Friday, October 29, 2010

Frugal Friday: The Thrill of the Coupon Hunt!

It's time for another edition of Frugal Friday. This week's topic:

The Coupon Hunt!

Those of you who are seasoned couponers know what I'm talking about when I make reference to a trip that you make to a store not necessarily only to buy something, but also to see if there are any good coupons to be snagged. It could be that you heard that a free coupon booklet was up for grabs in that store (as in CVS, frequently), or that the store was on the way to another errand and you decided to see what offerings were new.

The best stores I've found for coupon hunting are not usually grocery stores. I've found that unless it's a booklet, grocery store coupons are typically tear pads for a somewhat paltry amount ($1/2 or $1/3 of something for example), or blinkies that spit out nondoubling low-value coupons. The best finds are high value double-able manufacturer coupons. This is because:
  • Manufacturer coupons can be redeemed anywhere - provided they say "Manufacturer Coupon" (as opposed to something like "Store Coupon" or "Target Coupon", etc.)
  • If there is a number 5 as the first digit of the bar code number and the coupon does not prohibit doubling or tripling, you coupon's value may be doubled or tripled as long as it fits the parameters of the store's coupon doubling or tripling offer.

Good form!
Where you really want to be on the lookout for high value coupons as we slide into the holiday season. Use good couponing form!

  • Specialty displays specially set up for that item. Think store entrance displays (by the ad flyers at Giant, or the theft-detection gates at CVS, or a "holiday baking" display at any grocery store).
  • Drink fridges or food freezers - like at CVS or Wawa. Often there are manufacturer coupons on these for $0.50/1 or $0.75/1 20 oz. drinks, which when doubled or tripled can net you a free or near-free drink! (Note: when I'm road tripping - as many of you are bound to be doing this holiday season - one of my favorite pasttimes is searching drink fridges at gas stations for coupons to add to my coupon envelope. Often there are drink coupons available in other parts of the country that I wouldn't encounter at home, even within the same national chains where I'd buy gas!)
  • Displays at your doctor's office. Be on the lookout, especially in the waiting area, for mini displays featuring coupons. These are just terrific because the expiration date is usually several months away (since the display designers know that the display may sit there for a long time) and the values are almost universally higher than what you'd find in your Sunday paper. At my daugthers' pediatrician there were Dove hair care coupons for $1/any Dove hair care item! When that doubles I could be getting some cheap Dove hair care. There were also "new baby" booklets featuring high-value coupons for Johnson & Johnson baby care products, infant Tyenol, and other baby drug store necessities.
  • Customer Service or Pharmacy coupons. I've spotted rogue coupons at the Customer Service desk in my Giant and at the pharmacy counter in the back of my CVS.
Bad form!

How not to harvest coupons (a.k.a. examples of Bad Couponing Form!):
  • Off of the packaging of an individual item of merchandise. I'm talking about "peelies" or perforated edge coupons that you can tear off of an item's packaging. It's generally considered bad couponing form to harvest these when the implicit assumption is that you will be buying that item right then and there - and it deprives those who buy the item of their coupons, too.
  • In stores that you otherwise never frequent. You want to be in the position of being a coupon-savvy - but appreciated customer. If you walk into a store where you never spend money and harvest a bunch of coupons that you would definitely never redeem there, well - let's just say there's no short-term benefit or long-term benefit for that store.
  • By tearing off an entire coupon pad. Try to reasonably assess how many coupons you truly need. Even if you come across a soda coupon that could mean freebie sodas when doubled, is it really necessary to tear off the whole pad of 50 coupons? Being coupon-greedy can not only alienate you from the stores you visit, but also deprives fellow couponers of a shot at savings of their own. If there are only a few coupons left and you can truly use them, don't feel bad about harvesting them - just consider others and your actual ability to use the coupons when taking them.
Earlier this week, I found myself in the rare position, delightedly, of being a few minutes early on the road to drop my eldest off at preschool. Since my local CVS is on the right side of the road that we take, I decided to make a quick stop just to see what was on offer. I pulled in, unbuckled the girls, and headed into the store straight to the coupon register tape (CRT) coupon kiosk. It used to be that when I stopped by CVS after not going there for a while, the coupon kiosk would print me a cornucopia of high value coupons, also often involving a $/$$ coupon (Ex. "$5 off any purchase of $15 or more."). Apparently not anymore! I scanned my card and had a coupon for "$1 off any People magazine" print out. Psh!!

Anyway, I hustled the girls around the store a bit looking for any other worthwhile coupons and then headed back out, when I noticed on the theft-deterrent gates at the entrance there were manufacturer coupons for $0.75/1 Halls Refresh cough drops. SWEET. Those could double at almost any Northern Virginia grocery store (since most grocery stores now double up to $0.99 in value) - or even be used in that same CVS when on sale! All I need to do now is keep Halls Refresh cough drops in mind when I'm browsing matchups across the blogosphere. The cough drops are bound to be on sale for $1.50-$2 per pack soon, so they could be free or close to it with a doubled coupon. I took three coupons and we left the store to get back on the road. For 5-7 minutes of my time, I netted $4.50 worth of coupons - for an hourly rate of return of around $45/hr. tax-free. I love successful coupon hunts!

Where do YOU sniff out coupons these days?
Frugal Friday: The Thrill of the Coupon Hunt!SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
Ebates and Swagbucks are both easy ways to earn rewards while doing what you normally do - web-searching through Google and shopping for bargains online!

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