Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to shop

Actually going into stores and shopping can be both the most fun and the most stressful part of couponing. There’s nothing like watching that total on the register go down… and down… and down. There’s also nothing like the eye rolls you get from cashiers… or the frustration of not finding what you need on the shelves… or having to drive around town to 4 different stores to get the best deals.

There’s not much you can do about that last one, except be honest with yourself about how much your time is worth. But there are ways to make your shopping experience smoother, and Less Crazy, for all.

Cashiers.  Cashiers can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Look, I’ve done it. Cashiers are paid terrible money to put up with all sorts of crap. Don’t make their jobs any harder. That means being organized and as efficient as possible when you get to the register. (Organization will be the subject of an upcoming post!) Have all your coupons ready to be handed over. If you have rainchecks, price adjustments, price matches, etc, be sure to set those aside and tell the cashier as they’re scanning them. If you have an issue, don’t scream at the cashier – they are not paid enough to care and will probably just respond by digging in their heels. Ask politely to speak to a manager and then – this is important – step out of line so the poor cashier can keep doing his/her job and the people behind you in line don’t stage a bloody mutiny.

That said, you do have to keep a close eye on the cashier. There are a couple different types. Maybe 10%* of all cashiers are awesome – they are impressed by your saving skills, they will point out deals you may have missed, and they make sure that every coupon goes in correctly. Their only drawback is that they tend to be verrrry slow.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have the 20% who are sure that you are somehow ripping them off and will do anything to stop you from using your coupons. You will hear everything – that the store doesn’t accept internet coupons, that you can’t use multiples of the same coupon, that you can’t use coupons to get something for free, that you can’t combine store and manufacturer coupons, etc. Your only defense is to travel armed with a copy of the store’s coupon policy and be prepared to counter each and every objection.

By far, the vast majority of cashiers will barely register (no pun) your presence (see “not paid enough to care” above). This means they probably won’t put up much of a fight. On the other hand, this is the group you have to watch most closely, since they often don’t ring in all your coupons correctly. This is a big problem at Rite Aid – their registers can be really slow, and if the cashier just flashes the coupons past the scanner without checking to see if they all go in, invariably some will not go in properly. You might have to ask them – nicely – to hold on and check that the last one went through before they continue.

In any case, if a cashier tells you that you can’t use a coupon, ask them why. Often what happens is that a coupon will beep or not go through on the first swipe. Rather than figure out why, they will try to just hand it back to you (see “not paid enough to care” above). Make them tell you why they can’t accept it. If they won’t budge, that’s when you ask for a manager. In the cashier’s defense, sometimes they cannot override a register beep on their own, but a manager can. Unless there’s a valid reason they can’t take the coupon (expired, wrong product, size limits, etc) I’ve found most managers to be pretty reasonable. Just be polite, firm, and Not Crazy. I find myself frequently taking the same tone I use on students. :-)

Stuff on shelves, or lack thereof. This one really corks me, especially when I have a whole scenario planned out or I need to buy a certain amount of something to use a store coupon… and they’re out of it. This is the worst towards the end of the week, obviously, which is unfortunately when I tend to get around to my shopping. If you really need the item in that trip, there’s not much you can do. You can try another store – I’m lucky enough to live within easy driving distance of 2 Rite Aids, 4 CVSs, 3 Walgreens, 2 Stop & Shops, and 2 Big Y – but that’s a huge pain, and a major waste of your valuable time.

If you don’t need the item right away, but it’s a good deal, you should always ask for a raincheck. This was a revelation to me! No more missing out on deals just because a bunch of Crazy shelf-clearers got there ahead of me (or because a store did not plan ahead and order enough stock).

Now, there are limitations on which promotions you can get rainchecks on. Anything advertised as “limited quantities” is, of course, a no-go. CVS and Rite Aid will honor ECB and +UP reward deals on rainchecks, but as far as I know Walgreens and grocery stores won’t. Clearance items also aren’t raincheckable. But if they’re out of stock on a deal you want, just ask a salesperson if they have any more in stock, and if not ask if you can get a raincheck. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Of course, the corollary law to the problem of empty shelves is, Don’t clean out the shelves! Don’t be that person who hoards – yes, I said it – hundreds of items that they don’t need and keeps other people who could use it from getting it. Not cool, and definitely not the Not-Crazy Way.

*87% of all statistics in this post are completely fabricated.


  1. I totally had a coupon fail last night. For the first time in my life I wanted to say eff you Target. They wouldn't take the last 2 of my internet coupons that I had for formula, the register said "too many coupons". Which of course is total BS, because I had them all counted out. So I went to guest services, and they said the coupons said "one per household". So I tactfully said to the dumbass beast behind the counter, "well, why did the computer let me print out 2 coupons from my 1 household?". He replied "I don't know, but you are already ahead of the game". So I was out $6 because they wouldn't take my 2 last coupons. Jerkfaces. I am going to complain to Target via their website and see what I get.
    On a side note, here is the deals I got, FYI:
    Similac Sensitive concentrate, $9.79/bottle
    1.) 4 $5/off 1 bottle coupons, + 4 $3/internet prints = $1.79/bottle each for 4 bottles
    2.) 3 $5/off 2 bottles coupons + 4 $3 internet prints (would have been 6, see above) = $5.29 per bottle for 6 bottles.
    I think I saved $52.30 in total.

  2. Oh, and I forgot to mention, I cleared the shelf. Ooops! Oh well Target, thats what you get for being jerkoffs!

  3. Target is a HUGE coupon jerkoff. They've actually gotten in trouble for coupon fraud - they were reducing the value of people's coupons, but then redeeming them to the manufacturer for the full face value. You might be able to get the $6 if you contact Customer Service, especially if you hint around that fact.
    Still, that's an awesome deal! I assume some of those were Target store coupons? I have considered including Target matchups but didn't because of their stupid coupon policy. Maybe you & Kerri could guest post!

  4. Oh, and your shelf-clearing doesn't count - you will actually use all that formula. That's totally cool.

  5. The $5 ones were from some newspaper insert, I ordered a bunch from The Coupon Masters. The $3 ones were from (also through and I've got the coupon printer installed on 5 computers at work, plus I get them from you guys, so I stock them all up and combine.
    And yes, I would love to guest post!
    Oh, and I gave you an award at my blog, if you don't have the address already, its