For anyone that has been following, my apologies, I know it has been like 6 months since I posted. I have an excuse though. We moved from Florida to somewhere in the ‘Deep South’! (that shall remain nameless). It was a bit of a big move. Took us a while to move and unpack; get established… now that we have settled in, I am picking up on this blog.
Last time I had whined about something I missed. This week I am writing about something I took to right away.
Coupon clipping is big business in the US. There are newspaper columns; books, TV series, (you may have heard of Extreme Couponing – not an exaggeration, it is a thing; YouTube channels; and blogs all teeming with advice. There are even services who will coupon clip for you. This blog entry is a narrative, but I do scatter it with advice and, like my other posts, will summarize my tips all at the end…
So to read my storyon my exciting discoveries of coupons, read on.
Want to get to the point on how you can save lots of $$ and get freebies? Scroll down to the summary.
In Australia, I was excited to get a mini coupon booklet once every few months, or coupons on the back of grocery receipts, “Shop-a-Docket”. A lot of these coupons were for services I didn’t even need, like tyre replacement or roofing services or something like that. The only good ones were for fast food. My Dad would clip those. Occasionally, maybe once a quarter or less, we would also get a page of coupons from the local shopping centre. That was exciting; but then, not really. Again, stuff I personally didn’t purchase.
Not long after I made my big relocate to the US of A, I bought the leading local newspaper, The Orlando Sentinel, to get familiar with life in Orlando. But I was more enamored with the few A5 size booklets of several pages of coupons fell out than the drama of local and state politics. These booklets are produced by companies including Red Plum, Smart Source, and others. I was finding:
These are direct from the manufacturer and typically range from 50c to $4 off an item or two, sometimes more if it’s an expensive item, on your whole range of products for everyday life living, to use anywhere. I started clipping like crazy for coupons like:
- $3 off Maybelline lipstick!
- $4 off Colgate’s new Optic White toothpaste!
- $1 off 2x Kellogg’s Special K cereal!
- 50c off Farm Fresh Organic Free Range eggs!
- And so on…
Then I noticed all of the…
Chain restaurant coupons
This was mainly exciting because I had never seen these in Australia, and made dining out cheaper:
- Get $4 off any Entree (Main meal) or $3 off any Lunch Entree at Outback Steakhouse!
- “ “ Red Lobster!
- “ “ Olive Garden (Italian chain)
- “ “ Carrabbas (Rival, slightly more upscale Italian chain)
- “ “ Bucca De Peppo (yep, another Italian chain – but it’s “shareable plates”, so it’s “authentic Italian”.. and, I have to admit, quite delicious. There are none in my current location, and I miss it)
… the list goes on.
Smokey Bones (BBQ chain restaurant) was a fave for a while. $10 off your meal. $10 off. As we received the Thursday newspaper as well which also came with the coupon booklets, we would fish out the second coupon and get $20 off. I miss that place too.
Not wanting to be outdone by their rivals, once I dined at these places, chain restaurants drew me in with their loyalty email programs enticing me with more coupons, occasional specials, and rewards programs. And a lot will send you an e-coupon for a freebie on your birthday or to use during your birthday month. Even Starbucks gives me a coupon for any free drink for my birthday, or at least they had been for the last couple of years.
After being done with the coupons’ booklets and going back to the reason why I originally bought the newspaper, you know, to read the city’s, wider state and nation’s , and the ever-so-brief* world news, I turn the pages and out falls out a catalog-size of a few pages of…
Fast food coupons
- Buy any coffee at Dunkin Donuts and get a free donut!
- Buy a specialty milkshake at Steak n Shake at 50% off!
- Buy one Chicken Sandwich (Aussie translate: chicken burger) at Burger King; get one Free!
- And so on….
Not Starbucks though. Starbucks is so popular that they don’t need coupons, it seems.
Ok, so I remember getting burger coupons for McDonald’s and Hungry Jacks in Australia too… but like, once every few months in that mini coupon booklet I mentioned that most Aussie households get. These are every week. Every week.
You won’t just find coupons in these booklets and newspapers though. They are everywhere – you just need to know where to find the good ones…
Supermarket/Department store coupons
I would take my manufacturers’ coupons to the supermarket all organized in a coupon folder (once I was congratulated by a cashier for being “the most organized coupon clipper he has seen in a while”) and see that supermarkets would also have their own coupons. See, they don’t want you to use the manufacturers coupons at any old store. They want you to use those coupons on top of their ones. I was floored when I received my first Target coupon book in the mail. Target Australia never graced me with a coupon book. Some stores will get all rivalry and have signs that say “We accept x’s coupons”.
To ensure they stay on top of the times, some supermarket and department store chains have apps where you can clip digital coupons. I enthusiastically signed up for Publix (supermarket) digital coupons and Target Cartwheel.
Getting further discounted groceries especially for treats like ice cream was shaping up to be fun, but then I discovered…
Chain store coupons/reward programs
After signing up for a free Victoria’s Secret store credit card, I started receiving these coupons in the mail: “Free panty! $10.50 or less.”
I asked my husband about this when I examined these attractive VS coupons with curiosity, while still trying to get used to calling ‘underwear’ panties:
“So what’s the catch?”
“There is no catch. Just walk into the store, pick a panty and show coupon to the cashier”.
“But – but – why are they just giving away free panties?!”
“They just want to get you in the store. They are hoping you will buy their matching bra or whatever”.
Oh, ok. I wasn’t accustomed to getting free panties or anything else free in my home country with no purchase whatsoever, except for a sample here or there.
