Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen, Part 3

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen in 5 basic steps

Step #3: Using coupons to best advantage. So why do you need to snag peelies or tearpad coupons to use later when you can just use them right then? It's actually a simple idea. The best deal is when you can combine a coupon AND a store that doubles coupons AND a sale AND a store rebate AND a manufacturer rebate AND a free attached product AND whatever other promotional offer you can find. The list of possible combinations goes on and on. And in reality you're not going to get all of those at once. But you can get two or three easily. Here's how to do it.

  • When you're deciding what coupons to keep, the standards are a bit different from what comes naturally. If you don't have a dog, there's not much point collecting dog food coupons. But what about coupons for products that you buy (like shampoo) but not a brand you normally buy? Depends on why you don't buy it. If you hate the shampoo then let someone else have the coupon. But if it's just too expensive because you normally buy store brand, then keep it. Keep coupons for anything you'd want if it was free. That way you'll have them when the item goes on sale and/or has a rebate.

  • Pick two stores to shop with at first. You can add more once you've got the hang of those stores. One should be the store you normally shop at. The other needs to be a drug store like Rite Aid or Wal-greens. I have both of those in my town. (And in another post I'll explain the best way to shop at each of them.) Rite Aid is simpler, but the deals are more plentiful at Wal-greens. Both have a rebate program. CVS is also supposed to be good, but I don't have one in my town so I can't help you out on learning their program. The reason that you need to shop at a drug store is that's where most of the non-food freebies are. Learn the stores policies on coupons. Do the double coupons? Do they match sale prices from other stores? Do they accept coupons printed from the internet? Do they have their own store coupons? If they do, how do those coupons work? Do they have a rebate program? If you forget a coupon can you bring it in with your receipt later and get money back? Some stores let you do this and others look at you like you're crazy. Once you've got an idea of how they work, start trying to look for sales or deals. Don't panic if it takes you a few weeks to get the hang of it. There's a learning curve. After you've learned the ins and outs of those two stores, start learning the deals at another store. But don't try to get every deal at every store. Not only is it too much to keep track of, you'll end up driving all over town all day. Not only does the gas eat into your budget, the time eats into your life. You'll be much happier if you find 3-5 stores to shop at regularly and only go to the others every few months.

  • Learn what the fine print on your coupons means. One per purchase means that if you buy one can of soup, you can use one coupon. If you buy two, you can use two coupons. Unless a coupon says otherwise, you can use one coupon for each item you buy. If a coupon is a Buy One Get One Free (BOGO) coupon, you can usually pair it with a second coupon for the free item. For example, buying two toothbrushes using a BOGO coupon and a dollar off coupon is OK because you are buying two items and using 2 coupons. Same thing with a BOGO sale and two different dollar off coupons. Two items using two coupons. Some people even combine a BOGO sale, a BOGO coupon and a dollar off coupon. Again, two coupons for two items should be OK. Some stores freak out about this and some don't bat an eye. The exceptions are when the coupons says $1 off of 2 items or $2 off of 3 items. In that case, one coupon is for 2 or 3 items and you can't use coupons on those other products. Another exception is that two coupons can be used on a single item if one is a store coupon and one is a manufacturer coupon. This varies from store to store, but usually it's OK to combine these two types of coupons.

  • Buy the right size of the product. Normally, a larger size of something means that your price per ounce is cheaper. But when you add a coupon into the mix, that can change. Just say you have a coupon for $1 off any size bottle of mouthwash. If the 36 oz. bottle is $3 and the 12 oz. bottle is $1.50, then the bigger bottle is the better deal. But with your coupon the 36 oz. bottle is $2 and the 12 oz. bottle it $0.50. Now the smaller size is a better deal. What if there was a trial size 3 oz. bottle for $0.75? Without a coupon it's the most expensive one of all. With your coupon, you're being paid to take it. BUT part of this depends on how much of the mouthwash you need and how many coupons you have for it. If the $1 coupon is something that comes out every month or so, and you have tons of mouthwash at home, just go for the sample bottle. It'll be nice when traveling. But if you're out of mouthwash, haven't seen a sale in an age and that coupon is something you've never seen before... maybe you might want to go for the small bottle. In the end, if you buy more at full price next week because the sample didn't last you, you're not saving as much by going for the tiny sample. (I know. It's complicated. It gets easier with practice.)

  • Be sure not to pay more for something just because you have a coupon. Just say I was buying dog food. I might have a great coupon ($4 off!) for an expensive brand (Iams) and even using the coupon I'd be paying more than if I just bought the wal-mart brand that I've been buying for years. Using that coupon in that way would actually cost me more than if I just bought what I normally buy. So be sure to compare costs and start paying attention to what the best deals are. Sometimes the best deal is just the regular old store price. It's OK to let a coupon expire.

  • Study the sale flyers for the stores you shop at AND check online blogs or coupons sites for deals. People who like couponing usually post the deals they're excited about. If you have even 4 or 5 people going over the store ads with a fine tooth comb you'll end up with a nice shopping list that even tells what coupons you'll need to use and has links to rebate forms. My friend Tara posts the Walgreens and Price Chopper deals each week. (She also did a great post the other day about her coupon sources.) I like scanning the forums at HotCouponWorld, but I had trouble with it as a newbie because there's a lot of jargon, a lot of forums and posts, and frankly it gets overwhelming. Once you have more practice you should go check it out. They are very friendly. It's just a lot coming at you at once.

  • The Drawbacks: There are two main drawbacks here. #1 - You are not going to get every deal, every time. Say it with me folks... You are not going to get every deal, every time. You have to learn to live with that. It's just a fact of life. #2 - Sometimes cashiers will give you problems. They will fail to ring up all the coupons. Or they'll decide that you can only use one coupon on a trip to the store. Or they'll decide you can't combine a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon even though the add in the newspaper says that you can. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself. If you've learned the rules and you're doing everything you're supposed to, then don't accept it when a cashier rings your stuff up wrong or tells you that you can't do coupons this way. If you have a problem, you can ask for a manager. If the manager is not helpful, you can tell them that you'd like to void the transaction and take your coupons and your money and leave. They'll get over it. So will you. Saddly, sometimes they will try to keep the coupons. If they're low value coupons that you see all the time it may not be worth fighting over. If they're high value coupons that you had to trade your dog to get, you can argue with them. You have given back every part of the merchandise, they have to return every part of the payment. Or you can continue with the transaction and then come back and return some things, and then come back again and return more until it's all returned. Obviously that way is a pain in the butt, however if you return things in separate trips, they usually can't tell which items were bought with a coupon and which weren't. Unless the receipt says "L'Oreal coupon -$2" then you'll get the full asking price when you return it. This is fair if they keep the coupon because they'll be sending the coupon off to the manufacturer and getting paid by them. In fact, they actually get more from a coupon than they do from you. That $2 L'Oreal coupon will be redeemed for $2.08.

Coming next... Step #4: Organizing

1 comment:

Tara said...

Thanks for the plug! I am very careful where I use coupons higher than the price. Walmart is *usually* great about this and giving overage. Some wont take them at all, other adjust. I hate adjusting.... then I am getting shorted and they are still redeeming it for the full value plus 8 cents. I am not sure why I hate that so much but they make enough money off of me anyway, even a quarter more is too much for me to bear.