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5 Coupon Strategies That Go Beyond the Grocery Store

Coupons are no longer just for discounts on cans of tuna.
Coupons are no longer just for discounts on cans of tuna.
© iStockphoto.com/alacatr

Who doesn't love a bargain? Aside from the many, many people who really need to save money right now, there are others who simply object to paying full price. It's the principle.

What grocery stores have known for decades, others are just waking up to: Offer coupons and they will come. Retailers, restaurants, travel agencies, river-rafting companies and spas, to name a very few, have jumped into the coupon realm in new and innovative ways.

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If you've so far only experienced the thrill of 79 cent tuna and doubled-up discounts on eggs, you're in for a nice surprise. Coupons are everywhere and you can find them for everything, and in some cases, there's a bit of excitement added to the process of stickin' it to retail.

Here, five ways to snag coupons that have nothing to do with groceries and don't require scissors.

First, a basic retailer necessity can actually end up saving you cash ...

It's no secret that stores survive on repeat business. It's in their best interest to get you coming back -- even if it reduces their mark-up by a smidge (and that's usually all it is). Many stores, both brick-and-mortar and online, offer discounts on future purchases when you buy something, but for some reason they're not always obvious.

These coupons may be on the bottom of your receipt, or they may be in the box an online purchase arrived in, just tossed in there with the packing list and the catalog. So remember to look for these things. A few sellers that commonly use this technique include coffee shops, online clothing stores and drug stores.

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Speaking of online ...

The Internet age has opened up a whole new level of couponing. A whole new industry, in fact. There are Web sites dedicated to delivering coupons right to your inbox (so convenient, so tempting!), and already established stores have recently caught up, too.

Some "big box" stores now offer daily or weekly e-mails with special discounts, often ones you can use for a limited time (sometimes as little as a day). You usually need to sign up for them, though, so that part takes some initiative on your end.

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The bigger deal here, though, is the Web-based industry that has popped up with the sole purpose of offering discounts, typically local ones. Once you register, which is almost always free, you'll open your inbox each morning to find coupons for pretty much everything -- home goods, electronics, clothing, massages, yoga, facials, laser eye surgery, gourmet food, river-rafting trips. The list goes on and on.

With these types of sites, you need to buy the coupon. So, for instance, you'll pay $10 for a $50 coupon you can use at a local restaurant. You're spending $10 to save $40. The (relatively) exciting part is this: In many cases, there's a tipping point. The deal might require that 300 people buy the coupon in order to activate it. If 300 buy, you've got your $40 savings. If the sales don't quite make it, you get your $10 back.

Many large cities feature a "restaurant week" where normally high-priced dining establishments offer special deals.
Many large cities feature a "restaurant week" where normally high-priced dining establishments offer special deals.
© iStockphoto.com/weareadventurers

Most people love eating out. Many people can't afford to do it except for a treat or a special occasion. Here's where the dining-specific coupons come in.

In addition to the local coupon books that sometimes land on your doorstep and grace the exits of big stores, there are Web sites dedicated to saving you money at restaurants. Some of them are the same ones that offer the discount on river rafting, and many are dining specific, and with these you'll find you have more options, so you might come across a deal on your favorite restaurant in the whole wide world.

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Also -- and this is a big one -- if you live in a major city, it's almost guaranteed there's a "restaurant week" once a year. During restaurant week, dozens of places, some of them very fine dining establishments ($$$$) offer either the standard menu or a prix fixe version for a deeply discounted price. In Denver, for instance, restaurants that might normally cost $200 for two diners offer a full meal for two for $52.80. (Get it? Denver is the Mile High City, or 5,280 feet in elevation). Drinks, of course, are not included.

Next, treasures in unexpected places ...

This is another one that falls into the "spend money to save money" category. Believe it or not, there are quite often coupons slipped into the envelope your bills arrive in (assuming you still get them through snail mail).

There are coupons that fit at least somewhat within the category of the bill. Your car insurance bill may have a coupon offering a discount on life insurance for a limited time. A power bill may come with a savings voucher you can activate if you buy certain energy-efficient appliances.

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And then there are the coupons for somewhat random goods, and these often accompany your credit card bill. You'll find discounts on things like class rings, fine jewelry, stationary and engraving services. Self-serving cross-promotion at its best. And hey, if you're already in the market for a class ring, you're golden.

And finally, the moral of the coupon story ...

Always search for promo codes before buying online -- you may be surprised by how much you save.
Always search for promo codes before buying online -- you may be surprised by how much you save.
© iStockphoto.com/MarsBars

Here's a little secret: You almost never have to pay retail. Between coupons, sales, rewards and other promotional discounts, you can almost always find a way to avoid the complete retail mark-up on what you buy. And, if what you buy is online, there's one thing you should do before you hit any "Place Order" button: Type "[store name] coupon" into Google. Always always always.

There are so many Web sites that collect user-submitted, online promo codes for countless stores. People who are registered for these sites or simply come across a great promotion in their online travels submit the information, and you just snap it up, type the code into the "Promo Code" box at checkout, and pay less.

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Keeping the mantra in mind ("You're not saving money if you weren't planning to buy it in the first place), slews of coupons can be a financial pitfall. It's so tempting to buy when you're getting a super-special, I'd-be-stupid-to-pass-this-up bargain, so it's best to take a few deep breaths before you buy. And then wait some more.

On the upside, you could end up rafting down a river for the first time in your life.

For more information on coupons, budgeting, and related topics, look over the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Barr, Aaron. "Marketing: Online Coupon Users Spend More." Marketing Daily. Oct. 7, 2011 (Oct. 7, 2011) http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=160044
  • McCarthy, Catherine. "Daily deals: They're taking over your town." CNET News. Feb. 23, 2010. (Oct. 6, 2011) http://news.cnet.com/8301-13577_3-10458160-36.html

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