Listen up. Coupons are popular with military families looking to stretch their money. Nearly 128 million coupons were redeemed in military commissaries in 2006, with a total savings of nearly $94 million to customers.
Coupons come in a variety of ways: in newspapers or magazines, in the mail, attached to products that you buy, in the store or downloaded online. Some retailers e-mail them to you when you sign up for their mailing lists. You can find links to legitimate coupons on manufacturers' Web sites and at http://www.commissaries.com.
Most of us know to check the expiration date on a coupon. But be careful where you get your coupons, and make sure they're not fake or counterfeit. Stores are looking closely for counterfeit coupons; they lose money if they redeem counterfeits because the manufacturers won't reimburse them. This is especially true for military stores, where there is little or no markup to cover such losses.
Commercial stores pass the cost of these fake coupons on to their customers in the form of higher prices. But commissaries cannot raise prices to make up for lost revenue — by law, they have to sell items at cost. Officials do not keep statistics on the number of fake coupons received and the dollar amount of the loss, commissary agency spokesman Kevin Robinson said.
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service "loses thousands of dollars annually when manufacturers do not accept or reimburse us for fraudulent or altered coupons," AAFES spokesman Judd Anstey said. That translates into less money pumped back into military morale, welfare and recreation programs on bases, which the exchanges help fund with some of their profits.
The Coupon Resource Center, operated by Coupons.com, works with manufacturers to provide coupons online and has a tool to help you determine whether your online coupon is legitimate at http://www.veri-fi.com">http://www.veri-fi.com.
The Coupon Information Center, an organization dedicated to fighting coupon fraud, features information on the latest coupon scams at http://www.cents-off.com/body_coupon_counterfeiters.htm">http://www.cents-off.com/body_coupon_counterfeiters.htm. A number of scam artists have been and are being prosecuted for coupon fraud.
Some tips from the Coupon Resource Center:
• You should never see the actual coupon on your screen — only an offer to print it. Legitimate coupons require special software to print proper bar codes and limit the number of prints of each coupon.
• Never pay for a coupon. That includes buying coupons on auction sites.
• Avoid coupon-swapping Web sites and sites that post images of coupons, and don't make or use copies of coupons or printouts of scanned images of coupons.
• Be suspicious of coupons for free products or other offers that seem too good to be true.
Manufacturer coupons accepted by AAFES stores should always have a bar code, Anstey said.
In addition, they must:
• State "manufacturer's coupon," or state it is good only at your local commissary/exchange or AAFES BX/PX.
• State "will reimburse the face value of this coupon, plus $.08 cents handling."
• Not be expired.
Coupons for "buy one, get one free" deals must have a dollar limit for the free item. Also, AAFES cannot accept Internet-sourced coupons or coupons from a copying machine.
Besides coupons, there are other ways to save money with special offers and sales. You can get on military exchanges' mailing lists to get information about special sales in your area.
• For Marine exchanges, you can either fill out a registration form at your local exchange or sign up for mailing lists at http://www.usmc-mccs.org/shopping">http://www.usmc-mccs.org/shopping. Click on "MCX Mailing List" on the left.
Coupons are a great way to save money. Just don't get sucked in by fraud and cost your store money.
Got that? You're good to go.
The commissaries with the most coupons redeemed for the year ending Sept. 30:
Fort Belvoir, Va.: 2.5 million coupons valued at $2.1 million
Naval Air Station Oceana, Va.: 2.4 million coupons valued at $1.8 million.
MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.: 2 million coupons valued at $1.6 million.