupons are distributed by the stores and redemption is usually limited to the store that has issued the coupon.

For example, a shopper with an Albertson's grocery store coupon can only redeem the coupon at Albertsons. The exception to this is when a particular grocery store has a coupon policy that includes accepting a competitor's coupons. 

Stores distribute their own coupons as a way to promote products for a short span of time. While most grocery stores offer weekly coupons, shoppers can expect to see an increase in coupons over holiday weekends or when coupons are coordinated with national campaigns such as the National Football League during football season.

Coupons as Loss Leaders

Store coupons are also used as loss leaders. Loss leaders are products that stores sell at drastically reduced prices to entice shoppers into the store. The rationale for using loss leaders is that, once customers are in the store, they will purchase other items along with the loss leader.

Coupons for loss leaders may be used to sell a product with a high-dollar coupon, but in these cases, purchase of the product with a high-dollar coupon requires the customer to purchase a related product that is without a coupon is necessary. A common example of this would be a coupon for a battery-operated toothbrush that does not include the batteries. 

What Do Store Coupons Look Like?

Most store coupons will either have "Store Coupon" or the name of the store printed on the top of the coupon. Store coupons usually have specific requirements that must be met in order to activate the coupon. For example, the terms on a store coupon could require that your total purchase is over a certain dollar amount before the coupon can be used. 

Finding Store Coupons

Store coupons are distributed within the ads found in the Sunday newspaper or mid-week through direct mail. If you missed the weekly sales circulars from your favorite grocery stores, you can often view them online or pick up a copy as you enter the grocery stores.

Small neighborhood stores are known for putting clipped coupons in subdivision newsletters. You can find national store coupons online at the stores' websites or social media pages like Facebook. Mobile coupons have grown in popularity and there are many stores that now have shopping apps that include weekly coupons. 

National drugstores like Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid offer coupons online and inside their stores in the form of pamphlets or displayed on cards hung around the end-caps of store displays. Walgreens has a monthly coupon book filled with store coupons that you can pick up at the front of the store.

CVS stores have coupon dispensers that print out store coupons, whereas many grocery stores now have websites where the weekly advertisement can be viewed and coupons printed directly off the ads. Facebook is another good resource for printable store coupons.

Manufacturer Coupons With Store Names Advertised

Some manufacturer coupons confuse customers in that their information seems to present use only at a specific store. It's as if the manufacturer is advertising sales for specific stores or chains. 

Does this mean that you cannot use the coupon at other stores? No, not necessarily. Unless the words, "Redeem Only at (Store Name)" or "Good Only at (Store Name)" is printed on the coupon, you should be able to use it like any other manufacturer coupon.

Removing the Confusion About Catalina Coupons

Catalinas are coupons that print out from a small machine located near the cash registers in grocery and drug stores. The machines are preset to print coupons that correspond to specific criteria, for instance, when shoppers buy certain products or when they buy a certain amount of products from the same manufacturer.

Many times the Catalina corresponds to the purchased product that triggered it. For example, when any type of shampoo is sold, the machine could be pre-set to print a Catalina for $1 off Head and Shoulders.

Another common trigger, one that is a favorite among couponers, is when a shopper's total purchase equals a dollar amount which triggers a Catalina offering x-amount of dollars off the shopper's next purchase. Unless otherwise noted, this means the shopper can use the Catalina towards the purchase of most items including fresh fruit, meat, or vegetables.

Catalinas are like gold to extreme couponers because they are almost always a manufacturer coupon which means they can be stacked with a store coupon.

Why Is It Important to Know the Type of Coupons?

You may be wondering why you need to know if you have a manufacturer or a store coupon. You may be thinking that they all can be redeemed and there is no need to know the differences between type of coupons. While technically that is true, as you begin using coupons you will learn that the type of coupon determines how it can be redeemed.

Grocery stores usually do not allow customers to use more than one store coupon on one item. However, many stores will allow customers to use a manufacturer's coupon and a store coupon together on one item. This is one example of the coupon strategy called "stacking coupons."

