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Shopping tips and tricks: 1) rain checks and 2) making the most of freebie coupons

I have become such a "method" shopper, that I think I might have lost a little awareness of how other people shop.   Part of my goal in writing for this blog is to share some of the things I've learned along the way in my journey to becoming a more frugal consumer. I'm starting a semi-regular series on tips and tricks that I use when I'm shopping.  Some are going to be head-scratchingly obvious, and some might be some methods that you hadn't thought about.  This series is going to appear sporadically, as I remember these little nuggets.  Please send me your suggestions and questions!

Recently, I ran into an old friend in Walmart.  She is also an avid couponer and bargain hunter (possibly even more of a couponer than I am).  We started walking, talking, and shopping together.  She had planned her shopping trip very carefully, but, as usual, no shopping trip ever goes perfectly.

"Darn, they're out of Ken's salad dressing."

She had coupons which, combined with the current sale, would have made four of the Ken's salad dressings free.  But sadly, someone before us had cleared the shelves and it was the last day of the sale.

"Well, so much for that,"  she said.  It'll never be on sale for that low a price again."

"So, aren't you going to ask for a rain check?" I asked her.

"Rain check!  Of course, a rain check."

Sometimes,  I think we get so absorbed in our meticulous shopping planning, that we forget to take frugal actions which should be pretty obvious, even to ordinary, not-so-frugal shoppers.  So here's my first tip:
1) If a store runs out of an item that is on sale and you want it, get a rain check. Rain checks are usually good for a month, and you can use them at any store in the chain and on any quantity (unless the quantity in the original sale is specified or limited).  Once you get the rain check, the time pressure to use a coupon against the item on sale just lifts.  As long as the coupon has enough of an expiration date to cover the time you will be using the rain check, you are good to go.  Even if a sale flyer says "good while supplies last" or "no rain checks," ask for one anyway.  I've never been in a situation where the store will say no to one.  It's just bad customer service.  Rain checks come in awfully handy, so don't be shy.
Next.  Over the course of the year, I acquire a bunch of coupons for free products.  Some I collect regularly, like the coupons for a free 20 oz. Coke product from MyCokeRewards, or a coupon for a free Preference by L'Oreal from L'Oreal Gold Rewards.  Most coupons for free products come up sporadically with special manufacturer promotions.

So, other than getting the free item itself,  what is the best way to capitalize on coupons for free products?  Here's my second tip:
2) First, make sure you take note of the expiration date.  You don't want to let that freebie coupon expire.  There is nothing more aggravating than letting a freebie slip away because you forgot to redeem it.  I file freebie coupons in a separate compartment in my coupon folder, in order of most recent expiration date.  Most freebie coupons have long expiration dates.  Unless I really need the product, I try to hold on to them for as long as I can until a dollars-off store coupon for the same product pops up at Target.  Then I stack the store coupon with the manufacturer's coupon and I suddenly have a moneymaker.

For example, I recently bought a gift card at Target as a baby present for a friend.  At checkout, I received a Catalina manufacturer's coupon for a free John Frieda haircolor, because I bought the gift card.  Now, I don't use John Frieda haircolor, but a friend of mine does.  I also happened to have a Target store coupon for $4 off any John Frieda haircolor.  I stacked the coupons and bought the product in my friend's shade and made $4 off the deal (which I applied to other items on my shopping list) and gave the haircolor to my friend.  This will work at any store that allows you to stack store coupons with manufacturer's coupons, like Family Dollar or Safeway, or Whole Foods.
Another way to get extra mileage from free coupons is to wait for a deal where you get a reward for buying a certain amount's worth of stuff.  For example, this past December, if you recall, Target was offering a $10 giftcard for buying $50 worth of stuff.  Well, my free coupons came in mighty handy in inflating my bill so I could get the free gift cards without being forced to spend money on stuff I wasn't ready to buy.  It also works when stores are offering value-back incentives, like when CVS was offering $10 in ECB's (Extra Care Bucks) for buying ten 20 oz. Coke products last year (that was easy to get with all my MyCokeRewards freebie coupons), or when Walgreen's was offering Register Rewards on L'Oreal hair color purchases last spring.  The cash register doesn't "care" how you pay for the products that it is requiring for the bonus value-back incentives, so it's perfectly okay to use the freebie coupons instead of taking cash out of your wallet.
So there are two ways to extend the value of your manufacturer's freebie coupon:
  1.  stack it with a dollars-off store coupon to create a moneymaker.
  2.  use it to help reach purchase-totals that are required to get value-back incentives, like ECB's, Target gift card deals, or Register Rewards.
Got a shopping tip or trick to share with the rest of the class?  Please let me know and I'll happily credit you when I write about it.


  1. This is great! I always forget about rainchecks, and I love the tips to make a freebie into a moneymaker! Thank you.


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