How to Get the Maximum Value Out of Coupons and Loyalty Cards
I don't mean to throw away coupons. It just happens. I stick them in my pocket, wait in line, go to the register and forget to use them. I also don't return to the store and ask for my missed discount.
You might think that it's not such a big deal. What's a dollar here or there? But, like most small things, these missing savings can add up over time. Have you ever looked at the savings printed on the bottom of your grocery receipt? What if you forget your loyalty card and coupons more often than not? We're talking about some serious money if this keeps happening for a year.
Most stores offer to give you the difference if you bring your receipt in with your loyalty card or coupons at a later date. But I'm too lazy to go back to the store and get the credits I deserve.
I think to myself that I'll go home, get the coupon, and come back. Or I tell myself that I'll bring it and my receipt back with me next time I visit this store. But I'm just fooling myself. I'm just telling my subconscious that to make me feel better about wasting the money.
I Forget to Ask for Discounts I Qualify For
I constantly leave my loyalty cards at home. I join one or two new ones a month depending on which retailers I'm shopping at for deals, and cards fill up my wallet. Keychain cards can also get cumbersome. So, what are you supposed to do? How can I stop forgetting my loyalty cards?
One way is to clean out your wallet. Do you have loyalty cards for stores that you'll never visit again? I've lived in a lot of states over the past few years. In a recent sterilization of my wallet, I found loyalty cards for grocery stores that don't even have locations in the state where I live now.
I forget to ask for a military discount almost everywhere I go. Many wonderful businesses give discounts to active duty service members -- plus veterans, teachers, senior citizens, emergency responders and others. These discounts won't do any good if you don't remember to ask for them.
A Few Tricks for Handling Coupons, Loyalty Cards
Have you seen the customers who carry Ziploc bags, Tupperware containers or large envelopes of coupons around the store? You can usually spot them in the front seat of the grocery cart. They have a system to help them remember to use their coupons. That's what you need -- a system.
Find what works for you. Do you need to keep your coupons in your wallet next to your credit card? Do you need to put them in an envelope in the front seat or have your toddler hold them? Use your system day in and day out. I have trouble when I just run into the store for one item and have a coupon for it. I stuff the coupon in my pocket, and more often than not, that's where it stays.
If you're like me and forget your loyalty card, ask the cashier for a new one to replace the one you just "lost." Ask for your name to be looked up in the store computer. Or ask if you can just give the clerk your phone number.
You can also ask to borrow one from the person in line next to you. But stores typically frown on this tactic because they track spending data and consumer behavior through their loyalty cards.
Several smartphone applications track your loyalty cards and coupons. Many retailers publish coupons on in-house smartphone apps. My wife loves Target's Cartwheel (TGT). Many of these apps negate the need for paper coupons and allow clerks to scan coupons off of a customer's phone.
Incentivize Yourself to Use Coupons When Shopping
Make a game of saving money with coupon. You can find pays to make saving money reward you with cash back. Ibotta is an app that lets you take a picture of your receipt and then gives them a cash back rebate for certain items.
Upromise.com lets you invest money that you save through loyalty cards in a college fund for your children or pay off student loans. Upromise works with more than 950 online retailers and 21,000 grocery and drug stores.
No matter what you do, don't do what I have done. Don't walk out of the store paying full price for an item with your coupons in your pocket or even back home. Even if it is a few dollars, those lost savings will start to add up over time. If you were to simply bypass a few dollars of savings every week, it won't be long before you were losing a few hundred dollars each year.
Surely I can't be alone in this plight. Do you forget to use coupons that you bring with you to the store? Do you leave your loyalty card at home and miss out on discounts? What tricks do you use to remember your coupons?
Hank Coleman is the publisher of the popular personal finance blog Money Q&A, where he answers readers' tough money questions. Follow him on Twitter @MoneyQandA.