Coupon myths and misconceptions: “Using lots of coupons with sales – isn’t that like stealing?”

Gatorade

Finally, I've made it to the last post in this series! 

As a reminder, I launched this series a few months back to explore various objections people have to couponers or in getting started using coupons themselves.  It has been an interesting and challenging process wrestling through each of these topics and I will end with the most difficult objection yet.  It goes something like this:

"So…you're using coupons on everything and combining them with sales?  And sometimes that means get items for really cheap or even free?  The stores must hate you.  Plus, that's like stealing."

This is a very valid concern and I didn't want to simply glaze over this topic.  Most couponers will simply retort, "the stores are getting reimbursed for the coupons, plus a small handling fee."  While this is in most cases true, it's not a complete answer in my opinion.  So today I want to share a little more with you about how manufacturers and retailers benefit from coupon usage.

Yes, you read that right.  They benefit.  They want you to redeem those coupons.  Here's why:

  1. Coupons give consumers an incentive to try a particular brand over another.  Think about it.  If there is a high-value coupon out there plus a killer sale at the store, won't you choose that brand over its counterparts?  Manufacturers are willing to incent customers to try their product in hopes of gaining new, loyal users to that product.  You'll also see this strategy frequently used with new products.
  2. Coupons bring foot traffic into stores.  Retailers are pleased as punch when a manufacturer decides to offer a terrfic coupon.  It's no coincidence that stores often run sales in conjunction with the coupons manufacturers push out.  (Think of the recent Kraft coupons and promotions.)  True, retailers will get reimbursed for the coupons, but additionally, they gain customers in their stores.  I can think of lots of instances were I went to redeem a coupon on a great sale and just decided to buy my milk or bread at that store to save an extra trip.  Have you ever done that?
  3. Manufacturers are aware that consumers are trending towards thriftiness.  Given the current economy, it's no wonder that thriftiness, bargain hunting, and coupons are all the rage.  In order to compete with warehouse prices and generic brands, manufacturers more than ever have to work to keep brand loyalty.  And they are doing it in increasing numbers.  Ron Fischer, President of Redemption Processing Representatives in a 2009 Coupon Forecast* that he's "seen a definite increase with manufacturers thathave never before couponed."  This suggests to me that the issuance of quality coupons and their redemption is one way manufactuers can compete for marketshare.   
  4. Manufacturers are attempting to reach a younger generation of couponers.  If manufacturers were not profiting by coupons being redeemed, why on earth would they continue to issue them year after year?  What's more, why would they continue to find new ways of getting people to use them?  Internet coupons, in particular, have seen a huge surge.  And it's growing.  Users of Coupons.com printed $300 million in savings, and they are targeting $1.0 billion for 2009*.  They have also recently launched an application for Facebook users.  Other companies have invested in coupons you can upload to your loyalty cards or phone.  
  5. Manufacturers want retailers to give them premium space at their stores.  Let's say a manufacturer of a brand of laundry detergent decides to run an aggressive coupon campaign.  As a result, foot traffic begins to increase at Grocery Store X.  More foot traffic = more sales of other merchandise (See #2).  Grocery Store X rewards the manufacturer with more shelf space, or perhaps an end-cap display.  This is a win-win situation. 
  6. Manufacturers enjoy free advertising from sites such as mine.  Julie Parrish, at Hot Coupon World, brought up this excellent point when I asked for her thoughts on this topic.  When a manufacturer releases a great coupon – perhaps to introduce a new product – how many bloggers post about it?  I can think of many, many brands I've encouraged readers to buy because of a great coupon and great sale (yesterday, I mentioned Kashi and Pull-ups, for instance).  I'm helping you out by finding a deal, but I'm also helping these manufacturers out in the process, too.  And they don't have to pay me a penny! 

I hope I've been able to shed some light on how retailers and manufacturers benefit from your use of coupons.  I also recently emailed the Coupon Information Corporation, a watchdog agency on coupon fraud.  I asked directly if using coupons and sales together is the same as stealing.  The answer was no, and that "savvy shoppers" would understand combining coupons and sales only maximizes their savings. 

Of course, in saying all this I am assuming we are talking about using legitimate coupons in alignment with store coupon policies.  You most certainly CAN defraud retailers and manufacturers by using coupons in a way other than intended or outright forging coupons.  Coupon fraud IS stealing and certainly nothing to mess with.  But using coupons on a store sale?  That's just being smart with your money.

Phew!  We made it.  I hope you've learned a little bit with me in this process of exploring various coupon myths and misconceptions.  I have plans underway for my next series, but it's going to take me a little research and time to get my facts straight.  Watch for that to come in early August.

