If you are new to the coupon scene and looking for a guidebook How to Shop for Free: Shopping Secrets for Smart Women who Love to Get Something for Nothing by Kathy Spencer is a great place to start. I have been in the wading pool of shopping for free for awhile, dangling my feet. After reading this book, I was inspired to dive head first into the deep end. A lot of the information in this book I was already aware of. But there were some pretty big tips that I was not aware of. The biggest being that Catalina deals (the coupons that print out at the register when you are checking out) are based on pre-sale prices, not the advertised sale prices. Beyond ECB’s at CVS, I have not been much of a Catalina seeker. This inspired me to look for more.
Where to Find Coupons and How to Keep them Organized
The book begins with a run-down on the different types of coupons, how to get a hold of those coupons and how to find the best places to use these coupons to get the best deal. As with a lot of advice on obtaining coupons, some of this is a little over the top. I, for one, will not be climbing in any dumpsters for coupons. The author does a great job of recognizing that some of these techniques are extreme. She repeats that throughout the book and explains that she is laying out everything so you can pick and choose the best methods for you.
There is some great advice here for developing a system. Let’s face it, the simpler couponing is, the more likely you are to actually do it. She gives multiple choices for maintaining your collection and finding what you need when you need it. One of the best ways to shop the sales is to use a coupon database. The author’s database is plugged in the book. My suggestion to you is to find a website that contains a database of coupons for your area. One of my biggest frustrations has been reading about a great deal that requires a certain coupon. I then go through my coupons, only to discover that the coupon was a regional one, not available in my area. When this happens, I always wonder what deals I’m missing out on, because I’m sure it works in the other directions too. What coupons do I have that aren’t in the database? I found a coupon database/blog that are specific to my area by doing a web search for Oklahoma Coupon Database.
Some coupons can be hard to come by. The book gives some good information for finding those high dollar coupons. Ebay can sometimes be the best way to get the specific coupons you want. You aren’t buying the coupons but paying for the time it takes the ebay seller to clip and mail the coupons. In addition to ebay there are clipping services out there and coupon trading groups.
There is a generous discussion on stockpiling. Your goal might not be to convert your garage into a convenience store. But stockpiling is what allows you to always get the best deal. If you have a stockpile, you won’t ever have to buy an item when it’s not at its best deal. For example, if you go through one tube of toothpaste a month and you get twelve tubes for free with coupons and sales, you won’t have to buy toothpaste at full price ever again. If you continue to stock up every time you can get it for pennies then you’ll always be set.
Store Incentive Plans
Probably one of the most useful portions of this book is the description of different store’s incentive plans. She goes into detail for CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid. She even provides info on how to get good deals or free services at several clothing, pet, office supply, and book stores, including: Sephora, Aveda, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, The Body Shop, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, Kohl’s, Home Depot, Lowes, Staples, OfficeMax, PetsMart, and Petco.
What Not to Do
One chapter that I found particularly interesting was the chapter on the no-no’s of couponing. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that people try to fake coupons. This chapter made me a little paranoid about getting coupons on ebay. I’ve decided to go ahead and try it but I will definitely stick to the sellers with a lot of good feedback.
Eat Healthy for Free
One of the biggest myths is that you can’t shop for free and still eat healthy. The book lays out the best way to get those things like milk & eggs that aren’t usually on sale. There is even a list of items and prices that she won’t go over. This is a good goal for us newbies to shoot for. I’m sure that this can vary by your location.
Diapers and Prescription Drugs
Diapers and drugs can be some of the hardest items to get a good deal on. The book lays out suggestions for shopping for free for these items. The main suggestion for drug shopping is to transfer your subscriptions every three months to get $25 giftcards. I’m not sure if this is a good idea. I like the idea of my pharmacist being aware of all my subscriptions. If I have a new subscription that could interact with one of the old ones he is aware and will tell me so. If you’re moving subscriptions around all the time, I think you run a risk. But if you’re really strapped for cash this can help you get those subscriptions.
Shopping for Clothes
Clothes can be obtained for free by getting a good deal, buying two, and then selling the second item on ebay. I am not a huge fan of ebay so this idea was less appealing to me. But I use this same strategy when getting good deals on electronics and media. When Target or Best Buy has an unbelievable deal on movies or TV series, I will buy more than one and then sell the extras on Amazon.
Like with most books I read, I checked this book out of the library. This book is worth buying. I can envision referring back to it often. The suggestions are great and it’s very inspiring. After reading the first chapter I was inspired to go out and get something for free!