You will never confuse me with a frugal person. In my opinion, money is made to be spent. It’s like a transmogrification miracle: Spend it, and money literally becomes something else. Maybe, if you’re lucky, it becomes something fun. Or shiny.

 

Money in a bank is never shiny. Money in a bank is boring and abstract, like The Economist.

 

This is how I justify shopping.

 

But fret not. While I’m clearly a four-year-old when it comes to balancing checkbooks, there are few things I love more in this world than a good deal. If I’m going to spend my money, I want to get the absolute most for it—which is why I’m thrilled with all these new email coupon lists that have cropped up. Do they deliver gold mines every day? Sadly, no. But if you are on the right lists and you keep your eyes open, you’re likely to spot a winner at least once a week.

 

How do they work?

 

It’s pretty simple: Businesses agree to offer a big discount on something because they expect a bunch of people to buy it in advance. You sign up online to receive these discounts daily via email.

 

Some sites, like Groupon, have a minimum number of purchases required before a deal is “unlocked.” Other coupon companies don’t have a required minimum. On all of them, though, you pay first and then receive a redeemable voucher.

 

What’s wrong with scissors?

 

Clipping coupons is fine—if you’re living in 1974.

 

In all seriousness, though, email coupons aren’t just better because they don’t require sharp tools. Here’s why they’re helpful:

 

  • They’re location-specific. For those of us in the bubble, that means deals often come from our favorite down-the-street stores and restaurants. That means value is extended to local retailers, who can now get targeted advertising without paying the big bucks.
  • They typically offer much greater savings. Most email group coupons start with 25% discounts and can go up to 80% or more. No more piddly 30 cents off here and there.
  • They’ve got heart. Fundraising is the new trend in email coupon lists, with percentages of purchase prices given back to local schools or charities.
  • They’re interactive. You can click a few buttons and share your deals with friends—not possible with traditional paper coupons.
  • They’re easily portable. No more carrying a big coupon binder in your purse. Many coupons lists let you use your smartphone to present your deal to merchants.

 

Ready, set…be smart

So you’re intrigued. You want the deals. What next?

 

  • First, check the company’s reputation. Before you offer any personal information—including your name, email address, or zip code—pop onto Google and check out the company behind the list. Better yet, see what your friends have to say.

 

  • Follow the directions for signing up on a site, but pay attention to what you click! Never give a site access to your address book or friend lists, or you’ll super-spam everyone you know. And remember, it’s okay to connect to a site through your Facebook or Twitter accounts so you can get extra incentives, but it’s never cool for a site to post or tweet as you. Click “no” to that option if it arises; this shouldn’t affect your ability to share deals.

 

Want more value?

 

  • Leverage the incentive programs. Most coupon sites offer ways to earn “bucks” for sharing your deal through social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes, when you’ve made enough purchases through a site, you earn coupon codes that up your discount further. Investigate these options (look for “referral program” links) and discuss them with your friends.

 

  • Find charitable kick-back opportunities. Many sites give portions of purchases back to local schools or nonprofit organizations. Shop and support your local community!

 

  • Buy in bulk. Some sites limit how many coupons you can purchase, especially on great deals. Last holiday season, for example, Southlake Town Square did a $20 gift card for $10 through Juice in the City, but we could only buy one per person. (Everyone in my house bought one, so we managed a few extras. If they hadn’t limited it, though, I might have bought $500 worth. Darn you, Town Square.)

    If there’s no limit, though, go to town—like my friend Meredith did a few weeks ago, when another coupon site offered a fantastic deal for four-hour vouchers at Adventure Kids. After chatting and discovering there were codes we could earn to knock 20 to 30% more off our cost, Meredith ended up with over a dozen vouchers at a huge price break. She’s set on childcare for a while!

 

  • Shop other locations. We’ve got a good thing nestled here between Dallas and Fort Worth, so sign up for both city lists and get double deals! Going on vacation? Get on coupon lists in other cities. Give yourself a few weeks’ lead time. You might spot deals you can use while you’re traveling! And don’t forget to look at non-featured daily deals—you know, the ones that pop up on the sidebars that might be from neighboring communities. My friend Amy spotted an incredible deal from Virgin Airlines that way. She was able to scoop up three plane tickets for her Spring Break trip to Tahoe at an unbeatable price.

 

  • Buy through eBates.com. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention more of Amy’s online shopping brilliance. (She’s a professional “bean counter,” so her advice is probably better than mine.) She recommends setting up an account on eBates.com (free); then look for coupon pages like Groupon through this site. You’ll earn quarterly cash rebates on each purchase, which can add up over time if you’re a mega-online-shopper (like Amy is).

 

My Favorites

 

With over a dozen major coupon lists in play, which ones should you join? Take a look at this nifty table to see which sites I prefer. [INSERT LINK TO GRAPHIC coupontable.gif]

 

Comments, questions, or corrections? Please share them! And remember, if money runs short, it’s not because you need to spend less. You just need to make more. Happy deal-shopping!

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