Confessions of a coupon-clipping
at haircut-time -- a bad thing. Getting scissor-happy with a stack of supermarket-coupon
newspaper inserts -- a good thing.
In the embarrassment-of-riches
department, statistics reveal that more than 3,000 manufacturers offer consumers
nearly 330 billion coupons -- worth an estimated $280 billion -- ever year.
many of these billions of coups do we actually redeem, compared to those we toss?
Redeemed: Only 8 billion, representing $4.7 billion
saved on grocery bills. That means (please, let me do the math) that right now,
moldering in landfills across America, are nearly $275 billion in savings, wantonly,
willfully, possibly unknowingly, trashed.
I could have used them.
As the reigning, if self-appointed,
coupon queen of Manhattan and a direct descendent of the Queen Mother of Coupons
(ensconced at her estate in Brooklyn), the above statistics make me weep. What
mom and I could do with those ducats to discount-dom!
put it this way: On family vacations, when the others were exploring museums and
beaches, she and I would survey supermarkets, doing a little price comparison
and cadging coups when we could. Don't cry for us, Argentina -- we had a ball.
Today, I am a proud owner of a (maniacally maintained) multi-compartment coupon
organizer, and my kitchen counter is routinely littered with labels and UPC codes
cut from the packages of companies offering rebates for them.
payoff? Shaving $1,200 off my annual grocery bills, easy -- and as for the thrill
of getting the same stuff as my neighbors for less? Priceless!
I'm a clipping fool, but even half-hearted couponers can easily save hundreds
yearly. OK, let's let lingering landfills lie -- get a fresh start with this guide
to everything you ever wanted to know about couponing, but felt too cloddish to
the most plentiful (and free) sources: the Sunday-newspaper coupons inserts; the
Wednesday food sections (your local paper may favor another day); women's and
- Clip even those
you cannot use -- they may prove handy bartering chips. Or you can just kindly
give them to someone who needs them.
coupon swap-boxes, generally found at (surprise!) supermarkets, but also at some
public libraries. This is where those can't-use coups you clipped come in handy
-- you generally don't have to give in order to take, but being a good citizen,
you'll want to.
- Take advantage of in-store coupon
displays and the machines that spew them.
on to your supermarket's home page for clippable coups.
For the canny, the cunning and the conscientious:
- Say it loud: I like your product and I'm proud! Call
the toll-frees on your favorite products' label and tell the customer-service
rep how much you enjoy them. Some reps will actually offer cents-off (or even
free) coupons for the product itself, or for new variants; if not, don't be shy:
- Nab a newsie. Does your newspaper vendor
just dump the inserts in unsold papers at the end of the day? If so, would he
mind tossing a few your way?
- Check out the wealth
of national-brands coupon-offering services on the Web. They can save you loads
of time, as well as money -- even the ones that charge nominal fees. Just choose
the coups you want online; these services will then mail you your selections.
Two excellent sites: www.CentsOff.com
A messy stash equals missed opportunities, so:
coupons by category and store in multi-pocket organizers (often advertised in
Sunday inserts, as well as on couponing Web sites), or simply use separate envelopes
headed "Frozen," "Pet," "Meat" (ugh, sorry for that
- Circle with a red marker
the expiration dates, to alert you to soon-dues, and to help you further subdivide
your categories chronologically.
pertinent coupons to any sales circulars or ads you plan to take advantage of.
get the most bang for your buck:
- Double your
pleasure. Seek out supermarkets that will double -- some super stores even triple
-- the face value of manufacturers' coupons. Wouldn't hurt to tell the manager
how much you appreciate the policy.
- Try for
triple plays. That's when you use a manufacturer's coupon and a store's own coupon
toward on an on-sale item. You may even hit a quadruple play, which occurs when
you additionally send in the label for a manufacturer's rebate (more about that
- Never leave home without it --
your entire coupon stash, that is; not just the ones you know you'll need for
a specific trip to the market. A Rule of the Universe: The day you leave them
home is the day you walk into an unadvertised blowout sale of the century -- on
the items you have coups for at home.
These are the reigning kings
of the coupon world. You will find these mail-to-the-manufacturer forms in most
of the same sources you find their cents-off cousins. Additionally, there are
such sites as www.refundsweepers.com,
which offers online printable refund forms.
may also wish to subscribe to Refunding Makes Cents -- check out its site at
Some refund/rebate pointers first:
- Save the POP (proof-of-purchase, which is often the
UPC, or bar, code) and store-register tapes from your favorite products. The day
after you throw them out, you'll doubtless come across a full-purchase-price refund
form requiring them. Yes, this is another Rule of the Universe.
the completed form before you mail it in. This is vitally important, as it will
tell you all the info you will be required to know should you need to call or
write the company to inquire about your missing-in-action check. The only thing
not noted on the form may be the date you sent it in -- sticky-note it on.
jump the gun. Sometimes companies are swamped with responses -- if the form states
that you should wait six to eight weeks, as many do, call in week nine.
Law and order
sounds too fun, easy and profitable, you know someone's going to rein it in with
rules, right? The world of coupons is no exception. That's why it's important
that you haul out your reading glasses and scrutinize coupons' and forms' fine
print regarding who may submit or redeem them, in what manner and under which
Not to worry: Restrictions are
rarely unreasonable, and are understandably meant to filter out those with fraud
in their hearts. So play fair -- if for no other reason than I'd hate to see the
headline, "Previously Respected Businessman Pilfers Neighbors' POP-Filled
Trash in Rinky-Dink Rebate Ruse."
Shanahan is a freelance writer and coupon queen based in New York.