· Get to know store policies on such things as "buy one, get one free" pricing. Does the store match competitors' prices or coupons? Do they have double coupon days? Can a manufacturer's coupon be used with a store coupon?
· Find a coupon organizational system that works for you. Some shoppers organize coupons according to store layout. Some clip coupons only for items they use. Others put the entire ad in a binder. Do what works best for you.
· Always take your coupons when you shop. There may be closeouts or other specials not listed in the store's ads.
· Remember that even coupons for small amounts add up quickly if they are for items you use regularly.
· Look for additional savings. Combine coupons with rebates. Combine manufacturer coupons with "buy one, get one free" coupons from your grocery store. Use coupons on seasonal promotions and closeouts. Using these methods, you can purchase items at no cost.
· Look for discounts on prescriptions. Many pharmacies offer a discount with multiple refills.
· New or transferred prescriptions may receive discounts or gift cards. Know your insurance coverage. It may cost as much for a several-month supply as a one-month supply. Check drug manufacturers' Web sites for rebates, or go to www.optimizerx.com.
· Don't forget to look for discounts on such things as home repairs, yard work, dry-cleaning, photo developing, fitness centers, restaurants, car repairs and travel.
Avoid paying for coupons. In addition to newspapers, magazines, mailers, store ads and displays and product packages, many Web sites offer printable coupons. Some possible sites include www.coupons-coupon-codes.com, www.allfreecoupons.com, www.boodle.com, www.smartsource.com (not accessible to Macintosh computers) and www.coolsavings.com (users must accept spyware when accessing coupons).
Search the Internet to find additional sites that offer coupons. Some Web sites require used to accept computer "cookies" when accessing coupons.
In addition to using coupons, rebate offers can be irresistible. You might buy a more expensive item knowing you'll get some money back. Rebates will either slash the price of consumer goods at the time of purchase or provide partial or full reimbursements after the purchase. But most rebates are mailed to the buyer. You must pay the full cost of an item at the time purchase, then send documentation to the manufacturer or retailer in order to receive the rebate.
The documentation required generally includes the original sales receipt, UPC code, rebate slip and the customer's name, address and telephone number. In most cases, this paperwork must be sent to the manufacturer or retailer within 30 days of the purchase. Consumers generally receive their rebates up to 12 weeks later.
The Federal Trade Commission cautions consumers against being "baited" by rebates that never arrive or arrive far later than promised. By law, companies are required to send rebates within the time frame promised or, if no time is specified, within a reasonable time.
"Reasonable" is commonly interpreted as meaning within 30 days. When purchasing a product that offers a rebate, the FTC encourages consumers to:
· Follow the instructions on the rebate form and enclose all required documentation in the envelope when filing for a rebate.
· Make a copy of all paperwork to be mailed when applying for a rebate. It's the only record a consumer will have of the transaction if anything goes wrong.
Contact the company if the requested rebate doesn't arrive within the time promised. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (call 877-382-4357) or the Consumer Protection Division of the Maryland Attorney General (go to www.oag.state.md.us or call 888-743-0023), or contact the Maryland Better Business Bureau (call 410-347-3990, go to www.baltimore.bbb.org or send mail to 1414 Key Highway, Suite 100, Baltimore, MD 21230).
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.