One of the first questions I get at our talks on using coupons is “Where do you find them?” Subscribers to the Denver Post receive coupon inserts almost every Sunday and sometimes extras on Thursdays. But, unlike other coupon experts, I don’t advocate you buying multiple (some suggest up to four) newspaper subscriptions. With at least four Sundays with no inserts and another six including only a single insert, the return-on-investment just isn’t there. Still, there are many other options that will only cost you some time, some copy paper and, in one case, some pride. Here are my favorites:
- Get coupons online. Our sister site Living on the Cheap has an easy to use Coupon Center. I suggest you “bookmark” this page. Then, all you do is scroll through every week or so, choose the coupons you want to print, and then send them to your printer. Be aware that the first time you download you’ll be asked to accept a small piece of software. Don’t freak out! Override your anti-virus software and tell it to chill. This is a tiny piece of software that merely identifies your computer so you don’t print out 100 copies of the same coupon. Typically it will limit you to two or four of the same coupon. Print out your coupons and cut them out neatly. Other online sources include SmartSource and RedPlum.
- Play favorites. If you frequent them often enough, grocery stores like King Soopers and Target may start mailing you coupons for the products you buy most. It’s one of the best ways to nab coupons for fresh meat and produce.
- Check store shelves. Manufacturers often distribute coupons right in the grocery store aisle. Look for Blinkies—coupons issued from dispensers (sometimes with blinking light) attached to shelves. The product may not be on sale, but take the blinkie anyway and save it for when it’s marked down—at that store or another. Peelies—stickers you pry off the product for instant savings. Oddly, 78 percent of these go unredeemed, even though it is cash right back on the item being purchased. Tear Pads – attached to freestanding cardboard displays. Grab these when you see them. You may not need the product now, but these coupons typically have long expiration dates.
- Pay attention at checkout. Beside the machine that prints out your receipt is usually another box that prints out “Catalinas” (named for the machine’s manufacturer). Be sure to look at catalinas carefully as they are coupons generated based on your purchases. For instance, if you buy a can of Dole pineapple, you may get a Del Monte coupon at checkout. Also, it’s that lovely Catalina machine which generates those coupons good for several dollars off a future shopping trip. So double-check before you toss.
- Befriend your favorite brands. In exchange for your email address, companies such as General Mills, Kellogg’s, Kraft and Johnson & Johnson will email newsletters with recipes, an occasional “first-look” at new products before they hit the shelves and printable high-value online coupons such as buy one, get one free box of Cheerios.
- Don’t be shy. Ask neighbors, friends and co-workers to give you their unwanted coupons. About a year ago, I posted a message on my neighborhood chat area, Nextdoor.com.( which, by the way, is a wonderful way to stay in touch with your neighbors about local activities and concerns). I mentioned that I could use coupons to buy items for charity and asked if folks would leave me their unwanted newspaper coupon inserts instead of tossing them in the trash. I left a plastic tub similar to these (it cost me about $5) on my front porch and the next day discovered a stack of inserts. Now neighbors tell me it has become a habit while walking their dogs or strolling the neighborhood to toss their extra coupons into my tub. You might also set up a coupon exchange at your local community center or church.
- Swallow your pride. On Sundays, swing by a popular coffee shop or casual dining restaurant (Starbucks and Panera Bread come to mind) that sells newspapers and comb through their recycle basket for unwanted inserts. McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast food places that sell breakfast are other good spots to check. Sure, you may get some funny looks while you rummage, but who cares?
- Reach out. Send emails to companies’ customer relations departments. Find the company website through Search and look for a “Contact Us” form or email address. Tell them you like a certain product and ask for a coupon. In an informal test of more than 100 companies, Coupon Mom’s Stephanie Nelson found that about two-thirds will oblige, sometimes sending a coupon for a freebie.
- Get smarter about your smartphone. More and more businesses and grocery stores are sending digital coupons direct to your smartphone or loading direct to your loyalty card. If you want to get in on the action, learn how to register online with stores such as King Soopers and Safeway so you can load coupons and then just swipe your shopper card at checkout for extra savings. And, if you want to totally embrace technology, learn how to add apps to your phone and then download coupons. Typically you then show your phone with the coupon at checkout and the clerk scans a bar code. Target’s Cartwheel program is one of the best in this field. One tip: If you shop at a grocery store that doubles coupons, remember that digital coupons will not be doubled. Use those 50¢ paper coupons to get the full $1 off value.
Finally, if you find a specific week where the Denver Post includes a mother-load of high-value coupons and you really want to buy extra copies, head to Dollar Tree, where a Sunday paper costs just $1 versus the $2 plus tax you’ll pay elsewhere. There is no set schedule for Sunday newspaper delivery at Dollar Tree so you’ll have to scope out your nearest location. Some stores receive them at 10 a.m., others as late as noon. Then be prepared for a bit of a free-for-all as this not-so-secret price attracts a ton of coupon clippers. Be considerate and only buy two or three, if the supplies are limited.
Have you found other free and cheap sources for coupons? Please share and comment below.