* From the Association of Coupon Professionals' E-Zine Winter Newsletter 2009

Photo credit Teri Gosse


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Coupon myths and misconceptions: “Using coupons is too complicated!”

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Finally, I'm getting around to tying out the series I launched a couple months ago entitled "Coupon Myths and Misconceptions."  Again, my intention was to challenge some of the main objections I hear when I share with other people how I use coupons to save money on groceries.

Today I want to talk about this objection: "This sounds far too complicated.  Maybe you save money using coupons, but I just don't have the time and energy right now.  I won't stick with it."

One thing I've learned is that since I've used coupons, I've done a better job overall of organizing my shopping trips, keeping a well-stocked pantry, eliminated the need for middle-of-the-week trips, and become a better steward of my money altogether.  Sure, it did take an initial investment of time to find the system that was right for me and learn how to use coupons effectively (and I'm still learning!).  But in the long run?  I actually think using coupons has helped me create a more efficient, less-complicated household!

Here are some easy ideas for using coupons in a way that will help you and not complicate your life further.

1. Make couponing part of your normal routine.Don't have a lot of extra time to spare?  Who does!  Find ways to work couponing and deal-hunting in with your other weekly tasks.  I get my papers Saturday morning, when I often run other errands.  I may clip and sort my coupons during a favorite TV show.   Plan your meals for the week based on the deals you find in that week's circulars.  You get the idea.

2. File your inserts instead of clipping.  No time to clip and sort?  I generally like to clip and file each of my coupons, but the last couple weeks have found me extraordinarily busy.  No problem, you can simply file the inserts by date and use an online database, such as Hot Coupon World, to retrieve the coupons when you need them.

3. Find a small coupon organizer.  I found a great little expanding file folder that I use when I go to the store.  I have a tab for each store and a few other tabs that I've titled things such as "receipts," "Register Rewards," and "free coupons."  I have found this is MUCH better to take into the store than my monstrous binders.  I simply pull out the coupons I need for a shopping trip and add them to my expanding file folder.

4. Identify your best sources for deals, and bookmark them.  Find your favorite blogs, forums, and other deal-related websites and bookmark them or read them in an aggregate, such as Google Reader.  I spent some time finding the sites that I felt had the best deals for the stores I frequented and noted when they typically updated.  Once you've saved those sites as your favorites, you'll find it doesn't take too much time to scan them for the deals that make sense for your family.  As you get better at couponing, you'll find it's easy to identify many deals yourself just by scanning the ads.

5. Build your stockpile! Your hard work will pay off as your stockpile will grow and your couponing skills increase.  In a few weeks, your pantry will begin to round out and you'll notice less of a need to hit the grocery and drugstores in the middle of the week.  Entertaining on the fly won't throw you.  You'll learn how to become creative with what you have on hand.

6. Plan, plan, plan.  The thing you'll find quickly is that planning pays off in the long run.  Plan your meals, plan your shopping trips, plan your budget, plan your pantry…and you'll save time, chaos, and frustration in the long run.  Most of all, you'll save money.  A LOT of money.  And trust me, as you become more and more efficient you'll quickly see that the money you save will be well worth the time you put in.

Next week I will tackle my last Myth and Misconception: "Isn't using a lot of coupons stealing?"  Be sure to watch!

Photo taken by yours truly on her first visit to H.E.B. ever in Texas.


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Coupon myths and misconceptions: a brief update

As you might have noticed, it's been a couple weeks since my last installment in the "Coupon Myths and Misconception" series.  I apologize.  Life has been on the crazy side lately and so I've opted to focus time on at least finding you some practical money-saving deals.

When I started this series, I had listed 11 coupon myths and misconceptions I wanted to discuss.  Well – unfortunately I lost that list!  I do recall two remaining myths I want to tackle, and they are:

  • "Using a lot of coupons sure sounds like stealing to me!"
  • "Using coupons just sounds like a big headache to me – not worth it!"

My realistic plan at this point is to finish by covering those two posts in the next couple weeks, so please be watching for them!

I also want to give you the chance to help me finish out the series – especially since I clean forgot what two of the final myths were I was hoping to cover.  Here's how you can help.  Go back and review the other topics in the Coupon Myths & Misconceptions series (you'll find the handy link in my right-hand sidebar).  Then, leave a comment with your suggestion for a myth or misconception you think I am missing.  I will choose up to two of the best suggestions to cover in my final posts on this series.  Sound good? 


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Coupon myths and misconceptions: “Coupons and a healthy lifestyle do not go together.”

Carrots Myth seven of my coupon myths and misconceptions series goes like this:

"Well I only eat organic, healthy food.  All the coupons are for processed food.  Plus, I like to cook from scratch."

