How to cash in on coupons

By Felicia D. Pinkney

Digital coupons

Image courtesy of mindgruve.com

Coupons are the new platinum card. Everybody likes saving money, and that’s why many shoppers are happily flashing coupons—even mobile versions of them—at cashiers to shave a few bucks off their purchases.

Plus, coupon websites and reality TV have made below-retail bargains extremely trendy. But how do you score the best deals, and where do you find them?

Amie Streater, a Colorado-based financial coach, is a firm believer in coupons and teaches others how to use them effectively. She’s the financial stewardship pastor at her church in Colorado Springs and the author of Your Money God’s Way: Overcoming the 7 Money Myths that Keep Christians Broke.

Here’s what Streater suggests:

Coupon Do’s

Kids can help cut coupons, too.

  • Get multiple copies of your local Sunday newspaper. For instance, if there’s only one yogurt coupon in the paper but youtypically buy lots of it for your family, get as many copies as necessary. Streater buys six copies of the Sunday paper each week for her family of five.
  • Let little ones help you clip and organize coupons. “Hand them some scissors and say, ‘Go!’ ” Streater says. “Any kid over [age] 5 can clip coupons.” The whole process should take no more than 1 to 2 hours once you’ve got a good system going.
  • For thebest savings, match your coupons to the store circulars and keep a watchful eye on when items go on sale. Retail and department store sales vary by the season, but grocery store sales are on a 12-week cycle. “Once during that12 weeks, an item will be at its rock-bottom lowest price,” Streater says. “That’s when you stockpile 12 weeks’ worth of the item for your family. That way, she says, you won’t run out of the item before it’s on sale again. You should also use your coupons at this time, if there are any. Otherwise, you may get tricked into using them before the item is at its lowest price.
  • Try a few coupon sites and see what works for you. Check out TheGroceryGame.com and CouponSense.com for grocery deals, Streater says. These sites charge a fee, but they track sales trends and tell you where the best bargains are in your area. There are also daily deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial that will email you the bargain of the day. For example, one deal might offer 50% off spa services, or a $100 discount on kids’ martial arts classes.
  • Check your local grocery and department store policy for exclusions. In some cases, the coupon may be valid only during certain hours.
  • Sign up for more coupons on department store and manufacturer websites (Procter & Gamble, L’Oreal, General Mills, for instance). You may want to set up a separate email address just for receiving coupons, Streater advises.

Coupon Don’ts

  • Don’t stockpile items that you’re not going to eat. Instead, Streater suggest you donate them to a local food bank.
  • Don’t throw away coupons that you won’t use. Swap them with a friend or co-worker. If she’s childless and you’re pet-free, she may trade her diaper coupons for your dog food discounts.
  • Don’t forget to read the fine print. Check for expiration dates, and phrases such as “good only on product indicated” or “good on any.”

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