How to Score Free and Nearly Free Stuff.
The Best Things In Life Are Free
There's something exciting about scoring stuff for free, don't you think? Personally, I go through 3 emotional levels:
- First, it makes me feel like a NFL quarterback who scored the winning Super Bowl touchdown. I even do a little fist pump if no one is looking.
- And then, I feel a bit guilty, like I'm stealing; I get that little tingle of being naughty. Ooh, bad Hecate.
- Finally, the last level of emotion is smugness. Sorry, that doesn't sound real humble, but it's true. I'm a smarty pants for getting that free stuff. I did something good for myself and my family; I saved us money. In your face, retail! Yeah.
So How Can I Get Free Stuff?
Believe it or not, thousands of companies are begging you, the average person, to take free stuff from them every day. It may be in the form of printable coupons or sample sizes sent to your home. Don't feel guilty! They aren't doing this because they're suckers or like being nice. It's their sneaky way to get you hooked on a product. And hey, if you really like the product, it's a win-win for everyone.
The Internet has a plethora of freebie sites. Here's one I've had luck with:
http://www.samplestuff.com: Sign up for their email newsletter and they will send you notice of free samples everyday!
If you have ever watched "Extreme Couponing" show on TLC, you know there are some very dedicated and successful couponers out there. They buy $1000 worth of stuff, then hand a huge wad of sweaty coupons to the wide-eyed cashier. Two hours later, voila, the grand total is $8! However, they make couponing their full time job and go to great lengths to get coupons. Some aren't above dumpster diving or begging their neighbors for their Sunday paper inserts. You don't have to be that extreme to save a little dough; you too can get free or almost free stuff couponing if you do a little research.
First of all, where do you get the coupons?
- Old school: Sunday paper. The great thing about Sunday paper coupons is the coupons frequently coincide with grocery sales. Buying an item with a coupon is good, but buying an item that's on sale with a coupon is more bang for your buck. This what we call "coupon matchups"
- High tech: Online. coupons.com is the best site for free online coupons. You will need a printer and a willingness to allow the site to download their software onto your computer. Some people are squeamish about the last part; it's understandable, however,I've never had an issue with their software. Why do they require this? Well, they are trying to keep a limit of how many coupons you can print. (Psst...the way around this annoying feature is to have several different computers to print from).
E-clips and Rebate Apps
On top of buying a item on sale with a coupon, you can maximize your savings even further by using electronic coupons, or "e-clips". Stay with me, because this is really awesome!
Do you have a store rewards card? If you do, you can probably put the coupon savings right on your card! That's right, no clipping required! They scan your card and ca-ching, the savings is automatically taken off your total. (So obviously, e-clips won't work at Walmart or other places that don't have a rewards card.)
Where do you find e-clips?
- Go to your grocery store's website. (Mine is Giant Eagle) Now, you may have to do some digging, but look for a tab or link like "savings" or "specials" or maybe "e-offers". Once you find the e-clips, you can chose and click the items you want to save money on. Now, you may be thinking the e-clips will be null and void if you try to use a paper coupon with the item, but I've done this before and it took BOTH the paper coupon AND the eclip savings off the final bill. (A word of caution: e-clips can be stubborn and refuse to compute. I"ve had a few times the e-clips offer didn't register; the store usually shrugs their shoulders and say that can't do anything about it.)
- Savingsstar: Go to https://savingstar.com/ and register your store card on this site. Works the same as above except it's an independent site, not affiliated with any store.
Another way to get electronic savings is rebate apps on your smart phone and the one I recommend is Ibotta. It's absolutely free to download and use. The app lists about dozen different grocery items a week and rebate offers ranging from .50 to 1.50. You pick the item you are interested in buying and complete a few very simple and short tasks; like a survey, or watching a 30 sec video. Then you buy the item listed, take a picture of your receipt, scan the bar code of the product, and you earn your rebate. After you have $5.00 accrued, you can have your money transferred in to a pay pal account, or give it to your school or charity. I've made $13.00 so far, so it's definitely legit. If you piggyback this program with sales and coupons, you could get the item for free or even make money!
Make money shopping?!? Hecate, you are INSANE. Yes, I am a little crazy, but I'm telling you the truth; you can make money on some items if you play your cards (or coupons) right!
Do you use coupons?
Organize your shopping trip
If you're serious about getting the most for your grocery dollar, you need to plan out your trip ahead of time.
- Get a binder to organize all your coupons: I have a dedicated binder with tabs so I can locate my coupons quickly and easily. It's no fun digging around for that must have coupon!
- Look through all the local grocery fliers to find the best deal: "Store A" may have an item on sale for $4.99; oh what a good deal! But hang on, "Store B" might have the same item on sale for a little bit less. Store loyalty won't help you get the most for your money, so check all your all the fliers ahead of time.
- Know the grocery store's coupon policies: Some stores have double coupons, some have triple coupons, some won't accept Internet coupons, and some don't accept coupons at all (Like Aldi's and Ollie's). Know the rules before you coupon.
- Write a list of all the items you want with the corresponding e-clips, rebates, and coupons and what the final price should be: This gives you some idea of what you are going to spend and helps you keep track of the items you want.
- Forget brand loyalty: My motto is: "Choosy mom's may choose Jif, but peanut butter is peanut butter if you can save a buck or two!" In other words, you can't be enormously picky if you want to save money.
- Find a website that lists coupon matchups for your store: There are some really sweet (I should say "sainted") extreme couponers out there who are saving you a lot of time and effort; they match up the weekly sales and coupons for you! Just type in "(your store) coupon matchups" in Google to find the site you need. I've seen matchup sites for Rite Aid, Walmart, Giant Eagle, CVS, Walgreens, Dollar General and much, much more!
I have supplied you with your ultimate savings arsenal, so go out there and score some cheap and free stuff!