Today I’d like to talk about another way to build your coupon stash and increase your savings: By trading coupons. This could be as simple as swapping coupons with friends over coffee, or as advanced as exchanging envelopes of coupons with other coupon traders through the mail. If you’re new to using coupons, you’ll probably want to wait before diving head-first into trading – but if you’ve been using coupons for a while and feel ready to take it to the next level, then you may want to consider it. I’m going to explain how this works, what the benefits are, and how it’s helped me.
What is coupon trading and where does it take place?
Online coupon trading usually takes place on forums such as Hot Coupon World, which has a special forum just for this purpose. Members simply request to join the trading forum and can begin swapping coupons with other members – there is no fee to join or trade. Hot Coupon World’s trading forum includes an eBay-style trader rating system, so you can check feedback before trading coupons with others.
I know there are lots of other forums where you can trade coupons – this is just the only one I have personal experience with. (Feel free to share your favorites with me!)
How does it work?
Members post in the trading forum either with coupons they are searching for, or coupons that they have to trade. When you are interested in trading with another member, you send them a private message and work out the details of the trade.
For example, say Sally writes a post telling the trading forum that she has five coupons for .50/1 Brand X dish soap available. In return, she is looking for dog food coupons. Joan has dog food coupons and needs dish soap, so she send Sally a message telling her what she has and asking if she would like to trade. Sally agrees, so they swap addresses and mail coupons out to one another. After the trade is complete, they leave feedback for each other.
What people trade
You can trade “Coupon-for-coupon”, as in the example above; alternatively, some members prefer to charge a handling fee for their time clipping the coupons, or trade coupons for first-class stamps (Frequent coupon traders can go through a lot of postage!).
Can you really trust total strangers to come through with these trades?
Although Hot Coupon World has an excellent trader feedback system, you assume risk for all trades conducted. That being said, I have done well over 50 trades since joining Hot Coupon World, and I have never had a bad experience. Most of the people I have met through the online coupon community have been extremely nice, generous, and thoughtful. Most people I have traded with even included bonus “extra” coupons with my trade, just to be nice! Yes, there are some bad apples out there, but in my personal opinion the risk is not a big one. I’m willing to speculate the potential loss of a few coupons or stamps, since trading is a significant source of savings – and so far, that hasn’t happened.
What’s the point?
Coupon trading can be an excellent way to build up both your coupon stash and your stockpile. Let’s say that laundry detergent usually costs $5.00 at your store, and a $5/1 coupon comes out in the Sunday newspaper inserts. You spend a little time to trade for more $5 coupons, and snag a bunch of laundry detergent for the cost of stamps. Done right, trading can compliment your coupon usage and save you a lot of money. And this brings us to our next point:
Effective coupon trading
I traded a lot during 2008, when I was first learning the ropes of couponing. I stopped trading at the end of that summer, and didn’t start again until a week ago. The reason I stopped was because it was taking a lot of time and money, and after I discovered recycle bin diving, it seemed unnecessary. But as I went through my pantry last week, it occurred to me that many of the things in my stockpile were the result of trading – and had been a very worthwhile investment. Here is what I have learned:
Only trade for coupons you REALLY need. I got so caught up in trading in 2008 that I was trading for loads and loads of coupons. It wasn’t cost-effective, and I ended up swamped with coupons I didn’t need. Now, I am refining my focus to things that I definitely need – coupons that will get me something free or steeply discounted. Trade stamps or a PayPal handling fee. When I was trading coupon-for-coupon, it took me ages to go through my coupon stash, figure out what others wanted, see what I could get rid of, clip, sort…it was not efficient at all, which is why I stopped. Now when I trade, I do stamps or PayPal only, unless I just happen to have a surplus of a coupon I don’t need that someone else can use – this makes trades quick and easy. Just factor the cost of the coupons in to your savings, and count it as part of your grocery budget. For example, if I trade a book of stamps for 30 free milk coupons, the milk is not “Free” – it cost me $8.80. But obviously, .29 cents for a gallon of milk would be a killer price, so this fictitious trade would be worthwhile. Just factor in your time and monetary investment, and make sure the result is worthwhile.
