Friday, January 18, 2013

Thrift Week Day Three: CouponMom

As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm of two minds when it comes to couponing. I can't but be impressed with the savings achieved by extreme couponers (like this lady in Massachusetts and this one from the "Extreme Couponing" TV show) who amass huge stockpiles of stuff without paying a penny. But every time I've attempted to copy their strategies, I just couldn't make it work. The biggest problem is that most of the coupons available to me fall into one of three categories:
  1. things that I have no use for, such as dog food or cloying scented air fresheners;
  2. things that I really shouldn't be eating, such as chips and candy bars; and
  3. things that I could use in theory, but that will almost certainly be more expensive, even with a coupon, than a store-brand or homemade equivalent—such as high-end brands of salad dressing, olive oil, or detergent.
This means that the only way for me to really save money with coupons is to "stack" a coupon for a name-brand product with a really good sale. This is the strategy the extreme couponers use, but in order to make it work, you have to actually find a sale on the product in question at a local store before the coupon expires. I've managed to do this occasionally, but the sales were almost never good enough to get me the product for free or near-free the way the extreme couponers do—and for the amount of work it took to scour the sale fliers each week looking for deals and try to match them up with the available coupons in my collection, it didn't really seem worth it.

Then, nearly a year ago, I discovered a website called CouponMom.com. This site is a lot like ConsumerSearch in that it takes most of the work out of bargain hunting. Once you register with the site (which is free), you can just search for deals in your state, and the site will show you which stores in your area have sales in the upcoming week that can be stacked with coupons from the major coupon sources (SmartSource, Red Plum, All You, and Proctor & Gamble). You can sort the results by store, by coupon date, by item, or by price; you can search for specific items; you can ask to see only the "extreme deals" that reduce the cost of an item by 50 percent or more; and handiest of all, you can select the specific deals that interest you, then display them all on one page, which you can then print out as a shopping list. (Clip your coupons directly to the list when you go to the store, and you'll have everything you need in one place.)

Checking this site once a week (generally on Sunday, when it gets updated) has become a regular part of my shopping routine. I start by checking the "Extreme Deals" section to see whether I can get anything at a major discount. Since the site shows me which coupon insert provides the coupons needed for a specific deal, I can skip the ones from sources other than SmartSource, which is the only one I have easy access to. However, these aren't the only coupon deals I can use; the site also shows deals involving Internet coupons, complete with a link to the printable coupon. This means that I no longer bother paging through the Coupons.com site once a week looking for potentially useful coupons (which I would then print out, file, and most likely throw away unused because I never got the opportunity to stack them); now I just wait for the deals to pop up and then link directly to the coupons I need. The site also shows deals that don't involve coupons at all—just store sales that are so good, they drop the price of an item by more than 50 percent by themselves. I select the deals I might be able to use, print out my list, and go to my stack of inserts to clip out the relevant coupons.

After that, I check the "Extreme Drugstore Deals" page. These deals are more complicated, often involving store coupons or reward programs, and many of them are for stores that aren't on my usual shopping circuit, like Wal-Mart (which I'm still officially boycotting over its business practices, though I have been wavering as they take baby steps toward being less evil) or Target (which is already somewhat less evil, but is too far away to visit just for a free roll of dental floss). As a result, I seldom find any deals that I can use—but it only takes a minute to look.

CouponMom isn't perfect. Sometimes it does give inaccurate information—showing me a sale that isn't actually in effect in my area, for example, or a coupon that I can't find anywhere in the insert that's supposed to have it. So it is necessary to do a quick double-check against the sale flier before heading off to the store, just to make sure the deal that's supposed to be on is actually on. (Sometimes the problem turns out to be that they're showing a sale that will pop up in next week's sale flier, which their staff have managed to get their hands on early.) But it's still a lot less work than trying to do all the coupon-sale matching myself. And unlike other coupon-matching sites, such as The Grocery Game, CouponMom doesn't charge a subscription fee (which might or might not pay for itself in deals). So even if the site's matching skills aren't perfect, I would have to say the service is a great value for the price I pay.
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