o Know store policies on such things as "buy one, get one free" or 10-for-10 pricing. Does the store match competitors' prices and/or coupons? Do they have double coupon days? Can a manufacturer's coupon be used with a store coupon?
o 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. This can help you find and use your coupons to save money anytime you find yourself in a grocery store or drugstore.
o Pay attention to expiration dates. Many coupons can be clipped and used at a later time.
o Always take your coupons when you shop. There might be closeouts or other specials not listed in the store's ads.
o Remember that even coupons for small amounts add up quickly if they are for items you use regularly.
o For additional savings, combine coupons with rebates, combine manufacturer and store "buy one, get one free" coupons and use coupons on seasonal promotions and closeouts. Using these methods, some items can be free.
o Look for discounts on prescriptions. Many pharmacies offer a discount with multiple refills.
o New or transferred prescriptions might receive discounts or gift cards. Know your insurance coverage. It might cost as much for a several-month supply as a one- month supply. Check drug manufacturers' Web sites for rebates.
o Don't forget to look for discounts on such things as home repairs, yardwork, dry cleaning, photo developing, fitness centers, restaurants, car repairs and travel.
o Avoid paying for coupons. In addition to newspapers, magazines, mailers, store ads and displays and product packages, many Web sites offer printable coupons.
Rebates can be a great way to save money. They often provide more savings than coupons by slashing the price at the time of purchase or providing a partial or full reimbursement after the purchase.
When purchasing a product that offers a rebate, the Federal Trade Commission encourages consumers to:
o Follow the instructions on the rebate form and enclose all required documentation in the envelope when filing for a rebate.
o Make a copy of all paperwork to be mailed when applying for a rebate. It's the only record you will have of the transaction. In most cases, this paperwork must be sent to the manufacturer or retailer within 30 days of the purchase and rebates are generally received up to 12 weeks later.
If you have requested a rebate and the rebate doesn't arrive within the time promised, contact the company. If the rebate never arrives or arrives late, file a complaint:
o Federal Trade Commission, 877-382-4357.
o Consumer Pro-tection Division of the Maryland Attorney General, www.oag.state.md.us or call 888-743-0023 in Maryland.
o Maryland Better Business Bureau, www.baltimore.bbb.org or call 410-347-3990.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.