Grocery stores and other retailers were hesitant to accept Internet coupons when they first arrived, with Photoshopped fakes a common occurrence. As more and more consumers became enthusiastic about print-and-clip coupons, policies loosened up. Still, you will find restrictions in place, varying from store to store. For example, some set an upper dollar limit per coupon or per shopping trip, or refuse to take home-printed coupons for free merchandise. Check with your local retailers, either in person or on their websites, to learn about their Internet coupon acceptance policies.
Also be sure to check the expiration dates for any coupon you're downloading. Some offers live online long after they've expired, like ghosts of discounts past.
You'll find some sites that want your email address, either as a requirement for accessing the site or an opportunity to receive updates and coupons in your inbox. Rather than give your primary email address, we recommend setting up a separate, disposable account specifically for incoming offers, using a free email provider such as Gmail, Hotmail or AOL. Similarly, you'll find Facebook offers that deliver coupons in return for Liking a particular product at the site. We prefer not to clutter up our main family-and-friends Facebook account with marketing materials: a separate Facebook identity does the trick.
Prepaid Discount Coupons
With the amazing growth of Groupon — membership jumped from 2 million to 85 million in just a year and a half — prepaid discount offers are a hot topic among online bargain-hunters. Groupon, LivingSocial and smaller sites such as BuyWithMe work mostly with local businesses to offer substantial savings on everything from meals to spa treatments to travel. There's a "social" aspect to these offers: a minimum number of people have to respond before the deal becomes valid. You enter your credit card information when you sign up and, if the predetermined participant minimum isn't met, the deal's off and you're not charged. However, given the enormous number of members now online, most deals quickly reach their minimums, and often hit maximum participant caps to prevent more acceptances than the business can handle. When the deal is complete, you can print out a voucher, or use an electronic version on your smartphone, to claim your savings.
The social side isn't an absolute requirement of the prepaid discount scenario. Restaurant.com offers similar deals, without the minimum-participant restrictions, selling gift certificates at significant discounts (a $25 certificate for $10 isn't uncommon). You get savings and the restaurant owner gets new customers. And as an AARP member, you're entitled to special offers from Restaurant.com.
Of course, all of these deals are geographically specific, so where you live will determine how many local businesses are offering discounts.