Coupon Basics: Combining and Maximizing

The first two articles in the Coupon basics series explained the different types of coupons and offered a rundown of the different values that these coupons can have. With that basic knowledge, and these pro tips, you can start combining deals to make the most of your coupon savings.


More coupons mean more savings, so the first way to get the most for your money is to get your hands on as many coupons as possible. Subscribe to multiple newspapers, ask friends and family to save their coupons for you and scour the Internet for printable coupons. Be sure to sign up for free store savings clubs, membership cards and email or mailing lists so you can have coupons delivered right to you. If you’re concerned about spam, set up a second email account just for email lists and check it before you shop.

Next, get organized. Keep your coupons in one place, in a way that makes the most sense to you. Whether it’s a binder, a file folder or a series of plastic snack bags, you need to know what you have, what they’re good for and when they expire. Consult your coupons when making your shopping list, and then stick to the list as your thread through the aisles. With an organized arsenal and a plan of attack, you’ll be making the most effective use of your coupons and your shopping trip.

The easiest way to maximize your coupon savings is to combine them with in-store sales. If you’ve got a “$1 off” coupon for a $4 product, you’re looking at getting that product for $3. If the store has that $4 product on sale for $3 tomorrow, you could wait and get that same $4 product for just $2. Be sure to check store flyers and compare prices at the stores in your area to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal with your manufacturer coupons.

Many stores offer a double or triple coupon promotion for manufacturer coupons. While some stores will double, or even triple, coupons on a regular basis, others only offer the deal on certain days or in certain business hours. Additionally, most stores will only multiply coupons up to a certain maximum value, and may limit the number of identical coupons you can double. Be sure to check with your local store before you start calculating your double and triple coupon savings, and make sure your coupon is not labeled “do not double.”

Before using a coupon for a specific product, always look at the comparable products nearby. If you’re using coupons to pay $7 for a brand name product, and the store brand product with identical ingredients is regularly $6 anyway, you’re better off skipping the coupons and just getting the cheaper product.

If you’ve ever examined the fine print before, you’ve probably seen these two common warnings: “Cannot be combined with other offers” and “one coupon per person, per order.” Don’t be discouraged! If you’re unafraid to bring a friend or get back at the end of the line, you can get around these restrictions and save even more.

The most important thing to remember about couponing is that “saving” and “needing” aren’t synonymous. Just because you’ve got a coupon for a product, doesn’t mean that you need to buy it. Spending money on a product you don’t need or won’t use is a waste, no matter how good the deal. Save the money for something you can’t get on sale to make all that clipping and coordinating worthwhile. Happy Couponing!

Coupon Basics: Values of Coupons

The first article in the Coupon Basics series, “Types of Coupons,” hashed out the vital differences between manufacturers coupons and store coupons. But knowing which type of coupon you have before you is just the first part of the process; next you have to examine the value so you can be sure to use them.


The best kinds of coupons are those that offer a free item, though these are the most rare. Freebie coupons are manufacturer coupons, typically often offered for new products. The manufacturers are willing to give away free products in hopes that you’ll get hooked and keep buying full priced products down the line. You can often get these by joining company email lists, checking company websites or by engaging with social media profiles of your favorite products and companies.

Single product coupons offer a set amount of money off the purchase of a single product. These will read something like “Save $1 on any one [product]” or “receive 50 cents off one [product]” Just be aware of the fine print, as you may be required to buy a certain size, variety or flavor of the product in order to use the coupon.

Multiple product coupons function like single product coupons, except they require that you purchase a set number of items, greater than one, to reap the benefits. Coupons like this will read “Save $1 on two [product]” or “Save $1.50 when you buy any three [products].” These coupons often allow you to pick from multiple products produced by the same company, or to mix and match various sizes, flavors or varieties of the same products.

BOGO coupons, or buy one get one coupons, are like a combination of freebie coupons and multiple product coupons. These coupons entitle you to a free or discounted product when you purchase the minimum number specified on the coupon. These will read like “Get one [product] free when you purchase two or more [products]” or “Buy three [products], get your 4th for $1.”

These Catalina coupons can have many different values, but usually come in two varieties: purchase or product. Purchase catalinas offer you money off your next purchase, regardless of the products that your next purchase contains, but they must be used at the same store where you earned the reward. If you receive a product catalina, for money off your next product order, the opposite is true; these are like manufacturer coupons and can be used at any store that sells the product in question.

Once you can differentiate between the various types of coupons and can easily understand the values of the coupons before you, you can move on to part three in the Coupon Basics series: Combining and Maximizing.

Coupon Basics: Types of Coupons

While coupons used to conjure up images of homebody housewives or hobby-less elderly women, popular television shows like TLC’s Extreme Couponing, in combination with continued tough economic times, have made couponing less taboo for the young, the single and the non-soccer-moms among us.

couponing tips

But you don’t need hours of preparation, intricate spreadsheets or a support team like the stars of these shows to rack up impressive savings. Understanding how coupons work is the key to saving success.

There are two main types of coupons, each with different purposes and uses.

