Effective modern coupon use is tricky business. Many people assume that any coupon is money saved and nothing but good news all around. Coupons have been a popular money saving device for decades, and many of us can well remember our parents clipping coupons from the Sunday paper when we were children.
The problem is that manufacturers and retailers have developed a myriad of techniques for using coupons as a carrot to lure the consumer into purchases that really don’t make good financial sense. I’ve blogged before on several of the more common coupon traps that we now face. If you haven’t read these important posts before, you really should do so now.
Despite these traps for the unwary, coupons do still offer saving opportunities. I would rate them as fair, but far from great, saving opportunities. I do still use coupons, but, I must confess, they are of borderline usefulness from a practical frugal living standpoint. If you read my prior post on what constitutes practical frugal living, you’ll soon realize why coupons only barely qualify as a practical frugal living tool. When you factor in the time that is required to hunt for, clip, file, and use coupons, and weigh that time and effort against the few dollars of savings that they accomplish in a given week, you have to question whether they are indeed worth the hassle. They are if you use them wisely, and that is what the next few blog entries are all about.
The first step to effective use is called leverage. You want to combine the coupon, whenever possible, with other saving opportunities on the same item. The classic example is combining a coupon with an item that is on sale. Say, for example, that an item that you truly need (and please remember, we don’t let coupons induce us into purchases we would not otherwise make), is on a buy one get one free sale. That is an ideal time to use a coupon for the items or, better yet, two coupons. Even though you are getting one of the products for free, you can still tender one coupon for item, so, by all means, do so.
Matching coupons to sales is quite easy to do if you take advantage of store circulars, which you should have emailed to your very own inbox. As I’ve previously explained, frequent shopper discount programs are great things, and subscribing to them makes easy the task of leveraging coupons by linking them with relevant sale dates.
And speaking of dates, don’t let those coupon expiration dates muscle you into buying a product before you need it. The little known secret is that many stores do not check coupon dates at all. Many stores program the electronic scanners to ensure that the product is indeed purchased, but the coupon expiration date is wholly ignored. In my neck of the woods, I find that Target stores do check expiration dates (one of the few beefs I have with this otherwise excellent chain), while most grocery stores and drug stores do not. Besides, many of the more popular coupons circulate on a regular recurring basis anyway. The bottom line is if you can just hold out for another two to five weeks, you will probably see an expired coupon replaced by a new one.
I’ll have more coupon tips soon, so stay tuned.