8 Couponing Mistakes That Tank Your Savings

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AWYYXX Multi ethnic womens hands sort cents off promotional coupons. Image shot 2002. Exact date unknown.Photographer :   Ted
My mom used to spend several hours each week clipping coupons.

She'd pile a stack of newspapers and inserts onto the kitchen table, read through the coupon sections one by one and start sheering with a pair of scissors. She used coupons every time she bought something -- groceries, household items, makeup and clothing.

But there's more to couponing than simply clipping -- it takes some tactics to make sure you're actually getting the bargain you think you are.

Take a look at these eight couponing traps people fall into that nullify their savings, and make sure you're not falling prey to any of them.

1. Buying Something Just Because It's on Sale

A great deal isn't a great deal if it's for something you'll never use. If your family hates toothpaste Brand A, it doesn't matter if you get it for half-price because it will just waste away in your medicine cabinet. If you're trying to eat healthier, it doesn't matter if those candy bars are buy one, get one free because any savings you net will be counterbalanced by the health costs of eating them. Use your common sense and only clip coupons for items you know you and your family will use.

2. Buying Way Too Much

If you have the storage space to stockpile items bought in bulk, it can be a smart idea to buy multiples of an item when it's on sale. But sometimes too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

Some items have expiration dates, and buying more than you can realistically use before they go bad is just money down the drain. It's also a bad move to buy more than you can fit into your weekly or monthly grocery budget.

If it helps, approach coupons in conjunction with a goal to increase your savings by 1 percent a month. This keeps you on track to make sure you're not spending too much.

3. Not Checking If Generic Is Cheaper

The Brand B of cereal may have a dollar-off coupon, but that doesn't mean it's the best deal. Always compare name-brand product sale prices with the prices of their generic counterparts. Oftentimes you'll find you're still better off going generic.

4. Not Reading the Fine Print

Are there any size restrictions on the coupon or limits on how many coupons you can use per transaction? What about your store's policy -- does it allow you to use coupons on sale items? Can you combine store coupons with manufacturer's coupons?

Make sure you know the right way to use your coupons or you could waste a lot of time for a deal that winds up being invalid.

5. Failing to Stack Your Savings

Always look for ways you can multiply your savings by combining them with current store promotions or rebates or by using both a store coupon and manufacturer's coupon on the same product. The savviest couponers are able to get items for free by using such combinations.

6. Not Scanning Circulars

Prepare your game plan ahead of time by reviewing store circulars before you shop. You'll be able to see which items are on sale this week, check them again your current coupon stash and calculate whether your total savings would be high enough to justify the purchase.

Waiting to check your coupons till you're standing in front of the shelves is a surefire way to miss out on some good deals -- and to fall for some not-so-good deals because you don't take the time to vet them.

7. Forgetting Your Coupons at Home

Although you should always have a list prepared for regular shopping trips, there are times when you need to run into a store for one or two items, and you never know when you might spy a great deal you'd like to take advantage of.

Always carry your full coupon binder with you, whether it's in your purse or your car, so you can seize these deals when you see them. (My mom kept a thick stash of coupons in her purse, neatly organized into categories and shuffled by expiration date.) There's nothing more frustrating than seeing a hot sale and thinking, "I know I have a coupon for that at home!"

8. Being Disorganized

If you get serious about couponing, you'll start to build up quite a stash of coupons. And if you don't find a method for keeping them organized, they'll wind up being more of a headache than a help.

Two popular couponing systems involve an accordion-style binder or a regular three-ring binder with clear baseball card inserts. Keep your coupons in groups based on type of product (produce, dairy, toiletries, etc.) and keep these groups further organized by ordering coupons according to expiration date. Every time you open your binder to put in a new batch of coupons, do a quick scan and remove any that have expired.
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