Sharpen your coupon-clipping skills
Companies have found more ways to get coupons to budget-conscious shoppers. Here's how to find them, and avoid counterfeits.
Frugal consumers have become fast and furious with their coupon-clipping habits.
During the first half of 2010, coupon use increased 7% compared with the same period a year ago, reports redemption-services consulting firm Inmar.
"Now that people have started using coupons, it's a frugality habit," says Matthew Tilley, marketing director at Inmar. Overall, coupon use increased 27% last year compared with the year before -- the first time it had risen in 17 years. Estimated savings: $3.5 billion, or $800 million more than in 2008. That's a whole lot of $1-off frozen dinners.
Sharpening your coupon use takes minimal effort. On grocery bills alone, the Promotion Marketing Association estimates that 15 minutes of weekly coupon hunting can result in savings of between 10% and 15%. With coupon-related phone apps, online codes and other tricks, purchases of everything from computers to clothing are easy to clip-and-save for.
But beware: As coupon use is up, so are fakes, says Bud Miller, a spokesman for the Coupon Information Corporation, an industry group that focuses on coupon fraud. The CIC has issued 115 alerts so far this year about known counterfeits, compared with 74 for all of 2009. One counterfeit offering $8 off a package of Dove men's soap even mimicked SmartSource.com's format.
To avoid getting scammed, get printable coupons from reputable online sources such as RedPlum and SmartSource.com. "The old saying fits: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Miller says.
Here's how to boost your coupon-hunting savvy and save more at checkout:
Timed offers. Don't skip the newspaper at the beginning of the month. There are 191% more coupons in newspapers and on online coupon sites during the first week of the month than at other times, according to shopping site The Grocery Game. Experts say that's because companies have begun targeting sales to when people get paid -- and when they tend to spend more. So clip and collect; most coupons don't expire immediately.
Coupon-loaded loyalty cards. ShopRite, Kroger, Safeway and other stores allow shoppers to digitally load coupons onto their store loyalty cards via the store's site and third parties such as Shortcuts.com and the Procter & Gamble Co. eSaver. Swiping the card at checkout automatically redeems eligible coupons. (Shortcuts.com currently has coupons for $1.50 off three Campbell's condensed soups and 40 cents off Green Giant frozen bagged vegetables, among other deals.) And stores are adapting their registers to better accept paperless coupons, which could lead to more widespread use soon, Tilley says.
Smart-phone offers and online codes. It's no secret that the Web is a goldmine for deals -- and increasingly, so is your phone. And more stores, including Victoria's Secret and Zales, are pushing into smart-phone-based scannable coupons for use in stores. Just show your phone, coupon side up, and a cashier rings up your savings.
Location-based apps like Foursquare also offer deals for frequent shoppers. And Cellfire offers a variety of grocery coupons -- and lets you save some of them to your grocery store loyalty card to show in-store.
Even as more retailers target coupons to consumers who sign up for e-mail lists, there are still plenty of codes to be found at online coupon aggregation sites, says Warren Storey, vice president of product and marketing insight for Epsilon, a marketing firm.
People on store e-mail lists share the codes on sites like RetailMeNot.com and CouponCabin.com -- both coupon aggregation sites that collect codes from users. RetailMeNot.com reports that during the first half of 2010, site visitors redeemed coupons worth $63.6 million in savings. For all of 2009, their savings totaled $52.4 million.
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