Q&A: Money-Saving Tips from Eversave.com’s Chief Savings Officer

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Chief Savings Officer. Who knew that such a job title existed? Every household—and every government office, for that matter—should have one or more of these people, whose job it is to see that money is saved whenever possible, and spent efficiently when purchases are necessary.

Julia Gaynor is the Chief Savings Officer for Eversave.com, a site dedicated to saving consumers money, mainly by way of coupons, discounts, and free samples. What you’ll find on the site is customized to where you live—you plug in your zip code. In a conversation with The Cheapskate Blog, Gaynor offers dozens of savings tips, including a long list of items that you should never pay full price for, like books, CDs, eyeglasses, contact lenses, sneakers, and kids clothes. She also busts some myths regarding how and where coupons can be used.

Cheapskate: What are some items that a good shopper should never pay full price for? In other words, what kind of purchases can almost always be had for less than retail, through a coupon or sale?

Julia Gaynor: Some of the things I’ll never pay full price for save me dollars a week, and others have the potential to save hundreds of dollars per month. They’re both worth it because a dollar saved is a dollar saved. What they all have in common is that they each take practically no time or effort. So if something takes less than a minute of your time to save that dollar or even 50 cents, I say go for it!

Some of my favorites …

#1 Children’s Clothes

It’s so tempting to buy irresistibly cute, brand new designer clothes for your two-year old, but don’t do it. There are so many ways to get amazing children’s clothes at rock-bottom prices (or even free), it kills me to see moms blowing their hard-earned cash on brand new children’s clothes. My biggest pet peeve is when people buy new for holidays and special events, because those are the kinds of clothes kids may never wear – or they only wear once –and they’re the kind of items you can always score at consignment boutiques – or the hottest new way to shop for gently-used children’s clothes, swap parties.

Search for local swap parties on Craigslist.org or on community list servs (Yahoo Community Groups are a very popular way for Moms to communicate online). If you don’t find a swap party near you, host a party yourself! The deal is, for every piece of gently worn clothing that a guest brings, she gets to take another piece in return. The brought clothing is exchanged for coupons or tokens which makes it easy to “shop” later.

[Want more clothing swap tips? Read Q&As with clothing swap experts Wendy Tremayne and Suzanne Agasi.]

There are even online swap sites and designer-resale stores for kid’s clothes, both on and offline.

#2 Eyewear and Contact Lenses

Back in the olden days, when we went to the optometrist, we left with a pair of glasses and or contact lenses, and hundreds and hundreds of dollars poorer. Today’s optically challenged consumers should only leave with a prescription – and do eyeglasses and contact lens shopping at home! Contact lenses can be had for a steal at sites like 1-800contacts and Coastalcontacts.com, and at sites like http://www.eversave.com, there are even ways to sign up for a certificate for a free pair of contact lenses from leading manufacturers like Bausch and Lomb and Acuvue. For eyeglasses, try sites like eyebuydirect.com, where I’ve seen glasses for as cheap as $10. It’s tempting to get it all over with at once, while you’re at the optometrist, but you’ll be wasting hundreds of dollars if you give in to that temptation.

#3 Shoes

No matter how much weight a woman loses or gains, her shoe size doesn’t change (within reason.) That’s why women love shoes so much. It’s that simple. And that’s why we love sites like Zappos and Shoes.com. With relatively low prices and free shipping each way, we can try on scads of shoes to our hearts’ content and if we don’t like them, simply send them back.

But – for the true shoe sale devotee, there are the outlet versions of Shoes.com and ZapposShoesteal.com and 6pm.com, respectively.

Shoesteal.com has something called the “steal of the day” where they feature one shoe at a ridiculously low price. I saw Michael Kors bootss the other day that retailed for $197.99 for $48.99. It was outrageous!

Of course, one has to exercise restraint when deals are that good, but with all of the online options available for shoe shopping, no woman should ever pay full price – or anywhere near that – for her shoes.

Also, these outlet sites have dirt cheap children’s shoes too.

CS: Coupon usage is up, and to many people using them, coupons are fairly new. What are some common mistakes that coupon novices make?

1. They buy into the 10 for $10 myth. Newbie grocery savers think they actually have to buy 10 items to get the 10 for $10 price. 99% of the time, you can buy one item and get the 10/$10 price. It’s a store trick, and novices fall for it all of the time.

2. They clip a coupon and use it immediately. Newbie coupon clippers love getting the instant gratification of the clip and save thrill. They’ll clip the coupon and use it that same day – or at least within the same week. Seasoned couponers know to hold onto a coupon as long as possible (but within the expiration period) because grocery stores delay sales on newly released coupons to take advantage of that urge to save. Hang onto it for a week or longer to see if your item goes on sale.