My response?  If you like to eat like that, you could more readily afford to if you used coupons and knew a thing or two about the way store sales work!  If you think I'm off my rocker, read on.

The thing is, whether you shop with coupons or without coupons, it all boils down to the choices you make.  There are thousands of items in the store to choose from, and thousands of coupons and offers as well.  Just because you use coupons and want to save a buck does not resign you to a diet of Hamburger Helper and Top Ramen for the rest of your days.

Here is what I've observed about eating well using coupons and sales:

  1. Manufacturers are increasingly offering organic, healthy food coupons and offers.  Pay attention a little bit and you'll find lots of offers for good, healthy food.  Just a couple weeks ago, I posted about how Eat Better America is giving away coupon books.  In the health section of my Fred Meyer I found a basket full of free samples and coupons.  How about that free Kashi entree?  And these are just the tip of iceburg lettuce folks. 
  2. Money saved on household items = more money for what matters to you.  If you are ultra-picky on your meat cuts or only buy organic produce, consider saving money in other areas.  By shopping at drugstores such as Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS, you can drastically save on items like toothpaste, toilet paper, and household cleaners.  With the new-found money in your wallet, you can now more readily buy the meat, produce, and dairy that you love.
  3. Couponers do less impulse shopping and eating out.  Guess what?  Because you are learning to build a stockpile, chances are you're naturally going to be cooking more.  Your grocery trips will be carefully planned, so there will be reduced temptation to "browse."  You'll also learn to get creative in the kitchen with your pantry items, which means more homecooked meals, not less.  
  4. Buy according to store trends.  If you really dig organic veggies, why not take the time to learn when each one comes into season?  By purchasing produce when it's at its peak, you'll save money while getting the best flavor at the same time.  The same goes for meat.  Learn to plan your lists and meals around store and seasonal trends.
  5. Consider starting your own garden.  Many couponers are avid gardeners.  Is it any wonder?  Paying pennies for vegetable seeds is certainly cheaper than paying full price at the grocery store.  And what could be more healthful than fruits and veggies grown from your own garden?

In my travels around the blogosphere, I have come across some great resources on how to buy organic and/or eat healthful on a budget.  Check them out for some great additional reading on this subject:

Get Rich Slowly (is documenting his gardening adventure and tracking the expenses involved)
The Prudent Homemaker(blogger who lives off her garden, cooks from scratch, and lives off her stockpile)
Hot Coupon World – Forum on Gardening
Grocery Game – forum on organics and whole foods

If you personally run a money-saving blog that focuses on healthy eating or living, you are welcome to leave a comment and let us know!

Photo credit Christine Landis


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Coupon myths and misconceptions: “Buying generic is the cheapest way to go.”

Apples

Well I'm officially on my sixth myth…and halfway through this series!  I hope you are enjoying reading these as much as I am writing them. 

Today I want to focus on one myth that always makes me cringe whenever I hear it.  And I even will hear it occasionally from so-called "money experts" in their advice to overspending shoppers.  So the myth goes something like this:

"While coupons will save you money on name brands, you are better off just buying generic brands at the store."

Now it is true – when you are at the store sans coupons, generally the best way to save money is to opt for the store brand over the name brand.  But remember this: manufacturers want you to buy their products!  That's why you'll often find high value coupons and rebate offers particularly for new products.  And it's no coincidence that store sales often seem to coincide with these coupons.   

If you need some convincing, here are just a few items I've been able to obtain recently for cheap, free, or better than free by combining coupons and store sales.  Would their generic counterparts have been cheaper?

  • Oil of Olay Ribbons Bodywash, $0.36 at Walgreens
  • Visine eyedrops, rec'd $2 for buying 2 at Walgreens
  • GiletteMen's Bodywash, free at Kmart
  • 10 cans Progresso soup, free at Albertsons
  • 4 cans Pledge Multi-surface spray, ~$0.50 at Safeway
  • Boxed Quaker Instant Oatmeal, $0.50 at QFC
  • Revlon lip gloss, rec'd $1 for buying at Walgreens
  • Pampers Jumbo pack diapers, $3.33 at Albertsons

The above list is really a small sampling of what I ordinarily find on sale at grocery and drugstores.  I want you to know I find these deals on a regular basis.  On any given week, free stuff can be had with just a little digging (and even in my neck of the woods when stores almost never double coupons).

In all fairness, there is a time and a place for generic items for the avid couponer.  In fact, I purchased a few myself today!  Here are the scenarios that make best sense to me:

  1. When you need the item and there are no sales and/or coupons to make the name brand versions a better deal.
  2. When a store decides to run an awesome promotion or coupon on their in-house brands.

