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 centrum.com, for instance.
For general coupon hunting, check out: thecouponclippers.com, 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 http://www.ocpnet.org/.
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 centsoff.com was $7.50 a year, and there is a flat fee of $7.50 for up to 50 coupons. Grocerycoupons.com, onlinecoupons.com and grocerycard.com 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. Grocerycoupons.com charges $9.95 a year for membership, while the other two charge $99.95. Hmm. Guess which site CHEAPIOSITY recommends.
Among free services, smartsource.com, ppgazette.com and coolsavings.com 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 http://www.honoluluadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080529/LIFE23/805290312
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.