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Simple Couponing Stage Two: Saving More Money with Fancy Coupons

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If you want to save a little bit more money by using coupons on your groceries and household items, it’s time to move to the next phase – adding a few advanced techniques to your repertoire.

Coupon policies

First, you need to know the coupon policies of your favorite stores. For example, in the Atlanta area, I know that Publix will double coupons that have a face value of up to 50 cents. This means that a coupon that says 40 cents off will actually be worth 80 cents off of the item. Very handy. Publix also takes competitor coupons – the stores it considers competitors vary by location, so ask at your store’s customer service desk or look for signage to be sure. And Publix has just started to roll out a digital coupon program that you can sign up for on its website.

On the other hand, Kroger in the Atlanta area has stopped doubling coupons completely, and the chain claims that it has lower prices to offset this change. My local Kroger stores do not take competitor coupons, but Kroger often mails out really great coupons for both national and store brands – including freebies – that are targeted to what I buy based on my shopper card. Kroger also has a very extensive digital coupon system.

Other stores have varying policies. Target accepts coupons at face value, gives you 5 cents per reusable bag, and allows you to combine one Target coupon with one manufacturer’s coupon, also known as “stacking.” (You can also throw in Cartwheel savings, but that’s something you’ll learn about in stage three of this series). Whole Foods accepts coupons at face value (its own coupons and manufacturer coupons – some stores will let you stack these coupons, some won’t, check with your individual store) and also gives you 10 cents for each reusable bag you bring (within reason, of course!). Trader Joe’s also takes manufacturer coupons, though most of the items the store sells are, of course, private label.

Where can you find coupons?

Now it’s time to explore coupons beyond those you find in the Sunday paper. Sure, those are probably the easiest to find, use, and understand, but printable coupons and digital coupons are both gaining traction. Just a few years ago you might have been turned away for trying to use a single printed coupon, but now most stores will accept them, although sometimes with a few restrictions like how much the face value can be or whether it can be for a free item.

Be aware that photocopying printable coupons is a HUGE NO-NO. Do not do this. Ever. It is illegal and fraudulent and you can get in big trouble¬. Most printables can be printed twice per computer – some more, some less. Print the allowable amount and be done with it.

You can find printable coupons at smartsource.com, coupons.com, and redplum.com. You can scroll through just as you would your weekly Sunday paper circulars. Happily, these sites are slowly adding search features that make it much easier to find specific coupons. If you like to buy organic and natural foods, check out mambosprouts.com. Other legitimate sites that offer coupons include hopster.com and commonkindness.com, and often you will find special printables through various companies’ Facebook pages as well. If you’re not sure if a coupon is legitimate, you can always contact the company to ask. Then print your coupons, clip them, and bring them to the store.

Know that sometimes printable coupons won’t scan properly because your printer and the barcode scanner at the store didn’t discuss the ideal thickness of the lines ahead of time or because the coupons were coded incorrectly or because of some other reason that sometimes is impossible to figure out. Smile and don’t fuss and usually the cashier will be able to make these work for you (and legitimate coupons almost always list ways to confirm their legitimacy right on the face if that ever becomes an issue). If a coupon beeping at the register will freak you out, then don’t use printables ever because no matter how carefully you print your coupons and match them to the items in your basket, I guarantee it will happen at least once.

Digital coupons are also new, and they seem to be the next wave in couponing. Basically you go to a website and click to load these coupons directly onto your store card. You don’t have to remember to bring anything extra to the store with you, the discount just comes off of your total at the end of your trip.

Kroger is really pushing the use of digital coupons by offering a coupon for a free item almost every Friday and by occasionally sending customers other special digital deals. Kroger’s coupons are easy to use and they almost always work. As long as your cashier has scanned your shopper card at the beginning of the transaction, the coupons will come off at the very end, and they will be noted on your receipt. Publix’s new system doesn’t require you to carry a card – you simply connect your phone number to your account and type it in at the register.

Another digital coupon source is a site called SavingStar. When you load your coupons onto your card (Kroger and CVS are two that work), the site will credit you with cash that you can withdraw to a PayPal account once you’ve reached a certain threshold. SavingStar has begun offering freebies (the site will credit you back the full amount of that particular item, it will not be free immediately) and healthy deals (such as 20% off of apples or bananas or tomatoes).

Keep in mind a few basic rules. Digital coupons cannot be combined with paper coupons. At Kroger, the computer will apply your digital coupons first, so any paper coupons you hand over that are in conflict will not work – choose your digital coupons with care and keep track of which are on your card. And always read the coupon’s fine print carefully – it’s very hard to argue about whether or not a digital coupon should’ve come off your total, so make sure you’ve followed all parameters for size, shape, scent, color, or whatever.

So now, when you go to make your list, you’ll follow the rules of stage one, but you also can start to incorporate your printables and digitals into your deals. Most of the websites that collect the deals for you will tell you what other coupons are available, and often they’ll provide a link directly to a printable so you don’t have to do much more than click and print.

Stay tuned for Stage Three of Simple Couponing!

And don't forget to read Stage One - the simplest way to use coupons!

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