It’s true: Most of us throw coupons in the garbage. But fans of “extreme couponing” say this is a huge mistake; after all, would you throw away cash?
Couponing has taken off in recent years – there’s a huge number of websites, blogs and social media accounts – even a popular TV show called Extreme Couponing – all dedicated to helping people live for less. Plus, coupons have evolved beyond your run-of-the-mill grocery flyer deals. Many companies are offering exclusive online deals and freebies through social couponing sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial.
Why has couponing become such a hot trend? “With the lack of jobs and the downturn of the economy, Canadians are looking for ways to save money where they can,” says Lina Zussino, co-founder of GroceryAlerts. “For some, it’s a hobby that comes with a rush. For others, it’s truly the only way they can make ends meet.”
Zussino says her motivation is simple. “I don’t like to spend money, and when I do, I want to ensure I’m getting a great return,” she says. “We use coupons as extra cash to focus our dollars on our investments and paying off our mortgage.”
“We’ve gotten addicted to the principles of do-it-yourself, green-but-cheap, and locally produced,” says Jordan Kent-Baas, co-host of Project: Priceless, an Ottawa-based social media experiment.
Kent-Baas and her husband launched Project: Priceless to rally businesses to support their goal of having an almost-free wedding. After the success of their wedding last year, the couple has since had a “staycation” honeymoon using social coupons and launched The Nest – a project dedicated to chronicling their lives as frugal newlyweds.
With the flurry of coupons in your online and offline mailbox each week, the prospect of taking up couponing might seem quite daunting. With that in mind, here are some tips to get you started on the path to savings.
Make sure it’s a real deal
“The trick to working with deals is to ask yourself: Is this something I actually need or want?” says Kent-Baas. She adds that she and her husband are very picky about the coupons they use. “It’s great when, for example, the grocery store offers you three jars of peanut butter for $10, but if your budget for all of your groceries is only $50, maybe it’s not a good deal for you that week.”
Watch your spending
Knowing how much you normally spend on groceries will help. For example, just because there’s a flashy ad that says something is on sale, doesn’t mean the savings are worth it.
Start by taking the time to read the coupons that show up in your inbox and at your doorstep – it only takes a few minutes, and it might mean huge savings. Zussino suggests you collect and organize the coupons you are interested in by category using folders online, or a binder or shoebox for hard copies.
Read the fine print
“You need to know the rules to play the game,” says Zussino, who has co-authored a free Canadian coupon policies e-book to help newbies navigate sticky subjects such as coupon stacking (how many coupons can be used per transaction) and price matching against other retailers.
Don’t let it take over your life
Diving into couponing can be time consuming and, as Kent-Baas says, “not everyone wants to make a part-time job out of deal-hunting.” To avoid it consuming too much of your life, she suggests checking out grocery flyers and subscribing to a few select social-coupon sites.
Read reviews before you buy
“Scope out the business, not just the price,” Kent-Baas advises. This is especially important when it comes to social coupons. You might get distracted by how great the deal is, only to be let down later by things such as service quality. By checking out a business’s reputation in advance, you can avoid wasting money on a coupon that wasn’t worth the trouble.
Looking for more tips for staying within your budget?
- Save money by shopping like Grandma
- A day in the life of a frugalista (video)
- Five smart money tips you may not know
- How to stop fighting over money
Talking with an advisor can help ensure you’re on track to meet your financial and retirement planning goals. Don’t have an advisor? Visit Sun Life Financial’s Advisor Match to help you find one in your area.