Allow for a learning curve! All that being said, using coupons is a learning process – and like all things, coupon trading has a learning curve. Don’t feel bad about the time it takes to learn the ropes; it will help you develop your savings strategy and save you money long-term.
If you’re ever on the Hot Coupon World forums, feel free to say hi – I’m “hardertobreathe” on there!
Readers, weigh in: Have you traded coupons before?
Don’t have time to use coupons? Well, if you could get free groceries in ten minutes – even if you know nothing about coupons – would you have the time for that? Then read on.
Many people are hesitant to start using coupons because of one thing: Time. Coupons seem overwhelming, and you don’t have the time to learn all that stuff and spend hours pinching pennies, right? But you don’t have to. Anyone can save money on their grocery bill immediately by taking a few minutes to read the following tips and click on a few links.
Step 1: Sign Up For Free Product Coupons Online
One effective advertising method that companies employ is offering limited-time free coupon offers on their websites. I love these offers, because it takes no more than 2 minutes to fill out a quick form and receive a free product coupon in return. I find out about these promotions by surfing my favorite frugal blogs, and then I write about these offers right here on Super Coupon Girl. Click on the “Free Coupons” link to go straight to that category and browse through the free offers – I post these links whenever I find them, so it is updated frequently.
Another way that advertisers spread the word about their products is by creating online panels that consumers can sign up for to receive coupon mailings. I am a member of the following websites, and consistently receive coupons in the mail for totally free products. The panels are free to sign up for, and require nothing on your part other than registering:
Bonus Tip: Before you start signing up for coupons, I highly recommend setting up a free secondary email account with Gmail or Hotmail. Use this email address when you register for free offers, and you will keep your primary email free from getting cluttered with unwanted newsletters.
There are other ways to get free product coupons, which I will touch on in later articles; but I wanted to stick to these two tips for this particular post because they are effortless and require minimum time investment – so that truly anyone can start getting free groceries right away.
I’ve written about catalinas a few times previously, and I thought this topic was worth its own article. If you’re not sure what a “Catalina coupon” is, check out my articles “Catalinas 101″ and “How To Find Catalina Deals”.
Remember when I bought 6 tubes of Grands! biscuits because of a catalina deal, but my coupon didn’t print? Well, I sent Catalina Marketing an email, and they mailed the coupon to me. I spent $3.54 on the biscuits originally, and now that I’ve belatedly received my $4.00 coupon, I am .46 cents ahead!
Has this ever happened to you? You’ve found out about a great catalina deal, planned out your scenario, and are so excited about your savings – until you go through the checkout line and your coupon doesn’t print. Why does this happen, and what can you do about it?
Why Didn’t My Catalina Print?
Like any other electronic device, catalina machines are subject to malfunction. Modern cash registers are actually a regular PC hooked to a cash drawer – when you see your total being rung up on the screen, it’s taking place on a program running inside of Windows. And we all know that computers don’t always work the way they’re supposed to! But it’s not always a complex technical issue – sometimes, the catalina printer is simply out of paper.
And don’t forget human error: Sometimes, even the most savvy coupon-queen will buy the wrong item or quantity. The UPCs which trigger catalinas are very specific – so when possible, read the fine print and check the offer for exclusions. Do you have the right product, flavor, size? Is the promotion still running? For instance:
This is the offer terms listed on my Pillsbury catalina. As an example, the Grands biscuits that I purchased were participating, but Toaster Strudels were not.
What Can I Do About It?
