Don't be afraid of online coupon services -- they save money, too
But many get nosy, so be stingy with personal data
By Gary Foreman
The New Frugal You
Dear New Frugal You,
I've been a coupon clipper for years, but my kids are telling me that I should download an app and use online tools instead. Um, what? Can you help a willing, but technically challenged, geezer to drop my scissors and go e-couponing? -- Sally
Don't worry about being a technically challenged coupon queen. You can still keep your crown even if you don't use online coupons, but you might find that they do offer a few advantages for the frugal monarch.
The big advantage to online coupons is that you don't have to buy the Sunday paper for the coupon inserts. If that's the only reason you buy the paper, online coupons could save you a buck or more each Sunday, not to mention helping you avoid the hassle of lugging five pounds of paper to the recyling bin.
But, if you're buying the paper anyway, it might be easier to just scan the inserts for the coupons you'd use. Despite what your kids think, there's something thrilling about seeing a whole page of coupons in your local paper.
On the other hand, there's also no reason to fear using your PC to get money-saving coupons. Finding coupon sites and signing up is easy. However, you do need to be careful about sites that ask for too much info or that try to sell you something without your knowledge.
Some coupon sites will ask for personal data, including your name, address and phone number. Be especially careful about giving permission to charge your phone on a monthly basis. It's easy to slip that type of authorization into the "standard agreement" that we all typically skip over.
You can protect yourself by being careful to read everything, especially the small print agreements, and noticing what boxes are checked. Want to be doubly safe? Have someone with you when you sign up. Two sets of eyes are more likely to catch any tricks.
Two of the most popular coupon sites are very easy to use. One company that coupon clippers are familiar with is Smart Source. On that site, you can see what's available without providing any data. To print coupons, you will need to set up an app and have Java working on your PC, but step-by-step instructions are provided.
Another of my favorites is Coupons.com. Like Smart Source, expect to download and install a printer file. Any computer "newbie" can do it. If you run into trouble, just invite a grandchild over for cookies, and he'll fix it for you.
Use of both sites is pretty self-explanatory. You can highlight the type of product (i.e., food, pet care, baby, etc.) that you want to see. Click on any coupons that you want to print. When you've chosen the ones you want, find and click the print button. Just that simple.
Don't forget that there are other ways to use your personal computer to save money. Have a product that you like? Do a search to find the company's site. On the site, you'll find contact info. Send the company a complimentary letter or e-mail telling them what you like about their product. Many will respond with coupons for that product.
Yet another way to save is with discount codes -- especially if you know exactly what you're buying. Suppose you want to buy a new slow cooker. Just do a search on the manufacturer, model number and "coupon code." If any are available, they'll show up. It's not uncommon to save $5 or $10 on a $30 purchase. Best of all, it's something that you were going to buy anyway.
One caution for all clipper queens and kings. You'll notice that most coupons are for name-brand products. Just because you have a coupon and use that item doesn't mean that you should use the coupon.
Suppose you have ground sausage on your grocery list and a coupon for "retired country singer sausage." You're not required to buy that brand. It's possible that another brand or the store brand will be a better buy. Bottom line: Do the math before you add it to your grocery cart.
So, Sal, you shouldn't feel that you have to use your PC for couponing. It's another option for you, but isn't necessary to maintain your status as the Sovereign of Savings.
See related: How to create a price book to help you comparison shop, Making a budget? Breakdown the 'Big 4' expenses first, Trying to cut back on spending? Go BIG!
For more than 35 years, Gary Foreman has worked to help people get the most for their money. Prior to founding The Dollar Stretcher.com, he was a financial planner and purchasing manager. Gary began The Dollar Stretcher website and newsletters in April 1996. Today the website features more than 6,000 articles on different ways to live better for less. Gary has been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, The Nightly Business Report, USA Today, Reader's Digest and other newspapers and magazines. Gary answers a question about a budgeting or saving issue from a CreditCards.com reader each week.
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Published: September 2, 2010