For the longest time, I’ve read message boards where members would post all the amazing deals and freebies they got from their stores that doubled or even (be still, my heart!) tripled coupons! And I’d be green with envy, thinking that there was no way I would be able to get deals like that. In my area, double coupon deals have gone the way of the dinosaur. We used to have a couple of stores that doubled on Wednesdays and Saturdays; those stores have all closed. Another grocery chain was pretty good about having double coupon days every couple of months or so that entire chain of stores is no longer around. With the demise of just about every store that doubled, the handwriting was on the wall. I soon realized that if I, too, wanted great deals – and yes, the FREE STUFF I coveted – I had to maximize my coupon potential.
Thanks to tips and hints that experienced couponers were kind enough to share – and some trial and error on my part – I’ve had some pretty good success scoring freebies. I may never be one of the freebie queens you read about, but I’m working on being a freebie princess! While there are many different ways to score freebies, coupons – with or without rebates – have been the biggest help to me, so many of my tips involve coupons.
Acquiring coupons – this is a logical starting point. Coupons can make a good deal even better, and make it easier to get free items! The best source for coupons seems to be the inserts in the Sunday papers. If you have a subscription to your local Sunday paper, you are getting your coupons delivered to your door. If you don’t subscribe to the paper, you can find out ahead of time if it’s worth spending money on a paper. There are internet sites that offer coupon previews (for example, www.taylortownpreview.com .) There are some weeks where the coupons are amazing – even coupons for free products. Other weeks, it’s slim pickin’s – or no coupons at all.
To get additional coupons, ask family members or friends to save their coupon inserts for you – when they are done with them. My mom saves her coupons flyers for me. I also have a friend that I trade coupons with – the beauty of this is that we have almost NO purchases in common – we use totally different brands and products. This works out quite well. There have also been what I call “surprise” coupons in the paper – I call them that because I found them in areas other than the coupon flyers.
Here’s an example: In the food/home section of the paper, I have found coupons for free items at Penzeys (spices). Since November, I’ve gotten free bottles of seasoned sea salt, peppercorns, and Cajun seasoning. No purchase was necessary. Additional options for getting coupons are coupon trains, purchasing coupons from clipping services, and asking at stores if you can have the inserts from unsold papers. Manufacturers may offer coupons online, so it pays – literally – to check their websites!
Organizing the coupons – there are many ways of doing this; you just need to find the system that works best for you. I knew I didn’t want to miss potential freebies, but I wasn’t sure quite how to do it. For me, finding what worked was by trial and error. I tried cutting every coupon, but was frustrated each month when I would end up tossing out many, many coupons. All my hard work – into the trash. I guess that was the “trial”. Then I tried just clipping coupons for products I thought I would need.
Unfortunately, several weeks later, I would read online about some great deal that would make an item free – if I only had clipped and saved that particular coupon. That was a big “error” on my part! I missed out on a lot of freebies that way – and kicked myself, mentally, on more than one occasion. Then, I discovered www.couponmom.com – and the “virtual coupon organizer”. You pick your state, and up comes a list of every valid coupon from your newspaper inserts. You can type in a brand name (for example, “Cheer”), or you can type in a product category, such as “cereal”. Up comes a list of all the existing coupons for the product. Each Sunday, I go through the coupon inserts and clip the ones I KNOW I will use, and put them in a small organizer.
Then the flyers are filed by date in a big folder. When I’m reading store sales flyers and I see a deal that shows the potential for greatness (like free stuff!) – or read about a great deal on the internet – I can easily locate the coupons I need. The Coupon Mom website also publishes best deals by states – and Walgreens and CVS deals as well. I’ve found a few freebies that I would otherwise have overlooked by checking this site. As I said before, this is what works best for me. You may prefer to clip all coupons and store in a large container or coupon binder – that way you can have all your coupons on hand if you find an unexpected deal – or several. As much as I love the method I use, there has been at least one occasion when I wished I had ALL my coupons with me…
Maximizing the value of the coupons – this is always a good idea, but especially critical to the freebie quest. You can get much better savings by combining coupons with in-store sales. An even better deal is sale plus coupon plus rebate – I’ve gotten lots of freebies that way. Also, it’s helpful to know that store coupons can be combined with manufacturers’ coupons. In my area, Walgreen’s publishes a sales flyer every Sunday, and a rebate catalog once a month. Both have Walgreen’s (“store”) coupons in them.
