Whenever I tell people I’m the Discount Diva I usually get, “Oh you’re the Discount Diva, I love your blog,” which seriously does my seventh grade afraid to talk in class ego some good, but it’s always quickly followed by “I love to coupon.”

Though I’ll be the first to admit I coupon, it’s ranks pretty low in my money-saving arsenal. I’m much more apt to talk about buying used, negotiating bills, tracking expenses, finding alternatives, saving energydoing without, and appreciating what you already have. BUT since everybody and their mother is giving couponing a try these days in order to save money, I figured I’d do a basic crash course for those just starting out.

1. Get A Cheap Coupon Organizer – A lost coupon isn’t saving you any money. I use a plastic recipe organizer I got for my bridal shower. Set up a system that works for you. I usually organize by a few basic categories – Grocery, Baby Care, Household Items (like cleaners, garbage bags, pet food) Personal Care, Restaurants, and Other (this could be coupons for department stores, photo packages, toys, oil changes, etc.). If alphabetizing coupons by manufacturer is your thing, go for it. Whatever makes them easy to find in the store. Nothing is worse than pulling out a ginormous stack of unsorted coupons mid-aisle.

Coupon Organizer

2. Know Where To Find Coupons – Most everyone knows the Sunday paper is a great place to find those coupons inserts, but also check store circulars from department and grocery stores, reputable coupons sites like coupons.com, manufacturer websites, and in your grocery store (check the catalinas – coupons printed at checkout and given to you with your receipt, coupon dispensers in the aisle and even stuck to the outside of the product). You can also download coupons directly to your store loyalty cards or smart phones. Be aware that there are fraudulent coupons floating around the internet that may not scan. Also if you’re printing from a website, make sure you have enough ink in your printer because blurry or faintly printed coupons may not scan.

3. A Coupon Is NOT Always Cheaper – A lot of the time store brands are cheaper than a brand name even with a coupon, so really check size restrictions listed on the coupon and look at unit prices of competing brands like generics. Coupons are a great way to try brands you may not normally buy, but don’t forget they are a marketing tool used by businesses hoping you’ll become brand loyal for life. Sure we all have some products we have become hopelessly addicted to – like maybe coffee, deodorant, shampoo or diapers. Whatever you’re brand loyal to, be sure to clip those coupons whenever you find them and let friends and family know your regular brands so if they don’t use them they can pass them along to you. Offer to do the same for them.

4. Match Coupons To Sales – If you’re an old couponing pro you already know this, but newbies might think “great $1 off something I was going to buy anyway and want to use it immediately.” Hold your coupons till that item is on sale, but of course pay attention to expiration dates. Grab your grocery circulars, note sale items and match coupons you have to those items. I like to circle them and write the new price after sale and coupon next to it on the circular so I don’t forget while I’m at checkout what I should be paying. They have pay per use or subscription sites that will price match for you, but you probably already know how the Discount Diva feels about paying for something you can easily do yourself. There are free sites like couponmom.com that post price match ups with coupons by store, which are helpful. Price matching and pulling those coupons you plan to use at home saves valuable time at the store.

Next week I’ll talk about some things you might not know like when to use an expired coupon, stacking store and manufacturer coupons and even rebates for the same item to get it free, using coupons on BOGO sales, the truth about “doubling” and “overages,” and establishing thresholds for your regularly purchased items, which is between the lowest price you’ve ever paid for that item up to the maximum you’re willing to pay for it, and when stockpiling crosses the line into hoarding.

You know I love when my step dad calls me up and says oh did you know you could do this with a coupon. I could never get my mom to use them regularly so it’s neat to see him warm up to the possibilities of couponing. Stay tuned, and feel free to share your tips here.