Watch Out! Coupons May Cost You More Than You SaveMy wife and I, like many others, are inundated with coupons on a daily basis. They are everywhere — in your mailbox, on your phone, at your doorstep… We're a couple who values every cent saved, and yet we're not excited. I'll give you a hint: Companies don't print coupons because they're nice or because they want to save you money.

Coupons Are Marketing

Coupons are a form of marketing. Initially, we fell for the trap. We'd find coupons for one dollar off a new snack food and use the coupon to try the product. The result was often exactly what the companies wanted: We got addicted to the new snack and paid full price each time we bought it afterward.

The company only gave us a one-dollar discount, but they got us hooked for hundreds of dollars in future purchases.

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Coupons don't just get us hooked on individual products — they can get us hooked on a particular store, too.

For instance, each time I've moved, I've gotten a coupon in the mail for $5 off a $25 purchase at Publix, a more expensive but super nice grocery store in our area. I'd love to be a regular shopper at the store, as shopping there is a much better experience than shopping at our local Walmart.

Unfortunately, Publix has higher prices, too. They hope that getting you in their store just one time with a five-dollar-off coupon will be enough to get you to make the switch and pay more for groceries.

Coupons Aren't All Bad

Even though coupons are marketing, they aren't all bad. In fact, you can save a ton of money by using them. You just need to learn how to use them the right way. There are a few rules my wife and I follow to make sure that we actually save money, and not just spend more when we use coupons.

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Only Buy Things You Would Buy Anyway

The biggest key to using coupons is to only buy items you were going to buy anyway.

If a coupon influences you to buy a new item that isn't on your shopping list, that coupon essentially cost you money.

For instance, my wife and I were planning to buy ceiling fans for the new home we're building. We recently came across a coupon code for 25 percent off all ceiling fans at Home Depot. My initial thought was to buy a fancier ceiling fan with our savings, but I quickly realized that was the marketing taking control of our purchase. Instead, we took advantage of the coupon and bought the same model of ceiling fan that we had planned to buy before I learned of the promotion.

Make Sure a Generic Brand Isn't a Better Deal

My wife and I buy many generic items to save money at the grocery store because they're cheaper. One reason these items are cheaper is that they aren't marketed, so the savings are passed on to the consumer. Sadly, you may never see a coupon for a generic item. That said, it may still be cheaper, even after using coupons on a brand-name product.

Make sure to compare the cost of the brand name product (post-coupon) to that of the generic version.

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Always Search for Coupons Before Checkout

Once you're ready to make a purchase, it never hurts to search for coupons for the items you're already buying. This is extremely easy if you're making an online purchase. I always search for the product name and coupon code or promo code before I check out.

Then I apply any coupons I find to see if they work and save me money before I check out. This is a bit more difficult in physical stores, but you can still perform a similar search on your smartphone. Many retailers now accept digital coupons if you simply show the cashier the coupon on your phone.