Coupons are more popular than ever as consumers begin to realize that even though they're slips of colored paper, under that glossy exterior there's cold, hard cash -- and in this economy, every quarter counts. If you've ever had a kitchen countertop groaning under the weight of clipped coupons, you've probably figured out that there may be a better way to make use of some of those great coupons you have no need for. If you don't have a dog, that very appealing dog food coupon is wasted on you, but that doesn't mean your next-door neighbor, the one with the bull mastiff who works security for both your properties (bless him), can't use the coupon.
In the spirit of share and share alike, working with friends, neighbors, relatives or coworkers to make the most of this colorful cash makes good sense. Like-minded people have gotten together for less. If you can host a weekly poker game, use the alphabet without too many slips, and recognize your neighbors -- at least on sight, you can create a neighborhood coupon club.
Developing a couponing strategy with people living close to you can be a smart move. You already have something in common, geography, which can work to your advantage in a number of ways we'll get to in a minute. What you don't have in common can work to your advantage, too. Those diaper coupons may be a decade too late to benefit your youngest, but could be a godsend to the new mom in the yellow house across the street. The more people there are in your coupon group, the more homes you're likely to find for those specialty coupons that would otherwise go to waste. It's all about planning and distributing resources. Actually, it can be a blast.
If you had considered organizing a neighborhood coupon club a few years ago, it would probably have been a harder sell. These days, though, it's a financial boon and even has some social cachet, too. You may never be the superstar who walks out of the market having spent $10 on $100 worth of groceries, but building a network of coupon buddies who like to share, and live to dig, can make that long wait at the checkout a symbol of sweet success instead of a bit of an embarrassment.
Starting a Neighborhood Coupon Club
For a neighborhood coupon club to be successful, you need people, and the more diverse the group is, the better. Remember, you want variety so you can take advantage of as many coupons as possible, and avoid too much competition in any one category. You don't need to be the neighborhood social secretary, but if you have a good rapport with a number of neighbors, it's easier to get people interested. The idea is to have four or five people recruit others down the block and around the corner. Before long, you may end up with a dozen or more people who are interested in participating.
Once you know there's an interest in forming a club, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Locate a place to meet - Your first thought may be to have everyone over to your house once a week, but this might not be the best strategy. Being the de facto host can get old. Community centers, libraries, local schools and sometimes even local businesses may have rooms available where you can meet to exchange coupons and discuss the best shopping locations. It never hurts to ask around.
- Increase the bounty - Explore ways to add additional coupons to the pot. Friends, coworkers and family members who could care less about coupons are a good source to tap. Small businesses in the area that receive a local paper but don't shop locally can be a resource, too. Members can also subscribe to more than one local newspaper (or collect free circulars) for the purpose of acquiring and sharing coupons. Don't forget online coupons, either. Printed coupons from online coupon sites can make a valuable addition to the pool. Acquire and distribute as many coupons as you can for goods your club members will actually use. That's the point.
- Have a system - There are a number of things to keep track of, including the number of members you have at any given time, the way you intend to categorize coupons and the method you'll use to track coupon expiration dates. You can probably do all of this with a small accordion file and a spiral notebook, but coming up with a battle plan sooner rather than later will help get everyone excited instead of befuddled.
- Put together a coupon primer - Just because a neighbor likes the notion of doing more shopping using coupons doesn't mean he really knows how coupon shopping works. To help newbies, put together a brief instruction page. Make a list of local stores that allow double coupons and stacked coupons, and note their policies. Add a vocabulary section that defines acronyms like BOGO (buy one get one) and explains how mail-in-rebates work. You might also want to make a note of the retailers in your area that are most receptive (or unreceptive) to coupon-wielding consumers. Get with a couple of other shopping savvy buddies, and take the time to educate your bargain-challenged neighbors.
- Make clipping coupons fun - Folks join coupon clubs to swap coupons and socialize. To that end, participants should bring lots of coupons to meetings, along with a pair of scissors to do the clipping honors. Have members go through their coupons beforehand to remove those they plan on using themselves. Depending on the venue, it's nice to have refreshments, and if there are lots of coupons to deal with, providing some entertainment is nice, too. It could be in the form of a presentation about additional ways to save money or even a round robin of funny coupon stories. It could also include hints on how to deal with a surly cashier or the best time of day to make a big purchase.
- Go high tech - Between meetings, it's nice to stay in touch with the occasional e-mail to members. Some coupon clubs even have their own Facebook page to share meeting updates, photos and anecdotes. If you only meet once a month or so, reaching out using electronic media can keep the group stoked and on the hunt for great bargains.
- Tally your savings - Participating in a neighborhood coupon club can be fun and save money, but there's a time investment involved. To show just how valuable those scissors sessions are, have members keep a tally of how many coupons they use and the savings involved. Make up a monthly grand total as proof positive that neighbor-helping-neighbor is a great way to save money.
Tips for Clothing and Grocery Coupon Clubs
When you're collecting coupons, the details matter. Knowing which stores offer the best prices, accept stacked coupons or allow doubling can make the whole coupon clipping program worthwhile. Other saving strategies like rewards cards can be useful, too. Together with coupons, store rewards can rack up points or result in instant discounts that are truly impressive. To make sure you're on the front line for deep savings takes some planning and creative strategizing. These tips will help:
- Be informed - Once you understand a retailer's quirks, share the information with other savings club members. Because you're all local, store-specific tips can be particularly valuable. It won't take long to discover which stores have the best discounts and the most congenial (and accommodating) customer service policies. Read coupon and store policy literature carefully to make sure you understand the rules, too. When you're working with a large number of coupons (this is common when grocery shopping) or a new store promotion, the cashier may not have all the information necessary to feel comfortable ringing up the sale. In these cases, resistance is common and can involve the floor manager and even the store manager. The more you understand about a promotion or coupon, the easier it will be to explain your rights. If you anticipate problems, there's safety in numbers. Consider shopping with a club friend to back you up.
- Don't Specialize - Clothing stores often cater to a specific clientele, from the big and tall man, to the short and petite woman. There are also specialty shoe stores, accessory stores and stores that just sell underwear. One of the best ways to score coupons and special discounts at these locations is to get on their mailing lists (both e-mail and snail mail). You may not be a size 2, but that petite perfect store probably also sells scarves and socks that'll fit you just fine. Go ahead and sign up. If you luck into a coupon you can use, that's great. If not, share the coupon with a club friend who may be in the market for an itty bitty tube top. It's all good, and you'll never know what these retail outlets are offering until you get onboard.
- Split bulk purchases - You may be able to get a great discount on pizza sauce if you buy seven cans -- that could take you five years to use. A club member and friend may be in a similar spot with a volume purchase of frozen orange juice. If you work together, you can share the wealth (and the savings) without having to rent a storage locker for the extra inventory. Consider splitting volume grocery purchases. Because you're dealing with neighbors, schlepping goods back and forth isn't much of an issue, and everyone involved will come out ahead. It won't work for everything, but when it does, the savings can be substantial and everyone walks away happy.
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