Friday, December 26, 2008

How to (ab)use a coupon ethically

Coupons are key in saving money, especially on groceries and household items. But there is a right way and wrong way to use these scraps of paper. Use them wrong and you actually end up wasting money, use them right and you have won the lottery!
Things to remember:
- only use a coupon on an item if it is on sale
- try to use it on the smallest size possible so you get it for almost free
- look at the cost per unit when using a coupon, this is usually on the shelf and you find it usually measured in 100mls. Sometimes it is cheaper to buy three smalls instead of one mega big one. When I phoned and asked a certain company why they stated it had to do with packaging costs. A larger container may require a machine to be reset to fill it, they may be able to get 12 small jars in one box and only 4 large in another...boxes cost money and you the consumer pays for it!
- do not buy an item you haven't tried or are not sure you will like, unless of course you are getting that bag of flavored rice for .25...then it can be worth the risk.
- if you find an amazing coupon for a product that you use and will be using long term STOCK UP!! Don't buy one or two, buy one or two dozen. Case in point - Stayfree had a printable coupon for $2.50, the product is on sale at Wal-mart for $2.87 - I am paying .37 plus tax per package. I didn't buy one, I bought a couple hundred over the past few months! I will use them and have a daughter that will need them as well. Being that this coupon is good until the end of January I expect that I will buy about another 100 more. Sounds extreme but when you think of what these products cost full price, the fact you will be using them over at least 40 adds up! Have daughters? You price just went up. Kept in a dark and dry place they have indefinite shelf life. (I called. :P)
When does using a coupon become abuse? When you are being dishonest. Making fake coupons up on the computer (yup lots of folks do this), you have coupons sent to you under 15 different names or you try and use coupons not as stated on the coupon itself. If it says only good on 350ml size do not try and use it on the 30ml size. This only makes companies less likely to issue coupons in the future or makes stores refuse to accept them ,especially when it comes to one that you can print off from their website. It basically ruins it for all of us.
Then there is the ethically coupon debate. How many times can one or should one use a coupon? If it is for a grocery store item I say as many times as you want. But some coupons you should play fair with.
There was a coupon this holiday season from Mark's Work Wearhouse. It simply stated 'Spend $10 get $10 off'. I was frothing at the mouth think of all the things I could find for $9.99 and top up with a .50 comb or gift bag - making my purchase free as the coupon was taken off before taxes. During the first couple weeks I showed restrain, using a couple every other day. I did not want the company pulling the coupon at that location due to my thirst for free stuff. So I started by getting things that I needed...being careful not to draw too much attention to the coupon or what I was doing. But then on the evening of Dec. 23th, with the coupon expiring the next day, I went and bought up everything I could use. This paid off for two reasons: 1- I didn't possibly ruin it for everyone else and 2 - everything on sale was marked down 50%. So by playing nice I got slippers regularly priced $25 for FREE, in addition to my $850 worth of clothes, travel mugs, shoes etc that I paid a whopping $15 for.
Where can you get coupons you may ask? Well, this is the biggest challenge. Gone are the days where there was an insert in every Sunday paper or you use to find them all through the newspaper. I find that I have to hustle to get mine. Good places to check are:
-You sometimes find them on shelves in the grocery store but lately I find these have a short expiry life.
- Sign up to newsletters from your favorite products. They will sometimes send you samples or links for printable coupons.
- Web sites like and the such are great to find coupons. If you have a neighbour, friend or family who can let you use their address you can get extras that way as well.
- Email, call or write to companies and ask for them.
- There are many coupons that you can print from home from various company websites. Ocean Spray, Huggies, Depends are just a couple I regularly get. NOTE: make sure before you print you change your settings to gray scale - this will save you a bundle in ink - those colored refills are expensive!
- There are many websites dedicated to coupons where people trade coupons. Each area will have different coupons. So BC may have a coupon floating around for jam and ON will have one for peanut butter. Swap and you can make sandwiches for next to nothing. NOTE: you are exchanging personal information like name and address so spend some time getting to know people before you enter into an exchange. Also a letter can be sent with a part name. If you go by Suzanne Smith - try using Sue Smyth etc.
- Though I have never done it I have seen coupons for sale on eBay. It may pay off if you have a new baby and can get $60 worth of diaper coupons for $2, especially when you know they are going on sale next week. Many people offer them for free on kijiji as well, all you have to do is pick them up or as I have done, ask if you can send a SASE. Saves on gas and time. Most people are happy not to have somebody dropping by.
One of the biggest keys to coupon use is to carefully read the coupon. I get happy when I see the word ANY. Ocean Spray had a printable coupon for $1 off of ANY Ocean Spray product. It had a picture of the 1.89L bottle on it. These retail on average for $2.99, an okay deal but not great. Being it said ANY I bought the cranberry juice frozen for $1 each. It makes the same amount for a bigger savings.
Many companies now are offering the printable coupons. This saves them money as they don;t have to print and mail coupons that may never be used. Some stores are very uptight about using them from what I have heard but I have yet to run into a problem. If you do ask to speak to the manager. I always write down the website on the back of one of the coupons where I got it so they can pop into the office to verify of need be. I also point out that there is a bar code, expiry date and the address for the vendor to return the coupon for payment. These are the holy trinity of the coupon world. Should they still refuse - email the company explaining the problem. They will get back to you telling you the coupon is valid (and often send you additional coupons). Print this off and return to the store. They will most likely accept the coupon after the effort. If it was a fake or scam nobody would go through such hassle for $5!
Also find a way to organize your coupons. Nothing worse having a juicy coupon expiry on you. I personally feel robbed! I bought a small plastic envelope styled folder with dividers at the dollar store. It has six slots so I labelled them Jan/Fed, March/Apr etc. Then I know what is expiring and when. Sort them as you get them. You can keep track and it will help you in the long run.
Next up - How to organize your deals.


