Stories of American frugalistas often talk about snipping coupons. What are they and do they make any difference?
In Thomas J Stanley and William D Danko’s 1996 book, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, the authors relate several stories about multi-millionaires. In one story, a husband tells his wife that he has just given her USD$8 million worth of stock that he had just taken to market. (Note: this was over 20 years ago so the value would probably be more like USD$12.5 million today.) The wife smiled, and said, “I appreciate this, I really do.” Then she went back to clipping 25c and 50c off food coupons in the newspapers. “Nothing is so important as to interrupt her Saturday-morning chores,” concluded the authors.
The story was related in the context of discussing how many of the super-rich in the United States were inherently frugal – and their spouses even more so. I think it telling that a multi-millionaire is still looking to save 25c and 50c off coupons; they understand that every dollar counts and that big savings start with small habits.
I remember reading this and thinking, that’s all well and good but we don’t really have coupons here in Australia.
But do we? In a sense we do, they are just marketed differently. And I have noticed they are coming back.
Coupons really consist of two things: advertised deals in brochures and vouchers. Both can be a frugalistas friend if used smartly. In this blog post, I am going to talk about brochures. My next post will talk about vouchers.
Firstly, I want to make the point that a saving is ONLY a saving if it is for a purchase that is a need rather than a want. If you are only buying something because it is on special, it is not really a special at all. The best saving is not to spend any money on stuff that will clutter up your life. But if there are certain things you need (or really, really want – because let’s face it we all indulge in occasional luxuries), using brochures wisely to identify specials can be a great way to go.
Most large supermarkets or organisations will put out brochures advertising specials. Unless you have a ‘no junk mail’ sticker on your mailbox, you will probably receive a lot of them.
If you opt out of receiving them by mail, you can receive most online now – I subscribe to the weekly ALDI brochure, and I also receive regular coupon special offers from Costco. I don’t mind a Big W catalogue, I love the styling at K-Mart, and I shop regularly at Chemist Warehouse. I don’t often read brochures, but at key times like end of financial year sales and mid-year toys sales, or leading up to Christmas, it can save you a packet (and a lot of time traipsing around) if you read and contrast the specials.
If you want to view a consolidated list of Australian brochures, you can find them online at Salefinder. This is a useful way of being able to visualise sales across several merchants. I also would enable you to identify specials you might not otherwise know about.
Most of the specials in brochures are extremely good deals – in fact, they are sold at below cost price. What? You mean they are sold at a loss? Yep. They are what are termed ‘loss leaders’ in the industry. The idea is that the supermarket or store would sell some items super cheaply in order to lure you into the store. Sometimes they carry the loss themselves, and often the suppliers or manufacturers financially support the special deal. Regardless of who is paying for it, they are genuine offers.
The best offers are pictured on the front and back of the brochure. The most attractive items must catch your eye to be effective. This then encourages you to flick through the brochure and to go to the store to buy this (and other) items. If there is a particular brand of something you like, like ice-cream or coffee, chances are it will be in the brochures and when on special you can buy up. I used to buy 10kg bags of rice when they were on special. I found that certain items tended to be in the brochures on a semi-regular basis, so if you are patient you can snap up a bargain.
There are real savings to be made in buying loss leader special items. The trick is obviously to only buy something on special if you need it, and to avoid buying things that you don’t need. You have to be a bit organised to get the specials while they are still in store.
Costco specials are actually termed ‘coupons’ and their brochure looks like a series of coupons. You do not, however, actually need to present a coupon for the deal to be effective – it happens automatically when you purchase the item. These are always generous discounts off already in-stock items. On recent trips, I have bought packaged croissants on discount, my favourite Prosecco label, and Huggies nappies (not for us – a gift for Neil’s niece and her husband who have just had a second child.)
At the moment I am on the lookout for Costco coupons for things that we will use for our wedding in September, such as specials on Prosecco or other alcohol or bulk catering supplies. If these items come up, we will pounce.
ALDI specials are for items that are only in store for a short period (e.g. ski jackets), as opposed to Costco specials which are reductions on already low prices. ALDI is famous for its Special Buys, where items are only instore until they are sold out. Certain items sell out quickly, including a recent craze for rocking chairs that sold out ‘in minutes’. These looked good – I remember seeing it in the brochure and thinking that although I had no space for it I still wanted one. I really wanted one. And that’s it with ALDI Special Buys – they draw you in. I remember spending one Boxing Day queuing up with others at ALDI for an advertised special. There was a whole group of other people positioning their trolleys, which kind of reminded me of a Formula 1 race (or dodgem cars).
It is hard NOT to read an ALDI brochure. They have good pictures, good prices, and they really pitch their products so well at the aspirational middle class. I so want to live the lifestyle of the people in the brochures – I want to be part of that happy, skiing, tennis playing, fashionable, healthy, got it all together family. The brochures are stacked everywhere in the store, including along the checkout so you can read it while you are waiting, and you will always be asked if you would like a brochure when you go to pay. There are more piles of them in the bagging up area. But if you for any reason miss out on one, you can subscribe to receive their brochure via email (I do) so there is no excuse for ever missing a bargain.
A good friend of mine, and a frugalista champion, routinely avoids the middle aisles of ALDI, instead skirting around to only buy the food items. These inner aisles are full of Special Buys items, all carefully themed. It is hard not to find a bargain. I am less disciplined than her. On my last trip, I came away with a black skirt for work and pondered over plants and kitchen items. I have often been conned into buying books or toys for my boys.
Glossy tourist magazines
On a recent work trip to Melbourne, I paused to open a glossy tourist magazine in my room. Inside I noticed many ‘coupons’ for tourist attractions that you can tear out and present. Do they work? Absolutely. If you are planning on buying opals or visiting a particular tourist attraction, or a theme park, they might actually give you a discount. Don’t dismiss these out of hand just because they look junky, or because they are just for touristy places (you might want to shop and explore like a tourist). Accept that they are geared to tourists, not to well educated locals who would have the benefit of time in which to shop around. But like everything, don’t just accept the discounts at face value. Do a quick google search or ask around and you might find a better deal. And note any requirements to spend money before you can claim a discount.
Do you have a secret addiction to reading brochures? If so, which ones do you like? Which specials are the best?