So your catalina didn’t print – now what? You have two options for rectifying the matter: Take it up at store level, or contact Catalina Marketing directly. I highly recommend that you take it up with Catalina Marketing, and here’s why. There are countless catalina promotions running at hundreds of stores across the country, and each promotion is tied to a specific list of product UPCs. In order for your local supermarket to be fully versed on the terms of each offer, they would need to have an extensive database listing all current catalina deals with UPCs and promo dates included.
Perhaps some stores do, but as far as I am aware, none in my area have any such list. In my experience, store staff often have no way of knowing which promotions are current; and if they do, they have no way of verifying the terms of the offer. Up until my last trip, I had never even bothered asking at store level about my catalinas. Last time, I decided that I would, just to see if it would be easier. First, I asked the cashier if the machine had paper, because my catalina had not printed and the lights on the machine were blinking in an odd manner. It did indeed have paper, so I then went to customer service and asked if there was something else wrong with the machine. The manager was aware of the Pillsbury deal, but she told me that she did not think the Grands! Jr. biscuits were participating, even though the offer didn’t specify any exclusions; so I told her I would email Catalina Marketing. I did – and they promptly sent me the coupon which should have printed.
Catalina Marketing are the company behind these coupons, and as such, they have quick access to anything you need to know about an offer. Every time I have contacted them, they have quickly determined what I should have received and mailed it to me directly. I have provided their email form and phone numbers at the bottom of this article – simply have your receipt ready when you contact them, and they will research the issue for you.
If it is vital that you receive your catalina during that shopping trip, you could ask a manager to return your items and re-ring them on another register. I’ve never done this, because in my experiences it would have been a big hassle for everyone.
Verifying Catalina Deals
I mentioned above that you should carefully check the terms of a catalina offer whenever possible – but sometimes, it isn’t. Say your sister calls and says, “Hey, I just got a $1.00 catalina for buying 3 Brand X canned vegetables at Safeway!”. So you stop by Safeway later that afternoon and buy 3 Brand X canned vegetables, but no catalina comes out. That’s your queue to email Catalina Marketing and say, “Hey, my sister got this great catalina for buying 3 Brand X canned vegetables, but I didn’t. Why is that?” You could even contact them before your shopping trip and ask for the terms of the offer. “My sister just told me about an offer for Brand X canned vegetables, can you tell me which varieties are participating?”
We talked earlier in the week about how to identify legitimate printable coupons, which brings me to another question I hear frequently: How do you know what stores will and won’t take Internet printable coupons?
Every store has its own coupon policy, and while some have a chain-wide coupon redemption policy, many grocers determine their own policies at store level – so your experience redeeming coupons can vary from location to location, even within the same chain. To find out what your local supermarket’s policies are, give them a call or stop by their customer service desk to inquire.
You may also be interested to check out this post on the “Hey, It’s Free” blog, which details the responses they received when writing to 34 companies regarding their printable coupon policy. A few months ago, Safeway released its first store-wide policy regarding printable coupons, which can be found on their website here. I was very disappointed to see how restrictive these new policies are – they will no longer accept Internet printables for free products, and they will not accept printable coupons for more than 50% of a product’s value, among other things. As a result, I haven’t used printable coupons at Safeway since this policy was posted. I’m guessing that these policies were implemented out of concern about coupon fraud – and while most high-value printable coupons are 100% legitimate, the higher the value, the higher the risk involved for the store if the coupon becomes compromised or turns out to be a fraud. But as time goes on, coupon printing technology will become more and more secure, and I hope that Safeway can update its policy to be less restrictive in the future.
Got a frugal question for Super Coupon Girl? Feel free to send me an email at email@example.com, and your question may be addressed in a future Q&A column.
I get great emails from my readers, often asking questions on a variety of coupon topics. I always love to hear from you, and my readers pose excellent questions – so I thought it might be fun to start a Q&A column where I can share some of these questions and their answers. I was inspired to write this article based on a question I got a while ago from Christina of Saving 4 My Family – she wrote, “I have a question about IP’s. How do you know when you have a legitimate Internet coupon vs. a fraudulent one?”
