Posted by Elisabeth Leamy, Mon Aug 02 2010, 11:35pm

I am trying to become a coupon queen

I am trying to become a coupon queen. I have tended to take some of the less aggressive grocery savings steps in an effort to balance saving money with saving time. But it's hard to argue with some of my thrifty mentors who have cut their grocery bills in half. I even did some math when I wrote my book, SAVE BIG, and was able to show that you can reduce your grocery bills by 80 percent if you're a really creative couponer. One of the keys is to know the tricks and pitfalls–of coupons. So here's my "Coupon Quiz" to test your knowledge of some obscure but money-saving–rules.

Q: True or False: when a manufacturer coupon displays a product in the picture, that is the product the coupon is good for.

A: False! You Don't Have to Use the Coupon for the Product in the Picture. Most coupons say "any variety" or words to that effect. The picture on the coupon is typically the newest, most expensive product in that product line. Don't fall for it! You can use the coupon for anything in the line, and the best deal is to use it on the cheapest product.

Q: When downloading E-coupons, also called "Bricks," how many are you allowed to print?

A. 1 coupon

B. 2 coupons

C. 3 coupons

D. As many as you want

A: The correct answer is B, two coupons. Most manufacturers allow you to print two coupons at a time from their site. After you print your first coupon, all you do is hit the "back" arrow on your computer until the coupon is sent to your printer again. If you wait a couple weeks, the website may reset and allow you to print two more coupons. New E-coupons usually come out the first day of the month, so it's a good idea to check that day, so you have more opportunities over the course of the month for the site to re-set, allowing you to print additional coupons. Keep in mind, photocopying E-coupons is not allowed. It's considered fraud.

Q: True or False: If Store "A" publishes a manufacturer coupon in its circular, you cannot use it at Store "B."

A: False! You may have missed the word MANUFACTURER in the quiz question. That's right. Often stores put coupons offered by manufacturers rather than by the store itself-- in their store flyers. So if you see a coupon in a store flyer, look closely: does it say "store coupon" or "manufacturer coupon?" If it's the latter, it's the manufacturer who is paying for your discount, so you are free to use that coupon at a different store. That can be really beneficial because often one supermarket puts a product on sale at the same time that another is offering a coupon for it. Combine the manufacturer coupon from one store with the sale at the other and you save even more!

Q: True or False: If you have a coupon for a service, you should make sure the company knows that when you call to get an estimate.

A: False! Actually, you should keep coupons for services a secret. Here's why. Say you have a coupon that offers $100 off your next paint job, gutter cleaning or another negotiable service. You can't tell if you're really getting a discount unless you know the company's usual price. So call and get a quote first and then reveal that you have a coupon. That way, you know the company didn't mark the price up first before applying your coupon to it.

Q: Which of the following is a telltale sign of a counterfeit E-coupon?

A. The E-coupon is not available on the manufacturer's own website.

B. The E-coupon does not come with a bar code.

C. The E-coupon is for sale on an auction site like Ebay.

D. All of the above.

A: OK, the answer is D and you might think "D" stands for "duh" in this case, but many shoppers have been burned by counterfeit coupons. They are a real problem. First of all, you should never pay for coupons. (The one exception: charity coupon books.) The point is to save money not spend money, so avoid the cheaters selling coupons on auction sites. If you download E-coupons from the manufacturer's website or reputable websites, you will know they are real. Genuine coupon sites require you to download a small program that lets your printer create barcodes. This is how stores --and you-- know your coupon is legit.