Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Couponing: Basics

Coupons come in several types: the most common are Manufacturer’s coupons (MCPs) in those inserts, Catalina machines, and other sources. Then there are Restaurant/Service coupons (RC/SvC, in the ValPak envelope); Store coupons (SCs) in their flyers are often called in-ad coupons. Recently Jon picked up a Macy’s Reusable Discount Card, stiff glossy card with start and end dates. Lastly, you'll find coupons on or in the goods you buy. Stuck on a product, it's a "peelie"; inside the product I would call In-Item Coupon, such as I've found in Pampers boxes, Celestial Seasonings Tea, and Duracell batteries. P&G likes to put coupons for various products in its boxes.

Charity coupons (CCs) on purchased goods are increasingly popular. My binder has a tab for BoxTops for Education (BT4E), and I print a collection sheet, and glue the little suckers on there. When it’s full, I take it to my local elementary school, where the twins will be attending in 4 years or so. Other charities with on-product coupons include the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and Campbell’s Labels for Education. I play Scavenger Hunt in my pantry for CCs. Also, there are Codes to turn in for goods; Pampers' Gifts to Grow program puts labels in its baby products, as does Coca Cola. You enter these online and use the points to purchase goods.

Coupons come in several value groups. I break them down as:

20¢ - 49¢ Low. I’ve never seen a coupon lower than 20¢.

50¢ - 99¢ The Golden Range.

$1 - $1.50 Most coupons these days are $1, usually off two items. Occasionally stores double coupons to $1.99.

$2 – $2.50 These coupons are rare.

More than $2.50 “High dollar coupon”

BOGO —Buy One Get One Free

BOGOHOFF—Buy One Get One Half-Off

Now, which is the most valuable coupon? Most of the coupons I see are for $1/2 items, more rarely $1/1. But some stores will double coupons with a face value 99¢ or less. So an 80¢ coupon is way more valuable than the $1 one, because it’s worth $1.60 at stores which double coupons[i][i]. Occasionally stores (such as Bloom) run promotions where they double coupons to $1.99. Depending on the cost of the item, the BOGO and BOGOHOFF coupons may be High-Dollar. Some stores double coupons to 49¢, 50¢ and up doubles to $1.

Your Assignment: Get some coupon booklets. Booklets are widely available. Most freebie papers include them; these are delivered to your home once weekly, or are available at malls, libraries, and grocers. Some stores put out their own coupon books and fliers, including Target, Giant, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS. Ask for these at the service counter if you do not see them around the store's entry. The most ethical way to collect some spare booklets is to only take one free paper when you pass a stack. Maybe two. Check to be sure the inserts you're after are there. Although I personally feel someone else might want the rest of the paper, this rarely turns out to be the case. I asked about this on a message board, and was overwhelmingly voted down; the consensus -- take the whole paper, not just the inserts, and recycle it.

For us, I aim for between two and six sets of (nearly) identical booklets. The booklets differ by region and source; the Post may have different ones than the Baltimore Sun, slightly, and these may be slightly different than the ones in your freebie paper, all of which may be very different from the coupons in the LA Times. When confronted with the rare but happy sight of a stack of new SC books, I take six. No more. Why six? There are four of us in my family, and I like to share with a couple of friends.

There is no need to be gluttonous about coupons. Pick a number that is roughly equivalent to the size of your family as a reasonable maximum goal. If you want extra coupons for a particular product, there are many ways to get one-offs (check out eBay and printable coupon sites).

Assignment Part B: Once you’ve collected some booklets, look through them. On the first pass, clip coupons for items you currently have in your home, or which are on your grocery list. Use Listerine? Clip that $1 off 2 ($1/2) coupon. Use Trash bags? Clip that coupon. Is “cheese” on shopping list on your fridge? Clip it. And store them in a box (I used a large Ziploc fridge container for a while.) Find Coupons for items on your shopping list? Clip them to the list, and give it a try at your next shopping trip.

Assignment Part C: Use some coupons at your next shopping trip. Part of some people’s resistance to couponing is that it smacks of food stamps. I do it with as much polish and calm as I can muster given mothering twins. It’s just another form of tender. Don’t be nervous no matter how many coupons you have, don’t worry about the people behind you (for large trips or complicated series of transactions, warn them cheerfully), and check your receipt before you leave the cashier’s station, your purchases as you load the car. I've had more than one instance where an item wasn't loaded into my cart, or the coupons didn't post right.

Always remember: It’s a penny earned.

I’ll discuss the various aspects of couponing over the next several blogs.

Basic Terms and Abbreviations:

  • $1/1, $1/2: Save one dollar off one item, one dollar off two items
  • BOGO: Buy one item get one free
  • B2GO: Buy two items get one free
  • BOGOHOFF: Buy one get one Half-off
  • Blinkies: Coupon dispensers found on store aisles
  • CAT: Catalina machine coupons print out at grocers, including Safeway and Giant
  • CC: Charity Coupon
  • CRT: Cash register tape.
  • CODES: Rewards codes found in products, such as Pampers' Gifts to Grow program
  • DND: Do not double
  • ECBs: ExtraCare Bucks, CVS
  • FAR: Free after rebate
  • IVC: Instant Value Coupon, Walgreens in-ad coupon
  • MCP: Manufacturer Coupon
  • MiR: Mail-in rebate
  • OYNO: On your next order
  • Peelie: Peel-away coupon on the product package
  • PQ: Printable coupon
  • PSA: Prices starting at
  • RC: Restaraunt Coupon
  • RRs: Register Rewards, Walgreens Catalina rewards program
  • SCs: Store Coupons
  • SCR: Single-Check Rebate, Rite Aid monthly rebates program
  • UPC: Universal product code or bar code
  • WYB: When you buy


[i][i] Giant and Safeway claim to double coupons every day. Walmart and Kmart double coupons once in a while.

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