Your eagerness is your biggest enemy when you first begin to learn how to coupon. The first major mistake many people make when couponing is that they try to begin without practicing. As mentioned earlier, you would never go out and play tennis and assume that you were going to be good at it before practicing, but couponing seems so easy and straight forwarded that most of us assume that it will be. I know because I have made that mistake in the past. The key to getting the most out of couponing is to begin slow, practice, practice and then practice a bit more.

Resist the temptation to begin shopping with coupons to try and get the best deals you can for yourself from day one. The reason is that although you will immediately see some savings to your grocery store bills, you will actually end up taking a much longer time learning how to coupon the best way possible. Instead, put aside the first month as your “practice period” where you become familiar with how coupons work and to do some test runs to see if things work the way that you anticipate they will.

This is where the $20 I mentioned you will need comes in to play. Consider this $20 your tuition for this guide to learn how to coupon. With the $20 your goal is to get the most amount of food that you possibly can and donate it to your local food bank. While this may at first seem like a strange way to learn couponing and you think that starting off couponing with your regular grocery shopping would be more efficient, there are some very good reasons this will help you in the long run.

I did not start couponing for myself and looking back, this was probably one of the best decisions I could have ever made. I had tried couponing at various times over the years for myself and always failed miserably (mainly because I did it how I thought it should be done rather than how it actually should be done). Couponing for your local food bank will help you learn the essentials for couponing much more quickly and make it much easier to incorporate what you learn into your own shopping. Here are a few reasons why I suggest that you begin this way:

Takes Off Pressure: If you are already on a limited food budget, one of the worst feelings in the world is trying to coupon to save money and making a mistake that causes you to lose money out of your food fund. Coupon mistakes are going to happen. It is part of the learning process. It’s important to realise right now that they are going to have some. They still happen to me to this day. By putting aside $20 from your charity fund to use to practice the coupon basics that you are learning, it doesn’t matter as much if you make a mistake. It is much easier to realise it is a learning experience when the money has been placed aside for just that purpose rather than it being an essential part of your food budget.

Focus: By taking $20 to use for food banks, you now have put in place a very narrow focus. You are trying to get the most that you can for that $20. You don’t have to worry about whether the kids are going to like the food or coming up with a recipe that incorporates what you buy. Your focus is on couponing and not on all the other things that can come into play when grocery shopping.

Best Deals: This is by far the best way to learn the basics for getting the best deals. The goal is to get as much as you can for your local food bank for that $20. Since you have limited funds, it means that you should have to think every purchase you are considering and how you can get the most out of that $20. Think of it as a game where you are trying to work the $20 to get the highest score possible with the final score being the retail value of the food that you buy for that $20. When you are shopping for yourself, it is much easier to compromise and pay more for something because it’s for you or you want it even though it might not be the best price.

Anything Is Game: One of the most difficult concepts for people to comprehend with couponing is that you will be buying a lot of things you don’t want or need in order to get the things that you do want and need (I will go into much more detail about this later). When you are buying for your local food bank, it doesn’t matter if you like the product or if you need it. Someone at the food bank will need and want it so everything is fair game. It is much easier to grasp this concept when you have already purchased things that you don’t need for others than trying to do it for yourself for the first time.

Small Transactions: Because you only have $20, you will likely be purchasing things with coupons in small amounts rather than a full shopping cart. This is essential to seeing if the couponing really works the way that you anticipate it will. It is easy to see when the purchase is small if it went as planned — and if it didn’t, what went differently than expected. It isn’t easy to see this when the deal is lumped in with a bunch of other purchases on a regular grocery shopping trip.

Confidence: The first time you coupon, you are going to be nervous. Seriously nervous. My hands were shaking the first time I did a deal. My heart was beating so hard that I could feel it. I wondered if it would really work. I wondered how the cashier would react. You will know exactly what I am talking about the first time you decide to try a couponing run where you are getting things for free or practically nothing. By doing a lot of smaller transactions where you are getting the best deals that you can, you will build up your confidence which will be essential when you graduate onto more complicated deals and bigger shopping runs.

