By: Natalie M. Castro Padovani
Have you ever wondered how a person can save hundreds of dollars on a purchase? “It is amazing what couponing can do for you,” said Lizmarie Cuevas, accountant and current University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez student during a brief interview. “Once I paid only $2.63 for 12 articles that included two soaps, one body cream, three bags of cat food, and some dips,” she added.
Cuevas, who lives with her single mother and has always struggle to pay for her undergraduate career, began couponing three months ago, after realizing that the economic crisis was affecting her lifestyle. Her motivation to use discount coupons grew stronger after observing that there has been a constant rise in the prices of perishable goods. She wanted to be able to buy more for less and to be able to leave one of her jobs.
Cuevas “prayers” where answered when María Muñoz, one of her best friends, introduced her to the world of couponing. “I used to skip meals, walk everywhere, and excuse myself of any social gathering that involved spending large amounts of money,” explained Muñoz. “I was unhappy and helping others with their financial problems always seemed to calm me, that’s why I decided to share my ‘couponing’ knowledge, she added.”
Almost every couponing experience involves: the gathering, filing, listing, and stacking of coupons, bulk buying, and the use of loyalty programs. Some of these strategies are greatly discussed on Internet pages such as, couponing.com and livingrichwithcoupons.com.
Following there are some guidelines on how to coupon effectively.
Preparing a shopping list
The first step towards conquering the techniques of couponing is the preparation of a shopping list. “This is a crucial step in the couponing process,” said Cuevas. “Having a shopping list makes it easier to find coupons.” “It helps consumers to be on the lookout for what they need, saving them time and money, she added.”
Gathering the coupons
The second step in the couponing pyramid is gathering the coupons. An anonymous blogger from the couponing.com Web site stipulates that bargain shoppers should procure coupons from various sources. “The Internet is the most convenient and readily accessible tool…,” the blogger explained.
However, extreme couponers can also rely on Facebook, Sunday and Wednesday newspapers, magazines, their emails, and retail stores to find great deals. Furthermore, Cuevas strongly recommends the coupons.com, redplum.com, smartsource.com, and couponnetwork.com for assessment on how to find great deals.
On the other hand, Walgreens manager Jorge L. Santiago suggested that relying in the retail stores couponing methods is a better way to save money. “We have a consumer oriented philosophy, thus we always offer great prices,” said Santiago.
Imagine piles and stacks of shampoos and conditioners, all of them covered with discount announcements. The first week of December, Walgreens was offering $2.00 in rewards and an additional discount of a $1.00 on the original price of the item. Also, many of the manufacturing companies were also offering rebate discounts. Thus, shampoos that originally cost $5.00 now they were only $1.50. Those were the discounts that Santiago bragged about.
Organizing the coupons
The third step towards obtaining big savings is organizing the coupons. “From my years of experience working in Walgreens, I would say that the best way to preserve a coupon is by dividing and labeling them,” said Santiago. “Some customers like to label them by type of products, others by expiration date, and/or by doing a combination of both, he added.”
On the other hand, news author Cindy Livesey explains in her Youtube channel that coupons should be divided using the following labels: free, produced, condiments/ sauces, beverage, baking/ spices, cereal/ breakfast, snacks/ candy, dairy, meats, frozen, cosmetics, oral care, personal care, cleaning, paper goods, medicine, office supplies/ household, and packaged goods/ canned. Namely, they should be segregated by type of consumption.
Stacking the coupons
The next step towards conquering the techniques of couponing is stacking the coupons. “Combining coupons is known as ‘stacking’ and is one of the main strategies used by experienced couponers to save big bucks,” explained an anonymous blogger in the coupons.com page. “You will need to organize your coupons so that different types of coupons in the form of sale coupons, store coupons, and manufacturers’ coupons can be combined, he added.”
The new step in the couponing pyramid is related to the loyalty programs offered in retail stores. A loyalty program is a type of rewards program that is often used by companies to encourage repeated purchases. “A loyalty program may give a customer advanced access to new products, special sales coupons or free merchandise,” quoted by Investopedia. “Customers typically register their personal information with the company and are given a unique identifier, such as a numerical ID or membership card, and use that identifier when making a purchase,” also said by Investopedia.
Some vigorous examples of loyalty programs are: the balance rewards from Walgreens, the shopyourway rewards from Kmart, the MaxPerks membership of Office Max, the BK rewards from Burger King, and the extracare program from CVS.
Ethics in Couponing
The final step towards obtaining big savings is related to ethics. It is prohibited by law to photocopy coupons, use expired coupons, and/ or falsify them. Doing any of these constitutes fraud, which is a punishable crime that can lead to up- to 17 years in prison. Regretfully, as Sana Venjara wrote in an article published by ABC News, “When it comes to coupon fraud, the problem for most shoppers typically is not creating them, but accidently purchasing or redeeming them.”
To help detect any kind of fraud, it is best to know the seven basic components of a coupon. Always look for the following components: origin of the coupon, expiration date, value of the coupon, reference picture, description of the item in sale, instructions for the retailer, and bar codes.
Remember “Knowledge is Power”. The more you know, the better the savings you can get. Always look for the “red flags” that indicate fraud. Do not buy things that you don’t need, couponing should be a tool for saving not an excuse to spend. Take advantage of the different tools that exist for finding coupons and use the loyalty programs.