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Guide to online coupons - Jill Cataldo

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Question: "I'm new to couponing! I can't wait to get started saving. I have been saving my coupons from the newspaper. Can you share some of the best sites for printable and electronic coupons?"

Answer: Absolutely! Keep in mind that some coupon sites require users to download and install a plug-in, in order to allow the printing of coupons. The plug-in is necessary if you'd like to print out coupons on your printer, and it's also the means by which the web site keeps track of print limits for each coupon. Most coupons made available on the Internet limit users to just two printed copies, but the number can vary. Get in the habit of revisiting coupon links that interest you and try for more copies until you receive the message that the print limit has been reached.

It's a common misconception among new coupon shoppers that they can avoid getting a newspaper and just print the same coupons online. This isn't the case. Online sites offer different coupons. So keep your newspaper subscription. In fact, many Super-Couponers get multiple copies every week!

The following four sites are my favorite Internet sources for coupons. They are free and do not require registration or logging in. All of them are reputable and offer coupons from many major manufacturers. Simply click and print!

* Coupons.com: One of the oldest printable coupon web sites. Coupons.com offers a wide variety of coupons for groceries and personal care products.

* SmartSource.com: The online counterpart to the popular SmartSource coupon insert that appears in many newspapers.

* RedPlum.com: Just like SmartSource, you may also receive a RedPlum coupon insert in your newspaper or mailbox each week. Check out both to take advantage of the most savings.

* CouponNetwork.com: Catalina Marketing's CouponNetwork is the newest player in the realm of online printable sites. It's aiming to fill niches in printable coupon categories that have previously not been served or are currently underserved by other sites.

Individual manufacturers' web sites often offer printable coupons, too. Some require users to register before printing coupons (Kelloggs.com, Pillsbury.com.) Only input the amount of personal information that you're comfortable with sharing.

Electronic coupons, or e-coupons, continue to surge in popularity. These can be loaded to your store's loyalty card via the store's web site. Then, when your card is scanned at the checkout, the coupons you loaded come off automatically at the register.

The three largest web sites for electronic coupons are:

* CellFire.com: Cellfire allows shoppers to add electronic coupons to their store's loyalty card via the web or a cell phone.

* ShortCuts.com: Users who sign up for this free service can automatically receive an e-mail after a trip to the store detailing how much you saved and what coupons remain on your card.

* PGEsaver.com: Procter & Gamble's electronic coupon site, which offers e-coupons for many popular P&G brands.

To find out if your store participates in these e-coupon web sites, visit the site and check store listings. Note that if you store participates in all three electronic coupon sites, you can load coupons from all of them to the same loyalty card.

If your store doesn't participate in any of these, don't fret. Many supermarkets offer their own electronic coupons via their corporate web sites. With these, note that some of the offers may be "store coupons," which can be stacked with manufacturer coupons for additional savings, and some are electronic manufacturer coupons, which cannot be stacked with a second manufacturer coupon.

A common question I'm often asked is "How do I know what's on my card?" Most electronic coupon sites offer a printable shopping list, so that you can keep track. If you'd prefer to save paper, simply log in and look at the offers before you head to the store. Electronic coupons have expiration dates, just as traditional coupons do, and you'll want to remember to use them before they expire and disappear from your card.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her web site, www.jillcataldo.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.