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Coupons are pieces of paper offered by manufacturers and stores for money off of a certain item. These represent tiny advertising gimmicks that try to persuade you to buy the item based on the promise of a discount at the register. Never mind the fact that you may not ordinarily use this product—it comes with a discount, and that should overrule any other common sense (as far as the marketing department sees it). They don't want you to pay attention to what you have to spend in order to get that paltry discount in the first place, when there are other products that fill the same need for far less even without the coupon discount.

Okay, enough of my raving on the futility—on with the lesson.

To make the absolute best and highest use of coupons, you have to have a basic understanding of some baseball terms, because this is the easiest way to explain it. If you understand the bases, you'll get this too. The more bases you can use, the more effective your coupon use.

First base—you find a coupon in the paper or junk mail, cut it out, and redeem it for the product. For most people, it ends here.

Second base—you find a coupon, you notice an in-store sale, and combine the two at the same time (this is legal) on the same product. This results in bigger savings than just the coupon itself.

Third base—there's a coupon, an in-store sale, and a buy-one-get-one-free (or a rebate) offered for the same item at the same time. Usually this combination will end up netting you the equivalent of free products after all is said and rung up.

Home run—the planets align, the wind is from the east, and you have a coupon, an in-store sale, a buy-one-get-one-free product, AND a rebate. This rare but precious happening usually nets you a negative register receipt, meaning you've made more money for buying this particular item (after rebate) than you paid for it--it's better than free.

As you can see, there are better, more effective ways to use those little paper advertising campaigns than what you're doing now, and all it takes is a little more attention to what's going on in your store and when. Sure, it takes some organization and some recordkeeping, but you already have a coupon organizer, don't you? So what more is a rebate organizer?

Now, back to the futility--if you cut through all the bull and frivolous frugal activity, you'll see that there are better ways to save money without going through the coupon bases. Through “back to basics” living, all those things you use coupons for can easily be made at home, or by sticking to no-nonsense fresh foods for maximum health. There aren't many coupons for true frugal living—there doesn't need to be!
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