I Pay for Things You Get for Free

By Paul Michael on 23 September 2011 (Updated 6 June 2013) 16 comments
Photo: Humbert15

Can this be a post from the same Paul Michael who insists you should never pay full retail price for anything? The same blogger who preaches about finding deals, hunting for bargains, and taking the time to compare prices when you shop?

Well, yes it is. And my latest tip for saving money is to spend some of it on something that you usually find for free! (See also: 10 Ways to Save Time by Spending Time)

My Next Big Money-Saving Tip — Paying For Coupons

We all get coupons in the mail, our email, in our newspapers, and online. There are sites devoted to coupon codes, like Retail Me Not and Mommy Saves Big. I use them all the time. But they don’t always have what I’m looking for.

Case in point — recently I was shopping for a new monitor for my wife’s computer. I found a great deal at Office Max, but I wasn’t happy. There was a “promo code” box in the checkout area, and that’s like a red rag to a bull. I have to put a code in there, because if it exists, it means codes exist that can save me money.

After searching for about 20 minutes online, I found nothing. The coupons I had were either old, already used, or incompatible with the item I bought. But I know some big money-saving coupons are out there. In fact, I cursed my name because only a few weeks ago I had thrown away an Office Max coupon for $30 off $150. And then it hit me… 

eBay Had The Coupon I Needed

I went to eBay and typed in "Office Max 30 off 150." Boom, there it was. A coupon that was unused, not expired, for $30 off a $150 purchase. And as I read the details, it was revealed that the coupon code would be sent to me within a few hours. Score!

The price was $5.99 Buy It Now. There were a few other auctions starting at 99 cents, but I was in no mood to hang around for days. And I was still $24 up on the deal, if it worked of course.

I paid the fee and within a few minutes my legitimate code was sent to my email. I typed it into the code box and $30 was instantly taken off my final price. Spend $6, get $30 in savings…that’s a better deal than most Groupons.

So Why Pay When You Can Just Clip Your Own Coupons?

Well, there are several reasons for this. Of course, you should always clip coupons when you see them, but here’s why paying for coupons actually makes a lot of sense.

Foresight

Most of us can’t see into the future, we can only anticipate. And if we clip every single coupon we think we might need someday, we’ll turn into those extreme couponers that have basements filled with stacks of newspaper ads and circulars. For instance, I had no idea that Office Max would have had the monitor I wanted at the best price; I usually shop at Newegg, Amazon, or another online store. I didn’t have an Office Max coupon handy, but by buying one from eBay I instantly got a code that saved me $24 after my $6 outlay.

Locality

Different parts of the country get different coupons, and those coupons vary by amount and expiration date. You may be in an area that gets a $5 coupon code, another may get $10. Your offers may run out sooner than in other areas. But with eBay, the whole nation is opened up to coupon hounds. Just find the one you need, and within minutes (or days, if it’s a physical coupon) you get something you can use. Please note, though, some coupons are restricted to certain areas, so make sure you check that before buying.

Expediency

There’s nothing quite like instant gratification. You get the exact coupon you want, when you need it, and you instantly pay less for the product you're buying.

However you get them, you’re saving money! Think of it this way — if you have a coupon on you, great, use it! But if you don’t, you have a few options. You may have to wait until you get home to dig out the coupon you’re looking for, and by then the deal may have passed you by. But if you pay $5 for a coupon that saves you $20, you’ve still saved $15. And that other coupon you have tucked away at home is still good.

Editor's Note: The comments of this writer are not meant to be considered legal advice.

Additional photo credit: sdc2027
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Meg Favreau's picture

Does anybody else have experiences with buying coupons, positive or negative?

Guest's picture
Weston

But isn't that illegal? Most of the coupons I have seen are void if transferred.

I know that the store has no feasible way of knowing that you aren't the person they provided the discount to, but that doesn't change the fact that (in most cases that I know of) you are paying for and intentionally using a coupon or code that is void.

Paul Michael's picture

From everything I've read, it's not illegal. It IS illegal to sell coupons, so people are actually giving them away for free and charging for the time it took to clip the coupon, which is completely legal. You can read more here.

Guest's picture
Weston

Paul

I went to the link you provided expecting that it would be some sort of legal opinion by an attorney, or court ruling or government agency ruling that such actions are legal. Instead the link led me to a very generalized, unsupported article written by someone touting coupon sales as a business opportunity.

The article itself doesn't seem to address legality at all (although some of the comments do). Overall I found it general, unsupported and remarkably unpersuasive.

