Home Budgeting Expert Offers Money-Saving Coupon Advice

DOVER-FOXCROFT — Consumers across the country are increasingly looking to blunt the effects of the slow economy recovery with retailer coupons. “Couponing,” as it’s known, is becoming a hugely popular and increasingly common strategy to cut costs.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension educator and family budgeting specialist Jane Conroy, however, is offering things to keep in mind to be sure extreme couponing actually pays off in the long run. Conroy can be reached in her Dover-Foxcroft Piscataquis County Extension office at (207) 564-3301 to discuss the topic and offer consumer tips for reporters or other news media representatives.

Ask yourself a few questions before committing to this way of saving food dollars, Conroy suggests. Research shows that the smart use of coupons can be a savings — but to what extreme should you go?

Studies show that more affluent consumers — those with incomes over $75,000 a year — are considered super-heavy coupon users, she says, along with large households with female heads of households aged 54 or younger, in addition to consumers in affluent suburban or comfortable country locations. Less likely to use coupons are low-income, single-member households, or residents in rural or struggling urban areas.

Coupons typically are found in magazines or newspapers or distributed by store owners who print their own coupons spread them around the community. A newer trend is printing coupons from the Internet and obtaining them digitally from online coupon aggregators.

But, where is the balance between the savings versus the time invested in extreme couponing? What we don’t see with extreme coupon users, Conroy observes, is the amount of time spent researching and collecting coupons, money spent joining coupon sites or time spent researching store policies on redeeming them. “There is also concern about the quality of items, such as the nutritional or health value,” she adds.

Conroy offers the following tips to increase consumer savings:

Don’t buy something just because you have a coupon. Use your shopping list as a strategy to stay on budget.

Use coupons for items that are on your shopping list. For a new product, use the coupon when the item is on sale. That could be a double savings as well as a chance for your family to try out a new item.

Trade coupons with friends and family, and even involve your children.

Compare prices. Another brand may be cheaper than the item with the coupon. Check unit pricing for the best deals.

Also check coupons for expiration dates, product sizes and amounts you can buy. If it doesn’t fit your needs, save your money.

Some stores will accept expired coupons…it never hurts to ask.

After checking out, check your receipt to be sure your coupons were properly credited.

In addition, Conroy advises consumers getting free coupons online to consider how much personal information to give up in order to get them.

“Be mindful of who you are sharing this information with or know how it will be used,” she says. “Be aware, as you might start getting up solicited phone calls. Some coupon websites require consumers to download software and agree to individual licensing agreements. Read the details.”

Many times, shoppers don’t realize they can use store coupons on top of manufacturers’ coupons. Look for unadvertised specials and clearance prices. “Pair them up with coupons and you may find yourself racking up the free and cheap,” Conroy says.

Also, coupons are available for just about anything — restaurants, haircuts, department stores, kids’ activities, entertainment, auto care and more.

Contact: Jane K. Conroy, (207) 564-3301 / 1-800-287-1491