Experts' Guide to Couponing
How to Make the Most From Your Coupons
In this article I look at some advanced couponing techniques, namely:
- Stacking coupons
- Trading coupons
- What to do with expired coupons
I will explain each method in more detail below.
Stacking coupons is one of the most effective methods that a couponer can use to make maximum savings. In fact, it's quite possibly the most important skill that a couponer can learn.
The savings that you can get by stacking coupons can be very large indeed, sometimes totaling 75% or more of your total checkout bill.
Combining different types of coupons can even result in a surplus in some extreme circumstances, meaning that you effectively get groceries for free.
How Stacking Coupons Works
In essence, stacking coupons is straightforward and typically involves combining a store coupon and a manufacturer's coupon to make extra savings.
For instance, you might combine a manufacturer's coupon worth one dollar with a store coupon worth one dollar to get a total of two dollars off a specific product worth two-fifty and end up paying only fifty cents.
The difficulty comes, however, with the level of coupon organization that is required in order to get the maximum savings possible. It takes time and energy to learn how to use your coupons effectively. However, the benefits for couponers can be big.
Coupons are like cash to experienced couponers and the better that you organize and use your coupons, the more money you will save.
Save Your Coupons!
The first of my couponing tips in regard to stacking coupons is that you should avoid the temptation to use your coupons as soon as you get them and save them until you can use them to maximum effect. Normally that means waiting until you see if you get pairs of coupons that you can combine.
This strategy of saving coupons works well, but the side effect of this does mean that you can end up with a big stash of coupons that you will need to split into groups and sort in order to make them manageable. This process is called coupon organization.
The first thing to consider when it comes to coupon organization is how you are going to store your coupons.
First of all, you will need to split your coupons up into categories according to their properties, such as whether they are store coupons or manufacturers coupons, the type of product that they are for, and when they are due to expire. There is nothing more frustrating that discovering that a coupon has expired just when you want to use it—although you can and should, of course, donate expired coupons to help military families—see below.
You should also seriously consider buying a coupon organizer wallet, because you can take your wallet to the store with you and have your coupons handy when you need them.
Learn Your Local Store’s Coupon Policies
Coupon stacking is not always possible in every circumstance. It depends upon the specific store coupon policy. You should, therefore, spend some time finding out what the coupon policy is of each store that you use.
There are some stores that don’t have a coupon policy, but the vast majority do and most of them don’t have a problem with stacking coupons, but it is always wise to know what is and isn’t allowed, as far as the store is concerned.
Trading Coupons and Coupon Groups
When people ask questions about how I obtain so many coupons for various products, I share with them that one method is to trade coupons online. Coupon trading opens me up to an entire pool of coupons that I might not have access to, or which I might have to pay for from a clipping service.
It also enables me to pass on to other coupon users those coupons that I do not need, but which may benefit their savings. Provided you keep in mind a few simple guidelines, coupon trading can be a beneficial addition to your couponing practice.
Coupon Trading Sites
The easiest way to being trading coupons is to join one of the coupon trading sites. I joined one when I first started out. It was nothing more than a bulletin board attached to a coupon site I visited. I found coupon trading to be a lot of fun and I anticipated receiving envelopes of needed coupons arriving in the mailbox nearly every day.
Eventually, as the site grew busier, the owner added a forum, and I became a moderator there. I have learned a great deal about coupon trading and how to handle situations that don’t turn out as planned. When first starting to trade coupons, I would recommend that most people do this. While there are independent trading groups also online, there is more risk involved.
On a moderated site, the benefit is having a facilitator available to help when problems arise. Also, on a moderated site, friendships tend to form and that also provides a level of protection. There are often rating systems and if a member gets enough negative ratings they are not permitted to continue trading coupons on the site.
Independent Coupon Groups
Sometimes, there are independent coupon groups on social networks like Facebook, who set up with the primary goal of providing a place for virtual strangers to trade coupons.
I would recommend only experienced couponers use these sites. It’s far more like the Wild, Wild West. You are on your own, and there is no moderation and no relationship, so if there are issues there is little recourse.
However, I know many people who have used them with varying degrees of success. This group is dependent on people engaging in the honor system, so most people are honest in their dealings otherwise they get a negative reputation, the group gets a negative reputation and the group will eventually lose enough members to shut down, so there is some protection there.
It is always in the interest of the group to trade coupons constructively.
