Reuters

(Reuters)

Coupon Clubs: Clip, Swap, Save

By Features Bankrate.com

Whether you're a coupon queen or you procrastinate at clipping deals out of Sunday's newspaper, a coupon club might be right for you.

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At a coupon club, members meet weekly or semimonthly to share money-saving ideas while clipping and swapping coupons. A coupon club isn't just about trading deals and tips, but also about community engagement.

"We discuss experiences members had during the previous weeks at local stores or online sites," says Diane Hine, a coordinator for the Bella Vista Library Coupon Clippers Club in Bella Vista, Ark. "It reminds me of the old-fashioned quilting bees in that we're doing the same thing in a communal way. It's very friendly."

Coupon clubs have been cropping up across the nation. We spoke with three successful club leaders to find out how you can start your own coupon club.

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Choose an accessible location, whether in a library meeting room or at a favorite neighborhood eatery. At the Bella Vista coupon club, members meet twice a month for one hour to clip, chat and swap. The library also hosts a container for regular patrons to drop off unclipped coupons.

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Alternately, consider local businesses that might want to host a coupon swap club. One Michigan coupon swap club meets in a hair salon on Sundays after closing hours, says Carla Hurd, a coordinator with the Michigan Coupon Club in Bridgeport, Mich., which meets throughout the state. Swaps hosted by local businesses benefit everyone, Hurd says.

"Members have a place with big tables to swap coupons, and the business owner gets people in her door," Hurd says.

Collect Club Members

Coordinators Diane Hine and Michelle Henning found members for Bella Vista's club by putting out a call for members in the library newsletter, listing the coupon swap in local papers and sending notices to regional papers. They'll even hand out club fliers to people they see using coupons in the grocery store.

Or you could reach out to community groups and organizations, such as senior or new moms' groups. Since 2004, Amy Hannold, coordinator for the northern chapter of the Whidbey Coupon Club on Whidbey Island, Wash., speaks regularly about savings savvy. She visits the local Mothers of Preschoolers group, senior centers and community center groups, and picked up a few new members as a result.

"They're excited to learn how to live a fuller life at half the price. We're saving them stress and chaos as well as money," Hannold says.

Offer a Welcome Packet

"Many people tell me that they're not organized enough or don't have time to use coupons," Hannold says. "Our goal is help people to plan good meals that are deals."

So Hannold offers blank grocery-list and menu-planner pages to every newcomer, along with coupons from circulars, manufacturers and stores, and scissors and store coupon policies. The Bella Vista Coupon Club's welcome handout includes the previous months' organized discussion topics.

Choose Smart Topics for Discussion

Understand that coupon swaps will attract novice clippers and old pros, so it makes sense to offer discussion topics that will appeal to all. At the Bella Vista Coupon Club, monthly discussion subjects have included local store policies, connecting with favorite brands, coupon sites and promotional codes.

"Michelle and I mapped out the first year's schedule in advance," Hine says.

Clip and Collect

Encourage members to bring in coupons from a diversity of sources -- everything from Sunday's newspaper to Tuesday's circular to today's magazine. At Bella Vista, members talk about the monthly topic, while passing around uncut coupon circulars, clipping to add to their personal stash.

"Everyone comes in with coupons and leaves with money in their pocket," Hine says. Leftover uncut coupons are stacked up and sent overseas to military families, since they can use the coupons up to six months after the expiration date, Hine says.

At the Michigan Coupon Club's "clip, swap and drop" meetings, nearly 50 members cut coupons while dining at a locally owned restaurant. Then the coupons are organized alphabetically by category such as dental care or beauty items, so members can browse and select the coupons they need.

Meet Beyond Meetings

The Whidbey Coupon Club has a Facebook page so members can stay in touch and up to date on coupon swaps and new coupon deals within the community and online. They also offer a free weekly email with club and money-saving information.

Another option is to start a coupon train, like the Michigan Coupon Club has. Hurd, the club's coordinator, signs up 10 interested members. One of them receives an envelope in the mail that is stuffed with more than 100 coupons. That member removes needed coupons and adds coupons to replace those taken. He or she pastes postage and passes the envelope on to the next member, perpetuating the coupon train.

Give Back to The Community

At the Michigan Coupon Clippers' "clip, swap and drop" meetings, attendees are asked to offer a donation to a charitable organization in exchange for admission. So far, the club has collected deodorant and body wash for a local women's shelter, and nonperishable and canned foods for the local food bank.

The southern chapter of the Whidbey Coupon Club clips coupons to help in the community. Hannold estimates they've saved the local food bank about $20,000 in grocery costs. "It's a low-cost or no-cost way for everyone to support food banks," she says.

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