This should go without saying, but do be sure to select a store that generally has low prices in general for your generic-brand shopping! 

Bottom line, one should be careful to say "generic is cheaper" as an absolute statement.  In many cases, it's simply not true!  Since couponing, I've found I've actually been able to enjoy the better brands for cheaper.  If that seems counterintuitive, I invite you to join my coupon project and see for yourself!

Watch next week as I tackle yet another couponing myth.

Photo credit John Moore 


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Coupon myths and misconceptions: “You are probably at the store ALL THE TIME.”

Shopping Carts Today I'm going to discuss Myth #5 in my series entitled "Coupon Myths and Misconceptions."  As a reminder, this series is all about addressing some of the most commonly-held reasons people think couponing is a waste of time.  I'd also like to apologize for the delay in this week's installment.  Monday and Tuesday found me attending to some important tasks around the house, so unfortunately, this got placed on the back burner.  But in general, you can look for updates to this series each Monday.

So here's the response I seem to get an awful lot when I explain to folks how I use coupons: "Wow.  You must be in the store all the time.  I hate grocery shopping.  I just don't think I'd want to be shopping all the time…and all that driving, forget it."

Truth be told, if you're a highly disorganized person and/or a shopaholic, sure, you CAN end up wasting a lot of time in the stores.

But I don't.  In fact, the better I've gotten at couponing, the more efficient of a shopper I've become.  The result?  Less time planning my trips and less time in the stores.  So here's how couponing actually yields you these time-saving benefits:

  1. You are more likely to meal plan. It's easier to meal plan if you know what deals are going on at the stores each week.  Chicken on sale?  Great, add chicken pot pie to your weekly menu. Is it Cinco de Mayo week?  Wonderful.  Throw in some Mexican dishes.  Combine your deal finding with your meal planning to save time and money.
  2. Your lists are more organized.  Once you start couponing, the tendency is to categorize your coupons in some fashion that makes sense to you.  In my case, I generally organize mine by sections of the store.  My grocery list follows suit.  This helps cut down considerable time at the store.
  3. Your trips are better planned.  I often hit up more that one store in a trip to get the best deals, but I don't dilly dally.  I plan my route ahead of time to maximize my trip.  While I'm not there yet, my goal is to consolidate all my shopping to one day per week.  My friend Sarah recently shared with me how she drives an extra few minutes to the shopping center that has ALL the stores she goes to within walking distance.  Smart!
  4. Your time in the store is shortened.  Once you have your meals planned and your list in hand, there's really no reason why you should be spending lots of time at any one store.  After all, you're shopping by your list (and hopefully your budget, too).  In general I'd say that I spend no more than 15-20 minutes in any one store (and usually less).  I bet most of that time is just waiting in line and checking out, too! 
  5. Your pantry is better stocked.  So how does this save you time?  Well in the long run it means you can cut down your shopping trips altogether.  If a middle-of-the-week event pops up, you'll have food on hand to prepare.  Need a last-minute birthday gift for a coworker?  You'll have lots of items that fit the bill right in your hall closet.  You can even work towards taking designated periods of time off from shopping altogether.  This seems to be a topic of interest right now on many blogs.  Remember my "No-Spend Challenge" a couple weeks back?   Well at that same time, Money Saving Mom Crystal was doing her own "Eating from the Pantry" challenge and MomAdvice encouraged readers to try a month-long expirement of not spending any money!  

Remember, the ultimate objective of the couponer is to save money while simultaneously enjoying a better lifestyle.  I've said it before, and I'll say it now, that's why stockpiling and couponing go hand in hand.  Gradually, your pantry should be so well stocked that you are not only saving money, but now you're saving lots and lots of time, too.  And I think we can all agree our time can be better spent than browsing aisles absentmindedly at the supermarket.

I'm coming to see that tried-and-true couponers are pretty effiicient when it comes to handling time and  money.  Incidentally, a couple weeks ago I had the honor of guest blogging over at Hip2Save.  You might be interested in reading my post, "How to save time when you're out to save money" for more thoughts on this topic.

Be sure to come back next week as I tackle another couponing myth! 

Photo credit Lars Sundstrom


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Coupon myths and misconceptions: “I’ll save more shopping at Costco.”

Scale Today I'm continuing the series I launched four weeks ago entitled "Coupon Myths & Misconceptions."  My goal is to challenge some of the commonly-held excuses for not using coupons to save money on grocery and household items.  If you're interested to read the other posts in the series, I've created a category called "Myths & Misconceptions" for your reading pleasure.