3. They waste time clipping coupons. You don’t have to clip coupons like your grandmother did, taking entire afternoons to wade through dirty newspapers. There are so many tools and technologies at your disposal, from online grocery coupons and coupon codes to companies who’ll clip coupons for you, but novices don’t know what they are or how to use them. Sites like http://www.eversave.com [the site Gaynor works for] have grocery coupons that you just click and print – no scissors needed. And they are refreshed every few days instead of once a week like in the Sunday paper. Thecouponclippers.com is a service that cuts coupons for you. For about 10% of the coupon’s value, plus a nominal service fee and shipping charge, you can have someone else do the dirty work. So basically if you selected coupons with a potential savings value of $20, you’d pay somewhere around $2.69. Not bad – as long as you actually use the coupons.

CS: In your opinion, what stores and manufacturers always seem to have the best coupons, giving consumers the most bang for their buck? Can you name a few that really deliver value?

CVS: Everyone with a CVS in their area should have an Extra Care Reward card because with every purchase, you earn “Extra Bucks” to use towards your next purchase. By layering Extra Bucks with CVS in-store deals and manufacturer’s coupons, savvy savers can routinely score free deals. This is saver’s heaven. Plus, in some stores, the Extra Bucks don’t expire. I can’t guarantee which stores, but I’ve known many friends who’ve taken faded register receipts into a store, and even if they won’t scan, the store employee will manually type in the code for the customer’s rewards.

Border’s: You should never, ever pay full price for a book or CD – even if you like buying brand spanking new products – if you have a Borders Rewards card. I get 40% coupons emailed to me almost daily from Borders. It’s to the point where I never bother to print them out and save them because I know there will be another one coming.

Bed, Bath and Beyond: Like Borders, these coupons have become ubiquitous and as reliable as the supermarket circulars that get shoved into your mailbox. The 20% off one item is the best deal and should be used in conjunction with a sale, or you’re not getting the best value due to BB&B’s relatively high prices. But the best thing about BB&B is they’ve historically ignored their expiration dates as well.

CS: Any tips on getting organized and making the most of coupons and sales? It can be overwhelming what with print-outs, newspaper circulars, having to hit multiple stores and whatnot. How do you keep things in line?

JG: You have to decide on what kind of saver you want to be. Do you want to be the ultra-marathoner of savers, where you sprint from store to store and research every item compulsively before you buy? Or do you want to be an everyday saver, saving on the things you buy most, not letting it take over your life, but getting a return on your time invested? Most of us are the latter – me included.

So I recommend making some decisions and sticking with them. This requires some initial research, but then should make your savings program hum like a well-oiled machine.

1. First, find the grocery store you want to shop at most. This choice could be because of the best savings, proximity to your house, best selection, friendliest checkout people, whatever works for you.

2. Next, make a list of the top 10 items you shop for most and make a commitment to save on those items every week.

3. Decide if you want your couponing to be old-style (paper), modern (online only) or a mix of both (my recommendation.)

4. Decide how much time you want to spend to couponing per week. I recommend one hour, unless you have more time.

5. During that hour, scan online couponing websites for coupons for your top 10 items. Do the same with the inserts from your Sunday paper, and be sure to always get the circular for your chosen supermarket. Every supermarket has store coupons and deals – even Whole Foods and totally Organic Co-op stores.

6. Once you’ve mastered this basic level, take it up a notch. Add 5 more items and CVS or Walgreens.

7. If you want to get more serious, consider using TheCouponClippers or Cellfire. Just like getting in shape physically, becoming a savvy saver is a gradual process, one that will become easier and more second-nature with time.

CS: What’s new with coupons? Do you see trends, i.e., coupons for different kinds of items, or different ways that coupons are being used, or interesting new promotions of any sort?

JG: I think the biggest thing I’ve seen with coupons in the past year is that the stigma of being labeled the “crazy coupon clipper” is gone. Saving is sexy. Being a “smart, savvy shopper” is what’s aspirational now; not blowing your checking account on a new pair of Jimmy Choos or maxing out the gold card on brand new gold-plated baby furniture. Savings gurus are the new sexperts.

Group saving is one of the most exciting new trends I’m seeing. Sites like Groupon.com and Buywithme.com only offer group savings on everything from clothes to manicures to weekend getaways.

The mobile coupon still has a ways to go, but sites like Cellfire are expanding and making cell phone coupons more of a reality for the mainstream.

People’s attitudes about email and deals are changing. They’re signing up for email alerts from fashion sites like www.shopittome.com and their favorite restaurants like Bertuccis.com. At Eversave.com, our email subscriber list has never been bigger and I think this is because people are actively seeking out deals that come right into their inbox. The attitude is changing, people are getting smarter, and I think a lot of them (like me!) are using devoted email accounts to receive all of their deals.

Read more about using coupons like a pro:
Q&A with Consumer Queen Melissa Garcia