My Top Coupon Trading Tips
- Be prompt and accurate when you trade coupons. Respond to emails and messages quickly, within the same day if possible, even if the answer is no, you do not wish to trade coupons with that individual. Keeping your word is crucial to building good coupon trading relationships.
- Privacy is important. Do not exploit your trading partners’ personal information. For those have concerns about sharing a home address with someone you do not know well, a post office box is recommended.
- Follow up regarding your trade. Let your coupon trading partner know that you have mailed your agreed-upon coupons. Let them know also when their envelope to you has arrived, and that the trade is complete. If there are any delays or developments regarding the coupons, be sure to let the other person know. If there is a rating system or feedback system in place, use it. Good communication is the essence of effective coupon trading.
- Many people throw in "extras." "Extras" are coupons that aren’t in the agreed-upon trade, but which you think your coupon trading partner might like or enjoy. It’s a nice touch, but not necessary. If you decide to do this, try to avoid sending coupons that are clearly not on your coupon trading partner’s ISO list. If they don’t have kids, don’t send kid-friendly coupons as it seems like you are just dumping them off on someone else. "Extras," when done right, give people an impression of good faith, thoughtfulness, and generosity, especially if you have not traded coupons with them before. No more than 1–3 is necessary, and more are considered extremely generous.
- Remember that if you engage in bad practices, such as photocopying coupons, and you trade them to others that they can be affected by such behavior, as can you. Also, remember you are vulnerable to others for their trades. Some people suggest not trading internet printables for this reason, but I believe it is up to each individual to decide what coupon trading they will engage in. Do what feels most comfortable.
And there you have it! Coupon trading, when done properly and honestly, is a great way to add unique or otherwise unavailable coupons to your stash.
I like to trade coupons, not only for the variety, but for the relationships that can result and the savings, too!
What to Do With Expired Coupons? Help Military Families!
Many couponers ask me what to do with expired coupons, specifically whether they are of use to anybody—it seems a waste just to throw them away, especially if you have put time and energy into cutting them out and collecting them.
Other couponers have heard that you can send coupons to military families, if the coupons have passed their expiration date, but don’t know how to go about it.
In this article, I will explain what to do with expired coupons and how you can use them to help military families.
I'm so frugal, you wouldn't believe it.— Serena Williams
Some stores do accept expired coupons that are a little over their expiration date, but most won’t, as they are concerned that they won’t get the value of the coupon reimbursed. Many military families that live overseas, however, can continue to use expired coupons for up to six months after their expiration date.
You should, therefore, consider not throwing away your expired coupons, and instead save your expired coupons for military families, many of who live according to a tight budget and have difficulty accessing coupons overseas the way that the rest of us do at home in newspapers, etc.
Support the Troops!
I would highly recommend that you send coupons to military families. It is a low expense way of showing that you support the troops.
(Some charitable couponers even go as far as to set up drop boxes in public buildings such as workplaces and libraries, so that other couponers can donate their expired coupons. They then send off the drop box expired coupons along with their own, when they send coupons to military families.)
Types of Coupon to Send
If you want to send coupons to military families, bear in mind that store coupons are very unlikely to be redeemable overseas. Only manufacturer coupons will be of any use.
Certain sorts of expired coupons are more in demand than others. Popular types are things like baby and food coupons, and the least popular are coupons for things like medical supplies and pets.
I'm frugal. I'm not a very acquisitive woman. I never waste food. If you prepare your own food, you engage with the world, it tastes alive. It tastes good.— Vivienne Westwood
Where to Send Coupons Overseas
The Overseas Coupon Program is a good place to start if you need mailing addresses for military bases that accept expired coupons.
Don’t forget, you can also ask around in your local community too if you want to help military families and send coupons to military families directly.
Tips for Sending Coupons Overseas to Help Military Families
- Always cut out the coupons. This makes them easier to sort out at the other end (and may also lower your postage bill by making it lighter!)
- Split the expired coupons into two categories: food and non-food. Pet food counts as non-food. The two categories should each be put into separate zipper bags and be labeled according to their relevant category.
- Do not send expired coupons that are more than a couple of months past their expiration date. Remember, the expired coupons will have to spend time in the mail, plus maybe some time for sorting at the military base, and the military families also need some time to use them!
- As you are sending the coupons overseas, the post office will request that you fill out a customs form—just ask for help if you are unsure what to do. As you are mailing to an APO or FPO address, you will not pay anything extra for mailing overseas.