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Couponing for beginners

The history of the coupon can be traced back to 1887, when John Pemberton, pharmacist and Coca-Cola inventor began handing out drink cards for free samples, encouraging people on the street, to come in and try their new drink.

Today, coupons can be found pretty much anywhere: online, in-store, in newspapers and magazines. Surprisingly, coupon redemption rates have been in a steady decline. Although there has been a slight resurgence in recent years, last I heard, still only around 2% of coupons issued in Canada are redeemed. That’s pretty low!

Where’s the coupon love?

I’m not really sure. Is everyone that embarrassed by a little piece of paper? Or that someone will think you’re cheap? Or do you think that spending one extra minute in line is not worth the one-dollar coupon it’s printed on? What if I told you that last year, my wife and I had saved over $1000 in coupons, on things we already use every day? That’s a lot of diapers! Now holding up a line for an extra minute, doesn’t sound nearly that bad, does it? It all adds up. And I know, I’ve tracked them. Ok, that does include some gift cards, but I counted those too, only because they were all for things I would normally have paid for. But it was pretty time consuming, so I’ve since stopped logging my coupons. I know, call me crazy!

I know shows like Extreme Couponing, where people horde basements full of stuff, have made us couponers all look crazy. It might even sound exciting to some, but that’s just not me. Who has the time or space for that? Not to mention, coupon policies here in Canada are much different than those of the U.S.

So where do we find them?

Just about anywhere. Not only are manufacturers making them easier to find, but there’s also plenty of really good coupon websites out there, that really make it effortless. Here’s where to find yours:

  • In-store coupon displays. Some retailers have dedicated coupon sections at the entrance. Usually, these can only be redeemed at their locations, but some bend the rules. Loblaw, for example, will honour their coupons at all their banner stores (Loblaws, The Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills, Valu Mart, Fortinos, Zehr’s, etc.). So you can grab from your closest store and shop at your cheapest.
  • In-store coupon tear pads. Before I started couponing, I didn’t even notice these, staring right under my nose. Since these coupons are displayed right at the point of purchase, I find they tend to be of higher value.
  • Magazines, Newspaper and Inserts. Aside from all the coupons, you find in magazines and dailies, look for coupon inserts. Redplum and SmartSource are the most popular. You can find their schedules here.
  • Coupon & Deals Blogs.  There’s a lot of blogs that deal exclusively with coupons and some even have handy coupon databases, so you don’t need to go searching every site.  Well beyond the scope of this blog. So here are some of my faves: SmartCanucks.caMrsJanuary.com and RedFlagDeals.com. All worth checking out. Whatever site(s) you visit, it literally takes about a good 10 minutes, once a week, to scroll through the pages and click and print the coupons you want. Would you take 10 minutes if it saved you $10?
  • Mail-order coupons. P & G BrandsaverSave.ca, GoCoupons.ca and webSaver.ca will mail you coupons you select when you sign up with them. With these, you’ll need to order well in advance. But worth the click, nonetheless.
  • Company Websites. If you’re looking for a specific product, sometimes their own website is the best place to look for coupons.

Although gone is the age of the grocery flyer coupon, as you can see, there are so many more options today. Many are even using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to push their coupons directly to their followers.

Using your coupons wisely

Here are some other tips:

  • The best time to use your coupons is when there’s already a sale. I usually save them up until there’s a good deal. Savings on top of savings. I’ve even received many items for free because the sale price equalled the coupon price. It’s unfortunate that some retailers such as Toys R Us / Babies R Us, have chosen to not accept manufacturers coupons on sale items. But it’s their choice. It’s your wallet.
  • Sometimes using coupons on the smaller packages will give you a bigger bang for your buck. Bulk buying doesn’t always make sense. See the price of the smallest sized item your coupon allows for, and compare.
  • Make the coupon sites do all the hard work for you. On smartcanucks.ca, for example, every week someone posts a list of grocery and baby deals for the week along with which coupons to match up with what sales. Call that crazy, or incredibly useful.
  • Treat it like money. Keep them with you. Stuff them in your wallet. Wherever, but remember, you can’t use them if you don’t have them on you.

At the end of the day, it takes a lot less time than you think, and coupons can save you REAL money. Better in my pocket than theirs, I always say.

Do you clip coupons? How much have you saved? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear your success stories and tips.

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