The Couponing Guide for Shoppers Who Don't Want to Look Cheap

If the eye-rolling and heavy sighs of impatient customers waiting for the cashier to process your stack of coupons leave you utterly mortified, extreme couponing might not be for you. But, that doesn't mean you should avoid couponing altogether.
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By Lisa Poisso, Contributor

If the eye-rolling and heavy sighs of impatient customers waiting for the cashier to process your stack of coupons leave you utterly mortified, extreme couponing might not be for you. But, that doesn't mean you should avoid couponing altogether. After all, more people than not use coupons.

Coupons in the News reports only 11 percent of people surveyed in 2014 for the 2015 Promotion Industry Analysis said they never use coupons. And, the most prodigious users of coupons (22 percent) are actually shoppers with six-figure incomes, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute.

Even so, some shoppers feel too embarrassed to present coupons at the register. "People are fine with saving on their J. Crew sweater, but they're embarrassed saving on a box of cereal," said Joanie Demer, co-founder of "It's inexplicable."

But thanks to technology, there are numerous ways shoppers can use their coupons without the fear of embarrassment. Load-to-card rewards, rebate apps and other types of electronic coupons -- sometimes called e-coupons -- allow shoppers to save money before or after the checkout lane. "There's lots of new ways to coupon without taking any action at the store and keeping everything on the down low," said Demer.

Time-Saving Electronic Coupons and Coupon Apps

The beauty of electronic coupons is how quick and easy they are to use. By using electronic coupons or coupon apps, shoppers are more likely to perceive you as a savvy insider than a deals-hungry discount digger. In fact, using a smartphone during checkout has become routine -- it's predicted that more than 74 million Americans will use smartphone mobile coupons this year.

Paper coupons are still big business, but easier, high-tech alternatives help shoppers save without all the clipping and organizing. These new types of coupons and savings tools help you save in all the same ways you remember from traditional paper coupons and sales: discounts, free shipping offers, buy-one-get-one deals, first-time customer incentives and more.

1. Electronic Coupons

Electronic coupons can refer not only to digital coupons you store and show on your smartphone, but also a handful of other digital savings tools as well:

  • Printable coupons you find online: Print these coupons out and carry them along to present at the register.
  • Coupon codes, typically used for online shopping: Plug in these alphanumeric codes to the discount or coupon field when you're placing an online order to get an instant discount.
  • Store loyalty cards: Sign up for these promotional programs advertised in your favorite stores or on their websites to receive your loyalty card. Show or scan your store card at the register to receive credit for your purchase or any special discounts or coupons. If your wallet fills up with too many cards, digitize them on your smartphone with an app like Key Ring, which can also digitize your loyalty cards.
  • Card-linked offers: These are digital coupons or discounts loaded directly onto your store loyalty card, debit card or credit card. At checkout, the deals and savings are applied to your card.

2. Smartphone Coupon Apps

Many smartphone coupon apps help you track down and manage digital and printable coupons. These apps all work a little differently, though, so research each one before you start downloading.

For example, Cellfire lets you view all of your saved coupons and allows you to save grocery coupons to your store loyalty card. You can even receive email notifications so that you know about existing offers when you walk into the store. With Grocery IQ, you can print out coupons or add coupons to you savings card as well.

When you download the SavingStar app, you can select the offers you want and link them to your grocery or drugstore loyalty card. After checkout, or after you take a picture of your receipt, you will receive your savings in your SavingStar account. Once you've earned $5, you can cash out to your bank or PayPal.

There are also apps affiliated with specific stores and retailers. Demer calls Target's Cartwheel app the best all-around savings tool she uses today. In the app, choose up to 10 offers you want. Then at checkout, have the cashier scan the barcode on your smartphone to receive the discounts. "It's one barcode, no matter how many offers, so you're not going to be holding up the checkout lane," said Demer.