Manufacturer coupons are distributed by the manufacturers of specific products in an attempt to boost sales of those products. These coupons generally carry the brand name of the products, or the company that produces it, but will not list a store name. Manufacturer coupons can typically be used at any location where that product is sold, regardless of location or chain. The store later sends your redeemed coupons to the manufacturer to be reimbursed for the savings they passed on to you.

Manufacturer coupons can most often be found in newspaper inserts or on the products themselves; stuck to the exterior of the item, contained within the packaging, or printed on the interior of the packaging. These are also the coupons you often see in both static and electronic dispensers along store shelving.

Rebates are a slightly different family of coupons offered by manufacturers. Mail-in Rebates offer savings after the fact rather than at the time of purchase. After your purchase, you send a receipt, a form or a proof of purchase to the company to be reimbursed for the value of the coupon. Rebates have expiration dates, just like other coupons, so just be sure to read the fine print to make sure you get your savings.

Store coupons often look similar to manufacturer coupons, but they can only be used at the indicated location. These coupons may or may not have a specific brand name or product listed, but they will carry a store logo indicating where they can be redeemed. Stores offer these venue-specific coupons in an attempt to get you through their doors instead of someone else’s.

Store coupons are most often found in newspaper inserts or mailings to the local area. Occasionally, these coupons are also found in-store, either in the form of flyers or booklets distributed at entry or in the dispensers on the shelves. Joining a store’s rewards program can also earn you members-only store coupons sent to your home or email.

Catalina coupons are the coupons that print at the register after a purchase, and these rewards can be a combination of store and manufacturer coupons. These coupons are awarded and printed based on your spending habits, and are usually triggered when you spend a certain amount on a product type or purchase a pre-determined number of that product. Depending on the current catalina promotions, you can receive printed coupons that offer you money off your next product, money off your next purchase, or a free product as a reward for reaching the spending threshold.

If you’re shopping online rather than in store, be sure to check out our previous article, “Smart Online Shopping, Part 1: Saving,” to see the benefits and uses on online coupons and promo codes.

And be sure to check out parts two and three in the Coupon Basics series to understand coupon values and maximize your coupon savings.

Little Luxuries on a Budget

Often times, when budgets get tight, the first things to get cut are luxuries. We say “so long” to coffee and donuts on the way to work and bid farewell to the days of weekly manicures. We cancel our newspaper subscriptions and bow out when friends ask if we’re going to a midnight premier at the movies.

free dunkin doughnuts doughnut

While cutting back is a good way to reign in spending when times are tough, there are ways to keep some of these small pleasures in your life and within your budget.

Before you cancel your newspaper subscriptions entirely to save a few bucks, consider two alternatives: decreasing and digitalizing. Many newspapers offer cheaper subscriptions with weekday only or weekend only delivery, so you can stay informed and stay within your budget. Many newspapers, and some magazines, also offer digital-only subscriptions that cost less than the print subscriptions and allow you to read the content online at your leisure. Digital subscriptions are also eco-friendly, making them good for your wallet and the environment.

Keeping a manicure looking fresh from week to week can get expensive, but trying to do it yourself can be a mess if you’re not ambidextrous. Luckily, for the cheap and chic, many salons offer a simple polish change at a price much cheaper than a full manicure. If you’re willing to clip and file your nails yourself before you head to the salon, you can have a fresh coat of polish put on without the mess of an at-home application or the high price tag of a full manicure. By applying a clear coat yourself every 3-4 days, you’ll extend the time between polish changes, too.

While renting, borrowing and streaming movies are all cheap alternatives to a night out at the movies, you can reduce the cost of a movie night without losing the theater experience. Joining your local theater’s discount club is a good place to start, as frequent trips can earn you discount tickets or free refreshments. Opt for matinee showings when possible, or wait for the movie to show in a less expensive second-run theater. Check if your theater offers discounts for students or see if any of your memberships, like AAA or AARP, will earn you a discounted price.

If that morning coffee and donut fix is your luxury of choice, you don’t have to give it up entirely. The bottom of every Dunkin receipt has instructions for getting a free donut with the purchase of any beverage, medium or larger. Simply go online within 3 days of getting your receipt, fill out the brief survey and get a validation code good for a free donut. Though Starbucks doesn’t have surveys at the bottom of every receipt, if you’re lucky enough to get one, you’ll get a free small (“tall”) drink of your choice on your next visit, with no purchase necessary.

And it’s not just the coffee shops that have survey offers, so check your receipts from other vendors too. Restaurants will often give you a free appetizer or dessert just for filling out a customer satisfaction survey, and some vendors will enter you into a drawing for a gift card just for reflecting on your in-store experience that day. These surveys usually take around 5 minutes to complete and those few minutes of work could help keep make some of those other small luxuries in life more affordable.

Smart Online Shopping, Part 2: Saving

If you’ve done any online shopping, you’ve probably noticed that the original item price rarely matched the checkout price. Check out these tips for saving between “add to cart” and “submit order.”

When you’re choosing items for your cart, pay attention to items that are specially marked and know what the website’s various symbols mean. Certain items may be marked as eligible for free or discounted shipping, or you may be able to save by ordering multiple items of a certain brand, line or style. If you don’t know what symbols to look for or you don’t notice the symbols at all, you may be missing out on savings without even realizing it.