This is a question I get frequently – how do you determine if Internet printable coupons (also known as printables or IPs) are legitimate? Printable coupons are a great way to save, and everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the coupon community have been ethical and conscientious. Unfortunately, printable coupons are still a target for fraud, and the actions of a few “bad apples” hurt everyone. So how can you be sure if the great coupon you found online is the real deal? Here are a few steps you can take to identify legitimate printables:
1. You can verify printables from Coupons.com by clicking here. This is a great resource for verifying any coupon printed using the Coupons.com software – simply enter the “Veri-Fi” code found on the front of each coupon, and it will instantly tell you if the coupon is valid or not.
2. When in doubt, ask.Hot Coupon World has a great forum titled “It’s Got To Be Real”, where they research the validity of coupons and post warnings about fraudulent ones. They contact manufacturers directly and verify all coupons that they post, so I find this to be an invaluable resource if I’m unsure about a coupon. Alternatively, you can contact the manufacturer directly to inquire about the coupon in question.
3. Use PDF and JPEG coupons with caution. Most printable coupons are printed via special software from Coupons.com or SmartSource.com. This software is designed to be fairly secure and prevent fraudulent activity. However, you will sometimes run across printable coupons in another format – sometimes as a downloadable PDF file, other times saved as an image file (.jpg, .gif, etc). This doesn’t automatically make the coupon invalid, but it does mean that you should proceed with caution, as these types of coupons usually allow unlimited prints and are more prone to fraud. Before using these coupons, I would always email the manufacturer or check Hot Coupon World to make sure that it is legitimate.
By keeping these points in mind, you can help to stamp out illegitimate coupons and do your part to ensure that coupon redemption continues to be a win-win situation for both consumers and manufacturers.
Got a frugal question for Super Coupon Girl? Feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and your question may be addressed in a future Q&A column.
I am a guest poster over at Money Saving Mom today. My article is called “Five Strategies for Shopping Success”, and it outlines how I find the best deals by shopping at multiple stores, without wasting time or burning gas. Click here to read it!
If you’re a new visitor from Money Saving Mom, welcome! You might also enjoy checking out my “Coupon Articles” section.
Have you ever wondered how it can be possible to get so much for free with coupons? Do you not feel comfortable getting great deals, because you think you must be ripping someone off? I’d like to share some very informative articles that I’ve found with you:
Jenny at Southern Savers wrote this must-read piece titled Extreme Couponer 101: Coupon Redemption. It explains in great detail how coupons are processed, from the minute the cashier accepts them to when the coupon clearinghouse receives them. This whole process was somewhat of a mystery to me, so this was a fascinating piece. She also explains how coupon redemption benefits the store – a lot of people don’t realize that the stores are out no money when they redeem coupons, as the manufacturer reimburses them for the full amount, plus a shipping and handling fee. She also talks about store coupons and what the redemption process for those are. Jenny provides links to coupon clearinghouse websites at the end of the article, so that you can verify her sources for yourself.
But aren’t the manufacturers losing money? Mercedes at Common Sense With Money wrote this very informative piece titled The Secrets of High Value Coupons. She explains how high-value and free product coupons are a savvy promotional tool for companies, because it helps them get a strong foothold in the market and is often cheaper – and more effective – than other forms of advertising.
Being a successful coupon shopper is not about taking advantage of anyone. It’s about opening your eyes to all the promotional opportunities that companies are actively seeking people to participate in. I think it’s important to understand the whole scope of coupons – it helps you to be a smarter shopper when you know how and why it all works.
Each week, BeCentsAble highlights a “Censtable Savings Story”, where coupon users will share how they got their start and how much they’ve saved thanks to coupon shopping. I found it very inspiring to read these kind of stories when I first started using coupons, because it showed me what was possible. This week, I shared my savings story on BeCentsAble. I talk about what my budget used to be like, what prompted me to start using coupons, and how far I’ve come. So if you’re curious, check it out, and don’t miss all the other great savings stories!
