How To Outsmart Changing Coupon Policies

Don't let couponing changes catch you by surprise! Follow these savvy strategies to stay up-to-date and maximize your savings

With the popularity of the TV show Extreme Couponing, on which enthusiasts buy shopping carts full of groceries for little or no money, supermarkets and drugstores have responded by amending their policies to avoid fraud, often limiting or prohibiting some common money-saving strategies. Navigate the widespread changes and still come out on top with these simple tips.

POLICIES THAT HAVE BEEN LIMITED  

1.  Policy: A store will accept competitors' coupons

Many supermarkets that once considered just about any store a competitor have started to pull back and now accept fewer coupons from rivals. (Note that this policy may vary from store to store within a chain.)

Smart Strategy: Get the facts

Before your next shopping trip, ask at the stores you frequent which competitors’ coupons (including those of drugstores and big-box stores) they will accept. A list may be posted in the store, or ask the manager. Another option: look for the information on the store’s website.

2.  Policy: A store doubles or even triples coupons less than 50 cents

Some supermarkets no longer allow their customers to take advantage of this lucrative perk when it comes to using competitors’ coupons, while other stores have discontinued their own double- or triple-coupon programs entirely.

Smart Strategy: Sign up for high-value coupons

Shoppers often register for a rewards card without filling out the attached form (or inputting their personal information online). If the store doesn’t have a mailing address associated with your card, you could miss out on extras, like coupons for the products you buy most often.

3.  Policy: Number of transactions per tip

Supermarkets and drugstores recently have started to enforce long-standing rules about how many buy-one, get-one-free (BOGO) items you can purchase at a time or how many coupons a household can double in a given shopping trip.

Smart Strategy: Shop strategically

Keep your shopping list and all your coupons in the car. That way, when you’re out and about, you can run in for a quick purchase. Also, try to do your shopping around the time the store opens, when the cashiers are less harried and more likely to grant your request for multiple transactions.

POLICIES THAT HAVE  BEEN ELIMINATED

1.  Policy: A store will allow you to stack digital and paper coupons

In many cases, once you load a digital coupon onto your rewards card, it can’t be removed. For a store that no longer allows stacking, you will not be able to use your paper coupon, even if it is of a higher value than the digital deal you loaded.

Smart Strategy: Clip first

Before uploading coupons to your rewards card, compare the value of your paper coupons with the digital ones. Keep in mind that a 50-cent paper coupon at a store that doubles is worth more than a 75-cent digital coupon, because stores usually don’t double digital coupons.

 2.  Policy: A store lets you cash in on "moneymakers"

Shoppers used to be able to get cash back for an overage when a high-value coupon combined with a sale made an item ring up at a negative dollar amount. Some stores have updated their software so that if the coupon value exceeds the price of an item, the register lowers the coupon value so the store doesn’t owe you money.

Smart Strategy: Wait for megasales

You still can make a profit at the supermarket by combining a sale with a coupon and a special promotion. For example, if cereal is on sale for $1 and you have a 50-cent-off coupon at a store that doubles, each box is free. If the cereal is a participating item in a $5-off-10-items promotion, you’ll make $2.50 if you buy 10. Use that overage to help buy meat or produce.

BONUS TIP: ACT FAST

Consumers have less time to use manufacturer’s coupons these days, because the expiration dates come up faster (the average is a little more than 10 weeks).

Sources: Clark Howard, author of Living Large in Lean Times, Stephanie Nelson, founder of couponmom.com, and NCH Marketing Services 2010 CPG Coupon Facts Report