My post this week is one I've been chewing on for some time now because it's a question I get A LOT: "Won't I save more by just shopping at Costco?"  My short answer to this question is "in most cases, no," but there's a caveat.  Costco sells MANY MANY items from coffins to cruise packages to Corian for your kitchen counters.  In the interest of time (and my sanity), I am going to stick strictly to groceries and basic household items – the sort of things you'd ordinarily buy at a supermarket.  Let's compare apples to apples, OK?

That being said, let's move right along.

You've probably heard this before, but I'll say it again.  You save money when you buy items your family needs and uses when they are at their "rock-bottom low" price.  How do you determine what that price is?  You need to pay attention to unit prices, and then you need to write them down.  There is this fallacy out there that buying in bulk is the way to go.   Nothing's more American than the shopping approach of "buy more, save more."  But in the world of unit prices, this does not always hold true.

To put it in dollars and cents, a couple friends of mine recently jotted down the Costco unit prices of items they regularly buy.  Here are some of their findings (note these may well be regional and fluctuate with time):

  • Canned kidney beans = $0.72 each
  • Canned corn or green beans = $0.79 each
  • Canned black beans = $0.68 each
  • Canned diced tomatoes = $0.99 each
  • Canned Nalley Chili = $0.81 each
  • Canned tomato soup = $0.66 each
  • Diapers = $0.20 each (Huggies and Kirkland brand share this unit price)
  • Paper towels = $1.17 each

When broken out in these terms, maybe it's easier to see that these prices are regularly matched and beaten at regular, everyday grocery stores.  There are a few other important disadvantages Costco has that you should know about (if you don't already):

  • Costco does NOT accept manufacturers' coupons – only their own
  • You must pay to shop at Costco (an annual membership for my husband & me runs $50)
  • There is not a lot of flexibility when it comes to selecting quantity or size (e.g., you must buy all 12 cans of green beans as one unit or a huge tub of peanut butter – and good luck eating that before it expires)

Here's how I see it.  I can regularly beat Costco's unit prices at my grocery store AND I can use manufacturers' coupons AND I don't have to pay $50 to go there.  I can also buy the quantities and sizes that make best sense for my wallet and my stockpile.  Because of this, my husband and I have let our membership expire. 

When I was a Costco shopper, I also lamented how I never left the store without dropping at least $100 (and usually more).  This seems to be a common sentiment among Costco shoppers.  In all honesty, I can't remember the last time I spent $100 at a grocery store.  So how exactly are we saving all this money by shopping at Costco?  There's no denying – Costco DOES have some good deals.  My friend Jessie listed a dozen eggs for $1.40.  That's pretty hard to beat in my neck of the woods (get it…beat?  eggs?…moving on…).

The main problem, in my mind, is what I'll call the Costco Marketing Machine.  Consider:

  • When you first walk in, you see LOTS of TV screens and electronics
  • You also tend to see seasonal items that catch your interest – lights at Christmas, bulbs in the fall, etc.
  • To get to the food, you MUST cross through other items first – books, movies, toys, linens
  • Don't forget all the catchy end displays of food storage systems and home spa electronics
  • There are always so many darn good samples cooking up that you just have to try
  • The layout of the store makes it hard to get in and get out

When you end up spending a lot of money you hadn't intended or budgeted for, you are no longer saving money – no matter how good the deal.  Make sense? 

Again, I do not want you to run out and cancel your Costco memberships based on this one post (and neither does Costco, for that matter).  However, I do want to challenge your thinking that just because it's from Costco, it's a good deal and can't be topped.  And if using Costco for your gas, home electronic, travel, etc. purchases is saving your family some serious cash, more power to you.  Just be open to the fact that there may be other deals to be had by looking elsewhere (and some places might even be happy to price-match or beat Costco's prices for you).

In closing, I'd like to leave you with five simple strategies for surviving Costco if you choose to shop there:

  1. DON'T take a cart.  Their big carts just encourage you to fill, fill, fill the empty space.  If you truly came in for the box of green beans, get a little workout in by lugging them to the checkout.  (You can do a few lunges with them as you wait in line, too.) 
  2. DON'T go on an empty stomach.  Good night this should go without saying. 
  3. DO give yourself a time constraint.  Make sure you don't dilly-dally. Schedule your Costco trip about 20 minutes before you need to show up to your friend's house for dinner (or better yet, your boss' house).
  4. DO leave the credit card at home.  Plan your trip enough to just use cash.
  5. DO wear horse blinders.  You might look like a nut, but at least your eyes won't wander and get your pocketbook in trouble.

Be sure to watch next Monday for yet another coupon myth and misconception!

Photo credit Stephen Stacey


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Coupon myths and misconceptions: “Everyone at the store will hate me!”

