Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bring Your Coupons And Play The Game

Tip #209 - Bring Your Coupons And Play The Game. Today’s merchant business seems to rely heavily on different types of promotions, specials, coupons, and other gimmicks to get us to buy things. Years ago, this did not happen with the frequency that it does today. In the past, department stores had sales maybe once per season. Coupons for grocery stores equaled only 5 cents, 7 cents, or maybe a dime. Every once in awhile a grocery store would do a promotion for totaling up receipts to get a free turkey or to buy dishes. But on most days purchases were straight out purchases without gimmicks attached. Nowadays, promotions take place more often than not. And they are more confusing than ever – buy two packs of cookies, get a milk free; spend $200 over the next three months and get 10 cents off gas; 40% off sale and 25% off that with a coupon. It gets more and more confusing to figure out what to buy, how to buy, and what it will cost when you get to the register.

I did a post a few weeks ago about how to calculate percentages and I’ve done a post or two on doing research before you buy. And it is because of all of these types of promotions that stores have that these two tasks are important. Well with Christmas sales coming up the promotions, deals and specials have gotten bumped up a notch. And if you want to get the best price on an item that you’ve researched and know you want to buy, then you need to play the game the retailers are throwing at us.

Retailers like using gimmicks and promotions to drum up business and get people excited, but they count on only a small percentage of people to actually follow through with their promotion or for customers to buy enough other things in their store to make the loss on their promotion items worthwhile. If they want to play that game then we can, too. Take advantage of what they offer. Just make sure you are buying stuff that you would have bought anyway!

So, before you go to the stores, look at their flyers. Read the fine print about stores’ gimmicks so you don’t get stuck buying something that isn’t covered by a promotion that you thought was covered. Make sure you follow any games, promotions, and gimmicks correctly – sometimes the details are confusing. Bring any coupons you cut out from newspaper inserts with you to the store. Look for coupons in other places such as directly inside the newspaper, magazines and in mailers that come in your mailbox. Find out the stores’ policies on accepting competitors’ coupons.

If you don’t get a newspaper with flyers inside, then look online. Most stores have their circulars posted on their website. Do an Internet search for coupons for the stores you are considering. Look at the store’s competitors’ sites to see if they have coupons you can use. This early in the season look at Black Friday sites to see if what you want to buy will be cheaper on the busiest shopping day of the year. Go to to read about any online coupons for that store – it might be cheaper to buy it online and have it shipped to the store for pickup.

I am not one to encourage shopping for unnecessary things or to buy things because they are free or a very good price. But if you are in need of something – small appliances, gifts for family or friends, or whatever, now is the time to take advantage of some of the deals that retailers are offering.

In Real Life (IRL) – I like to get a bargain as much as the next person. But I will admit that sometimes it takes hard work. Since I don’t shop that often any more I no longer look so hard for the games and gimmicks that I liked to do when I was younger. Yes, it was time consuming to look for the coupons or get up early on Black Friday, but if it saved me money, it was worth it to me.

These days I don’t shop at retail stores so much. I rarely go to the mall. But with two daughters who like to do crafts, as a mom who likes to throw fun birthday parties, and as a Girl Scout leader of my daughter’s Brownie troop, I find myself shopping at Michael’s quite frequently. And that is one store where I refuse to pay full price. It’s amazing to me that at any time I can get 40% off most items in their store. I would be stupid to go in there and pay full price. The catch is that they don’t offer 40% off coupons every week. So if I am in need of something from the store, I either have to be patient for their next coupon offering or I have to give in and pay full price. Right?

Wrong. In our area, there is a competitor store to Michaels called AC Moore. I know in other areas Hobby Lobby and Joanne's are competitors. AC Moore is a great store, but much less convenient to where I live. But the great thing about Michael’s is that they accept competitors’ coupons. Since AC Moore competes with them in this area, Michael's takes their coupons. And AC Moore has coupons every week and online. This means I can print out a coupon every day and go to Michael’s to pick up an item. Since Michael’s is less than 1 mile from my house, it makes it worth it even factoring gas in if I decide to drive. Sometimes I bring my oldest daughter with me and we each use a coupon. For a couple weeks before a birthday party, I will shop there once a day, using a coupon for one item per day. Why not? They’re offering it, so I’ll take it.

It gets even better than that, though. Our Michael’s (and each one is different) does not accept their coupons for books. But, when I asked the cashier about it she said they WILL accept competitors’ coupons for books. Can’t beat that! This makes for some nice and pretty reasonable birthday presents. Many times, especially around the holidays, there will be 50% off coupons from both AC Moore and Michael’s. I like to save any big purchases I want from those stores for days when they offer that coupon.

Other places I have taken advantage of gimmicks is the supermarket. One of our local markets sells gas and for a while they were giving 10 cents off per gallon for every $100 spent at the store. Now I realize that is only $1.50 off a full tank fill-up for spending $100 or a 1.5% savings. But when I was shopping there anyway it made for a nice gas savings as long as I paid attention to the date it expired and used it before then. Some things they offer clearly aren’t worth it to me, so I don’t take advantage of the promotion unless I was buying certain products anyway.

But it pays to look at the various stores that you like to shop at to see what promotions they are having that do appeal to you and make sense with your needs. Especially this time of year, the gimmicks abound. If they work for you, take advantage of them. Again, only use them for things you were planning to buy anyway! For other frugal ideas, check out Frugal Fridays.

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