Five Couponing Mistakes I Made As a Newbie

There has been a lot of rumblings from within the couponing community about the influx of new couponers on the scene since the airing of TLC’s Extreme Couponing TV show. Folks are talking about how all the “newbies” are grabbing all of the deals, stealing coupons, clearing shelves and these actions are causing stores nationwide to change their policies. A lot of my longtime friends who have been couponing way before the Extreme Couponing TV show became so famous are telling me that they are laying low, flying under the radar, and not couponing as much because of the negative association surrounding those “extreme couponers”. For the most part I tend to agree with them that the times they are changing in the coupon world as we know it.

Has there been an influx of new couponers in the past few months? Sure, there has. However this is not the biggest influx of new couponers I have seen. HotCouponWorld has been around online now for 5 years and like any good website we track our traffic, and to be honest with you there were double the amount of new people interested in learning how to coupon in 2008 as our economy took a dump than there has been in 2010-2011. I think however that the difference is that this time around this group of new couponers has a visual to go off of just what couponing is and how it is done from watching the TV show. Is that visual that they are getting always a correct one? Not necessarily, as we have seen in the one case of one of the gals who appeared on the show and admitted to committing coupon fraud. But does that mean that all newbies are going to do the same? Not if we reach out to them and try to teach them the correct ways of how couponing works. Like it or not, the media has branded all couponers as either “normal” (uses one or two coupons) or “extreme” (uses more than a few coupons). I don’t particularly care to be called an extreme couponer, but the fact is, that is the way the world now perceives us, so I guess I either need to give up on my couponing and pay full price (GASP!) or embrace it and do my very best to teach new couponers how to go about this the right way.

I tell my couponing friends when they are complaining about the influx of coupon newbies is to remind them that we were all new at this at one point at a time and that everyone makes mistakes. I think that the benefit of being a member of an online community such as HotCouponWorld however is that we can hopefully learn from the mistakes of others. I know I made my fair share of mistakes when I was new to using coupons. So I thought I would share them so that if you are new too you can learn from my mistakes.

I fully admit to doing the following when I was a new couponer:

Copying Coupons

When I first stumbled upon couponing as a way to save money I had never in my life heard of a printable coupon. I think they were either a relatively new thing at the time, or I lived under a rock. Either way I was all jazzed to find these instant coupons right at my fingertips, I didn’t have to wait to get the coupons I needed in my Sunday paper or in the mail or find them in the stores. And then I saw that they key to couponing was to get multiple coupons and start a stockpile so naturally I thought that meant that I could make copies of printable coupons, take them to the store and voila I was a new coupon queen! It did not take long however for me to learn that this was a big no-no and not allowed. So I stopped, felt really bad and moved on. Plus I was wasting a lot of ink and paper.

Decoding Coupons

Yep, I dabbled in this too when I was first new. Be gentle. When I first started couponing I would see these posts on the forums about how you should not or could not talk about decoding coupons and like most curious humans I had to find out what the heck everyone was talking about (or not talking about as the case may be). So I started searching out what this coupon decoding stuff was all about. At the time there was a website that was dedicated to talking about how to decode coupons, so I joined and read and learned how it was done. How at some stores you could use coupons that were issued for one item on another item within that family of products. It was interesting information, so I gave it a try. I used a high value coupon for a teeth whitener product on diapers. I was a mom with three kids in diapers and we were broke as a joke. And of course the people on that site (I don’t even know if that site is still around or not….oh wait I just checked and it is…dead as a doornail…I won’t be linking to it) had all these great reasons and justifications as to why this was an OK practice. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker and it worked. One store would allow me to decode coupons on the wrong item, and the other two stores would not. I did this for a few months, buying diapers using the wrong coupons, always sneaking the coupons through at the self-check-out registers. This was totally wrong, unethical and the bad part was that I knew it was. That little voice in my head kept whispering that “this is wrong” and I ignored it. I did not stop decoding coupons till I read a post on the same forum that taught how to decode coupons about a lady that was arrested for decoding coupons. It was not worth going to jail over some dumb coupons or saving a few bucks on diapers. I had 5 kids to think of and no amount of saving money was more important than risking losing the most important things in my life, my family. Call it Karma or God or whatever, but right after I stopped buying diapers using the wrong coupons, I found an amazing deal on diapers and was able to stockpile 2 years of diapers for 3 kids at something like $2.50 a pack.

