Classes run by “coupon experts” that promise to teach you how to maximize your coupon savings have been around for a while. With the recent popularity of couponing thanks to the TLC show, “Extreme Couponing,” I’ve noticed a surge in the number of these classes being offered in my area. Always curious about things like this, I recently signed up for a class.
The class was taught by a woman who appears regularly on the consumer segment of our local news. The cost was $15 for two and a half hours which was a bargain by comparison. Many of the classes I’ve seen cost upwards of $50 and run for less time. I chose this class because the teacher is well known in the local area and is not an extreme couponer. She does not break the law with her coupon use and she doesn’t clear shelves. During the class (and on her news segments) she makes a special effort to point out that she engages in ethical couponing and that what some of what you see on the TLC show is wrong. I figured if I was going to seek out a class, I wanted to be taught by someone who wasn’t a loony.
At the beginning of class, the instructor asked how many people were there because of the TLC show. More than half the room raised their hands. Getting it out of the way early, she explained why getting the savings seen on the show is impossible in our area. The rules just don’t permit it here. We don’t have a lot of stores that double or triple coupons, our stores limit the number of coupons per transaction, they won’t allow “overage,” and many don’t take printed coupons off the Internet. The air kind of went out of the place after that as people realized that they wouldn’t be walking out of the stores with carts full of free stuff.
But the teacher’s knowledge of the possibilities and realities in the local area was the strength of the class, in my opinion. The main content of the class was largely a rehash of things you can find elsewhere on the Internet or in books at the library for free. Topics covered included:
- Matching sales with coupons, loyalty card specials, and rebates
- Creating a price book so you know when something is a great buy
- Coupon organization using the binder system
- Where to find coupons besides the Sunday paper
- Meal planning using the sales flyers and coupons
- Shopping the loss leaders
- How the drug store frequent shopper programs work
- Basic rules of couponing such as combining store coupons with manufacturer coupons
- How to compare prices per unit and buy the cheapest package size
- How to create a (modest) stockpile of items that you purchase when they are great deals
- Using competitors coupons and ad price matching if it’s allowed
There was nothing groundbreaking here. If you’ve been couponing for a while, you probably know all of this. If you’re new to coupons, all of this information is available for free elsewhere. Where the class shone was the information about the specific policies of our local stores. Since grocery stores are more regional than a lot of big businesses, what works in one area may not work in another.
Our instructor spent a lot of time breaking down the policies of the four major stores in this area, as well as WalMart, Target, and the chain drug stores. She give information about which stores double or triple coupon, which allow stacking of coupons and discounts, and how many coupons you can use per transaction. She even talked about which stores are the best within the same chain. (In other words, Kroger in location X is more lenient than Kroger in location Y.)
While she didn’t hit on anything new to me, I saw many in the class eagerly scribbling notes. I think many people in the class had a lot of knowledge about couponing generally but weren’t aware of all the policies and “tricks of the trade” that could be used at each store in this area.
That was what made this class worthwhile. While you could find all of the policy information yourself, either by visiting each store or learning through trial and error, the class would have saved you time. If you were new to this area, it may have been worth the fifteen dollars just to learn what you can and cannot do at each store. Armed with that information, you can get a more accurate picture of the savings you can expect if you coupon. And, as she pointed out at the beginning, extreme savings just aren’t possible here.
So, is a couponing class worth it? Maybe. Here’s my advice:
Pick a class hosted by a reputable and knowledgeable person: Try to find someone who specializes in the stores in your area. Try to find someone who is respected and well known, as well. Avoid classes advertised on sites like Craigslist, etc. unless you know the instructor. It’s just too easy for someone to claim to be an expert and then basically read you things they found online. Avoid classes that promise to teach you how to extreme coupon. You may be learning things that are illegal or simply not possible in your area. You want an instructor who will give you reliable and realistic information, not someone who’s trying to cash in on the popularity of a TV show.
Don’t pay more than $20: Honestly, couponing can be learned for free through information on the Internet or found at the library. There are tons of websites and books dedicated to the subject. You could join a coupon swap in your area and learn from people who’ve been doing it for a while. You can go to each store and ask for a copy of their policies. It’s not hard to learn how to coupon effectively.
A class might be worth it if you get an instructor who, like mine, can educate you on the specifics of your area. It can be particularly useful if you are new to the area and are unfamiliar with the stores. Or, if you know absolutely nothing about couponing and are too busy to find the information yourself, a class will save you some time. I don’t think that these classes are worth more than $20, though. Once you get over that point, you’d do better to educate yourself.
Don’t get sucked in to the sales pitch: Most of these instructors have something else to sell besides the class. They may have a book, a DVD/CD, or a coupon system. My instructor had all of that and quite a few people were buying. The thing that generated the most interest was the pre-made “binder system” which was really a set of tabbed dividers and some baseball card pockets. This is nice, but you can make your own for much less that she was charging. If you pay for the class, don’t waste more money on the extra products. Get their book form the library if you have to read it, or make your own organizational system.
All in all, the class wasn’t a complete waste of money. It was nice to get some specific information about our stores and I did learn which Kroger has the best management team in the area. However, I already knew most of the information and I know that everything she taught is available for free. Ultimately it’s up to you whether a class is worth it or not. If you can get a reputable instructor who charges a reasonable fee, you can at least save some time by learning everything in one class. However, if you pay too much or get a class taught by someone who is into illegal or unethical tactics, you will probably waste money.