Monday, October 13, 2014

Do not double? How to know if a coupon doubles using your Android or iPhone

Last week, I posted about contacting companies for free coupons.  One common trend when you receive coupons provided directly by a manufacturer, however, is the labeling "do not double."  This means, if you go to a grocery store that doubles coupons, that coupon should not be doubled.  This can certainly limit a coupon's usefulness, especially when there are other coupons out there that can be doubled just fine.

But there's a big secret among couponers:  just because the coupon says it won't double, doesn't mean it actually won't.  But how do you know?

Before I get started, please know that technically speaking, there is a way for a cashier to manually tell the system not to double a coupon, and it is completely within their right to do so if the coupon says it shouldn't be doubled.  I'd say 99% of the time, you're not going to get a cashier who is that much of a stickler in reading the fine print on every coupon, but some do and will.

The super-easy but almost ancient method of knowing if a coupon will double: UPC

Back in the day, coupons had UPC barcodes, similar to the barcodes you see on items you purchase. Most coupons today have what's called a Databar, which is a fancy, two-line barcode that contains a whole lot more information within it.  The Databar became the new standard because it's much harder to commit coupon fraud -- with UPCs, they were often coded in such a way that if you knew how to decode them, you could cheat the system and use the coupon on a completely different item.

At this point, you're unlikely to find a coupon with just a UPC, but you may find one with both a UPC and a Databar -- this is because coupon companies provided both options for a while during the transition.  If you have a coupon that contains both, and the cashier scans the UPC, knowing if it will double is simple.

Does the number associated with the UPC start with a 5?  It will double.
Does the number associated with the UPC start with a 9?  It will not.

Now, if it has both a UPC and a Databar, you don't know which one the cashier will end up scanning.  Most cashiers just start waving it over the lasers until something picks up.  It is technically possible that the Databar could be coded differently, so I'd recommend continuing on with this article and checking your Databar, too.

The easy way to know if a couple will double if you have an iPhone: Double Coupon Checker

Have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch?  Checking to see if your coupon will double is nearly as easy thanks to an app called Double Coupon Checker.  Simply scan your coupon using the app and it will give you a simple yes or no.  I'm not an iPhone user but I've heard nothing but great reviews on this app from fellow couponers.

The method to know if a coupon will double if you have an Android device:

So what do you do if you're like me and want to know if a coupon will double from your Android phone?  Until now, honestly, you were out of luck.  After I learned that Double Coupon Checker was only available for iOS devices, I searched high and low to try to find something similar for Android.  There was nothing.  I also couldn't find a single tutorial out there from a couponer as to how to make it work, and I'm a skilled Googler!  I asked my Facebook couponers group about it and they basically told me there was nothing I could do short of obtaining an iOS device or just crossing my fingers at checkout.

I'm not one to give up.

If I was an app developer, I'd make an app for you.  But I don't think my method is that terrible, especially once you get the hang of it -- it just has a couple more steps.

(It looks like there are a lot more steps below, but I'm breaking it down as much as I can here -- once you've done it, you'll realize it's really pretty quick!)

First, make sure you have Barcode Scanner installed.  It's a super-simple barcode scanner and it's capable of scanning Databars.

  1. Scan the coupon with the Barcode Scanner app.  Make sure you're in good light, as I've found the Databars can be a little tougher for the scanner to read compared to a standard UPC.  You'll get something that looks like this:

  2. Press and hold on top of the number to select it.  At the top you'll see options; use them to select all, and then copy the number.  You'll want all of it, including the info in parentheses.
  3. Come back here, in your browser, and head over to the Databar Coupon Decoder page.
  4. Scroll down to the first "Data" section.  Press and hold on the text entry field under where it says "Up to 70 digits," then select to paste your number into that field.  Then, press the "Go" button on your keyboard (where the enter key would usually be).
  5. It won't look like anything happened, but don't panic.  Start scrolling down the page.  You should notice that many of the data fields are now propagated with numbers from what you'd provided, like this:

    Here, you'll see it's identified the company, the save value (save $.75) and the primary purchase requirement (1 item).  Cool, huh?
  6. Scroll all the way down to the last set of fields, labeled "Optional Data Field 9."  The very last field says "Don't Multiply Flag" -- this is the one you need to look at.

    Is it blank like you see here in my screenshot?  The coupon will double.  The Databar has not been coded to prevent doubling.
    Is there a 1 in that little gray space before the "Choose one" dropdown?  The coupon will not double because it is coded to prevent doubling.
I can tell you, when you're trying to figure out whether buying a certain brand over another is worth it, knowing if a coupon will double or not can make a huge difference!  I also check if there's a chance the item can be free if the coupon doubles.  I have tested and confirmed that my Android method does work!

If you find this post helpful, and especially if you find my secret Android method helpful, please share with your friends!  I'd love to get the word out to other Android couponers that this is an option available to us, even though it takes just a little more work.

Monday, October 6, 2014

How to Contact Companies for Free Coupons (with list!)

You can get plenty of coupons either online or in your local paper.  But there's another way to get some great coupons, without spending money on ink or a newspaper -- simply ask for them!

I'd heard about companies giving out coupons before, but always thought it would take too much time.  But recently, in the name of science, I made a list of companies and spent about an hour contacting them, just to see what would one hour of my time could do.

I was pretty impressed.

These are all the coupons I received within the first week of requesting them.  There were many others that trickled in after the first week, but a good majority of the companies got right to sending them out to me.

It was so easy!  All I did was craft a basic form letter (if you're going to do this, I'd encourage you to write your own version):
I just wanted to thank you for having such delicious products! [insert specific sentence or two about their product and/or my experience with it here] 
Do you have any coupons available?  My family is on a really tight budget right now so anything that can make our favorite products more affordable would be very helpful!
Then I went to the website for each brand and found their contact page.  I filled out their form, submitted and crossed my fingers.  If I noticed their site offered printable coupons I'd alter my form letter to ask if they had any paper coupons available.

I did receive some rejection emails.  Also, weirdly enough, I got some rejections and then got some coupons a few days later anyway.  So just because they say they don't send coupons doesn't mean they won't -- you may be surprised.

Some companies love that you ask for coupons and actually encourage you to do it regularly.  Turkey Hill Dairy, for example, will send you an awesome packet full of coupons and let you know you can request another one every 30 days.  Every month!  Seriously, they're trying to fuel my ice cream habit, and they're winning.  I used 9 coupons -- combining all the ice cream coupons they sent me with a couple I printed out -- and stocked up during a good sale, getting them for $1 each.  I'm embarrassed to say we're already running low, so I may be contacting them for more coupons soon!

And some companies just love to prove how awesome they are.  Check out this package I got from Wholly Guacamole:

A hand-written note, a bag clip, a squishy stress avocado, some recipes and a coupon for free guacamole!  You bet I'm going to be buying a whole lot more of their stuff.  I love a company who appreciates their customers.

I realized in hindsight that I should have kept a better list of who sent me coupons.  That said, this list isn't complete.  But if you're looking for a good place to start, here are some companies who would love to hear from you:

One nice thing is that many of the coupons sent don't expire for a while.  Some don't have an expiration at all.  So you can hold onto them until you find a great sale with which to combine them.

I'd recommend making your own list, including companies whose products you use regularly and love.  Getting coupons for the things you're already going to buy is the best!  Go to their webpage and search for a "contact us" form.  Commonly, companies will put a link at the bottom of the page.

If you have any luck with other companies, please feel free to share in the comments to help other savvy shoppers!