Bought the wrong item or did not read the fine print

I think this happens to most couponers at some point in time or another. You are excited to find a deal in the store, you rifle through you coupon binder or box to see if you have a coupon for the product, are excited to see that you have a coupon, you hand the coupon over to the cashier only to find out later that there was a size restriction on the coupon, you bought the wrong flavor, it was not the “New” product the coupon was good for or you otherwise overlooked some teeny tiny fine print on the coupon. I classify this as an honest mistake. It is my job as a user of coupons to take the time to read all of the fine print on the coupons and buy the right product. It happens, it happened to me just a few months ago when the P&G insert coupons started to put the wording “Limit 4 like coupons per transaction”, I knew it was there, but totally forgot about it till I got “caught” at the register…it was embarrassing.

Cleared the shelves

While the notion of shelf clearing can be a hot topic and really there are a lot of variables that come into play. For example if there is only 2 items on the shelf and you go in and take the last two are you a “shelf clearer”? Or what if you go shopping at one of the drug stores like Walgreens who are notorious for never having a lot of product in stock to begin with, you go in and they only have room on the shelf for 5 bottles of shampoo and you buy all 5 bottles they have are you clearing the shelves? Well technically you are, and some will argue that it is not your fault if there is not sufficient stock for everyone to get the deals. And there is truth to that. However when I am talking about shelf clearing and how it was a mistake, I mean going into a fully stocked grocery store where there are 20, 30, 40, 50, 100 or more items on the shelves and I go in with a big fat wad of coupons and buy every last box, bag or bottle they have so that I can stockpile it. It used to be that I would totally do this. I could justify it in my mind, my reasoning was that I lived in a small town and there were not any other real couponers, I had a large family and needed 100 boxes of brownie mix darn it! I had to build my stockpile at any cost. I was in the store as soon as I could get in there the first day of the sale. And I had my coupons and I was ready…BRING-IT-ON! I soon realized a couple of things, I did not need 100 boxes of brownie mix, and even if there was something that I did think my family could use a lot of like cereal I did not necessarily need to buy it all in one fell swoop. I learned that the deals will come around again. If my family eats 2 boxes of cereal a week and my goal is to have a year’s supply of cereal in my stockpile that I need 104 boxes of cereal, but cereal comes on sale usually about every 4-6 weeks. So I could buy 20 boxes of cereal now and 20 boxes in a few weeks and I would be just fine (plus I would end up with a better assortment of flavors of cereal). I did not need to buy crap just because I had a coupon, or buy junk my family would not eat or buy just to donate. So now I usually wait till the last day or the day before the last day of the sale to do my coupon shopping. That gives everyone else in town plenty of time to get the deals, and then I feel no guilt for getting my extra stockpile buying of cereal or brownie mix. And if by chance some of the things I wanted to get are gone when I go shopping, I get a rain check (gives me a chance to get more coupons) or pass up on the deal. Not the end of the world. Oh and clearance…that is free game.

Became coupon obsessed

Couponing is the only hobby that I am aware of that saves you money. And like other hobbies it is really easy to let it take over your life and time. I think most of us know someone who has taken up a fun little hobby like scrapbooking and before you know it they are into it deep with a whole scrapbooking room, tons of money invested in tools and supplies, countless hours researching online cute layouts. Before too long you cannot have a conversation with that person without the topic of scrapbooking coming up. Soon the house is wreck, the kids are wanting for attention and the husband is looking for some affection. I have totally been there and done that. There is a rush and excitement over finding a great deal, sharing that deal online with your coupon friends, having a stockpile of items that you got dirt cheap and admiring the shelves of canned goods all neat and tidy in your garage or basement. It is not healthy…couponing should be a fun hobby and not an obsession. I actually think that the show “Extreme Couponing” should really be renamed “Obsessed Couponing” because I think that many of those featured on the show might still in the “I am coupon obsessed” phase. I think after you have been doing this for a longer period of time you kind of get over it, it is fun, you save money, but there are more important things in life than getting MORE free toothpaste. People matter more than stuff…even stuff that was free after coupon.

If you are new to couponing you are probably really excited and jazzed and want to learn how you too can save tons of money using coupons, and you can! However it takes time to learn and collect coupons and build your stockpile. You will make mistakes, but many of them can be avoided by learning from the mistakes of others, learning how to do it the right way and taking your time. Couponing is a marathon, not a race.

Let the stoning begin…


  1. Sarah says

    Thanks for the blog. I have made the mistake of misreading a coupon. I’m proud of my stockpile, but honestly, while I DO watch it, I think Extreme Couponing is extremely misleading and doing more harm than good. It’s great to have real couponers like yourself out there!

