The popularity of shows like TLC's "Extreme Couponing" have helped bring coupons back into vogue - with an update. Online couponing combines the savings of traditional paper coupons with the speed, availability and convenience of online shopping. And all that makes it easier for new couponers to start saving.
The Internet has become a prime place to find coupons, which should help those daunted by traditional paper couponing. "A lot of people, I think, are still turned off [to couponing], just from the perspective of it seems like this big ordeal and you have to do a lot," says Brad Wilson, editor in chief of the coupon website BradsDeals.com. "With all the resources available online, it's really made things much easier, and whether it's grocery coupons, or retail coupons, or coupons for experiences and local things, there's so much out there."
With coupons readily available online, compiling them to save money is easier than ever. "It might take a couple of weeks of buying the Sunday paper to get a collection of coupons, but if you can go online and print just the ones you want ... for your shopping that week. That's a pretty easy way to save," says Stephanie Nelson, founder of CouponMom.com.
Tracie Fobes, owner of pennypinchinmom.com, says the popularity of online couponing is due in large part to its convenience. Similar to the benefits of online shopping, finding and using coupons online saves the time and energy of going to a brick-and-mortar store. The availability and relative ease of finding coupons online also makes it easier for people who want to start couponing but may not have the time to search for the best deals in paper ads.
Websites dedicated to compiling coupons and deals in one space cater to just those time-strapped consumers. "There's a lot of services that do a good job of organizing and curating things that the average consumer, in the course of a busy life, can swoop in and look top-down at the best things, and take a few minutes and perhaps find something that saves them a lot of money," Wilson says.
Fobes, who started couponing years ago to save money for her family, advises new couponers to keep two things in mind: start small and search local. "You're not going to go out and get a haul like you see on the TV show your first time out," Fobes says. "It just isn't going to happen. Be realistic." Starting small has its benefits, she adds. Using only a few coupons at first will help familiarize you with reading coupons (online and paper) and looking for expiration dates or store limitations. It also gives a new couponer the chance to get used to simply handing a coupon over in a store.
Seeking out local information is key for those just getting started, says Fobes, who recommends searching online for a coupon blogger in your area. "They do the homework for you, so you don't have to spend hours doing it. Let someone else do it, and do it for free," she says. "It saves up a lot of time." Local bloggers can provide coupons and information on store policies for retailers near your home - something a nationally focused website most likely won't do.
The coupons you find online aren't relegated entirely to cyberspace, and for that reason, some of the old rules still apply. Learning store policies regarding coupons is an important step to maximizing savings. "Stores are pretty consistent now about putting full policies on their own websites," Nelson says. "You can also ask in the store at the customer service counter what the policy is." Nelson suggests finding out whether the store will match the price of a coupon, often referred to as doubling a coupon, or if a store loyalty card comes with savings benefits.
The best way to save cash is to combine as many available deals as possible - something Wilson also suggests. "[There are] a lot of great deals out there that don't directly involve a coupon," he says. "If you look at what a great deal is, it usually has a bunch of different layers. On some level, coupons are just one piece of a deal [coupons] can be missing, and if the other pieces are there, it can still be a great deal." Those layers can include store sales on specific items combined with promotions for loyalty card holders, or, for online stores, promotions such as free shipping or no sales tax.
Using coupons in combination with these deals and buying items when their price is lowest are the best ways to save the most money. These concepts haven't changed since couponing required scissors, not a printer.