Expert Interview with Leandrea Voskanian on Couponing for Mint

Leandrea Voskanian knows coupons: As a long-time coupon user and the head of Coupons Are Great, she knows the ins and the outs of getting the best deal with those little slips of papers. She shared some insights and tips for getting the most out of your shopping trips.

What surprised you about couponing when you first started doing it?

Coupons have been a part of my life since I was a child. I would often see my mom using coupons at the grocery store to make her food budget go further. As a child, I didn't realize how much coupons allowed us to stretch our barely-above-poverty budget to provide food to our family of four.

When I became an adult and started using coupons regularly myself, I was surprised at how much money I was saving just by clipping a few coupons. Paying full price is always an option, but it makes much more sense to purchase things when they are on sale and you can use a coupon to make your savings even greater.

I went from shopping for generics at Walmart to purchasing name-brand products at Publix and Kroger for less money than I was spending at Walmart. I was astounded that I could purchase name-brand products for a fraction of the price of the generic products. I realized that coupons ARE great.

I became passionate about saving our family money using coupons when I saw how much I could save by combining coupons with sales. When we shop online, we make sure we go through a cash-back website and search the Internet for an online coupon. It is silly to pay full price when there are so many easy ways to save.

What misconceptions about couponing do you often see online?

There are so many misconceptions about couponing. One that bothers me is that people assume that poor people are the ones using coupon. In reality, 60% of coupon users have a household income of $50,000 or more. When standing at the cash register and pulling out coupons to use on my order, I can almost see the people behind me judge my use of coupons. People of all socioeconomic classes use coupons. It is smart to use coupons to save money.

Another misconception that I see is that coupons are just for junk food. It is true that there are a lot of coupons available for unhealthy foods, but there are coupons available for healthy foods, too. You certainly have to look harder to find them, but they are there. In 2013, roughly 40 percent of all coupons distributed in the US were for food products and 60 percent for non-food products. If you cannot find coupons for the foods you eat, then surely you can find coupons for toiletries, make-up and dental care products.

What makes a good coupon for you? What criteria do you use to evaluate them?

For me, a good coupon is one that is for a product that I am interested in purchasing. I love finding coupons for clothing, shoes, haircuts, toilet paper, meat, eggs, dairy and produce. When I can shop at stores that allow me to combine manufacturer coupons with store coupons, the savings stack even higher, which can lead to an incredible bargain.

To evaluate a coupon, I make sure that it is from a trusted source including newspaper inserts, printable coupon sites, home mailers or the manufacturer's website. If a coupon is a PDF or looks to good to be probably is. Using coupons the right way is easy. If you are ever in doubt, you can always contact the manufacturer or business to ensure that a coupon is legitimate. It is important to note the coupon's expiration date as well as special limits (like four identical spots per transaction).

Similarly, what marks a deal that's just not for you?

Not all deals are worth it. Getting a free lotion that is 15 miles out of your way can cost a gallon of gas to get. Ultimately, if I have to pay $3.50 for gas for a $3.00 bottle of lotion, it's just not worth it. You have to calculate the cost of your time, gas and wear and tear on your vehicle when determining how good a deal is.

When is "free" worth it?

Free is worth it when it is an item that our family can use or when it is a non-perishable item that can be donated to the food bank. Hunger is such a problem in our nation. Hunger affects one in six people in the United States. Using coupons to get store freebies that our family is not going to use makes sense when we donate those items to people who can really use them.

What are trends in coupons we should be keeping an eye on?

Coupons are turning digital. We are now able to use load-to-card coupons on our shopper loyalty cards, and there is often a store app that you can use while you are shopping in the store. We have mobile apps that act as rebate programs for items that we just purchased where you can scan your receipt and/or the item's UPC code and your account is credited with a select amount of money. With technology advancing so quickly, we are able to use our location settings to find nearby coupons for select stores. Digital coupons are going to be huge.

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