Savvy shoppers save cash with coupons
Until relatively recently, coupons were the preserve of select groups of shoppers, namely harassed mums and the skint brigade. Now it seems that everybody is using them. Coupons are certainly more plentiful than they used to be but there has also been a shift in attitude.
Deal hunting has become a national pastime, thanks in no small part to the country's economic woes in recent years. People are no longer shy about finding ways to save money.
Slowly but surely, we are catching up with America, where "couponing" is a way of life for many. A reality television series, called Extreme Couponing, showcases the talents of Americans who push overflowing supermarket trolleys but pay next to nothing at the checkout.
The UK has some catching up to do. If you know what to look for, however, it's a cinch to save when you shop. A pair of scissors, a smartphone, an internet connection, a printer and a little time are all you need.
There are various types of coupon, from manufacturers' coupons to 'catalinas', the coupons that print out at the supermarket till along with your receipt.
In my experience, many of the best coupons are found online. Manufacturers' websites can be coupon treasure troves: register with Supersavvyme.co.uk (brought to you by Proctor & Gamble) or CaringEveryday.co.uk (from Johnson & Johnson) for printable product vouchers.
If you haven't already, register with the cashback sites Quidco and Top Cashback, which allow you to get freebies and cashback on regularly refreshed lists of supermarket products. Quidco's feature is called Click & Snap; Top Cashback's is Snap & Save, and they work in the same way.
Purchase an item on the list, snap a picture of your till receipt and upload it to the site. It takes seconds. Special smartphone apps such as Shopitize and CheckoutSmart work in the same way, publishing lists of products and sending cashback to your bank account or Paypal account when a receipt is snapped and uploaded.
In the UK, the key to successful couponing is all in the "stacking." This is the practice of getting money off the same product multiple times, by using different types of coupons and coupons from different sources. For example, you might find a money-off coupon for a washing-up liquid on Supersavvyme.
At the same time, that product may also be featured on more than one cashback site, let's say Snap & Save and also Shopitize. In other words, you can print off a coupon to use in the supermarket, then upload the same receipt to a website and an app to get a discount three times over.
If you use Facebook, you will find some excellent community pages and groups dedicated to coupons and stacking. I recommend Total Couponery and Extreme Couponing UK as two of the best. The bargain-hunters who run those pages miss nothing.
Another simple way to get the most out of your coupons is to split receipts when the occasion demands it. For example, if you have found coupons offering one discount 'per purchase', buy more than one item and split your trolley-load across more than one receipt.
When you do this, you may also find that your first receipt is handed to you along with a fresh catalina coupon (such as £2 off a £20 spend), which you can apply to your second set of purchases to get even more money off.
Here is one more tip: make friends with the checkout assistants. A smile and a cheerful hello go far – so far, in fact, that on more than one occasion friendly staff have permitted me to use expired supermarket coupons when I have rung my shopping through.
Finally, if you turn out to be a dab hand with coupons, do make sure you have sufficient space to store all your freebies and discounted shopping. Clear the shelves, the cupboards and the freezer. The coupon queens (and kings) are coming.
Miss Thrifty is also known as Karyn Fleeting. She blogs at Miss-Thrifty.co.uk.