Hate A couple weeks ago, I decided to launch a series entitled "Myths & Misconceptions."  In doing this, I want to explore common responses I get primarily from people who either don't use coupons or are on the fence about whether coupons are worth the trouble.  

Today I want to talk about something that really does bother quite a few people.  And that's wondering what other people might think about you – or worse, what they might say to you – when you head to the checkout with 20 items and 20 coupons.  To be honest, I shared this concern when I started my couponing adventures just a few months ago. 

But do you want to know something funny?  I've had just the opposite happen – in fact, I'm more likely to make someone in the store happy I came in and not upset!  Here are some honest-to-goodness real life encounters I have had:

  • A cashier remarked about the high cost of razors as she scanned up my order.  I then told her, "yeah, I don't pay full price.  Here are my coupons."  When she saw how drastically they reduced the cost, she thanked me and told me she'd be doing the same deal on her break (I told her where to find the coupons right there in her store!).
  • I was at Target browsing clearance items with my coupon binder in hand when another customer came up and was curious where I got my coupons.  I was able to share with her a few tips and then gave her a coupon for a Glade candle that was on clearance.  She was tickled she'd end up paying less than $1 for a $6 candle.
  • Another cashier was surprised when the household cleaners I purchased rang up as $1 each.  She didn't know they were on sale, but was glad I could clue her in!

The truth of the matter is most people want to save money on their groceries.  Food costs have gone up, unemployment rates are soaring, stocks are in the crapper, and many people's housing situation is dubious at best.  People who perhaps once looked down on couponers (and believe me, I was one of them), now might be open to learning how to save wherever possible on their groceries. 

Of course, no matter how much you save, you can still turn people off to using coupons (and you in general!) if you are obnoxious and rude.  The good news is that can easily be avoided.  Here are my best tips how to win people over at the store (both employees and fellow customers):

  1. Avoid overly aggressive shopping and couponing tactics.  While I am 100% for stockpiling, I am not for clearing out massive quantities of items so no one else can get in on the deal.  I am also not for asking a cashier to perform 30 transactions for you back-to-back.  I understand "aggressive" might be a subjective term, but here's an easy way to clear it up.  Ask yourself if you're being considerate of others as you get your good deal. 
  2. Spread the coupon love with other shoppers.  If you see a shopper in line about to purchase an item you have a coupon for on hand, consider helping her save a buck.  Not into offering strangers coupons?  Try setting a few coupons near their related items on the store shelves.  This is a great way to share coupons that are about to expire or for items you are not likely to use.  I have found and used coupons myself like this and am always appreciative!   I've also left some, too.
  3. Let others go first.  I intentionally try and shop on days of the week and times of day when stores are less apt to be busy.  I also offer to let others go in front of me.  I just say, "I'm using a fair amount of coupons in my transaction today.  Why don't you go first?"  Then, they either take me up on my offer, or decline.  And if they decline, they've been warned and I don't feel rushed.  Simple as that.  Sometimes I will use the "self scan" lines as many of them will accept coupons too.  It's actually a fairly straight-forward process.
  4. Thank your cashier.  I always make a point to be friendly with the cashier and tell them up front I have coupons to use.  In most cases, this seems to get things on the right footing.  It also frequently leads to discussions about coupons and I've had more than one opportunity to share a deal in the checkout line! 
  5. Be polite with customer service and managers.  Remember, your goal is to build positive relationships with the stores you plan on frequenting.  I know it might be upsetting if for some reason the cashier refuses to accept your coupon, but try to keep your cool and think about the bigger picture.  So if you have to deal with the manager in a scenario like this, try to keep the focus on learning about the store's coupon policy and practices and less about getting a particular cashier in trouble.     

Bottom line, when you walk into your local grocery store, you want the cashiers to all say, "There he is!  I hope he comes in my line!  I want to see what sort of deals he found today!" and NOT "oh dear, here he is again."

If you've been holding back in really getting out there and using coupons because you're afraid people will be annoyed by you, I'd like you to think again.  Sure, there are the occasional sighs, grunts, and mutters.  But I guarantee if you are polite and pleasant as always, you are bound to make a bunch of new-found friends.  Lots of 'em.

Be sure to read next Monday when I'll address the question: "Won't I save more by shopping at Costco?"

Photo credit Felix Atsoram


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Coupon myths and misconceptions: “Coupons won’t save me that much money.”

Coin Towers Last week, I launched a series entitled "Coupon Myths and Misconceptions."  My goal is to challenge common reasons why people don't use coupons to save money.  Remember – I am new at this myself.  I don't have all the answers (but I do have some of them!).  And what I don't know, I'm learning right along with you.   

