The US based Extreme Couponing Reality show has a lot of Canadians thinking about trying extreme couponing in Canada.  But does extreme coupon use work in Canada? What are the barriers to success with maximizing coupon savings in Canada? 

Tools of Extreme Couponing

In the USA, the coupon divas use tools that are not widespread in Canada.  Specifically Canadians can not usually get access to:

  • Doubling of coupons by stores (never seen it in Canada yet)
  • Stacking of coupons* (using several different coupons together in the same product)
  • Large numbers of the same coupon from fliers  and other sources allowing large volume purchases

*London Drugs does allow coupon stacking as long as each coupon has a unique bar code 

These three tricks, often in combination, really form the core of the tactics of using coupons to get free or nearly free products in the United States.  

So what is left?

In Canada, there are still some newspaper flyers that run redeemable coupons.  Look around to determine when these come out (or check one of the blogs that cover couponing).  In our area there are two community newspapers but only one ever distributes a coupon flyer and then not very often.

There are printable coupons online that work in Canada.  Many websites provide these.  Some sites restrict you to a single printed copy, while others allow printing as many as you like. 

There are several sites like that allow you to order printed coupons by mail.  The selection is very limited and they will only send one copy of each coupon to any given address, making bulk buying with coupons tough. 

Free product offers sometimes take the form of coupons for product. Recently we redeemed a $5 plus value coupon for a Johnson's baby travel kit. This is an easier way for companies to distribute samples then mailing them individually.

Instore tearsheets of coupons.  Manufacturers will distribute pads (or sometimes little boxes) of coupons which are attached to the shelves in store near the product.  You don't need to buy the product right there though.  It may be better to use the coupon in conjunction with a sale on the product later or elsewhere.  It is ok to take a few coupons if you are pretty sure you will use them, but don't be a hog.  

The Loblaws chain also places their own coupon tearsheets by the store entrance.  These are officially redeemable in store but some competitors may honor them as well. 

Coupons attached to the product itself by the manufacturer. Often these are not on all packages, just selected cases, so look at all the stock before just blindly grabbing. It is not cool to take these coupons off the package and use them elsewhere - but if you see on package coupons in one store watch for them on the same product elsewhere.  Sometimes the product will be on a good sale, and the on package coupons can be combined to really make a good deal.

In package coupons where savings can be clipped from a cereal box, for example, for money off other products from the same company or a marketing partner.  Sometimes the savings are things like free movie snacks (recent Old El Paso coupon in a box) and other times for groceries. 

Airmiles Instead

Safeway offers Airmiles Reward Miles on purchases. The base Airmiles are not a big bonus, but when Safeway runs a Buy $100 get 100 Airmiles promotion pay attention.  Combine that with Buy X participating products get Y Airmiles offers and things start getting attractive.  Use an Airmiles Credit Card (AMEX and BMO offer these) to further add to the Airmiles in a transaction and combine all this with your paper coupon collection to get some serious deals.

Safeway is a fairly expensive grocery shopping option but with the right combination of Buy One Get One, sales, and Bonus Airmiles deals you can actually get free groceries (or rather free gas or other rewards worth equal or near to the cost of those groceries.)  

Airmiles Math

Airmiles can be redeemed for many different rewards, but a good one every family can use is $20 gift certificates for Shell gas.  Each Shell $20 certificate costs 175 Airmiles.  Other rewards justify other values for Airmiles that may be higher or lower.

Basically the Airmiles program needs to buy the rewards they give away.  Airmiles Reward with lower wholesale values tend to cost fewer Miles per retail dollar of value while a Shell Gift Certificate (and other gift cards) are more near cash with little room for markup and therefore costs more Airmiles per dollar of value.

$20/175 Airmiles gives a value of $0.11428 per Airmiles.  For ease of calculation in the store figure that every mile is worth $0.10 or $0.11 so earning 30 Bonus Airmiles is like getting $3.00 to $3.30 off your purchase.  

Earning 100 Bonus Airmiles for your $100 purchase is a 10% to 11% discount when translated into Shell Gift Certificates, more for some of the travel and merchandise rewards.

What to Look For in Safeway

Look for the lowest cost per unit product in the group of products offered in a Bonus Airmiles deal.  This gives you the largest bonus for dollar spent. You may have coupons that drop one product's net price too, so use them in calculating what the best deal is. 

How to Check Out

  • Make your purchases in $100 increments, redeeming a 100 Bonus Airmile coupon each time. When you do this make sure the Bonus Airmile items go through in the right multiples.
  • If you need to buy three crackers to get the bonus, make sure the three crackers are in the same till run.
  • Add your Safeway Club Card at the beginning of the check out so you can see the net prices add up to $100
  • Put all coupons through with the associated products so you know the net total purchase number and can cut off at $100 (plus taxes and bottle deposits which do not count in the $100 purchase requirement)
  •  Have a few products in reserve in the cart to top up to a full $100, and be prepared to send these back. You might as well get as close to $100 increments as you can to get maximum Airmiles
  • Use an Airmiles Credit Card to pay.

The author has used these techniques to actually make money by shopping for groceries once the Airmiles earned were redeemed for Shell Gift Certificates and other merchandise. Excess product was donated to the food bank and (cat food) to the animal shelter for tax receipts. It felt good giving all that food away and knowing that the money spent was more then earned back in gift certificates for things I'd spend money on anyway (gas, hotels, a riding lawnmower, gym equipment etc)

Best of luck and happy shopping!