3. Amazon Subscriptions and Coupons

Amazon has a "Subscribe & Save Coupons" page where you can see all available coupons. You can redeem a coupon you find on Amazon by clicking on it, selecting "Subscribe Now" and setting a delivery quantity and frequency.

Demer is a huge fan of this service, even though she's not affiliated with Amazon in any way. "Their prices are really competitive," she said. "I really feel like I want to hitch my bandwagon to Amazon."

The trick to earning the 15 percent discount on your entire order for Amazon's subscription items is to make sure you're receiving at least five subscription items on your monthly delivery day. Since you can set subscription intervals from one to six months, be sure you have five items in each monthly delivery in order to earn the discount.

Many products on Amazon, such as snacks, personal care items and household basics, come with coupon orders. Just "clip" the coupon to receive the discount at checkout.

"You can add a coupon and subscribe to the item, so it's sort of like extreme couponing online," Demer said. "You're stacking multiple ways to save."

4. Rebate Apps

Rebate apps give you cash back based on what you actually buy at the store. Because rebate apps do their work once you've come home from the store, they might be one of the most discreet coupon and savings tools out there.

With rebate apps like Ibotta, Checkout 51 and Snap by Groupon, all the work happens before or after you shop. There's absolutely no action required at the checkout -- in fact, you can leave your smartphone at home with some rebate apps.

To use a rebate app, browse and add any offers you're interested in before you go shopping. Once you're home again after shopping, take a picture of your receipt and upload it to the app to receive cash back for the items you purchased.

A final word of advice if you're using any type of electronic coupon or deal: Store employees aren't always comfortable with e-coupon technology. Should you run into technical difficulties during checkout, discreet couponers will probably prefer to try it again at another time rather than attempting to troubleshoot at the register.

Where to Find Electronic Coupons

A savvy coupon shopper will use different methods to find coupons, including coupon websites, brand websites, retailer websites, search engines and social media. Try or to get started. You can also find online coupons and discounts on sites like CouponSherpa and RetailMeNot. And don't forget about coupons for smartphones and apps, like Cellfire and Grocery IQ.

Here's a neat trick for nudging online retailers into sending you email coupons and coupon codes: Abandon the items you want in your online shopping cart without purchasing them. In an attempt to close the sale, some retailers will email you a coupon code for whatever you've left in the cart.

You can often score coupons by being a supportive follower on social media, too. Some stores and brands will share coupon codes and deals with their social media fans. Or, they might use newsletters and brand clubs.

Finally, don't neglect the power of an internet search to find the coupons you want. Hit your favorite search engine with the name of the store or brand plus the word "coupon."

Top Brands and Stores That Offer Coupons

With electronic coupons and rebates, it's easy and convenient to keep your couponing profile low key while still enjoying coupons for popular and high-end stores and brands, like Lacoste, J. Crew Factory, Banana Republic, Athleta and Aero. You can link these brands' offers right to your debit or credit card through

The best card-loaded deals and electronic grocery coupons, according to Demer, come from Safeway, Vons and its affiliates. Stores known for their great deals, like Kohl's, also tend to offer coupons.

The Best Coupon Savings Strategy

The tools that ultimately save coupon expert Demer the most money just happen to be the most discreet, a real bonus for users who prefer not to advertise their affinity for coupons. Surprisingly, as easy and convenient as they are, card-loaded offers and other electronic coupons don't form the backbone of her ongoing savings.

"I am able to save more -- a great deal more -- with rebate apps, for example," she said.

The other big gun in Demer's arsenal is the double whammy of Amazon subscriptions and clickable coupons. "I'm seeing pretty significant price savings -- that's how I'm beating Costco prices," she said.

But, it's good old-fashioned sales that save Demer the most money, even more than couponing.

"It's still for me all about the combination," she said. "But the No. 1 driver that's going to reduce your budget is the mental shift that says, 'Instead of shopping around what I ran out of or the recipes I just found on Pinterest, I'm going to look at my sale circular. I'm going to visit, and I'm going to make my purchase decisions based on what's on sale.'"

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