Coupon for Free – Number Six, part Two

Sign up for newsletters, coupons and bonuses online – it will not cost you anything except some time and possibly aggravation. But, there’s enough money in it to be worth the aggravation if you are focused and methodical and do not get bogged down in irrelevant minutia.

Before you begin signing up for newsletters, coupons and stuff from companies and brands, first set up a free email address that you will not use as your personal email address. Once you start signing up for newsletters and so on, the snowballing effect* on your inbox will quickly be overwhelming and you do NOT want this confused with personal or work email. This email address, which you can set up for free on Yahoo or Gmail or several other places, will be dedicated to coupon and sale related stuff only.

I’ll tell you my methods and reasoning, and use what you like.

First, I pick brands that I like, such as Lancome and Yankee Candle. On their webpage, they’ll have sign-ups for their newsletter to get details of new products, sales, samples, offers, specials, clearances, web flash sales, printable coupons, blogs, etc. You’re going to have to experiment with this one to see which ones you like. For example, Yankee Candle will offer a printable coupon that is specific to your email that you can use.

Second, I pick stores that often carry brands that I like or have sales that I would be interested in, such as Kitchen Collection, Sears, Kohl’s, Williams Sonoma, etc. You may want the department store emails because they may alert you ahead of time to a store sale, or announce a web-only sale, or give you an extra coupon for additional discounts off of announced sale prices, or just as a reminder about their sales whether online or in-store.

Third, I pick coupon code aggregate sites. My favorite is Ebates – more on this later – but this helps me find any coupon codes online that can be for any store that publishes coupon codes, so that I only have to bookmark one place and just go to Ebates. They send daily and other regular summaries, as well as letting you know of the special of the day – double rebate money back.

Fourth, I sign up for money-saving blogs that offer other tips and hints. Lots of them. Probably too many. When I start to notice that some get repetitive, talk about irrelevant things too often, or just recycle what other blogs are saying, I unsubscribe.

Fifth, I sign up for points-earning, bonus websites that give you money for nothing. Where you don’t have to print anything or spend any money on them, you just get free money and stuff. Yes, it does exist.

Here’s a sample of which ones I signed up for and why:

1. Brands – I sign up for most restaurant websites, you’ll want to pick the ones in your area. The reason is because it is rare for a restaurant (except for large chain nationwide ones) to offer a coupon code that can be published and re-used. Most of the ones I’ve seen have been user-specific. They want you to print out the email with your name on it and only you use it, and only use it once. You’ll get to know which ones are like this, and which ones you can ditch in favor of aggregate sites or bookmarks. Also, signing up for emails at restaurants gives you lots of freebies – they will send you a coupon with your name on it for your birthday, good for some sort of bonus. Or various other members-only specials at times. This can get overwhelming, so I use a different birthday date for every site I sign up for, that way, the bonuses are scattered throughout the year. I’ve never been asked for my ID to prove my birthday at any of these places, because you’ll have the individual email with your name on it. Also, WHY would you give out your actual birthday to ANY site?

2. Stores – certain in-store and online sales are specific to the user, or will have a coupon with a bar code. Sears/Kmart has a “shop your way” program with a coded coupon that matches your rewards card. Yankee Candle also has coded coupons that are email only, and Bed Bath and Beyond (while they do real mail coupons a lot) will have a text message coupon with a code. You’ll get to know which ones are specific, and that you’ll need to be signed up with them to use.

3. Coupon aggregate sites – if you want a quick list and don’t have to sign up for each one, just bookmark any of my “new coupons this month” pages. I’ll keep the list current of the aggregate sites that post new coupons at the beginning of each month. I don’t have to update this page every month unless there are changes to the links, policies, or procedures, so bookmarking only the latest one will save you some time.

4. Money saving blogs – there are as many out there as there are dollars, so this one is purely personal preference. My subscriptions are to several at About.com – you’ll see when you get there. I subscribe to Flea Markets & Yard Sales, Budget Travel, Frugal Living, Home Cooking, First Aid, Busy Cooks, and a few just for fun (80’s music, Ireland travel, a few others). The reason is because About.com authors tend to be more knowledgeable and thorough in their topics, they’ve been screened and qualified before they are an author at this site. Also, although the information often tends toward the generic, the authors can link to other sites for more detailed views on their topics, in case you care to look in depth. I like the overview-style newsletters and the topics tend to be more serious and factual rather than the fanciful and unbounded style of a personal blog.

