One of the first things that people think of when they’re trying to cut their expenses is to start using coupons. While couponing can be an excellent way to save a few dollars on your grocery bills, if used incorrectly they can have you spending more each week. So, how can you tell if you’re saving money using coupons or not? Here are a few tips to follow.

Compare Prices

Just because you have a coupon for Brand A cookies doesn’t mean that Brand A is the best deal. Take a look at other brands and compare prices. Don’t forget to look at the store brand options as well. Take it one step further: if you usually buy chocolate chip cookies but oatmeal raison cookies are on sale, why not give those a try instead?

Make it Yourself

I don’t have time to make everything my family needs from scratch, but I do make some things that  save us a considerable amount of money. Cleaning supplies, for example. I make an all-purpose cleaner of 50/50 vinegar and water that works perfectly for cleaning windows, glass, counters, and sinks. Compare that to the cheapest household cleaner at the store, and I can easily save $3 each time I make a bottle.

Avoid Impulse Buys

You may intend to stop at the store for a quart of milk, but once you’re there, it’s easy to be tempted by other items. Maybe it’s a candy bar in the checkout line or the buy-two-get-one free sign next to the cupcakes. While some deals are a bargain, if you’ll just be eating more it’s not a deal for your budget or your waistline.

Online Shopping Gimmicks

I fall prey to this one regularly because I do a lot of shopping online. If your order total is $15, how often do you end up paying $25 so you can get “free” shipping? Or, how about the “Save 25 percent when you buy two items,” when you only need one? Be aware of what you’re spending, do the math, and be sure that you stick to your budget. Many “bargains” are simply a way to get you to spend more money than you had first intended.

Read the Fine Print

Last weekend, I saw a great online coupon on one of the apps I use for dish liquid. The coupon was for a brand I don’t buy because it’s expensive. However, the $1.50 off would make it a good option. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the details thoroughly, and the coupon was for $1.50 off two bottles. I bought one. When I came home to register my purchase through the app, I realized that I had spent $1.50 more than I intended to.

Coupons can result in big savings when you use them correctly. Just make sure you understand the real cost of what you’re buying.