3 and a half years later, I have gotten, like, 10 free panties. Sometimes just completely free, others with a purchase, “Free panty $12.50 or less with an item”. I’ll buy a lipgloss and get a free panty. I don’t particularly need the lipgloss. I think I have about 6 Victoria Secret lipglosses, lip balms, or lip matte or what have you so I could get my free panties. Their coupon marketing strategy works. I buy something that I don’t really need – but I can justify to myself that I can have it, ’cause I want a free panty.
A lot of chains of various types offer a free loyalty program; and me, the consumer that I am, signed up for all my favorites over time. (Some I even signed up before I moved over and listed my then-fiancé’s address). I began receiving periodic emails, and when I moved over, texts and mail, and the option for coupons to appear electronically at checkout for me to apply – oh, so convenient! Some are more generous than others; I got to know whom fairly quickly.
Many chains will offer a free store credit card, and many out of those chains will entice you with a coupon to use on the day to sign up for their store credit card. I have and continue to hold off on signing up for such stores’ credit cards until I know I want to make a big purchase. So far I’ve signed up for Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, GAP, T.J. Maxx and J.C. Penney. Retailers love me to a certain extent – I’m a fairly easy sell, and will sign up for a store credit card if it has a good offer and the timing is right. And I love them back; the shopping lover that I am (just in case you couldn’t tell already). If you are careful with your budget, it’s a win-win situation. My favorite was scoring an additional 20% off a Michael Korr’s bag.
Sign up and get ready for even more coupons and/or freebie offers. You may be thinking:
“Yeah, and? A lot of Aussie chains have loyalty reward programs as well. I have my Coffee Club, Coffee Emporium, and Gloria Jean’s Frequent Sippers Club, so I can get my far more decent coffee fix anywhere and anytime, thank you very much.”
And rightly so. Australian stores have these as well (I have a stack of old loyalty cards, including one from when my marketing friend in Sydney had swayed me to sign up for a loyalty card for the chain that he manages, even though I went there, like, once a year at best), but coupons and other rewards are typically more generous here in the US (sorry, my marketing friend):
Here are some that have sitting in my inbox right now:
- GAP: Extra 20% off your purchase (GAP)
- RackRoom Shoes: $10 coupon off $75 + BOGO 50% off 2nd pair
- Snapfish: Free 5×7 Photobook!
- CVS Pharmacy: 20% off coupon
- + spend x, y, z amounts on x, y, z products and receive $10 Extrabucks rewards!
- Victoria’s Secret: 30% off a single item! (Victoria’s Secret)
- Ann Taylor: $50 off $100 purchase
- Bed Bath & Beyond: 20% off Bed Bath and Beyond item (I get this every month, so this is no longer exciting, but a nice comfort to know that whenever I want to go to BB & B, I can fish out a 20% off)
Yep, it’s a thing, and it has happened to me. Coupon clipping was such a novelty in the beginning, that I overdid it – bought a lot of products we didn’t really need. And when it came to relocating interstate, there was a lot to either pack up to bring with us or throw out as they expired.
I still digitally clip coupons, and I check my email for any before I visit a restaurant or store, but I haven’t flicked through and clipped a coupon booklet in months. Writing up this post has resurrected my interest in coupon clipping – for stuff I actually use – so I’m going to take a look at How to Recover from Coupon Burnout blog post for advice.
So what is it with all of the coupons compared to Australia, and possibly other countries?
Capitalistic with a capital C, in the US there are just so many more businesses of the same type compared to Australia, meaning much more competition. That’s even when you account for the huge population increase. Also, there are more regional chains, whereas in Aus, there tends to be mainly national chains. And each of those businesses is vying for your attention and will do much more than the ones in Aus to get you through their door. And if you, the consumer, are careful, disciplined, and strategic about it, you can make decent savings and score a lot of discounts or free stuff.
So if you are living in the US for awhile or even just travelling for a decent period of time, here are some tactics to make some good savings:
US Survival Summary for the average Joe
If you want to get into hardcore couponing, google “couponing tips” and you’ll find a plethora of advice from bloggers like the Krazy Coupon Lady.
- Subscribe to your local newspaper to receive Manufacturers’ coupon booklets or see if they will be mailed out to you. Where we live in Georgia, we just get these coupon booklets mailed out to us so we don’t bother subscribing to the local paper. (Sorry, my local chief newspaper source). Or go online and print from their websites:
- Get into a routine of flicking through coupon booklets – perhaps once a week over your morning coffee or tea. Stash the pages of fast food/restaurant coupons in your car, and clip product coupons and place them in a coupon folder.
- Subscribe to the loyalty programs to all your favorite chain stores, restaurants, or brands. Filter their emails in your inbox – I like Gmail as they all go to my Promotions folder. Search your inbox before you go out / go online shopping.
- Subscribe to Groupon or Living Social US! I didn’t discuss that here as they are available to the Australian market and work the same way. They seem to have more frequent sales compared to the Aussie version, although maybe Australian Groupon and Living Social are catching onto this.
- Subscribe to mailing lists of your favorite grocery stores they often give you the option to subscribe to their weekly catalogs which will have coupons in them.
- Sign up for free store credit cards- usually, a sales associate will offer it to you, but they are human too and are not bothered to promote or will forget on occasion, so if you haven’t been offered, ask if there is one available. Hold off from signing up for one if the credit card comes with a coupon until you are ready to make a big purchase from that store.
- Look out for supermarket/department store apps where you can clip digital coupons, e.g. Target Cartwheel; your regional grocery supermarket chain.