Free With Coupons & Extreme Couponing
Coupons are instant discounts that are claimed at the checkout when making a purchase. They can be printed or digital, often containing an alphanumerical code or barcode that is pre-programmed into the retailer’s shopping cart system. Once the code is applied, the discount is immediately reflected in the total price for the purchase. The majority of coupons offer small discounts between 1-30%. The lower the percentage, the more likely the coupon will list a whole dollar amount instead. Yet, some coupons offer discounts of 60%, 70%, 80%, 90% and even 100% off. If a coupon (or combination of coupons and other promotions) results in a 100% discount for a particular product, then the product is actually free.
When Coupons Are Not Actually Free
There are some who consider any coupon to be a freebie, even if it’s not valued at 100% off. In fact, there are plenty of so-called “freebie” sites that only list coupons, even small discount coupons, simply because the coupon itself is free. Since coupons can be used instead of cash, there are some who also say that using coupons is like getting free money. However, if a particular promotion tricks you into spending then it’s not actually free. Part of the purpose of this site is to help consumers be more conscious of promotional tricks, rise above the gimmicks and use promotions to their advantage.
So here’s a good rule of thumb: if it’s a purchase you were going to make already, then by all means, get whatever discounts you can. But if the deal is not 100% off and it’s not a purchase you would make anyway, then consider whether the use of a particular coupon is actually making you spend more.
When making purchases online, it’s actually a good practice to stop in the middle of checkout, open a new tab in your browser and search for a coupon code. You can save hundreds of dollars that way, depending on the size of your purchase and the coupon code that you use, if you’re able to find one. On one occasion I saved over $150 on textbooks in the 15 seconds it took to search for the code. The books weren’t free, but that’s still a nice discount. Finding an existing coupon is awesome when you’re already in the process of the purchase. However, it’s another thing entirely to receive the coupon first and then let the coupon persuade you into making a purchase. Just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean you have to use it. Even if you’re “saving” by spending less, you’re still spending.
As you’ll see further below, there are plenty of people who pay for multiple newspapers and other resources so that they can maximize their savings with additional coupons. If you have to pay for a newspaper then the coupon or the item that you purchase is not actually free, but those who practice at the level of “extreme couponers” are still shopping at discounts between 60%-100%.
How To Recognize When Coupons Are Actually Free
Obviously, if the amount of the discount equals the purchase price, then the product is actually free. Also, when the discount is greater than the purchase price, it’s not only free, but it might pay you. This doesn’t happen as often, but it does happen and it’s awesome when it does. Yet, a free-after-coupon opportunity can be presented in multiple ways and it’s not always apparent. Sometimes a singular coupon will not give you a 100% discount, but the coupon combined with another coupon or with other offers might result in a freebie.
Here are some possible scenarios:
The coupon might say “$10 off a purchase of $10 or more”. The actual amount may vary from $10; it could be $5 or $100 or anything in between. These are more common on Black Friday, but they may pop up at various times throughout the year. These coupons are awesome because the discount is often applied before the sales tax and then the sales tax is calculated on the new total. In this case, if you purchase an item for $10, then the total will be $0, which means the sales tax is also $0.
If you have a manufacturer’s coupon for $1 off of a particular brand of toothpaste, and a retailer has that brand of toothpaste on sale for $1, then you can take the manufacturer’s coupon to that retailer and get the toothpaste for free.
Sometimes a retailer and a manufacturer will offer a coupon on the same item. If the fine print of the coupons allows them to be combined, then you could potentially get that item for free. This is a process called “stacking” which is described more with other strategies below under “extreme couponing”.
Where Can I Find Coupons? Where Can I Find Items For Free With Coupons?
Similar to rebates and other offers, there are many promotional channels that can be used to distribute coupons, including direct mail, circulars, email, social media, direct from the manufacturer, direct from the retailer, and in-store displays. Generally the items you can get for free are food and pharmacy products. Here are some specific places to look:
Circulars may be distributed by direct mail, the newspaper or at the store entry. There are store circulars that are printed and distributed by the local retailers. There are also circulars printed by coupon distributors such as Red Plum and SmartSource. Proctor & Gamble is a manufacturer that also distributes a coupon circular. If you want more than you what you get in the mail or home-delivered newspaper, then you can get additional newspapers at the dollar store or even go dumpster diving. (Yes, people do it). Newspapers can also be found at the airport.
You might be able to find deals in the newspaper beyond the circular inserts. The ads alongside the newspaper editorial might have coupons or discounts, and even the editorial itself could have announcements for significant events like grand openings. As long as you’re looking at the newspaper, there may also be deals in the classified ads.
There are various ways to get coupons onsite in the store. The store circular may be found at the entrance to the store. The store may have a coupon kiosk. There may be coupon dispensers next to the product on the shelves. There may be coupons on the product packaging. There may also be coupons at the checkout or customer service counter. You might also get digital coupons and discounts applied if the store has a rewards program. Sometimes you’ll have to manually load the coupons onto your membership card; other times discounts are applied automatically when the card is swiped at the checkout. Coupons might also be printed on the back of your receipt.
