A couple months ago, I wrote about the basics of saving with coupons. It's a daily routine I have practiced for over 30 years as a third-generation coupon saver.
For more than 50 years, coupons have helped my family save money and get us through many rough patches. During another recession and a brutal layoff at my father's construction site in the late 70s/early 80s, we used coupons religiously in order to eat. Grocery stores didn't really have store policies on coupons - actually, they were empathetic to many people's plights and offered double and even triple coupon offers. During this time I got the biggest lesson on how to survive, save, and still be able to feed a family of five.
Times have changed, while my couponing habits have not; shows like TLC’s Extreme Couponing have become a double-edged sword for long-standing couponers. On one hand, the show has increased awareness about coupons and the money to be saved. This has alleviated some of those rolling eyes and heavy sighs from people in the check-out lanes, waiting for a couponer to go through the line. There are now coupons for milk, butter, eggs, and essential paper products. And some grocery stores still offer double coupons. But the days of tripling coupons and seamless transactions have gone.
TLC's show has bred a generation of extreme shoppers who clear shelves, shave the system and steal newspapers. These televised extreme habits have brought about store coupon policies and restrictions that keep couponers like myself on constant "research mode" to make sure we're following each store's policies.
As I teach classes around the Maryland and D.C. areas, the number one frustration of new couponers is how to figure out those policies and restrictions. Here's a sample:
- Walmart will only allow 40 coupons to be used per transaction, and the coupon total cannot be over $50 in value; They do take competitors' coupons (sometimes), but it has to be for a defined dollar amount, not percentage.
- Some Kmarts only double coupons when advertised, but other Kmarts around the Maryland/D.C. area always double coupons - you must call your local Kmart to check.
- Rite Aid is fairly flexible, but you cannot stack coupons for a free item on a Buy One, Get One Free. ("Stacking" is using a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon together.)
- Food Lion has done away with stacking all together - you must choose if you want to use a manufactured coupon or a store coupon if both are offered and you cannot use more than five of the same coupon in a transaction.
Even the base Commissary and Exchange have their own coupon policies:
- The Commissary does not accept computer-printed coupons and limits the number of items to be purchased per transaction.
- To use an Exchange coupon and a manufacturer coupon together, you have to place the Exchange coupons on the product before they are rung up. But there is a caveat - the manufacturer coupons will need to be verified to ensure you buy the product on the coupon. HINT: Put Exchange and manufacturer coupons together on the product and make sure each coupon is scanned properly.
Sometimes local stores have additional, individual policies. I advise shoppers to bring a print-out of the store's corporate coupon policies with them when shopping to help alleviate any discrepancies.
I'm not trying to discourage couponing; I want couponers to be informed, to make transactions smoother and your purchasing power stronger. Being prepared with coupon policies and restrictions will help you to navigate through the couponing world, while still helping lower that grocery/drugstore bill.
For a list of some of the coupon policies in one place or for a list of upcoming classes, go to www.thegirllovescoupons.com/ coupon-policies/
Kimberly Pepper-Hoctor is a 30-year coupon-clipping and military spouse whose passion is to teach others how to save with coupons and writes a blog at www.thegirllovescoupons.com and on Facebook www.facebook.com/thegirllovescoupons.