For example, you have a manufacturer's coupon for $1 off Campbell's soup. You are shopping at Target, and you have two store coupons (Target printed on top) for the same soup — both for $1 off. You only want to buy one can of soup. Target will not allow you to use both your store coupons on one can of soup, but you can use the manufacturer's coupon and the Target store coupon together on one can.

Using this kind of strategy is one the ways couponers can maximize their savings on many of the grocery and drugstore items that they buy.

Combining Coupons and Sales

Retail stores do not always allow store coupons to be redeemed on items that are advertised in the weekly circulars. For example, the store may be running a buy-one-get-one-free weekly discount on soups. If you happen to have a store coupon for the same soup, many stores will not accept it, but, if you have a manufacturer's coupon for the same soup, they will accept it.

Weekly Menus, Shopping Lists, Sales and Coupons

Imagine how confusing life would be if we did not have some kind of plan to help guide us through each week. Planning out weekly menus works the same way. Not only does meal planning help keep things organized, but more importantly it opens up different ways to save and helps us to stay within a food budget.

Coming up with weekly menus tends to motivate people looking to cut cost to find recipes that are budget friendly. Instead of heading to McDonald's for a quick solution for lunch for the kids during weekends, planning out a menu with recipes as low as 50 cents per serving is possible.  

By knowing how much to buy, menus help save money and time in the kitchen by planning in advance to cook enough for leftovers that can be used for meals on busy nights. 

Comparing the weekly sales circulars at the grocery stores and finding coupons for the items on our weekly menu is another way to increase savings.

Meal planning is also essential for organizing trips to the grocery stores. Shopping without a well thought-out shopping list leads to overspending on impulse items.

Different Stores Offer Different Savings

Grocery shopping at different stores will help cut food costs. Being locked into shopping primarily at one store limits savings. For example, some stores such as Harris Teeter offer double-coupon days while other stores including Target will meet competitors' prices.

Speaking of stores that double coupons, although the practice has been discontinued at several grocery stores, there are still a lot of stores that will double coupons. That means if you have a coupon with the face value of 50 cents, some stores will double it and give $1 off the item. This is one of the best ways to use coupons for big savings.

Many of the dollar stores now accept coupons and will even stack coupons, allowing shoppers to use a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon on the same item. 

A weekly trip to CVS or Walgreens allows shoppers to use perks earned by participating in the loyalty programs that can result in free and almost free personal care products.

Shoppers can find deep discounts on bread, buns, and snacks at outlet bread stores.

By not being married to one store, shoppers can join multiple loyalty programs and receive the different saving's benefits that each store has to offer.

Shopping Habits to Watch Out For

Most of us tend to be creatures of habit, including our shopping habits. This can get in the way of finding the best prices on common items that we blindly pick up and put into the grocery cart.

Sometimes in order to get the best prices on food and non-food items from baby food and diapers to dog food, we have to shake ourselves up, break our shopping habits, and look for new ways to save, with or without coupons. Items that shoppers often buy without realizing that they may be missing savings on include:

When Grocery Coupons Equal a Bad Deal

Using grocery coupons as a way to save money can be a fun and lucrative way to approach grocery shopping. However, a common mistake couponers (new and old) make is buying items that they do not like, or do not have a use for, simply because they have a coupon. 

It helps to remember that using coupons encourages spending. To help offset the temptations, it is helpful to plan out your meals before you shop, then build a shopping list of the items you need, then match the items to sales and coupons when possible. By sticking to the shopping lists, most couponers who are feeling pulled to buy something simply because they have a coupon will walk away and buy only the items on their list.

The exception to this is when you come across a product that you will use, that is on sale, and that you can pair with a coupon. If the saving is good enough, buying the item in bulk at a great price and stockpiling it can save you money later.

Bottom Line

Deciphering the different types of coupons and how stores redeem them will become a lot easier the more you use coupons and once you get more involved in using coupon strategies to save money at the grocery store.