By direct mail, there are a few different ways that coupons can arrive. You might get circulars as mentioned above. A store or business might send you a postcard which is part of their individual direct mail campaign. Or you might get an envelope full of coupons from a distributor like ValPak. The coupons from ValPak and similar distributors will likely be more for local restaurants and home services than for groceries. Your local city or utility company might include coupons for local businesses with your bill.
There are various ways you might receive coupons direct to your door (actually on your door, not in the mailbox). Similar to the ValPak envelope you’ll receive in the mail, these coupons will be more for local restaurants and home services. Hyper local flyers, newspapers, newsletters and magazines are often delivered direct to door. Some of these will commonly be associated with a local Realtor who is farming your neighborhood.
The local post office might have a moving kit envelope, which you could probably have whether you’ve recently moved or not. If you have recently moved then you’ll probably be placed on various new-home-owner lists to receive promotions. In most states purchasing a property is announced on public record and the data is spread through multiple promotional channels. (Congrats on your new home). These coupons are also generally for local restaurants and home services. While most items that are free with coupons are grocery items, this is still a comprehensive list of where to find coupons because you never know what you’ll find and freebies can be anywhere. In a moving kit envelope I once found a coupon that was good for $20 if I opened a bank account. That was Actually Free money. Read more about Bank Bonuses.
Sometimes magazines have coupons. They’re usually not common enough or substantial enough to merit a paid subscription to the magazine, therefore if you subscribe it should be because you enjoy that magazine. However, there may be ways to get coupons from magazines for which you don’t have to pay to subscribe. Check with local doctors, dental and health offices to find magazines in their lobby (or in their dumpster). You could also stay current with the magazines that are found in your local library. (Newspapers may also be found in the local library but they probably won’t have the circular inserts). Magazines may also offer free subscriptions. If it’s a free trial subscription that requires a credit card number then don’t get it unless you’re persistent enough to cancel the trial when it’s over.
Sometimes coupon books are independently printed for profit or for local fund-raisers. Be cautious of these since they’re not actually free, and most people end up buying the book and using none of the coupons. Also, once again, just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean you have to use or let it persuade you to spend more. The point is to spend less. If there is a deal in the book that you absolutely know you’d use and the discount is about the same price as the book itself, then it may not hurt to purchase the book and have all the other coupons on hand for when they become useful.
Many of the print resources listed above, such as Red Plum, SmartSource and ValPak, will also have mobile apps and internet resources. These will be listed in the Coupons Directory.
There are Coupon Distributor Websites, like Coupons.com, which distribute unique printable coupons. These sites will be listed in the Coupons Directory.
There are Digital Coupon Aggregator sites that have both user-submitted and computer-automated processes for aggregating coupon codes, such as RetailMeNot.com. These are listed in the Coupons Directory.
You can find coupons on store websites. The word “store” doesn’t have to mean grocery and pharmacy stores. It can be fast food restaurants, clothes stores, home stores or any retailers.
You can find coupons for specific products on the manufacturer’s website. When these are discovered by Actually Free they will be posted on the Blog.
There are independent websites and blogs, like CouponMom.com which have a human staff that researches and collects coupon deals. These will also be listed in the coupons directory.
There are multiple mobile apps for coupons from retailers, manufacturers and coupon distributors. Some apps are commercial distributors but others will be more local and independent. A small app developer might create their own app and then partner with local businesses to make the deals and discounts available.
Any potential coupon provider, including retailers, manufacturers, coupon distributor, or coupon blogs would also have email lists and social media. They may even have a text messaging list. If you get on those lists or follow them on social media then you’ll have more access to those coupons.
If you join birthday clubs then many of your birthday freebies will come in the form of coupons.
If you follow the advice of the “free sample” page and request free samples from manufacturers, they will often send a coupon to you in the mail instead of the sample itself. This helps them save on postage. In many cases it’s also better for you because the coupon might be good for the full size, not just a sample size.
At a sports event you might find coupons on the back of your ticket or you might receive additional coupons or prizes if the team does well. Read more about Sports Event Freebies.
Coupons, deals and discounts are sometimes offered as a bribe to appease agitated customers. They may come from retailers or the manufacturers. If you are dissatisfied with a product or service, then communicate your complaint to them and they may try to appease you with coupons for freebies. For instance, if you are unhappy with a hamburger from a local fast food restaurant, you could go directly to the manager at that location. But you could also contact the corporate office who may or may not want to know which location caused the issue.
Coupons might be offered as a perk at a job. For example, movie theaters give their employees free movie passes.
