Not every coupon results in a good deal, and many good deals could be amazing deals if just a few more criteria fell into place. How do you know if you should use a coupon now or try to wait for a better deal later? How do you know if the coupon is worth using at all?
I’m going to show you how to tell if a coupon is a good deal or not. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to use a grading system. Deals get a score of A, B, C, D, or F, depending on how good they are. Grade A deals are rare, but they’re the absolute best and result in the most savings. Grade F deals are junk. I’ll describe some possible scenarios and rate the deals that can result from them.
A Grade F coupon deal isn’t even a deal at all. This happens when you use a coupon on a high priced item when there’s no sale or other factor to bring the price down. Specifically, Grade F “deals” tend to happen when there’s an alternative store brand or off-brand that’s nearly identical, but available at a vastly cheaper price.
You’ll see this a lot with over-the-counter medication. You can generally find coupons for name brand medicine like Gas-X or Mucinex in the Sunday paper, and sometimes these coupons sound like high-value deals — $3.00 off or more. Unfortunately, there’s almost always a store brand with the exact same active ingredients available for a fraction of the price. If the name brand is $12.00, but the off brand is $6.00, then a $3.00 coupon still leaves you paying $3.00 more than you need to.
If the store brand is cheaper even after the coupon, then the coupon is basically worthless. Don’t toss it, though — hang on to it, and keep an eye out for sales that might make it worthwhile. Just don’t be surprised if a lot of these end up in the trash bin during your regular expired-coupon cleanout.
These deals are passing, but they’re just okay. A Grade D deal results in getting a name brand product for the same price as the off-brand or maybe getting a product for just a few cents cheaper than retail. They might save you money, but it’s generally going to be a negligible amount.
Another kind of Grade D deal happens frequently with coupons that have special limitations — one per household, for example. Maybe you find a coupon that lets you get a single four-pack of toilet paper at a great price, but the coupon only lets you get ONE. Definitely take advantage of the deal if you’re heading to the store anyway, but it’s usually not worth making a special trip just to use that one coupon, since you can’t use it to stock up.
If you’ve got enough time before the coupon expires, it can sometimes be worth waiting to see if the item in question goes on sale, which could turn this into a Grade C or even a Grade B deal. Also, look around and see if the manufacturer has released coupons in different denominations — I see this a lot with Cheerios, where one coupon might be worth 50 cents off and another might be worth $1.00 off. Since you can only use one manufacturer’s coupon per item, make sure you’re using the coupons with the highest available value.
These are middle of the road deals. Grade C deals are nothing to be ashamed of — they’re good solid deals, and will probably make up the bulk of the coupon deals most consumers can find. Deals like this come together when you can use a coupon on an item that’s already on sale to get it at a price substantially beneath the normal retail price.
Grade C deals could always be better, though — if you could tack a store coupon onto the deal for even more savings or save the coupon until the item you’re buying is at its lowest clearance price, it might bump it up to a Grade B deal. Make sure you do your research. You don’t want to settle for a Grade C deal when you could pull off something better.
This is where couponing really starts to shine. A Grade B deal comes with massive savings and might be the result of using a manufacturer’s coupon and a store coupon together on the same product. It’s not uncommon for these deals to result in prices several dollars beneath retail. You might even be able to get the product completely free!
Keep an eye out for coupons that don’t have size restrictions. Grade B deals often come from using such a coupon on a trial or convenience size, or on minor products that are peripherals rather than the manufacturer’s main line — “$1.00 off Kikkoman products” coupons work out this way frequently. You could use the coupon for a nice Grade C deal on soy sauce, but it really shines when you use it on a 78 cent seasoning packet to get it completely free, and (depending on your store) maybe even generate a few cents of overage!
If you find a Grade B deal, you’ll want to make sure you can get multiple copies of the necessary coupons, so you can repeat the deal and stock up.
Grade A deals are the Holy Grail of couponing. This is the kind of amazing deal where a manufacturer’s coupon, a store coupon, and a fantastic store promotion or sale (like a Buy One Get One sale) come together in perfect harmony. A Grade A deal might let you stock up with six, eight, even ten copies of the same product for a fraction of their normal price, maybe even totally free. Depending on your local store’s policies, these kinds of deals can even result in big overages, resulting in a substantial discount on any other products in your cart.
Items with frequent high-value coupons are your best bet for snagging a Grade A — fancy razors, especially. It’s not uncommon to find manufacturer and store coupons worth $3.00-4.00 off, so all that needs to happen is for the right sale to come along.
Grade A deals don’t come around very often. When they do, make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row. Print your coupons quickly! Coupons for these kinds of deals tend to run out FAST, so don’t wait around — I’ve missed out because I decided to print my coupons a few hours later, only to find that the coupon had already hit the global limit set by the manufacturer.
7 Steps To Evaluate A Coupon Deal
Ask yourself these questions to guarantee you get the absolute best deals with your coupons.
- Is the item on sale?
- If not, is it likely to go on sale before the coupon expires?
- Has the manufacturer released versions of this coupon with higher values?
- Is there a manufacturer’s coupon AND store coupon I can use on the item?
- Are there special restrictions that limit the effectiveness of the coupon?
- Is there an off brand or just-as-good alternative that is considerably cheaper even after using coupons?
- Is this a product I actually need or will use?