  2. heather mc says

    I had to giggle at “let the stoning begin…”

    I posted a blog today where I kinda said the same thing except it was about my shopping list food choices lol.

  3. Sal987 says

    Great article! There better not be any stoning! lol Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am sure that your story and your advice will be helpful to everyone who reads it.

  4. Sarah says

    The wording one…is the one that I will claim too. Still occasionally particular because either manufacture’s are idiots and add all sorts of crazy requirements to a coupon and you have no idea about til later or they assume you have know when purchasing a product that when it says $5.00/1 on any xyz bla bla bla product. That I will realize that not every product of there says xyz. Sorry you lost me at ANY bla bla bla. I didn’t even see the xyz part. Sometimes I’d rather they just exclude what they don’t want me to purchase. Makes my life easier.

  5. $Saving! says

    I started serious couponing almost 30 years ago, long before the internet, printables, websites etc.

    It was just inserts and RARE tear pad coupons matching up with store deals. Of course, back then refunding was huge, you saved all the “proof of purchase” upc codes and other special “proof of purchase” markings on packages and there were plenty of tear pads in stores. Mostly for cash back on purchases, but free items too, including more product or shirts, watches, hair accessories etc.

    What have I been guilty of? Not reading the coupon well enough, still do that from time to time and fortunately now, the registers will beep and the cashier gently tells me I screwed up!

  6. Scared2SaveInCT says

    OMG – I’ve been couponing since I got married in college in 1982. Like $Saving said… times have changed (I remember there being “No Expiration” on many coupons!!!)

    But I went into a warehouse store a couple days ago and was approached by an associate who questioned me at length about my couponing practices (I will never carry my binder with me again). She regaled me with horror stories of “extreme couponers” coming in to “rip off” the store. (She wanted to know if I was one of “them.”)

    I assured her I was not trying to “beat the system” – just trying to save some money during these tough economic times. I promised I would only buy products that I use (I only stockpile on a limited basis), and I assured her that I also find the TLC show offensive. SERIOUSLY – after 45 minutes she finally let me continue shopping – I could NOT shake her. (Another customer asked her a question and I raised to another aisle, but she tracked me down.)

    At the register I find that I have to defend each coupon. (Of course – New England attitude are an acquired taste – and prices are high) ; )

    It’s nice that the show has raised awareness of saving money – but I don’t like having to apologize for using coupons.

  7. Monica says

    Thanks for the honesty. I think sometimes it’s nice to know that someone else has been there. I have been guilty of some these things at one time or another, for me I decoded once when the store didn’t carry the exact version of the product that was listed so I justified it to myself by saying, ” Well, I would get the right product if they carried it…” If you feel like garbage afterwards though, guess what, it wasn’t worth the deal! I am learning what I can live with and what I can’t. I can justify getting up an hour earlier to get a free bottle of listerine but I can’t justify getting everyone else’s bottle, too. I have definitely lived the coupon obsession thing where I am scrolling through a coupon blog on the toilet – okay, that’s right now. Good to know someone understands that and that the giddiness fades with time.

  8. Misty says

    I agree that the show has the wrong name. But I have been thinking more along the lines of “Hording in Disguise”.

  9. Desi says

    I love your honesty. I am one of the newbies. I was intrigued by these shows. Being a single mom, you see show’s like this and go WOW I NEED that kind of savings. I did my research and realized that there is so much more to couponing, and buying cart fulls of candy bars wasn’t on my list of things to do anyways lol! My point is, like you said, we all started somewhere. I always feel like it’s hard to ask questions as a newbie and the one’s who have been couponing for years are reluctant to share with you because the know where you came from. “Extreme Couponing”!
    so no matter how/why we all got here, here we are! Ready to save some money:) Oh and p.s. my apartment is WAY too small to stockpile ;) Thanks again, I loved your “confessional” !

  10. Betty says

    I agree Extreme Couponing is causing lots of problems for the normal coupon shopper. I have only watched most of one of their shows and a few of the YouTube videos. The main thing I wish they would stress is that having a stockpile does not happen overnight. It takes time to aquire a nice stockpile.

  11. Bridgette says

    I hate the label that extreme couponing has stuck frugal people with. I don’t stockpile but do have a 2in binder for my coupons, the more organized i am the more likely iam to get the deal. I get the stares the comments and the grillings. I have even had store employees follow and question me. When this gets to a point i feel like im being stalked i turn politely ask for a General Manager(yes the big guy/girl). Then i explain what is happening and request to know why. The manager is generally horrified. If i do not get the help i need i ask for the area managers number and file a complaint. Just because we use coupons does not mean that we above any customer must justify our purchases.

