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With so many new and different ways to save money with coupons, it really does make sense to take advantage of them, particularly in economic times like these.
By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 3/10/2010 7:47:38 PM ET 2010-03-11T00:47:38

OK, all you bargain hounds out there, here’s a little rhetorical pop quiz for you: As the economy keeps sagging, is your arsenal of deal-finding skills growing? Even if you pride yourself on nabbing good buys on a regular basis, do you — yes, even you — sometimes drop the ball?

It’s something that can happen to the most savvy of money managers, especially during busy or stressful times. In particular, it can be remarkably easy to forget to use paper coupons or electronic coupon codes — or to fail to bother tracking them down in the first place because it seems like too much of a pain.

With so many new and different ways to save money with coupons, though, it really does make sense to take advantage of them, particularly in economic times like these.

“There’s almost always a coupon out there,” said Barry Boone, owner and founder of CurrentCodes.com and DealHunting.com, Web sites that direct shoppers to timely bargains and discount codes. “If you don’t use one, you’re not saving as much money as you could.”

The following tips can help you keep more of your hard-earned money in your wallet:

1. Remember those nice, old-fashioned coupons in your local paper. Granted, you’re reading this column online, which may mean you’re not a huge print newspaper reader at this stage of your life. But in spite of all the newfangled ways to access coupons and discount codes via the Internet, that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time to check the coupons in your daily paper. It doesn’t take terribly long to find coupons you can use.

2. Use child labor if you just don’t feel like clipping. Here’s a deal you can cut with your kid: If he or she finds coupons for items you buy as a family and clips enough of them that you manage to save $10 on groceries, you can promise to share $5 of that savings with your child. Then your child can save up that coupon money and use it for something special — including back-to-school items that you may not view as essential but that he or she truly wants.

3. Remain alert for discount opportunities as you shop online. When making purchases, stay on the lookout for areas where you can enter a “promotional code,” “discount code” or “coupon.” If you spot such an option, that means a coupon code almost certainly exists that can help you save on the purchase you’re about to make.

4. Check reputable coupon-code sites. To find a coupon code, you can simply do a quick Internet search for the name of the retailer and the same catchphrase you saw on that retailer’s site. That can lead to frustration in many cases, though, because you’re likely to stumble upon codes that have expired. To hone your search, try CurrentCodes.com and DealHunting.com, where codes are regularly verified and updated.

Other sites that are worth checking include FatWallet.com, CouponChief.com, CouponMountain.com, Rather-Be-Shopping.com, RetailMeNot.com, Offers.com, CouponShack.com and Valpak.com. You’ll likely zero in on a favorite site or two or three that work best for you, depending on your shopping preferences.

5. Seek out free shipping. The best coupons in the world may not be able to offset onerous shipping charges. The sites mentioned in Tip No. 4 can direct you to free shipping deals in some cases. It never hurts to take a few minutes to search around for free shipping before confirming an online purchase.

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6. Register with your favorite retailers — but check the privacy policy first. Another way to nab coupons that you’ll be likely to use is to become a returning customer on specific retailers’ Web sites. This typically involves sharing your personal information, and then some pretty good coupons and shipping deals will be e-mailed directly to you. Before signing up, though, check each retailer’s privacy policy first so you can see how your information will be used. Will it be sold to third parties? Will your spending habits be tracked and shared with third parties? If so, can you opt out of this process?

7. Don’t forget to check clearance and sale sections. Visit the Web sites of your favorite retailers and look for online-only sales. Click on any link that says “sale,” “new markdowns” or “final clearance.” It’s not uncommon to spot items that used to cost $100 or more lurking in final clearance sections for $19.99 or even $9.99.

8. Study that final check-out screen carefully. Especially if you’re using a coupon code, be sure the discount has been applied correctly before you commit to your purchase.

9. Look for coupon codes in unexpected places. All sorts of coupon codes may be arriving in your snail-mailbox on a regular basis. You can find them in the catalogs you receive, as well as in your credit card statements.

10. Seek out coupons for out-of-the-ordinary purchases. A number of coupon-code sites are offering discounts on tax services and software, car rentals, auction purchases on eBay.com, restaurant meals and other purchases that at first blush may not seem eligible for coupon codes. Open your mind to the possibilities and look for discounts on everything!

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