Today I want to explore the myth that coupons won't make that much a difference in your grocery bill.  Just a few months ago, that was what I thought, too.  The truth is, there is a correct way to use coupons and an incorrect way.  When done correctly, coupons CAN save you money – BIG money.

So let's start first with the wrong way to use coupons.  I call this "willy-nilly coupon usage."  Coupons will not save you money if:

  • You clip coupons sporadically (i.e., you're inconsistent)
  • You throw your coupons in a junk drawer in hopes you'll remember about them (i.e., you're disorganized)
  • You do not pay attention to store sales (i.e., you're oblivious)
  • You do not combine your coupons with store sales, store coupons, rebates, etc. (i.e., you don't know store coupon policies)
  • You do not plan your grocery trips (i.e., you're an impulse shopper)

In other words, if you clip one $0.35-off coupon for peanut butter and then use it at any old grocery store, you are likely not going to get the biggest bang for that coupon's buck.  Even worse, you could clip it, forget about it, and then pay full price when you need the jar of peanut butter.   

So how do you maximize the value of your coupons and maximize your savings?  After considering my best shopping trips, I came up with the following list of seven easy ways to make the most out of your coupon savings:

  1. Get the Sunday paper every week.  On any given week the coupons might be fantastic – or non-existent.  As the weeks progress, however, you'll end up with a well-rounded stash.  One thing I've noticed is that coupons seem to match seasonal trends.  For instance, I found lots of hot cocoa coupons a few months ago.  Now?  Not so much.  But I'm starting to find hot dog coupons.  In my post a couple weeks back, I shared a few other ideas for acquiring coupons.      
  2. Make sure your coupons are organized.  A few days ago, I discussed my current coupon organization system.  Your  coupons are just not going to work for you if you don't have any method in place for organizing and retrieving them.  If you're just starting out, consider at the least getting a stack of business-sized envelopes and writing categories on them (dairy, frozen, haircare, etc.). 

  3. Combine your coupons with sale prices.  Remember that coupons are only one piece of the pie.  You've got to pay attention to store sales, too.  You might remember in my post earlier this month that I reported coupons saved me $300 and store sales saved me another $400.  To illustrate this point a little further, I found a real-life example for you.  In last Sunday's SmartSource, there was  $1-off-1 Neosporin coupon.  I found this item advertised in three circulars (maybe it's the season for bumps and bruises?).  Consider: a) Walgreens' price is $3.99; b) Rite Aid's price is $4.99; and c) Target's price is $3.50.  Given these three options, your clear winner is c) Target where you'd pay $2.50 after the advertised price and your coupon.

  4. Combine your coupons with other offers.  In addition to sales, stores and manufacturers may offer rebates on certain products – and a lot of times the rebates may make the items free.  Think rebates are a waste of time?  To-date for 2009, I've received over $120 in rebates.  Not bad for two-and-a-half months!  You might also look for stores that double or even triple coupons.  In my neck of the woods, most stores do not double on a regular basis, but a couple (Kmart and Albertsons) will double from time to time.  In fact, just yesterday I was able to get yogurt for free at Albertsons by playing my coupons on a double coupon deal!   

  5. Know store coupon policies.  Cliche, perhaps, but knowledge really IS power.  For instance, many stores will allow you to use a store coupon (generally found in weekly ads) AND a manufacturer's coupon for the same item.  I did this myself recently and paid $0.29 for a large box of Kelloggs Raisin Bran.  I also did that this week at Walgreens and ended up with free shampoo.  Some stores will also permit you to use two coupons on a "buy one, get one free" sale (because you are purchasing two items, regardless that one is free).  Many stores have their coupon policies available on their websites.  You can also phone or email customer service for clarification.  Don't miss out on a great opportunity to save!

  6. Track your savings.  In my pre-baby life, I worked at a bank and became a bit of an MS Excel geek.  So I recently decided to set up a spreadsheet to track shelf costs, coupon savings, store savings, and my out-of-pocket costs.  I was floored at the results.  I recommend you find a way to track your savings – either regularly or periodically.  When you see those savings rack up, it's a great motivation to continue!

  7. Change your mindset.  In our household, the new question is "do we have a coupon for that?"  Save in one area, and you'll want to save in others.  As you start couponing, I imagine you'll discover this for yourself too.  You just get to a place where you do not want to pay full price for anything.  You start looking up ways to save on restaurants, on your home electric bill, on buying that new car.  For me, it's because I simply do not want to negate the great savings I managed with our grocery costs.