You should also pay attention to the header and the sidebars throughout the website, as they often advertise upcoming sales. Online stores run sales and promotions as often as physical stores, if not more often, but the ads for these sales aren’t always delivered to your doorstep or played during commercial breaks. Unless you’re ordering on a strict deadline, simply waiting a few extra days for the start of an upcoming promotion could save you 10% or more on your order.

But the savings don’t stop once you’ve finished filling your cart and clicked “proceed to checkout.” There are still opportunities to save as you work your way toward submitting your order.

You can earn big savings if you’re not afraid to wait for your order. Vendors and delivery services know that last minute shoppers will opt for more expensive overnight shipping so don’t fall victim to the procrastination price hike. Choose standard shipping options rather than rush options, choose ground over air, and rely on the USPS instead of FedEx or UPS when doing so will save you cash.

If you’re lucky enough to be ordering from a company that has both an online shop and physical stores, you may be able to select an even cheaper shipping option: ship to store. Some stores allow you to send your order to the nearest physical store for a cheaper price, or for free, as long as you come to pick it up yourself. If there’s a store near you and you don’t mind a short drive, you could save big.

Now for the golden egg of online shopping tips: Always – I repeat, ALWAYS – search for a promo code. To do this, simply open a new tab in your browser and navigate to Google. Type in the name of the company or website, and the words “coupon code,” “promo code” or “savings code.” You will be given a list of websites containing various alphanumeric codes that you can enter at checkout for big savings. It’s free, it’s easy and it works almost every single time.

The most common coupon codes are for free shipping, and 5%, 10% or 15% off your order. Sometimes, the codes come with a stipulation that you spend a certain amount, or have purchased a certain brand of items. It doesn’t hurt to try entering the codes, either. If the code is expired, faulty or doesn’t apply to your order, the website will let you know and you can usually just try a different code. Keep trying until something works.

The only catch is that most websites will only let you use one code per order, so be sure to calculate the savings if there are multiple codes to choose from. While “10% Off” may be tempting, that “free shipping” code may work out to a larger savings in the long run. Or, if you’re just a few dollars off of being eligible for that “$5 off $50” code, maybe you can add on that extra item you were debating without feeling guilty.

If you time your purchases carefully, shop the sales, and aren’t afraid to try a few promo codes before you checkout, you can save big online with minimal effort.

Another way to save, if you’re not in a rush is to abandon your shopping cart. Many retailers respond by offering you a coupon, or a targeted online ad to try to get you to return to the store.

Check out the first article in this series at “Smart Online Shopping, Part 1: Security” for tips on a safe online shopping experience!

Smart Online Shopping, Part 1: Security

Online shopping has become so mainstream that much of the early hysteria over the potential identity theft associated with online purchases has waned. In place of this hysteria, though, many have adopted a rightfully placed healthy fear of having their purchasing data compromised. There are always risks associated with making online purchases, but there are also many ways to protect yourself and your financial data from being misused.

Sticking to secure websites and transactions for your online shopping can significantly reduce your risk of compromising your financial information. A simple way to see if the website is secure is to look for some sort of symbol and logo along the top or bottom of the website indicating that the company has protected it’s purchasing process. Often times, you’ll see a padlock, a key, a checkmark or some other symbol indicating that the company has secured it’s website for the protection of their customers.

Not all websites advertise their security, though. Another way to see if the website is secure is to look to the URL, that is, the address bar at the top of your Internet browser. Most URLs you see start with “http,” but some will start with “https.” The “s” stands for “secure,” and that little “s” means you can trust the security of the transaction you’re about to make, even if the website is not otherwise labeled as protected or secured.

But the presence of an “https” or a logo with a lock and key is never a guarantee of security. If you’re looking for added security, or if the website you’re dying to shop on doesn’t display the security indicators above, there are other methods for protecting your purchasing information.

Many banks offer alias cards for your credit or debit accounts. These cards, also called “virtual accounts” or “secure cards,” allow you to make online purchases without having to enter your actual credit or debit card information. Alias credit cards or accounts often have single-use numbers that wouldn’t work if someone tried to re-use their information maliciously. In the case of alias debit cards, you can transfer money to the alias account before making your purchase. Should the debit card number become compromised, the would-be thief would not have access to your full account, but would instead be limited to the amount you had transferred for the purpose of the purchase.

If your banking company doesn’t offer an alias card or virtual account, you can still use a single-use gift card for your purchases. These gift cards are often sold at grocery stores or gas stations, and are most commonly Visa or American Express cards. This is probably the safest way to purchase online, as the cards are not in any way linked to your actual banking information. Just like with the alias debit cards, any would-be thief who obtained the card number would be limited to the amount of damage they could do. In this case, the only thing compromised would be whatever amount remains on the gift card.

With so many easy ways to protect your purchasing information, there’s no reason to be afraid of online shopping. And, if you’re going to move forward with shopping online, check out “Smart Online Shopping, Part 2: Saving” for tips on getting the most bang for your now-protected buck!