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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Coupons 101

So we know I was in debt (ummm twice, cause i'm slow and didn't learn the first time).  So I started using coupons to save money - to put toward the debt.

Here is our first topic on coupons...The Basics.

Couponing is an takes practice, it takes some skill, and there's a learning curve. First you want to collect coupons - obviously you want them for things you already buy. If you're not brand loyal, you'll have a lot more coupons to take advantage of...somethings I really don't care about the brand (frozen veggies for example), some thing I won't switch (Heinz ketchup). First and foremost, if you are new to couponing, it's going to take some time in the beginning. You'll figure out a system that works for you and after awhile it won't take long and it will certainly be worth the money you save. Why pay full price if you don't have to?

I live in Central Florida - grocery stores here do not double or triple coupons. I am envious of couponers who live in states where that is the norm.

Where do coupons come from? Lots of places!
  • you can print them online
  • you can get them in the Sunday newspaper (most papers have a Sunday only delivery option if you don't want to pay for a subscription all week)
  • you can get them on product packages (inside cereal boxes or fruit snacks, sometime crackers and fruit or jello/pudding cups)
  • you can find them in magazines (most magazines will have a few, some - like All You - have tons)
  • you can find them in the store ("blinkies" - the little coupon machines stuck on the shelves or freezer case door, at the front of the store with the weekly ad copies, "hangers" - tags found on products like wine bottles, or "peelies" - on other products like sauces or cans that you can peel off)
  • you can find them in your mailbox (get on mailing lists, get store reward cards, etc)
  • you can buy them from coupon cutting services or on ebay
Know the policy where you shop - you might be able to find it on the store's website, you might be able to find out at the service desk, you might end up having to email / call customer service and request a copy:
  • I run into store employees who don't know the coupon policy for the store
    • I take the time to hunt down the policy, if I know it, the employees should know it - and I have no issue holding up the line and having the manager come over to explain the policy. Now the employee knows.
  • Most stores will let you stack coupons
    • Stacking means you can use a STORE coupon as well as a MANUFACTURER'S coupon on the same item. You cannot use two manufacturer's coupons on the same item...except at BJ's Warehouse Club.
    • The rule at BJs is that you can use multiple manufacturer's coupons on a multi-pack item
Example 1 - a shrink wrapped case of 10 cans of soup if you have 10 $.25 off 1 can coupons, you could use all 10 because each can has a bar code - WOO HOO! If there happens to be a BJ's coupon that says you save $1.50 off a case soup, you can use that AND all 10 of the others. Super!

Example 2 - a box of cereal has 2 bags of cereal in it, you have a coupon for $1 off 2 boxes of cereal. You can't use that coupon unless you buy 2 boxes of cereal (or 4 bags) because the bags are not bar coded for individual sale. If there are 2 regular size boxes shrink wrapped together, you could use that coupon. For the record, you can get cereal cheaper on sale with coupons elsewhere - more on that later.
    • Target, CVS, Publix, Walgreens, BJ's Warehouse Club - these are stores I shop at regularly and I know that the locations I go to allow stacking. Sometimes you get a random manager that wants to over rule the Corporate policy. Did I mention you need to know your store's policy?
    • Some stores have a limit on the number of coupons you can use. Sometime they don't until you show up with 100 of them...after that they come up with a policy :-)
    • Some stores (CVS) require you to have at least the same number of items as coupons...even though they stack. Extra care bucks count as a coupon - just so you know.
    Example: I have 1 extra care buck (ECB) for $3, 1 CVS coupon for $5 off a $15 purchase, 1 CVS coupon for $2 off Aussie Shampoo, 1 manufacturer's coupon for $2 off Aussie Shampoo, a manufacturer's coupon for $1 off Crest Toothpaste. In my cart I have 1 bottle of Aussie Shampoo, 1 tube of Crest Toothpaste and 3 12 packs of Diet Coke. A total of 5 items. If you count there, I have 6 coupons. I need a "filler" to use them all. In Couponing a "filler" is something you buy that you don't really need, but you need another item to make the coupon count or the dollar amount for a $/$ purchase type coupon. Fillers are cheap. A pack of gum, a candy bar...something less than $1 if you just need it for coupon count. So I spend $.50 extra to buy the filler candy bar, but it let's me use all of my coupons.
    • You can use coupons on free items.
      • If it's Buy One Get One Free (BOGO) you can use a coupon on each one
      • If it's a Buy This Get That (BTGT) you can use a coupon for each item.
    Example: CVS ad says "Buy any Gillette razor refill, get 1 Gillette shave cream free" you can use a coupon on both the razor blades and the shave cream.
      Do you know how coupons really work? A lot of times store employees (including managers) don't. Here's the deal - you have a $1.00 off coupon, you buy the product on sale for $.88. Depending on the store, they will either give you $1.00 off or they will adjust it to $.88 off (or whatever the item cost was). I'm not fond of stores that price modify coupons - they're stealing your money. Yes, you still get the product for free...that's not the point. The store will send the $1.00 coupon to the manufacturer for reimbursement. The money you save doesn't come out of their profit...they get it back from the extra for them having to process the coupon. So you saved $.88 cents, the store is going to get $1.00 back. So they just made $.12 because you used that coupon. In my opinion that same $.12 should have come off your total...and at some stores it does - it depends on the store's policy on overages. You know how you read stories or see coupon queens on TV that tell you they left the supermarket with a full cart AND got paid to do it? That's how...the store they shop at #1 doubles / triples coupons (there's usually a limit "up to $1.00" - so if you have a $1 off coupon, you'll get $2.00 off - if it's a coupon for $1.50 off, i'm not sure if they just don't double or if you get $2.50 off - like I said, we don't have stores that do that). #2 gives the customer the overage.

      At my last job (tech support for a statewide retailer) we had people on staff in the accounting department who did nothing but deal with coupons. The retail locations sent them in with their bank records, etc and these ladies sorted, counted, totaled, bundled and sent them off to the manufacturers in big batches for reimbursement. Then of course kept track of what was sent off and tracked down the stuff that didn't get paid so they could hunt down the manufacturer and follow up. Yep - that job does counter (ok, that wasn't their official title, but it was their job).

      Some stores will give you the overage up to zeroing out your total, but won't actually let you go to a negative total and then pay that out.

      YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) that's pretty much a given when it comes to couponing.

      Oh and  Happy Birthday to me! Yes, today is my birthday.

      Tomorrow - we will visit my coupon organization system...and touch on a few others that I know of...