When you have that first successful shopping trip – not where you save $1 or $2, but 50% or more off your bill – you'll understand that saving power coupons really do possess.  Couponing does not cramp my lifestyle.  It's actually (dare I say it?) fun, exciting, and rewarding!  Yes; we're spending less money, but we're also purchasing more food and household items than ever before.  And getting better stuff than we would've in the past, too. 

Watch for the next post in this series next Monday.

Photo credit Sanja Gjenero


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Coupon myths and misconceptions: “There are no coupons for anything I use!”

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Since I've been sharing with others what I've been doing with coupons, I've heard some of the exact same objections over and over.  For example,

"That's good for you, but I still think Costco is cheaper."
"Do stores know you're doing this?  Isn't using a lot of coupons and sales the same as stealing?"
"This really sounds far too complicated and I'm too busy for that."

I recently sat down and was able to come up with 11 such myths and misconceptions that I've heard on more than one occasion.  I thought it might be a good idea to explore each of these in a little more detail over the next few weeks.  So if you're new to couponing, maybe I'll win you over.  And if you're an old pro, maybe you'll have some new responses for people you encounter that are skeptical of what you're doing.

Today I'd like to focus on a comment I've heard frequently and in fact, just heard yesterday from the cashier as I was making my weekly purchase of newspapers.  She said, "yeah, I look through those inserts every now and then, but there's never anything in there I actually use.  I wish they'd make coupons for stuff folks actually buy." 

So here are some points to consider if you're in agreement with that remark:

  1. Collect many coupons over many weeks.  On any given Sunday, the coupons may not be so great – or there may be none at all.  Don't give up.  Continue to buy the paper each week.  There are different trends during different seasons of the year and as you go, you'll notice your coupon stash start to round out.
  2. Don't limit yourself to the Sunday inserts!  I've mentioned this before, but certain items – such as dairy, produce, and meat – may be more regionally priced.  For deals on these items, look at store circulars for their own coupons and promotions.  Good deals can still be found!
  3. Think beyond your weekly shopping list.  Part of the problem may be you make your list of 20 items and then go looking for coupons.  To help see the bigger picture, consider listing ALL of the products your family uses over the course of a year.  Then work on buying those items when they are on a low price – even if you don't need the item right then and there.  For instance, a couple months back, I found some great deals on cough drops.  While no one was sick in my family at that moment, I'm glad I stocked up.  I came down with a cold just a week ago and was happy to NOT pay full price for those items!
  4. Become loyal to saving money, not to certain brands.  The goal of couponing is to save money.  So if brand X pasta goes on sale for $0.25 a box, you'd buy that and not brand Y pasta which you'd pay $1.50 for.  Of course, don't stock up on brands no one in your family likes.  Experiment when certain brands go on sale and see if you like them.  I've found some wonderful new products and food items I wouldn't have tried otherwise!  And if you simply must have a certain brand and aren't seeing any coupons popping up for it, consider joining their mailing list or visiting their website.  Many manufacturers now offer printable coupons directly from their websites. 
  5. Don't get hung up on having to use EVERY coupon.  I only use a small fraction of every coupon I clip.  But that doesn't really bother me because the ones I do use save me so much money.  If your'e curious how much money coupons saved me in February alone, read my post from last week

Today as I was reflecting on the cashier's comment, I decided to list up everything that I had purchased recently at a tremendous savings using coupons as part of the transaction.  I wonder if she would've seen this list if I could've changed her mind:

  • Diapers, wipes
  • Hair care – shampoo, conditioner, stylers, hair dye*
  • Tinfoil, freezer bags
  • Razors, shaving gel*
  • Paper products – TP, tissues, paper towels
  • OTC medicines and remedies of all kinds*
  • Feminine products* 
  • Tooth care – toothpaste, whitening kits, mouthwash, toothbrushes*
  • Body care – soap, body wash, lotions, facial cleansers*
  • Household cleaners and fresheners*
  • Dry and canned goods – soup, rice, pasta, sauce
  • Meat – frozen chicken, ground beef, sausage, bacon (even my T-day turkey was free!!!)
  • Dairy – milk, yogurt, sour cream, cheese of all kinds, eggs
  • Produce – fruits, veggies, nuts, salad mixes
  • Baking goods – flour, sugar, seasonings, salt, baking powder, yeast
  • Organic items – canned goods, cereals, frozen goods, soups

* These items I frequently find for cheap, free, or better than free (e.g. you make money!)

So what exactly am I missing?  What exactly are the items that "folks actually buy"?  Even if there are glaring omissions, don't you think by saving in these other categories you would reduce your overall grocery bill so you can more readily afford those other items?  Consider couponing for just one month and see if you can't find at least several good buys on items your family already uses on a regular basis.  Common', I dare ya!

Photo credit Junior Gomes


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