smart spending

8 tips for online coupon clipping

3 ways to fight the coupon craze
By Jean Chatzky

A solid coupon strategy can help you save up to 30 percent off your bills, says Brad Wilson, founder of BradsDeals.com. Here's how to harness the power:

1. Stick to coupons for things you really use. Trying another brand is fine. Buying something you know you won't or shouldn't eat is a waste.

Americans tend to throw out about 27 percent of consumable food, according to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While this includes grocery stores and restaurants, the family refrigerator is also a culprit. One quick way to slice into your food bill is to buy only what you need.

2. Pick a couple of favorite coupon sites and hit them regularly. Issuers offer "10 times the coupons available on manufacturers' Web sites," says Stephanie Nelson, who runs CouponMom.com.

Be sure to hit them early in the month, because sometimes manufacturers instruct the issuers to cap the number of coupons they distribute, says Steven Boal, CEO and founder of Coupons.com. Get there early and you get first pick. And don't be afraid to check back several times a week to see if any new coupons are added. "New offers come in and out almost every day," Boal says.

3. Target the manufacturer sites of your favorite brands. It takes a little more time than just visiting several coupon issuers. But this is a great way to find coupons for the products that you regularly use.

And if you're willing to provide your e-mail and/or snail mail addresses, you can often receive additional coupons, Nelson says.

4. Layer coupons with store specials and sales. "Combine every possible savings opportunity," says Nelson, whose site summarizes weekly specials in the local grocery stores. "That's strategic shopping," she says. And it helps to know which stores sell various items at the cheapest base price.

It's also a good idea to find out if any of your favorite stores will match their competitors' offers.

5. Visit store sites. "A lot of people don't realize that all supermarkets have Web sites," says Lisa Lee Freeman, editor in chief of ShopSmart magazine. Shoppers can use these sites to find out about weekly specials, as well as store coupons.

Ditto for drug stores and big-box retailers. Many times you can combine those store coupons with manufacturer coupons to save even more on one item, Nelson says.

6. Ask about double coupons. Call your favorite grocery and drug stores and get the rules on double coupons. Some stores double them as a matter of practice, others only on certain days, while some never do it. Usually, there is a limit, such as doubling everything up to 50 cents or 99 cents, Nelson says. Learn your store's policy and you'll know when a 50-cent coupon might be worth more.

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