  12. Sherry says

    I just graduated from a small box for my coupons to a large zipper binder. With four kids in our house ages 12 to 16 months I have a variety of items I need coupons for. I have never been harrassed in stores but I have been questioned many times about my organization. For me, it’s my “me time.” I do go dumpster diving in recyling bins once a week but I like to call it “Coupon Cruising.” I do NOT get insde the recycling bins. I share the coupons with family members and people in my church. It’s fun for me but I think the show has shown it to an extreme and the expectations for new couponers can be overwhelming. I used to cut out every coupon with the idea I would “trade” it. Now, I cut out coupons I know can be used. If I cut out a coupon for someone else I have a rule to deliver those coupons within a week otherwise my intentions were not well directed and now that person has an almost expired coupon.

  13. CeCe says

    I really enjoyed your article and your honesty. I also really hate the Extreme Couponing shows. I have quit watching because they make my blood pressure go up. Hopefully their ratings will tank and they will be off the air soon.

  14. megscole64 says

    You forgot one…taking ALL the tear pad coupons. I take one or two, sometimes five if there’s a whole huge pack. But there are people who take the entire pad. Not cool.

    What about peelies? I still take some peelies even if I don’t buy that item right that moment. Generally it’s an item I know I can get cheaper somewhere else so I’m still buying the item and using the coupon. Thoughts?

  15. Jen says

    Thank you for the great article. I’m 22 now, and I began couponing in my first year of college when I was 18. Over the next year or so I got better at couponing (thanks hotcoupon world!), learning to match coupons with sales. Since I live in a small college town, there are only three grocery stores and none of them double coupons- still, to this day, I have never had any of those “proud couponing moments” at the grocery store lol. What I was able to do, however, was create what I call a stockpile (not really others ideas of a stockpile) of toothpaste, body wash, toiletries, etc. that were mostly free using walgreens register rewards and coupons. This soon became an obsession!!! Everytime I scored a free toothpaste, it was so exciting lol! All my friends made fun of me but I didn’t care because I was saving money while they paid full price for those items. Then it seemed as though every time I used a coupon I got interrogated like I had stolen something. And believe me, I was not one of those crazy couponers, just a few here and there. All of a sudden, everytime I used a coupon, the manager had to be called or the cashier didn’t understand the coupon and held up the line. So I gradually began to coupon less and less, now I rarely do. It’s just my worth the hassle for me. If it would help lower my grocery bill, I’d be more likely to coupon more but not for shampoo. I still check out the walgreens ad every week, and I am still thrilled when I get a bargain, I’ve just learned not to be so obsessed. I mean I was spending HOURS a day surfing the web for deals. Now that Extreme Couponing has aired, my friends who used to laugh at my “cheapness” are telling me they wish they could get into extreme couponing, and I have to tell them, it is just not practical. That show is why cashiers hate us regular couponers now lol! Currently, I’m still working on using up my stockpile of Shampoo, deodorant, and stuff, but I’m not sure if I’ll go back to my obsesse ways when it’s gone! Thanks again for the article!

  16. marlene molinaro says

    What a great article and you did some soul searching for this one. Single Mom here and I have been couponing for 4 years. The newbees are out of control but as you said we all were there at one time. I have not only noticed a switch in store policies but the coupons themselves are changing and the availability of them. As all reality shows are trying to attract viewers, Extreme Couponing as all reality shows go over the edge. The show attracts people who do not coupon and when they get bit by the bug a NEWBEE is born. I watched it 1 time an a consumer purchased 72 Yellow Mustards. I was histerical. She was stock piling for Aramagedon. That is not couponing. She better buy lots of hotdogs and hot pretzels to go with that much mustard.
    Any who – thank you for this webpage as I use it weekly to help my couponing. I try to teach my friends who are also single Moms, single Dads and when someone in the household loses their job. Lesson: Do unto others as you want them to do unto you. It is better to give. Create some good Karma.

