How to Combine Coupons, Promotions, and Discount Codes to Buy Things at the Lowest Prices

Smart shoppers have traditionally saved money by waiting for things to be on sale, but there’s a group of people, extreme saving ninjas, who push the limit on buying items at the lowest possible price. How do they do it?

Step 1: Never Pay In Cash

Ok… there’s some places that don’t take credit cards (booo!), but in this day and age, you can use credit cards almost everywhere. Anyone that knows me know that I never use cash or debit cards. Why? Cash doesn’t give you rewards for spending and debit cards rarely do. Neither offers much protection in case something goes wrong. Package got stolen? Thief took your shopping bag? Dropped that new phone by accident? Too bad.

If you used a credit card, a lot of them have benefits in place that will replace what you lost or broke by accident. It makes me cry a little inside when I see people pay with cash. For some reason, a lot of people like to use checks at supermarkets… do Millennials even know what checks are?

The main reason is missing out on credit card that gives you cash back or points. You’re already spending your money, why not get a little something back? Most credit cards offer 1%-2% cash back or their equivalent in points – seems small, but it can really add up over time, especially if you get in the habit of paying for everything on credit cards. Plus they have extra benefits you may not even realize.

Now, this assumes you’re using your cards responsibly. If you’re not in the habit of paying your cards in full every month, the interest rates card issuers charge for carrying a balance will more than erase what rewards you are getting from them.

Step 2: Wait For A Sale

It’s no secret that one of the oldest tools in the book for companies to increase sales is to offer a sale. Usually, they will announce this on the home page of their site, like J.Crew’s 35% back-to-school sale:

Jcrew back to campus sale

It used to be that sales would happen once or twice a year. Nowadays, companies seem to have sales every other day. The big ones happen towards the end of the quarter, end of the season, or end of the year. Keep an eye out on them. Sometimes the discount doesn’t happen automatically, it requires the shopper to put the code in manually at check-out. From the picture above, you can see J.Crew needs you to put in the promotion code APLUS when checking out.

Step 3: Sign-up For A Store’s Customer Loyalty Program

A lot of companies have rewards for repeat customers. The more you shop, the bigger rewards they give you. The programs are usually free to join and automatically calculate how much you’ve earned.

Sticking with J.Crew, they have a program called J.Crew Rewards where you earn 1 point for every dollar you spend. Once you reach 200 points, they will give you a $5 certificate to use on a future purchase. This is equivalent to another 2.5% back on your purchase:

JCrew Rewards program

Step 4: Use A Cash Back Shopping Portal

The first place you should always go to when shopping online is going through a shopping portal. These sites receive compensation from retailers when they refer shoppers and they split the money they get with you.


A ton of top retailers participate like Amazon, eBay, Home Depot, Walmart, Gap, J.Crew, and Petco. Depending on the store, you can get 1% up to 30% back on your purchase! It’s free to join and cost you nothing – zip, zilch, nada!

MrRebates cash back at Gap

I try not to buy things in-store to maximize this, but I get it – not everyone is comfortable with buying something they can’t see or try out. I’m the same way.

The best strategy for this is to visit a store to see it in person and then go home to buy it online. Why buy those jeans at a Gap physical store when I can get 8% back at from cash back site like Mr. Rebates:

Step 5: Search for Coupon or Discount Codes

Retailers like to email promotional coupons or discounts codes to their customers to encourage them to shop, but if you’re someone who’s not in their email list or a new customer – what to do?

Fortunately, there are sites out there that specializes in looking for different codes and listing them all out for everyone to see. Two sites that I use often are RetailMeNot or DealsPlus:

Coupon code for Gap at DealsPlus

Although some retailers restrict you to one code per order, not all of them do. For example, Gap (owners of Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta, and Piperlime) allows you to daisy chain multiple codes. I’ve used 5 codes on the same order! Others may allow different “categories” of codes – you can combine a dollar off code, like $20 off $60, with a percentage off (10%) one. It doesn’t hurt to experiment a try to see what works and doesn’t.

Caution: In order to get the coupon codes from coupon sites, you usually have to click the “Get Coupon Code” button (like the picture below). This will transfer you to the store automatically, and will cancel the cashback you can earn from Step 4 above.

I would recommend getting all the coupon codes you need from these sites, writing it down on a piece of paper so you have it, and then exiting all your browsing windows. Once you do that, open a new browsing session for Step 4.

The Bottom Line

It might seem overwhelming at first, but it’s only a couple of extra steps. Once you go through with the process once or twice, it becomes almost second nature – and pretty soon, you’ll be a ninja-saving spender like us. To see a real world, step-by-step example, you can read how I saved big money while shopping at Bonobos.

Once you get comfortable with this, you can read about how to get discounted gift cards at your favorite retailers in order to lower the purchase price even more.

What are some of the places you shop at? How do you save money there? Love to hear user stories!

About John Pham

John Pham is a personal finance expert, serial entrepreneur, and founder of The Money Ninja. He has also been fortunate enough to have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, and U.S. News & World Report. John has a B.S. in Entrepreneurship and a Masters in Business Administration, both from the University of New Hampshire.

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4 years ago

This is awesome…. THANK YOU!! I always say there are always more discounts to be had for the things I buy. This is a great start.

Jessica Rogers
Jessica Rogers
4 years ago

Thank you for this site. I am new at this and need to save money.

Susan Phillips
Susan Phillips
4 years ago

Can you give us an example on how you combine all of this for something you bought?

4 years ago

how much do the cash back sites make off of the retail stores?