5. Bonus sites – I like the ones that require no separate effort, such as Ebates and SavingStar. You do NOTHING different except go through their website, which is NOT complicated. At Ebates, I like to watch the “daily double” for sites that are offering a double cash back reward. There are plenty of things I plan to buy that I don’t need right away, that I will hold off on buying until I can get a double cash back. Ebates will mail you a check at the end of the quarter. Depending on what I’ve had to buy, the check can be anywhere from $10 to $200. My average is $40, I guess. Who couldn’t use a surprise $40 that you got for doing nothing different and buying what you were going to buy anyway? Same with SavingStar. I do nothing different when I shop, I do not let offers and sales dazzle me, and if I get money back, I just consider it a bonus.

Here’s a sample of which ones I unsubscribed from and why:

1. Brands – I recently unsubscribed from Old Navy, Gap, and Lancome. Why … because their coupon codes were all generic and already available online (at aggregate sites like Ebates). I don’t need the extra email as a reminder, because if I ever want to buy from them in stores or online, it would only take me a minute to find the coupon code and get the exact same deal as if I was a subscriber. In other words, no benefit to me to subscribe, and lots of extra email that I’d read, be disappointed, and delete.

2. Stores – I recently unsubscribed from JC Penney and Belk, and several others. Why … same reason I unsubscribed from several brands. Nothing in their newsletters or announcements that I couldn’t find for myself when I was ready to shop there. I might “forget” about certain specialty stores, like Kelly’s Running Warehouse or Vitacost, so I’d need a reminder when they had a sale, but there’s no way to “forget” about Belk or any other major anchor store at a mall. So, I didn’t need the email reminder.

3. Coupon sites – I unsubscribed from several coupon sites, and right now I’m blanking on which ones. The reason was because they had the exact same information as all the others, so once you recognize that, you narrow it down to just one that you bookmark and see regularly.

4. Money-saving blogs – this one is a matter of personal taste. Everyone has a blog, I have a blog, you have a blog, we all have blogs. You will continually sign up, accept or reject, and either grow to like or dislike various blogs. I don’t have any advice about where to begin, just search for a topic you like and keep going. Subscribe and if they don’t keep your attention within a few posts, or fail to meet your expectations, or if you find that you are far more knowledgeable about the material than the blog author, unsubscribe. I will do this when I sign up for a money-saving blog, but it veers too much into personal land (I care about you, I really do, I just am not on your coupon site to hear about your personal details), restates other blogs, offers crap advice (don’t get me started on expiration dates unless you REALLY want a rant!), or just in general fails to keep my attention after a couple of updates. And, there’s lots of them that I don’t need to subscribe to because I bookmark their sites and go there regularly. Some of them I reject their emails because of writing style – I don’t enjoy people who think they are funny but aren’t funny (especially if the blog topic is supposed to be serious, useful, or matter-of-fact), or people who endlessly reveal personal information about their family members and children (don’t tell me that “but he said it was okay!” – it is NOT okay to give away anyone else’s personal information,ever), or people who lose focus so far from their stated intention on the blog (ex – if your blog is about gardening, and then you offer post after post after post about how you just started homeschooling and here’s the latest cute thing the kids did today – you have lost focus, you’ll lose readers), or people who offer such outdated advice (I do not mean classic and timeless like Depression-era food-stretching tips, I mean just un-follow-able because it is no longer useful like rent-or-buy analyses or interest rate advice that was pre-recession). You’ll just have to experiment to find out which ones suit you. By the way, I have not yet had that happen on About.com, only on personal websites. There are many on About.com that I have subscribed to since 2008 and never unsubscribed. Personal blogs are much more hit-and-miss.

5. Bonus/Freebie websites – again, I’ll unsubscribe if I would rather a) visit their website on an as-needed basis, or b) clicking on the email is not necessary to activate the bonus (such as, you can have a toolbar or app), or c) the bonuses are too rare to bother with. I unsubscribed from Fat Wallet in favor of keeping Ebates, again, this might be a style/personal preference thing. The process was similar, but I just found I never visited the site, so while there was nothing wrong with them or their process, they just failed to keep my attention. I recommend try them both and see which one makes sense in terms of your usage.

Hope this helps. Please feel free to let us know about your blog below, no matter what you write about, you will have an audience!

* I am not joking about a snowball effect. I sign up for everything, then unsubscribe what I do not want or use. I still follow the “better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it” philosophy so I start and stop a lot. I have to take a serious look and really evaluate often. At the beginning of August, I had well over 8000 UNREAD emails in my freebie email inbox. And I had only neglected it for about six weeks due to other demands. I was getting over 400 a day and probably just glancing at about 20 a day. In the space of about 45 days, it went out of control. Then I went through a serious round of evaluating and unsubscribing from ones that didn’t meet my criteria. Now, after a few sessions of serious paring down, I’m getting probably half that – about 200 a day – and that’s less overwhelming. You will again find my often-referred-to theme of the time vs. money balance here. If saving the money is not worth the time you spend fishing through emails and websites, abandon the process and pick something that DOES work for you. All of these techniques require discipline and consistency, so pick what works for you.

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