If you want to maximize your savings with coupons, it's important to know the rules of the road at the supermarkets and drugstores you frequent.
Unfortunately, the rules are different everywhere you shop, which can make bargain hunting a challenge.
At some stores, a 75-cent coupon is routinely worth $1.50 and can be valued as high as $2.25 during a special coupon event. At other stores, that same 75-cent coupon is worth just 75 cents.
Some supermarket chains will accept coupons issued by competitors. Don't like Store X? No problem. Store Y and Z will happily redeem a Store X coupon for you.
And at one major national retailer, the store will pay you if your coupon value exceeds the price of the item you're buying. You read that correctly. If the item you're buying is $1.50 and your coupon is for $2, the cashier will hand you the difference in cash. There's nothing shady or extreme about it. I promise. It's all spelled out in the retailer's official coupon policy.
Why all the coupon fine print? A lot of retailers have tightened up their policies in recent years to keep in check those couponers who have adopted the extreme methods depicted on the controversial TLC show "Extreme Couponing."
At the same time, other retailers have actually loosened their coupon policies, hoping to lure customers looking for ways to trim their budgets during tough economic times.
In the Triangle, coupon shoppers enjoy coupon policies among the most generous in the country, thanks to lots of supermarket competition. Those little slips of paper can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over the course of a year so it's well worth the effort to study up a bit.
For coupon newbies -- and those who need a refresher course - here's a roundup of the basic coupon guidelines at the major retailers in the Triangle, including all the information on the store that will pay you to shop with coupons.