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 years...it 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 www.save.ca 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.