Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Couponing: Where do you find the slippery papers?

More specifically, where do you get several copies of the same great coupon? Because the best way to make a deal work is to find the best deal and beat it to death with as many purchases as allowed by your budget, limits on the coupon (often 4 like coupons for P&G per day), or limits imposed by the store (my local CVS only takes up to 3 a transaction). In Zen Couponing, we stockpile, but it’s a very small pile.

I aim for 4-6 sets of coupon books. That said, if I see (as I do this Thanksgiving), that the black Friday inserts were not only widely unavailable but stolen from my paper in front of my house, then I may go a little farther afield in collecting other coupons. Everyone was ignoring the stack of free P&G inserts over the weekend, which I felt ok about helping myself to late in the game, so I ended up with 14. I aim for a max of 20 in this type of situation. Why 20? Because you can sell the “collection service” and mail them to the winning bidder cheap. But less than 20 of any one coupon is not a large-enough lot for which you can sell your clipping services, if you want to do so. I tried it -- listed 8 sets of coupons on ebay and sold ONE. Not worth the time and trouble, in my book. Still, as a guideline 20 is a really good haul. Getting those P&Gs on a hard weekend where I got few other coupons was satisfying, and will stand me in good stead when I find a really great deal on one of those products. It's a balancing act.

Because 99% of people don’t use their coupons, thieves who rob your paper’s innards – the very ones you’ve bought the paper for – are annoyingly smug. I imagine them thinking, as my old neighbor did about moving my trashcans at his pleasure, that “if you’ve got a problem with me taking your paper/moving your trashcans/trespassing on your property/etc., all you have to do is let me know!” Do let your carrier know, and try to arrange a different delivery location than the public sidewalk. They may be willing to put it in your door, or throw it farther onto the property to discourage petty thievery.

If you do miss some coupons, look in the freebie Gazette paper you normally recycle midweek. The same companies that put out the Sunday paper coupons – Red Plum (RP) and Smart Source (S) – print nearly identical ones for your local paper. You get an advance copy. So go dig last week’s copy out of your recycling bin, and take a look. Other copies of the gazette will be piled up around town, in strip malls, libraries, and public spaces.

Ask for them at stores you frequent. I picked up several at Giant, which doesn’t really print its own coupons. It slaps its label on the MCP, which is a tricky bit of footwork. You can’t use the coupon anywhere else, but neither is it really a store coupon, so you can’t combine it with another MCP. Safeway prints coupons in its weekly circular, available in the Sunday Paper, as do RiteAid, CVS, and other stores. Walgreens also prints its own booklets.

Third, order the Sunday paper. You’ll get the Sunday insert on Saturday, at least with the Washington Post – and by ordering a subscription you’ll save more than a dollar on the cost of a $2 paper. Every week. Right now the Post is running a special (11/11), where you can get a year for 59 cents an issue (70% off!). One common $1 coupon a week will cover it.

Next, you can ask neighbors, relatives, and friends. A recent episode of TLC’s Extreme Couponing noted that 99% of coupons go unused, so people won’t mind donating them.

Dumpster diving may be illegal in your state. Also, diving into dirty papers filled with bugs and possibly the sleeping homeless (paper is warm) is Extreme bordering on Crazy. Be Zen.

Keep an eye out at the store. Tear sheets (pads of coupons attached to the shelves), Catalina Coupons (register printed coupons), ValPaks delivered to your house… all are sources for coupons. These are of course mostly grocery coupons, but the ValPak has coupons for services as well, and often includes restaurant discounts.

Some stores, such as Safeway, allow you to download coupons onto your loyalty card. I haven’t tried this, but it seems like a nice paperless way to do business. It may also reduce errors and “coupon snipping”. However, it doesn’t sound like nearly as much fun.

You can print coupons on the Internet at various sites, but I caution you against allowing crawlers to watch your every move on the Internet. Printing coupons is limited to two prints per computer, so having several computers in our house seemed ideal. But in the end we decided to put my old laptop into service as a sole-purpose couponer. My favorite site is CouponMom, which allows you to view deals, gives you the coupon info., including the pub date, and lets you select deals and print a list.

Lastly, people do clip coupons and sell them as a service to others. That is, they are not selling you the coupon – that’s against the rules and technically invalidates the coupon. Nonetheless coupons are available for sale at various sites, including eBay. I bought the clipping service for 20 $2/2 packs Pampers, and they helped me get that great diaper deal a few weeks ago.

Finding coupons is not a problem. Organizing them might be.....

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