I started couponing shortly after my daughter was born in December of 2018 because honestly, I was bored and needed a hobby. After leaving the engineering corporate world for maternity leave, my brain felt like mush and I needed something to stimulate that part of me that still craved problem solving and numbers.
For the first few months of her life, my daughter also didn’t sleep much anywhere other than on my chest, so I had lots of time to watch YouTube videos and scroll the internet for articles about how to coupon. There’s a lot of great content about learning to coupon that I’ll share at the end, if you’re curious about giving it a stab. I promise ANYONE can do it!
I will focus on CVS for this article because it is my favorite, but Walgreens is also a great place to coupon as well.
Before I breakdown my latest couponing haul, there is some basic terminology that is helpful in understanding how this all works.
Coupon Insert: Inserts are packages or booklets of coupons usually found in the Sunday newspapers such as the Dallas Morning News. Common inserts include the P&G (Procter and Gamble), RMN (Retail Me Not), and the SS (Smart Source).
CRT: Cash Register Tape; this is what a CVS specific coupon is called; new ones are issued to ExtraCare program members every Sunday. The name comes from the coupons that print on the bottom of those long CVS receipts that print in store. You can now access them all digitally through CVS.com or their app.
ECB: CVS ExtraCare Buck; these are earned for purchases good at CVS,
Manufacturer Coupon: A coupon that is issued by the company that makes the product, rather than the store that sells it, such as CVS. They can be a printed coupon or a digital coupon loaded via the store’s website or app, but only one manufacturing coupon per item is allowed usually.
Stacking: Using a store specific coupon or multiple store specific coupons (such as a CRT from CVS) with a manufacturer coupon; you can also stack these coupons with store sale prices.
98% Rule: Your purchase needs to be within 98% of the amount required advertised in the sale to generate Extra Bucks or cash card. CVS's computer system will generate Extra Bucks when your purchase meets the 98% rule, if your store uses this rule. Most CVS stores in Texas, that I have been to, use the 98% rule
My haul for Sunday, September 27th was for a total of 8 items, over 2 transactions. I spent a total of $4.03 in cash and $5 ECB that I had on my account, and received back a $2 and $10 ECB. (I goofed and spent more of my ECBs than I needed to, more on that later.)
That means my shopping trip was a net gain of $2.97. In a way, CVS actually paid me to shop there. That’s what I love about couponing! Below are the breakdowns of my 2 transactions. Whenever you are starting out, I highly recommend starting with only a few deals at a time and breaking it into as many transactions as the cashier will let you. Most will usually only let you do two, but you can always utilize self-checkout too!
Transaction #1 is a great example of coupon stacking. In this transaction I used a manufacturer coupon from Love Beauty and Planet for buy-one-get-one-free of any shampoo, conditioner or deodorant (exclusions apply). I received this coupon in my 9/27 Smart Source insert in my Dallas Morning News Sunday paper. (Note that the system only took off $9.49 instead of the full $9.79. You’ll learn to be patient with the CVS checkout system as it is notoriously finicky and often has weird quirks like this.)
Sometimes it’s worth seeing if the manager can override it, but for something this small I just usually let it slide. In addition to the manufacturer coupon, I also had a $7 CRT off Love Beauty and Planet Products. Chalk it up to a weird system again as to why it only took off $6.99. I stacked these two coupons with the ECB promo CVS had this week for these products as well. If I had only bought the two 13.5 oz bottles, my total would have been $19.58 before tax, which is almost, but not quite enough to satisfy the store’s 98% rule. To satisfy the promotion of spend $20 to get back a $10 ECB, I would have needed to purchase at least $19.60 (98% of $20) in Love Beauty and Planet products. To reach the threshold, I found a $0.62 clearance travel bottle of Love Beauty and Planet shampoo. When I got to the register, I decided to do this transaction by itself because I had already read online that this deal was giving other couponers problems. Sure enough, my ECB didn’t print at the end, but the manager knows me and kindly force printed it after anyway.
It can be frustrating when a transaction goes wrong but if you plan on couponing regularly, it pays to be friendly with the staff who can choose to help you out or not when the system acts up.
Transaction #2 was great because I spent absolutely no money out of pocket, but I did have a minor mistake. If you note the double asterisk next to my $5 ECB spending on the Palmolive dish soap, I actually used more than I needed to on this transaction and so I lost $1.77 of my ECB value. I made a split decision to use this ECB at the cash register because I didn’t want to pay anything out of pocket for this transaction. But when I got home, I realized I should have just paid the $3.23 out of pocket and received the $2 ECB back.
This is a good time to mention that you can’t partially spend an ECB that is issued to you. If it is for $5, you must use all $5 in one transaction. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal but just goes to show you, even veteran couponers make mistakes. It’s okay and it helps you learn to get better for your next haul!
If there are any other up and coming couponers in the League, let me know! I’d love to chat couponing with you. Anyone can feel free to email me any questions as well at email@example.com. I always love to talk about my latest hauls!
To end I’ll leave with list of resources that are great to start with if you’re wanting to learn how to coupon:
Free Stuff Finder website and app
DesignerJen YouTube channel
Krazy Coupon Lady website and app
One Cute Couponer YouTube channel
Please comment or ask any questions below, or on our private GCSML Facebook page!