  17. tacatcon says

    @megscole64 Personally, I don’t have an issue with taking a peelie (but watch for the ones that say “not valid unless removed by cashier) and using it later. Because a lot of those peelies will never be redeemed by the person who isn’t a couponer and grabs that item off the shelf at full price instead of waiting for a sale. But just like with tearpads or blinkies- one or two, not all the peelies! ;)

  18. Karen M. says

    I truly agree with everything you have said. I have been there and done that. I have been couponing now for a few years and at first it was so much fun trying to find the best deals. I also did those little bad things you mentioned and it’s not worth it and I also felt guilty so I stopped. Sometimes I still make mistakes on reading the coupons limits for products. Now that I am no longer a newbie couponer, I’ve kinda lost interest in finding the greatest deals. I still buy groceries every week but I DO NOT pay full price and still use alot of coupons just not as many as I used to. I used to go to 5 different stores just to get things free but now I’ve limited it to only 3 places and save gas not going to the other 2, I can price match it at Wal-Mart!!

  19. Kevin says

    I am a newbie. And, I also admit that I came into couponing because of the ‘Extreme Couponig’ show. BUT, I saw those profiled on the show as being a bit wacky, egotistical and in some cases, shallow. What I took away from the show was the power of saving significant money using coupons. I used to be one of those people who thought that going to Costco and buying in bulk was really saving us money. But, now I realize that with a little work, I can get just as many items, but pay a lot less for them, by using coupons. So, an article like this blog post is helpful to me as I become more proficient as using coupons. I don’t want to be profiled on ‘Extreme Couponing’, but I do want to maximize my grocery savings by using coupons – within the letter of the rules.

  20. Alison says

    I love couponing and I am so glad that I found it 2 1/2 years ago when I had my son. I went in looking for a good deal on diapers (sounds like a similar story) and figured that I would save a few bucks but it has changed my life. I was able to save enough money and get our grocery/household spending down to $150 so that I could stay home full time with my son. I have to say that if a store is not great with coupons then I move on to another. I went to Safeway and they were horrible so I talked to the manager who was also horrible so I don’t go there anymore (Same thing with Walgreens). I drive past two other Rite Aids to the one that is nice and appreciates the business which I know because the manager tells me that. We also talked and he is using coupons too. I LOVE Harris Teeter and their support of the couponers with a great coupon policy only letting you use three coupons for the same item (no shelf clearning). I think that the store makes all the difference and if they aren’t nice then take your business to another store. There are certainly deals all over town and I am sure that other stores will appreciate the business in these tough economic times. I try to have a thick skin but it is hard to fight with cashiers or managers just to get a good deal. I follow the coupon policies of the store and I hope that means that other people are too (even though I know it isn’t true always) but as my mother taught me just because they are doing it doesn’t make it right :) Mistakes happen and just because the coupon said you were only suposed to buy brown cookies and you came home with pink, it was an honest mistake and everyone makes them. Thanks for the post and I hope it helps a lot of people do the right thing.

  21. Stephanie says

    Great article! I’ve been couponing for 30 years, since I was just out of college. I started with an envelope and about 4 coupons (back in the day they were usually for 25 cents or so!) and today I have a durable coupon organizer that is overflowing and needs serious dumping of expired coupons, too many duplicatesand stuff I’ll never buy. I wouldn’t call my self an extreme couponer, though others might. For me, it’s a serious financial necessity as I am not working (yet) due to recent surgeries and the like. I think if I added up the savings I’ve realized from coupons and sale offers I probably have added (or rather, kept from losing)at least twice as much household income as I could make as a stringer for our local paper (I’m a writer/editor by trade and skill).
    For example, a recent trip to CVS during which I purchased only household or personal care necessities, my pre-sales and cou[pon savings total was $97.52. After factoring in the sales savings, it dropped to $ 51.85. After coupons——$18.97!!!! And all coupons were used properly and were not expired! I may have the receipt framed . . .

  22. diana says

    this is so true i feel like i’m waiting for the bubble to burst and it can go back like it was and i know i’m not alone other people i know that are couponers wish the same thing its very frustrating for us that have done it a while.

    • says

      Hi Diana, thanks for stopping by. I think there are a lot of us who are waiting for the bubble to burst too so we can get back to our regularly scheduled couponing. I have even had times where I just skipped shopping because I didn’t want to field questions about the show and if I was one of “those couponers”.

  23. paula says

    love this … feel the same way. lookign to cut cost as much as possible and coupons is one great way of doing it. But I am not going to extreme like buying 100 boxes of brownie mix…..i do like to get things cheap but still good for us…..biggest shopping savings so far was 77.00 off total grocery bill…i am happy with that.

  24. De says

    What a great reminder of what we do and how we (many of us) got here. I haven’t ever been a shelf clearer or crazy person with my coupons but I will not leave the house without my binder. I don’t care if people look and roll their eyes (and many do) – who are they to judge? I’m happy to save what I can and do the best that I can all the while being a good couponer : )

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