I tried for years to be a coupon clipper.
Every now and then, I'd decide I was going to save as much money as possible on my groceries, or at least on stuff like toothbrushes and razor blades. I'd gather all the coupon circulars that normally went straight in the garbage, and I'd review the ads and clip the coupons that spoke to me. Sometimes, I'd even organize them into categories or put them in a special envelope marked — wait for it — “coupons.” Feeling super responsible, I put the envelope in my purse, where I was sure to see it next time I went to the store.
I'm pretty sure I never redeemed a single one. Months after the last one had expired, I'd find my coupon envelope at the bottom of my purse, along with some long-forgotten receipts and a stray Altoid.
“Hmm, coupons,” I'd think, as I popped the Altoid in my mouth. “I really should try to do this coupon thing and save money on groceries.”
I marvel at people who can clip 800 coupons and magically make money on their grocery bills. I read those stories and get psyched about the possibilities. “If they can do it, so can I!”
Only I won't. Let's just be honest.
I may be the world's worst coupon clipper, but there's one thing I can do pretty well: find awesome deals online.
I always look for coupon codes, which make a commission from the merchants and also make money via advertising. It takes maybe two minutes and can yield savings like 10 percent off or free shipping, so it seems worthwhile to me. And sometimes the savings are pretty considerable.
For instance, as regular readers know, I just bought a house. And with a new house comes a lot of expenses. One major expense was a new refrigerator, since our house didn't come with one. I scoured the web for the fridge that would be just right and found one I liked at Sears. I checked it out online, then dropped by the store to see it in person. Satisfied that it was the one, I purchased it online and had it shipped to the store for pickup, which saved on shipping costs. (They didn't have the color I wanted in the store anyway, so there was no way around having to order it.) I also found a coupon code to get 8 percent off, which is considerable when the purchase is that large. In addition, I used the site eBates, which was offering a quarterly rebate from Sears.
All in all, I saved close to $300. I felt a little vindicated for my past coupon performance.
Popular coupon sites
I have my favorite methods for maximizing savings online. Usually that means Googling a retailer plus the word “coupon”, then using eBates. But I was curious about which sites were the most popular, so I Googled “most popular coupon sites” (natch) and found a list of the most popular sites as ranked by eBizMBA, which uses average of Alexa Global Traffic Rank and U.S. Traffic Rank from Compete and Quantcast. Here are the top five:
1. Groupon. Most people know all about Groupon. If they haven't used it, they at least are aware that it features a daily deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat and buy in your city. Launched in November 2008, the deals are only up for grabs for a specified period of time or until a certain number are sold.
Estimated unique monthly visitors: 14,500,000
Example deal: Two hours of kayak, stand-up paddleboard or canoe rental for two for $29
My take: I have a love-hate thing with Groupon. I bought a coupon for a gourmet restaurant once, and it was a fantastic deal. That said, I already knew I loved the restaurant. More often, the deals seem to be for things like massages, which my friend Kacey bought for a while, until she'd had one disappointing massage too many.
2. LivingSocial. Similar to Groupon, LivingSocial offers deals on things like local events and experiences, gourmet dinners and more.
Estimated unique monthly visitors: 13,900,000
Example deal: 18 holes of golf, cart rental, bucket of balls and lunch for two for $49
My take: I used to check out LivingSocial deals, but never bought one. I unsubscribed because subscribing to Groupon and to LivingSocial was too much for my inbox.
3. RetailMeNot. A “digital coupon marketplace,” RetailMeNot features coupons from about 500 of the world's largest online retailers.
Estimated unique monthly visitors: 13,000,000
Example deal: Save $10 off an Old Navy order of $50 or more
My take: RetailMeNot always comes up in my Google coupon code searches. In my experience, most of their coupons work. Every now and then you'll get a bogus code, but that's pretty normal with any coupon site.
4. Coupons.com. If you're looking for the more traditional supermarket coupons, the Coupons.com site offers deals on items like toothpaste, Cheerios and Tide laundry detergent.
Estimated unique monthly visitors: 8,400,000
Example deal: $.50 off two boxes of Nature Valley Granola bars
My take: I've never used this site because I don't purchase any of the items for which they offer coupons, and because we've established that I'm not great at remembering to redeem coupons in stores. But if you do manage to redeem your coupons like a responsible adult, it's worth checking out. Also, while reviewing the site to write this article, I saw that they do offer coupon codes for retailers, as well.
5. SlickDeals. This “community-driven bargain hunting” site that relies on its community to post and rate deals and coupons. The site doesn't focus on any particular type of deal.
Estimated unique monthly visitors: 6,000,000
Example deal: A Panasonic Lumix LX7 camera for $299, plus free shipping
My take: Like Coupons.com, I haven't used SlickDeals. It's obviously a popular site, but just surfing around on it for 10 minutes or so was pretty confusing. Maybe it's for deal-seekers more hardcore than I.
Coupons for a cause
Recently I learned about another way to play the Internet-coupon game: Saving money and helping a good cause.
Michele Boal co-founded Coupons.com after she used coupons to survive on a budget. Then, more than a decade later, she decided to help families who can't afford groceries at all, even with the help of coupons. So Boal launched Coupons for Change, partnering with Feeding America to help consumers save money while providing free meals to those in need. For every three coupons clipped from the site, one meal will go to a family.
Sounds like a win-win. According to their website, they've provided 107,653 meals to date.
I know I've covered just a small handful of the coupon sites out there, so let me know: do you use online coupons? If so, what are your favorite sites?
Author: April Dykman
As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger, April Dykman specialized in personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship topics. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes, MoneyBuilder, Yahoo! Finance, Lifehacker, and The Consumerist. Now she does direct response copywriting but, in her free time, April is a wannabe chef, a diehard Italophile, and a recovering yogi.