To save money, many shoppers turn to online coupon sites. In the old days, you’d have to go through the advertisements in the Sunday paper, the grocery store circulars sent in the mail and magazines at the dentist’s office to get your coupons. You’d have to get out your scissors and start clipping, shedding shiny scraps of paper all over the table and floor. Now, it’s less work.
Don’t Waste Money!
Some people think using coupons isn’t worth their time. I think your mom would not agree. Not using coupons is like throwing money in the trash.
Granted, some people have more money than time, and they don’t use coupons. But they’re probably not reading this column either.
You want to save money. But you want to do it smartly, in a way that makes sense. Most of us have seen the TV shows where a rabid coupon-clipper heads into a store and gets $300 worth of groceries for $9.99. It can be done. But how long did it take her (it’s almost always a her) to find these coupons, go to the store, locate the items and take them home again?
Pumpkin-Flavored Jell-O and Frozen Eggplant Fries
A much bigger issue than time is what you get when you shop this way. The Krazy Coupon Lady site shows consumers ways to save money on lots of items. But before you buy them, make sure you are buying items you would need and use.
One advertised special is Cover Girl cosmetics for $1.94 at Walmart. That’s pretty good, right? For that price, with the right coupons, you can get Exhibitionist Lipstick, regularly $5.94. But – you have to buy two. And you have to pay $7.88 (with a coupon) and submit paperwork for a $4 rebate.
Is it worth your time? Maybe. Only you can decide. And further, check and make sure you don’t have a drawer full of lipsticks that you got cheap/on sale/with a coupon that you have never even opened.
Go for the Big-Ticket Items with Online Shopping Sites
When you start using the best online coupon sites to save money, you have to get it out of your head that coupons are just for jars of mayonnaise and rolls of paper towels.
One of my favorite coupon codes is for Six Flags. With the regular daily admission rate hovering around $70 (depending on the park closest to you), even a $10 savings on tickets for each family member adds up to a lot.
You may have visited little-known sites offering coupon codes for theme park admissions. Sometimes the sites have users rate the success of each code in an effort to cut down on frustration with codes that don’t work. Success with the codes is sometimes expressed in the form of stars or thumbs up/sideways/down.
It doesn’t take long to try the codes, and sometimes they work. Right now, RetailMeNot is offering a code for a one-day advance ticket for Six Flags for $49.99. However, my local Six Flags is offering 40 percent off general admission if you buy your ticket online, which works out to $10 less.
All Six Flags parks are running a promo right now – if you bring an empty Coke can to the park with you and you get $15 off your ticket! In past years, I fed my kids candy bars made by Nestle, saved the wrappers (two for each of us) to get a similar discount. Other years, paper coupons were available in the rebate area of my local Giant supermarket.
The widespread availability of coupons makes you think only chumps pay full price.
Don’t Go Crazy with Online Coupon Sites
Another great online coupon site is Groupon. The key to using this site is to buy Groupons only for things you were going to do anyway. It’s easy to get on there and start buying up lots of Groupons for things you’d like to try — which is what the merchants who offer the Groupons want: new customers.
But what can happen is that you might buy Groupons for things you never use. Then it’s money wasted. Or you use them, but your entertainment budget is suddenly three times what it used to be. Or you put on weight because you keep buying Groupons for donuts or fancy cupcakes.
A search of my local Groupon site for Six Flags coupons turns up nothing, but I see deep discounts at Sesame Place, Busch Gardens, and other nearby amusement parks. If I decide to go to one of these instead of Six Flags, I might be ahead. But if I did both? Uh-uh.
Read the Fine Print on Online Coupon Sites
Also be careful of online coupon sites that offer deals with restrictions. This is not necessarily deceptive, but you should check for restrictions before buying. For instance, Groupon is offering a deal for a river tubing and water park pass for two for $36.50 — 45 percent off the regular price of $66. But it’s for Sunday through Thursday only.
This is fine if you’re a schoolteacher and you’re home for the summer with the kids, but it’s no good if your only time for that sort of activity is on the weekend.
Simple Savings at Coupons.com and FreeShipping.org
Coupons.com offers hundreds of traditional coupons — 50 cents off when you buy five Yoplait yogurt cups — as well as coupon codes for retail stores, hotels, restaurants and more.
Simply scroll through the coupons offered, click on the ones you want, and they’re aggregated for you to print, like an online shopping cart. The site also offers digital coupons you can just keep on your phone.
PC Magazine has compiled a list of their top 10 online coupon sites, including FreeShipping.org. This site offers not only codes for free shipping, but also coupons. But beware: Despite the name of the site, the coupons don’t always include free shipping.
One coupon code was for an extra 15 percent off clearance items at Calvin Klein. When you click through, it says free shipping on all orders for $99 and up. Nothing special about that.
The discount shipping code they list for Sierra Trading Company — SHIP89 — is available at the top of Sierra’s website.
It’s probably worth it to check FreeShipping.org if you’re about to order an item that would be expensive to ship, just to see if you can find a deal. For instance, if you’re going to order some luggage from a store that doesn’t offer free shipping and you find the SHIP89 code on FreeShipping.com, you could order a similar item from Sierra Trading Company and save.
Online Coupon Site Apps
One good way to save time with online coupon sites is by using an app that will alert you to coupons and sales on items you use, versus items retailers want you to try.
Others allow you to scan barcodes while shopping to see if the item you’re looking at is sold cheaper elsewhere.
Use Online Coupon Sites the Smart Way
The internet has revolutionized shopping. No longer do you have to run from place to place comparison shopping. And no longer do you have to pay more for an item you want — you can automatically find out which retailer is selling it for less.
Some of the best online coupon sites and apps are quick and easy to use and some less so. How many you use and how often depends on how much free time you have and how dedicated you are to saving money. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, if you’re unemployed or laid off, if you’re on disability or a fixed income, using online coupon sites can make a big difference in your budget, and you likely have a few extra minutes to pursue the savings you want.
Even if you only use a few online coupon sites from time to time, the savings can add up. Shopping smart is worth it!