I posted the question to you and feel the need to re -ask it.

1. A vendor provides a discount to a prospect. The terms of use of that discount state that the discount is void if transferred. The prospect takes money from someone and then sends them the discount without the vendors knowledge or consent. How is that not a transfer within the terms of use? It doesn't matter if the original prospect calls the fee a shipping and handling fee. I don't see how it can be anything other than a transfer.

2. In addition to my point #1 above. I don't know who you used for the coupon/code that you described, however I did look into a number of similar companies when I was considering purchasing coupons. What I found is that every single one of them charged more for higher value coupons even though there was absolutely no way that the cutting, shipping and handling of a $7 coupon could be more than the cutting, shipping and handling of a 50 cents coupon.

Guest's picture
Jenessa

"What I found is that every single one of them charged more for higher value coupons even though there was absolutely no way that the cutting, shipping and handling of a $7 coupon could be more than the cutting, shipping and handling of a 50 cents coupon."

Value isn't a set idea. It is based on what the consumer is willing to pay for the item. If I feel that someone finding, cutting out, listing, selling and mailing me a seven dollar coupon is worth enought to me, then I will pay what the seller is asking. If I spend the same amount of time writing a piece of music that Mozart spent writing one of his, does that mean that their value is the same? I could spend hours driving around, searching for the seven dollar coupon, or I can pay someone for their work in procuring it. Every coupon can be aquired for free, but if someone is willing to spend their time getting them and selling them, than that is time that can be paid for. You're more than welcome to do it yourself if the legality of paying for someone's time makes you uncomfortable.

Guest's picture
Stefanie

I've purchased coupons for grocery items as well as larger coupons for a certain amount of money off a total purchase like the one described here. Its worked out very well for me, since I don't get the paper delivered and don't have the time to go searching for free coupons in coffee shops during the week. I don't do it all the time, but when there's a product I really want, I go for it.

Guest's picture

great angle on couponing! I was wondering who buys coupons off ebay and now I see how it's actually beneficial.

Guest's picture
Guest

Weston, if your looking for the "legal" standpoint on this , I would suggest contacting a lawyer in your area to make sure that by purchasing these coupons you would not being doing anything against local and federal law, you might even be able to find a discount coupon online for this service

Guest's picture
Weston

Guest

Thanks

I've been a lawyer for thirty years. I did look into this and in my opinion it is illegal. I was just asking what Paul's perspective was.

Guest's picture
Sara

I buy coupons on E Bay quite often. I can never get coupons for the organic food items my family used a lot. On E Bay I can get them and usually is groups of 20 coupons. I bought Cliff Kids Z bar coupons in a group of 20 that were for a dollar off. I paid around $3.50. They didn't say "Do not Double" so instead of just $20.00 off it was $40.00 off minus the $3.50 I paid.

Guest's picture
Guest

I ran across a deal on a deal website a while back, some software package from Staples for $0 after rebate.

Someone pointed out you could buy a $30 off $150 Staples coupon code on ebay for a couple of bucks and end up MAKING MONEY on the deal.

I tried it and it worked, but it felt kind of scammy/scummy. I still don't quite understand how that worked, or where the money came from.

Guest's picture
Elizabeth S.

I choose not to pay people for their time clipping the coupons. I subscribe to two newspapers every Sunday and figure that two of a great deal is enough for our family of four. I think its neat for people to save money by getting more coupons for a good deal but I personally choose not to do it. I will however spend a half hour searching for promo codes when buying things online.

Guest's picture
Dulljack

Purchasing a bundle of "10% off purchase" for Lowe's came in handy for a commercial renovation project. Saved thousands of dollars for a $50 investment.

Guest's picture
Guest

I buy $20 off a $50 purchase from Macy's coupons all the time off of ebay. Macy's doesn't call them coupons, but "rewards" passes. And the person on ebay who sells them explicitly writes on the auction that these "coupons" are free, you are paying for the time to mail them to you. So far I have had LOTS of success buying and using these "rewards" passes. And at $3 a pop, I'm still saving $17 off my purchase of $50 or more.

Guest's picture

Ya I do the same thing off ebay for buying coupons. I also buy prepaid cell phone cards as well. Way cheaper than getting them in the store. Also, its often times easier to get the coupon I want off ebay than scour for it online

Guest's picture
Kevin

This is great! I never thought of buying coupons on eBay. I too am also plagued by instances where I have not had a specific coupon where I knew they existed.
Thank you!
I will try it!