Practice, Practice, Practice: Like almost everything else in life, the more you practice, the better you will get. You want to have as much practice under your belt when you begin to coupon for yourself so that you can get the deals out there with a minimum of extra effort or time, and with as few surprises as possible.

Giving To Others Is Infectious: I’m not going to lie. I have a very selfish reason beyond the benefits to you. I hope that when you practice and buy these things for your local food bank, it will inspire you to continue to do so when you are buying food for yourself using the methods you learn here so that you can help me reach the goal I have of donating $1 million worth of food to local food banks. When you realise how much more food you can buy while spending significantly less than you have been, it is my hope that you decide it is worthwhile to share your windfall with others.

To recap, set aside $20 and the first month to practice what you learn here to try and get the most that you can for your local food bank if you want to learn how to most effectively coupon. If you can resist the temptation to jump right in, you should be in a much more confident and have a better understanding of what you can accomplish by doing this than if you start from day one couponing for yourself.

Please feel free to ask any questions that you may have and I will do my best to answer them. This post is part of the Lazy Couponing series. If you have none, you can move on to the next step of Collecting Sunday Newspaper Inserts

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  1. I’ve been avidly couponing for more than a year now, and still get a bit nervous sometimes, especially at stores where I’ve encountered “issues” of one type or another in the past. But it’s still fun to accomplish a great deal 🙂

  2. I have been couponing for about 3 weeks because I’ve been inspired by what you’re doing. I’m so excited that you’re doing this how to guide. I know there’s a lot I can learn from you! Thanks!!!

  3. I am a coupon skeptic but I am with you so far. I am willing to be proven wrong. 🙂 I’ll be sticking with this step by step.

    Thank you!

  4. This is really really smart, Jeffrey. The $20 tuition idea is a great way to get rid of a lot of the obstacles to getting good at this.

  5. I love this idea and will be sharing your site with the couponing class I’m teaching at the local food bank this weekend. We definitely focus on changing how the individuals shop and how to incorporate coupons into this change of thinking. We hope that by doing this we not only help them out but in return hope they consider helping the food pantry out with any excess they get. Keep up the great work!

  6. I am glad you are doing this step by step guide. Although I have been doing this for a few weeks now and have had some success, I am always ready to learn more!! I don’t get nervous at the CVS any more. The sales clerks in there enjoy the couponing game as much as the people coming in to get the good deals!!

  7. This is so cool. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks, after reading your blog from start to finish, and I’m just starting to get good at it. I’ve been donating lots of interesting items to the women’s shelter where I work. Today I did my first actual money-maker at RiteAid and I was soooo jazzed when it actually worked! Thanks for sharing your wisdom – you’ll never know how many people have benefited from it.

  8. I started couponing about 5 years ago. the first few months I didn’t really spend less than usual, but I was buying SO much more stuff. Now, I spend a fraction of what I spent. Starting small with just $20 is a great idea. What I did when I started was stockpiling. By building stockpiles of the things you use, you can also avoid spending as much time shopping. You might find say 3 items that are a great deal one week. If you think it’s the best price you can get, then you should buy as many as you will use before they would expire or as much room as you have to store them. After a few months, you will have big stockpiles built up of the things you use most. Then is when the savings really hit you. At that point, you only have to buy your basics like meat, produce, dairy.. and then you can just buy the couple of crazy good deals to replenish stockpiles. When I hit this point, about 4 months into my coupon shopping, I was able to switch from getting stuff for a ‘good’ deal to getting things for free. It’s been years since I’ve had to pay for things like toothpaste, shampoo, razors… and overall, I went from spending like $1200+ each month for a family of 4 and 2 pets, to spend about $250-300 a month. this DOES work! And there’s no compromise on quality of what we have in our house. we eat mostly organic produce, hormone free meat/dairy and lots of other typically pricey things. Happy couponing!

  9. This all sounds really good. I just moved to MN and I cant seem to find a good place to shop with my coupons! How do I find a good store that has sales and will double and triple coupons?

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