Not surprisingly, coupon use has skyrocketed since the economy plummeted due to the recession. In 2010, Americans redeemed 3.3 billion packaged goods coupons, saving the equivalent of $86.40 per hour spent clipping coupons. If you could use an extra $80 or more in your purse, make sure you avoid these seven coupon mistakes.

1. Not Sending in Rebates. Store rebates are easy cost-cutting measures you may miss out on for various reasons. For instance, you may lose the coupon, forget to submit it before it expires, or lose a receipt that is mandatory with your submission. A good rule of thumb is to send in the rebate coupon with your receipt as soon as you get home. Make sure you follow the directions for submission exactly, and keep a copy of your receipt and the rebate form.

2. Passing by In-store Coupons. Chances are you’ve walked by many coupons hanging in the aisles of your supermarket, pharmacy or other stores. Next time you’re out shopping, don’t just look at the products, keep your eyes peeled for coupons hanging near shelves that offer savings on items ranging from breakfast foods to desserts to personal hygiene products.

3. Not Asking for Rain Checks. When a store runs out of an item for which you have a coupon, you can usually ask for a rain check, which is a ticket or stub you can use to get the product at the same discounted price at a later date. Don’t be in too much of a hurry or too proud to ask for yours. Once you get it, put it in a safe place in your wallet.

4. Not Understanding the Terms. Besides the expiration date, some coupons come with additional terms beyond those regarding the product. For instance, some coupons may not allow you to get additional discounts on a product which the store has on sale. In such a case, do some quick math to figure out if it’s worthwhile to go ahead and buy the product on sale or wait until it’s back at its regular price and use the coupon.

5. Being Afraid of Online Coupons. There may be some cases where a coupon can only be used online, and you may worry about the safety of shopping on the Internet. To ease your fears and become a savvy 21st century shopper, search out only reputable sites and check their shipping and return policy. Also, make sure the site has a Secure Sockets Layer (or SSL) certificate, which means the site protects its customers’ identities and transactions. It should process sales only through a secure server, which starts with “https” as opposed to just “http.”

6. Tossing out Coupon Books. Don’t mistake coupon books sent through the post as junk mail. Throwing these out without so much as checking out the offers is tantamount to throwing your money out the window. It only takes a few minutes to glance through the offerings, but the savings can be huge.

7. Not Contacting Companies Directly. If you have a favorite product you use over and over, contact the company and ask to be put on their mailing list for coupons and other promotions. The companies appreciate your loyalty and understand that repeat buyers are their bread and butter. You can find their contact information on the product labels, or you contact them through their websites.

This has been a guest post by Andrea from Ontario, Canada
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