Tips from a Professional Couponer

August 31, 2012

Over a year ago I started working for Ultimate Coupons, and while I used to be a casual online shopper, I became a hound for deals big and small for a plethora of online merchants — a professional couponer, if you will. I’ve seen thousands of coupons come and go since then, and become a much more savvy online shopper. Here are a handful of things I’ve learned about working online coupons to my — and soon to be your — advantage.

When to Pay for Shipping

Most online shops have some sort of free shipping offer, and unfortunately it’s usually a little more complicated than “free shipping on any size order shipped anywhere”. Typically sites will have a minimum order; if I don’t meet that minimum, I often feel pressured to pad my shopping cart with things I don’t really need to buy. For example, a few weeks ago I was ordering some boxer shorts from Kohl’s, and their free shipping threshold had been dropped to $ 50. So of course I agonized over what to add to my cart to get to $ 50 — a pie baker? A gravy boat? But I ignored the fact that they were also offering 99 cent shipping per item, so I was looking to spend an extra $ 25, when I could have just spent an extra $ 2 and called it a day.

Just Do It!

So how did my Kohl’s debacle end? I failed to commit to the 99 cent shipping, and the 20% coupon I wanted to use expired. So did the sale price on the item I actually wanted — and it hasn’t gone back down again. I’m not endorsing making rash decisions about purchases, but sometimes you have to recognize that you’ve got a good deal on your hands and you should act, especially when you don’t know when prices might go back up.

Discounts Versus Free Shipping

Unfortunately, not all sites offer coupon-less free shipping offers, and you are forced to choose between a coupon that ships your order for free, and a coupon that gets you a discount. Your instinct might be to go with the discount coupon, but don’t commit to using it until you’ve checked out a site’s shipping costs! Lots of sites offer nice, low, flat shipping rates, but other sites can charge upwards of $ 10. Usually the checkout feature will show you exactly how much a discount coupon saves you; be sure to compare that to their shipping cost before choosing your coupon.

When to Let a Coupon Go

Sometimes, I’ll be so inspired by a coupon from a merchant that I’ll look around and see what I can snatch up then and there. But sometimes, a coupon might have restrictions or minimums that complicate your purchase further. For example, a couple of months ago Heels.com was offering a buy one, get one 50% off deal, and I already had my eye on these completely tasteful and practical Iron Fist Ruff Rider Party Boots. Why not find another pair of shoes to buy that I could get 50% off?! It seemed like a good idea, but I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to pick a pair I wanted and came up empty handed. Plus, like the Kohl’s free shipping incident, I realized that it wasn’t logical to spend half again as much as the shoes I wanted, just so I could get a good price on something I wasn’t in love with. I settled for 5% off and free shipping and soon had those beautiful boots in my hands.

Just Do It, Part Two

Other times, you’re left needing to buy something, but you don’t have a coupon. Sadly, you can search high and low, but sometimes that coupon just doesn’t exist, and you are faced with the decision to buy or not. You have to ask yourself, how soon will a coupon come around? A site that doesn’t have coupons all the time might be more likely to get a coupon around a holiday weekend.

But will it still be in stock when the opportunity arises? A few weeks ago a Kate Spade purse I had become enamored with went on clearance. It was half off the original price, shipped free, but wasn’t quite cheap enough for me to commit. I knew that sometimes they put out additional discount coupons for sale items. I mulled it over, and even went to the physical store to help make up my mind, but alas, when I returned home it was sold out. It was no real tragedy — I didn’t really need another purse — but I was about as bummed as you can be about that kind of thing. My point isn’t that you should just buy something as soon as you see it and love it because it might be gone tomorrow (because you will go broke), but if there’s something you have your eye on and no extra discount to be found, you have to question how much you really want or need it, and commit one way or the other. But be sure to check to see if there’s a deal for it on Ultimate Coupons first!

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