Many of the same resources that can help you find rebates will also help you find coupons. See also the Free After Rebate directory. The information on the Free Rewards page is also applicable to frequent coupon users. Offers that are “Free After Rewards” are not actually free (unless they can be combined with other offers). It’s important to note that rewards are not actually free because many coupon strategists like CouponMom.com will suggest these offers just as readily as any other offer. Again, consider whether the coupon is actually making you spend more.
Now that you know where to find coupons, getting free stuff with coupons is simply a matter of knowing how to use them. You may have to sort through multiple bad deals in order to find the good ones. There are multiple hacks and strategies that you can learn from extreme couponers.
Leave it to the English language to make a verb out of a noun by adding “ing” to it. If you want to know why that is acceptable, try Googling it.
At a basic level, you could say that “extreme couponing” is anytime you can get something for free with a coupon. Yet for others, the word “extreme” aptly applies. Extreme Couponing is learning the hacks and strategies of coupons, not just to get a few items for free, but to build stockpiles of products that were free or deeply discounted.
How is extreme couponing possible? How do stores make money when it’s possible? It’s a little complicated, but there is an answer. Part of it is related to consumer behavior. The vast majority of people who use coupons actually spend more than if they didn’t use coupons. Businesses and brands make money off of that. Yearly sales cycles and changing demands for certain products are also part of the equation. Brands want prominent shelf space within the stores and they want to stock those shelves with products that move. If they get to a point where the product isn’t moving any more, then they want to clear it out quickly. At the start of a particular season a product might be for sale at full price on the shelf. In the middle of the season it won’t sell as much, so the retailer or manufacturer will promote it with a coupon. Then towards the end of the season they’ll put it on sale to clear it out. Extreme couponers learn when to time it properly so that they can use the coupon and the sale at the same time.
The cable TV show “Extreme Couponing” on TLC dramatically portrays some cases of super coupon users. These people have food packed into every corner of their house, in their pantry, in their garage, next to the computer they’re using to find coupons, under the beds, and it’s all food that they got for free or pennies on the dollar. They know every store coupon policy for their local stores and they get coupons from any and every legal resource that they discover. The climax of every episode has the extreme shopper arriving at the checkout with 5 or 6 baskets packed overflowing with food and personal items. The clerk scans every item. The shopper watches and gets just a little tense as the price goes into the hundreds, or sometimes over $1,000. Then they scan the store membership card which brings the price down to about half. Then they take out a shoe box or bag full of coupons and the clerk scans every one. And we watch as $300 gets reduced to $15.87, little by little, coupon by coupon.
There are actual cases on the TV show, but not necessarily the common case of extreme couponing, and the show does add drama to it. Sometimes the volume of products and coupons will break the system so the manager has to come to fix it, which they may not be willing to do in your local store, unless they’re getting nationally televised attention for it.
Extreme couponing is a real practice that you can learn to do, but there are a few considerations before getting started. Reality TV is not necessarily reality.
Since the onset of the practice, extreme couponing has evolved and will continue to evolve since retailers and manufacturers are constantly changing their coupon policies. Sometimes the changes make it more difficult to get freebies.
Getting items for free with coupons is not a matter of picking any products you want at any given time. The TV show portrays people with carts full of products, but there really isn’t a big variety of products when they’re doing it. They’re buying only a handful of products 20 or 30 times. The reason extreme couponers have to stockpile is because timing is a major part of the process. Items generally go on sale about every 3 months, different items with different cycles throughout the year. So they are storing enough of the product until it goes on sale again. When they have more than they need, they might donate to family, friends or local food banks.
You won’t always get items for free. The range of savings for extreme couponers is between 60%-100%.
Since your choices are limited to the timing and release of coupons for specific products, the options may not always be the healthiest ones.
You might encounter social resistance. Some people look at extreme couponing as a selfish and greedy endeavor. I’m not saying it is. There are plenty of positive reasons for it and your reasons are your own. The question is whether social pressure would prompt you to quit or not. There is no need to worry about whether big businesses make their money, and some people are pessimists no matter what you do. If they start complaining then it may actually be a sign that you’re starting to do it well.
Some extreme couponers may even be a little pushy or adamant when speaking to store clerks and management. I’m not saying you have to be pushy, but persistence certainly helps. If you’re shy or too nice then they may attempt to push you around implicitly or explicitly. However, if you’re following all policies and not doing anything illegal, then you can rightfully claim what’s yours.
Extreme Couponers are a different breed of shoppers. They are organized, persistent, “type A” people who are dedicated to saving money. There is nothing convenient about the process and there is a learning curve. If you’re not that type of person, you will spend more money trying to become an “extreme couponer” than you will save by using coupons. The same consumer behavior can be explained with the use of credit cards. If you have any credit card debt, then extreme couponing might not be for you. In fact, it could dangerous for you. If you’re the type of person who only uses credit cards to spend money they already have, pays it off in full every month to avoid fees, and then collects the rewards, then you could probably learn extreme couponing and be successful at it.
If you’ve considered all the aspects of it and you want to move forward, then read The 5 Steps Of Extreme Couponing to get started.