To give an example of “coupon combining”, Walgreen’s recently had Bayer aspirin on sale for $1.99. There was a $1 off store coupon in the rebate catalog, and a few weeks back, there had been a $1 off manufacturer’s coupon in the Sunday paper. When I combined the sale priced aspirin with the Walgreen’s coupon and the manufacturer’s coupon, the aspirin was free (except for sales tax). I have gotten many free items this way. What’s even better than free? Getting paid to buy a product! This can happen when there is rebate on the full price of the item (again, Walgreen’s has lots of these) AND there is a coupon for the product. To give few more examples, I recently bought a bottle of Garnier shampoo, where the full price of the product ($3.99) was rebated. I used a $1 manufacturer’s coupon, so my out of pocket cost was $2.99 (plus tax), but my rebate amount was $3.99. Then there was the Electrasol Dishwasher tabs deal – on sale for $2.50, a manufacturer’s coupon for $1.50 and a rebate of $1.50 – free product, plus I “earned” 50¢.
Also, check out the clearance sections – clearance priced items, combined with coupons and/or rebates, can be moneymakers. A recent deal I found was Just For Men beard dye, which was clearance priced at $3.49. My husband uses this stuff (shhh, don’t tell – that’s a secret), so I knew this was a great price for it. BUT…I also had a $4 off manufacturer’s coupon that I had printed from the Just for Men website. AND…there was a Walgreen’s coupon for $2 off Just For Men products in the Easy Saver catalog. A great deal got even better – not only was the dye free, but I came out over $2 ahead.
Loyalty – there are some products my family is very brand-loyal about. Other items – well, not so much. For example – my husband is very brand loyal about his deodorant. I scrounge coupons for it whenever and wherever I can, and buy it when it’s on sale. I rarely get his deodorant free, but I do buy it at the lowest possible price. I, myself, am not terribly brand loyal about my deodorant. There are a few that I don’t like, but most of them work just fine. As a result, I very rarely pay for my deodorant – I’m more likely to seek out whatever will be free after rebate. (Come to think of it, that’s my favorite deodorant – free.) We’ve become less and less brand-loyal, and more and more freebie-loyal! I almost always get certain items free: toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo and hair dye come to mind, but there are others. And speaking of loyalty – not only am I not brand loyal, I’m really not store-loyal, either. I have access to a lot of stores, and the ones with the freebies and great deals tend to be the ones that get my business.
Mailing lists – I’ve gotten some great freebies by being on mailing lists. I like to joke that one of my unofficial titles is “Free Panty Queen”. I have gotten quite a few little “gift cards” from Victoria’s Secret that are good for a free pair of panties, no purchase necessary. Signing up for freebies at company websites is another was to get free samples. Some of these samples are very generous, too! I’ve had “freebie days” where I try to use as many freebies as I can – from toothpaste to body wash, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant – to contact lens solution. I’ll even make a list of everything free that I used that day – hmmm, sometimes I think I like freebies a little too much! I’ve also gotten some very nice magazine subscriptions, full-sized products, and coupons for full-sized products.
One final tip, and it’s one of my personal favorites – you can donate your surplus freebies. By combining sales, coupons and rebates, I have ended up with more free shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, soap (and numerous other products) than my family will use. I’ve also gotten free or extremely cheap items that we will not use – diapers and other baby products, for example. If an item is free or extremely cheap, I will get it, even if I can’t use it – because I know that someone else can.
The local women’s shelters and homeless shelters are always very happy to take the extras off my hands. A couple of years ago, several of us at work were discussing all the great free deals we were getting, the increasing sizes of our stockpiles, and the fact that there were great deals on products we had no use for. We came up with the idea of a donation box, which we keep in the break room. We bring in all our surplus freebies and good deals.
This works out great, because at least one person had held back on donating items, thinking that since they only had one or two items, it wasn’t worth it to donate. Well, I think it’s worth donating even a single item, if you have one to donate, but we were really able to max out the donations by combining our freebies. When we have two full boxes, one of us makes a trip to one of the shelters. We’ve donated quite a bit in the past two years, and will continue to do so for a long time to come. To me, sharing the freebies is the most fun of all. It’s a great feeling!
Suzanne is a member of the Frugal-Families.com administrative team AND a regular blogger at our Frugal-Families Blog