  1. Interesting points - at first you start by stating what is abuse, and point out that people should "play fair" (your words).

    How is getting $850 worth of Marks merchandise - for free - exactly ethical, and not abusing an offer? So you waited until the last few days, but abuse is abuse... You knew within days that the Mark's coupon was only intended to be one per person - period. Not unlimited. But you, and many like you, continued to feign ignorance and use an older coupon that didn't state restrictions.

    Also, Stayfree is not in the business of providing free pads to the world's population. The amount you paid will be kept by the store, since the store is probably making a LOT even with the product marked down.

  2. Nancy:
    To address your concerns please allow me to point out a few facts:
    - a store at any time for any reason can refuse to honor a coupon
    - the MWWH coupon thst was first release stated one coupon per person per transaction. 10 items rung in seperate are well 10 seperate transactions
    - I always ask the cashier before I use huge amounts of coupons and 9 out of 10 times they check with the manager and the MANAGER okays it, so I am not doing some stealth coupon mojo
    - many printable coupons only allow you to print one, if that is the case I play by the game and don't set up 15 email addresses to squeeze a few more pennies out of a deal
    - $850 at MWWH was the full retail value - example was they had slippers regularly $25 marked down to $10, so with the coupon free. As was the $40 dollar shirt marked down to $4.99. I did not use 90 coupons, I have a life.
    - Stayfree and other such companies have marketing departments - perhaps they should learn to proof read - my 12 year old can do it - and Stayfree is hedging it's bets in hoping that I become a loyal life long customer. They also know that 90% of people will not use a coupon even if handed to them at the check out, like it is some form of charity.

    So don't hate the player hate the game. I am frugal to survive. I don't use welfare or any other support system the government has to offer. Even though I am 'entitled' since I am raising two children, one who is confined to a wheelchair due to a severe disability. I use coupons to elevate the life style of my children and to a much lesser degree myself. And for the record - the MWWH deal basically meant that my kids got Christmas presents. I did not double dip and go to get a hamper - that means it was left for somebody else who really needed it. It also allowed me to donate quite a few items to the men's mission (slippers, travel mugs and hankies) and I also give quite a few of the Stayfree to the foodbank. I don't have extra money to donate but if I can shop carefully I can at least pass on some of the items.

    So what would you rather? Drain your tax dollars or that I clip a few extra coupons? I think that all hard working people would rather I do the latter.

    And since the only place I posted about this blog is a site where we both going for deals and to find out about savings - I think you too enjoy a deal.

  3. Oh come on, Nancy, seriously. Do you really think Stayfree is losing any money on that deal? They're getting their product in someone's home, they're moving tons of product (How much you want to bet they're changing their packaging and that's the reason behind the coupon -- sell off all the old packaging like herbal essences did a couple years ago) thanks to the coupon and a sale, and with Walmart's extraordinary bargaining power, chances are Walmart didn't even come close to paying 1.50 for each pack. They're making a profit and so is the company.

    I'm really not sure about the "one per customer" limitation on the MWW coupon either. Does that mean one per customer per visit? Pretty open to debate, that one. Frankly, Mark's makes a tonne of money hand over fist on their regular prices which are substantially higher than their actual value or cost to the company. I do feel that if Mark's were losing money on that coupon, they would have pulled it before it expired December 24. I went to stores on December 26th and they were quite well stocked. I don't think they're hurting.

    But funky, come on, 40 years of pads? LOL! I'd be afraid of mildew and silverfish... Besides a one-time purchase of the Diva Cup will do away with the need for anything more than one pack of pads a year if even that. I can't justify that kind of stocking up in my monthly budget. $75 allocated only to pads...? That doesn't work in our budget. I'd be taking food away from the kids and I suspect I have more income to work with than you do. (No offense, just going off what you've written here.) You can get the Diva Cup for about $15 and it's a one-time purchase. Might only last 10-15 years...but the savings to the wallet and to the earth extend far beyond a $2.50 savings today.

  4. I know, I know - the diva cup is wonderful. Better for you and the environment. Maybe one day I will go there but right now I just can't. I know it is a natural bodily process but still I am icked out about it.

    The stocking up on pads issue - well I have a daughter that is soon to start her getting her visit from 'Aunt Flo' and I think the diva cup would be a bit tough for her to master at a young age. I do give a lot of them away to women that have just moved here to Canada as well. And though it may be a little TMI - when I get a bad cold and find myself coughing and sneezing a lot - um, well to anyone who has a few kiddies you know the drill. So they get used quite a bit 'off season' looool