One of the questions I get asked a lot is, “Where do you get all of these coupons from?” When people see me buying 24 boxes of pasta, it’s natural for them to wonder how I’m doing it. After all, it wouldn’t be very cost effective to buy 24 newspapers every week. There are lots of good ways to get extra coupons – trading coupons with other people, ordering from a clipping service – but the one that’s worked the best for me is visiting my local recycling center. This method, lovingly referred to as “Dumpster Diving”, involves scouring the recycling center’s newspaper bin for inserts. This may sound gross, scary, or just plain bizarre, so I’d like to explain a little more about it.
Yes, that’s me in front of the newspaper bin! I was first introduced to the concept of dumpster diving for coupons when I read this helpful thread on Hot Coupon World. They talked about how you could get loads of extra newspaper inserts by looking through the recycling bin. “That’s cool,” I thought, “But I’d never sift through the trash for coupons.”
A few months went by, and I kept thinking about how I could stockpile so much more, if only I had more copies of the paper. I did a lot of trading for coupons that I needed, but that can be time intensive and requires an investment in postage. All of a sudden, digging through the recycling bin didn’t seem like such a bad idea. My quest to save money won out, and I put my snobbery aside and decided to try it. Much to my surprise, the recycling center was clean, and had the newspaper all in one bin, separate from anything else. In fact, there’s even a little “Freecyle” area, where people leave things that they don’t need for others to use – I found a cool, working camera there once.
The newspaper bin was a coupon lovers dream: huge piles of newspaper, as far as the eye can see. It was a gold mine of inserts, and my box quickly filled up with coupons. And since it was just newspaper, there was no icky stuff lurking in the bin. I’m pretty uptight about cleanliness, so if I’m willing to do it, you know it’s not that bad. And the savings were immediate: having so many copies of the inserts allowed me to slash my budget even further. So how does a dumpster diving trip work?
As you can see, I bring two plastic bins with me. I pull out a mound of newspaper, and sift it into two piles: the inserts go in one box, the unwanted newspaper goes in another. After I sort through one pile, I dump out the unneeded paper and get another stack. In just 15 or 20 minutes, I can have a mound of great inserts. Sometimes I stay longer and fill the box to the brim. How often I go depends on my schedule – sometimes I’ll go once or twice in a week, sometimes weeks will pass without a trip. There’s usually several weeks worth of newspapers in the bin at any given time, so I can catch up with the inserts if I haven’t been there for a while. I’ve even found an insert from December of 2007 in there!! I guess some people hang onto their recycling for a long time.
I actually haven’t bought the newspaper for about a month or two, because I’ve been getting so many papers at the recycling center that there was no point. However, I’m going to start buying one copy per week again, because now that the weather is getting nastier, it’s not practical to go as often.
See how many inserts I got for 20 minutes worth of easy work? These trips save me so much money – if you got paid a hundred dollars for an hour’s worth of work, would it be worth it to you? It certainly is to me. So how do you get started? Here’s a few tips and tricks:
Check your local rules and regulations: Every area has different policies regarding their recycling bins, so make sure that it’s OK to dumpster dive in your town. Bring supplies: You’re going to want at least two big boxes to sort newspaper with. Or, if you prefer, you can load up a few boxes with paper, sort it at home, and then drop off the unused paper later. And don’t forget the hand sanitizer! Leave the area better than you found it: I’m sure this goes without saying, but don’t make a mess. Be neat and clean about your dumpster diving, and don’t leave newspaper strewn about. If I find a cereal box or bottle thrown in the newspaper bin by mistake, I help out by putting it in the right bin. Have fun! You’ve gotta laugh at the absurdity of digging through the recycling for coupons, but trust me – you’ll be saving too much money to care!
What do you guys think? Have you ever been dumpster diving?