Thursday, May 29, 2008


A whopping $201 billion worth of coupons were distributed last year for food and other common supermarket items, according to the PMA Coupon Council. (Not a surprising figure since around 201 billion flyers were delivered directly to our snailmailbox.) Seems consumers redeemed only $2.2 billion in coupons, or a paltry 1% of the available discounts. CHEAPIOSITY suggests that you think long and hard about taking better advantage of those savings. Frankly, the idea of blowing almost two hundred billion dollars in potential savings makes us a little weak in the knees.

Oh sure, it's a little mortifying to be that guy holding up the long supermarket line with a fistful of coupons, but if you're organized, the savings are more than worth it. And you can always wear a disguise.

Higher food prices are ahead; the Agriculture Department this week predicted they'll climb between 4.5% and 5.5% this year, adding about $350 to a typical household's expenses. Ouch. Don't just grumble. Do something about it. Clip coupons. Use them. It's the American way.

In an effort to get your hot little hands on some of this free money, CHEAPIOSITY checked out some Web-based services that promise easy access to discount coupons. Some of the sites allow users to print coupons directly. Other services charge a fee to clip the coupons from newspaper inserts and mail them to you. You should also check manufacturers' websites; they frequently offer coupons for both new and popular products.

We were initially excited about printable coupons: free discount coupons that can be used instantly -- what's not to love? Sadly, the selection of printable coupons on these free sites was disappointing.

Sites that offer to mail coupons to users require a little pre-planning because the coupons take four or five days to arrive. These coupons are clipped from weekend newspaper inserts from around the country. When the site runs out of a particular coupon, it disappears from the site until the next week, so we learned to visit the sites on Sunday and Monday for the best coupon selections.

Selection at mail-order sites was much more extensive than that of any local paper; expanded options include green cleaning products, brand-name goods and health foods. All these sites feature search tools and arrange coupons by supermarket aisle -- meat department, dairy, etc. We found it more convenient and faster to find and select the coupons online than to clip them on our own and clean up the paper cuttings after.

Even if you aren't usually a coupon clipper, it may be worth searching for costly items at a manufacturer's own website. Among high-end items that are worth a coupon search are vitamins and dietary supplements. Click on the Special Offers tab at vitamin-maker, for instance.

For general coupon hunting, check out:, a mail-order service. The site was easy to search, and the selection was large, including a generous assortment of coupons for meats and health foods.

One section offers expired coupons that military families can still redeem in a program for U.S. bases overseas. And in case we over-order coupons in the future, we found a list of participating bases to send coupons to at

Other mail-order services charged a membership fee, so users need to be sure they will order enough coupons to make the initial cost worthwhile. Membership at was $7.50 a year, and there is a flat fee of $7.50 for up to 50 coupons., and are three mail-order services that all link to the same coupons. They also have the same company address in Knoxville, Tenn., and coupon mailing fees, but membership fees vary significantly. charges $9.95 a year for membership, while the other two charge $99.95. Hmm. Guess which site CHEAPIOSITY recommends.

Among free services,, and all link to the same coupons. But with no search tools, finding our way around was time-consuming, and the selections were limited.

Printing the coupons at the free sites was easy. Coupons usually print only one or two to a page. In order to print, one needs to download a free applet, after inputting personal information on a registration form.

Also, take a look at the following article on 29 Ways to Save on Groceries

So. Bottom line. Clip coupons. Sunday newspapers are chock full of free money. For more serious and devoted coupon clippers, the online options are there for you. Just remember: don't buy anything you don't really want or need just because it's a bargain. And if you DO decide to use coupons, keep them organized in an envelope or accordian file. And please. Don't hold up the supermarket line, fumbling for them at the last minute. This kind of bad behavior gives all us Cheapskates a bad name.

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Monday, May 26, 2008


For kids, summer camp is nothing more than canoe trips, swimming and making new friends, but for parents, it is no vacation for the wallet. (To be honest, some little campers are banished to the woods against their tiny wills. There, they suffer hazing, homesickness, and enough psychic injuries and insecurities to last a lifetime. Oh sure, most survive the trauma reasonably intact. Some even grow up to write blogs. Not mentioning any names. Cough, cough.) Camp costs add up quickly if parents aren't careful when making choices of where to send their children during the hot summer months.

Peg Smith, chief executive officer of the American Camp Association (ACA), says summer camps are not looking to break your piggy bank. However, it's important to know what camp will cost you -- from tuition to special fees for trips and amenities.

Don't be shy. Check into financial aid. Of the 2,400 camps accredited by the ACA, 95 percent offer "camperships," or scholarships ranging from discounts to free tuition, according to Smith. That's an increase from about 75 percent a decade ago.

Baby boomers have contributed to the campership boom, with memories of positive camp experiences motivating them to contribute at levels that have filled foundation coffers. As a parent, it's important to ask about these scholarship/campership opportunities.

Ask 'What sort of financial assistance do you provide?' It's true that camperships are usually awarded based on need, but parents shouldn't automatically assume that their income level will disqualify them. Just ask. The worse they can do is turn you down. The Foundation for Jewish Camping provides assistance at: .

Add a child. (This is impractical advice if you don't already have more than one child. It is probably not worth the expenditure to expand your family just for the camp discount.) If you send more than one child to the same camp, you're likely to get a discount. Sibling discounts can knock anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent off the tuition cost.

Be an early bird. Early enrollment increases the odds of landing your child's first camp choice. It can also net you a deal on the overall camp cost. Early enrollment can also put you first in line to be considered for a scholarship.

Try to stay in the area. A plane ride or train trip (or even a long car ride with summer's ever- inflating gas prices) will significantly boost total camp costs. All things being equal, it's better to choose a camp that is closer to home.

However, while geography is an important consideration, parents ultimately should choose the camp that is right for their child.

Resist the urge to splurge. Most camps recommend campers bring items they likely already have, such as flashlights, sleeping backs, rain gear, play clothes, swimming trunks and sports equipment. Don't go out and make any special purchases unless you absolutely must. Parents tend to overpurchase. Get the camp list first and then think about shopping. Your little camper's success will not hinge on your purchasing a brand new designer wardrobe.

Know the refund policy. Sometimes, camp plans don't work out. Parents usually forget to ask about a camp's cancellation policy until they need to use it. Some ACA camps offer a total refund before a certain date; others will only do so in the case of an illness. Make sure you know the refund policy before you select a camp.

Ask others to contribute. More camps are offering gift certificates than ever before. Such certificates are a good option for people looking to give a holiday or birthday gift that lasts into the coming year. (Delayed gratification is a nice concept for your children, and let's face it: very few family homes need more stuff. Encourage grandparents and other relatives to help out with the camp costs.)

Help the camp (and it'll help you). Some camps offer discounts to parents who pay the entire tuition bill several months in advance of the camp session date. It gives the camp operating funds so they can do their capital project without having to utilize a line of credit with a bank and pay interest on it. Some camps also cut costs for the children of alumni.

Consider the payment option. Paying camp costs in installments could make the price more palatable. If you find a camp you really like, you should ask the camp director, 'What are my options?'" Most of them will work with you.

Create a canteen fund. With your child, set up a fund that will provide your camper with money to purchase snacks, hygiene products, bug spray, batteries and other items. Not only can this help you keep better track of camp costs, but it can teach your kids to budget their money.

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