smart spending

Online coupons can help you save a bundle

In addition, consumers were more than eight times more likely to actually use the coupons they got online compared with those they cut from the weekly paper, says Brown. While Sunday supplement redemption rate last year was 0.6 percent, the redemption rate for downloaded coupons was 4.9 percent.

Stephanie Nelson runs, a site that offers links to coupons, tips on how to use them and information on local shopping specials. She estimates that 80 percent of clippers are getting their coupons the old-fashioned way -- from the Sunday paper. "Still, there are a small percentage of people who are going online for coupons," she says.

As for Howard, she estimates that she gets about 40 percent of her coupons online.

To be sure, for the die-hard clippers, scissors, not printers, are still the way to go, says Gary Foreman, publisher and editor of The Dollar Stretcher Web site. "Most of the people we see that are serious coupon folks are still doing it the way they were 10 years ago," he says.

2. The downside of online 'clipping'

Online coupons have their downside.

First, there aren't as many sources as you might think. Troll through a Web search and you'll find dozens of sites that promise coupons. But look more closely and you'll discover that many of those sites are offering exactly the same selection of coupons.

One reason: Other than manufacturers' sites, which offer their own coupons, there are really only a handful of sources behind the printable grocery coupons, "and they power all the other sites," Nelson says. Two big players are and

Second, with online "clipping," you're frequently limited in the number of coupons you can take for one item, both by manufacturers and coupon sites. With coupon sites, once you've reached the set limit for a specific coupon on any combination of the affiliated sites, the software won't let you print any more.

Then, there's the acceptance factor. When online coupons first appeared on the scene, some wary clerks scrutinized the home-printed squares as if they were still-wet hundred-dollar bills. As a result, some clippers stopped using them.

Howard had all but given up on online coupons until earlier this year. "It got to the point where stores wouldn't honor them," she says.

While the coupon industry has tried to educate retailers, store policies on online coupons can vary, even within the same chain, coupon council co-chair Brown says. "It's really up to the store manager," he says.

But Boal, of, believes that the suspicion surrounding online coupons is a thing of the past. "It's really few and far between, at this point," he says.


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