The Coupon Maven placed $300 worth of groceries on the conveyor belt and I watched in awe as she used coupons to cut her bill to $250. I wanted to capture that kind of savings, too. So every week, I’d spend about 30 minutes clipping and ripping coupons from the Sunday newspaper. They piled up everywhere — in the car, on my desk and, rarely, in my coupon book. But at most I’d save $10. Every couple of months, I’d throw away nearly all of the coupons, expired and unused. I felt like a failure.
Then I discovered discount gift cards. People who receive gift cards they don’t want sell them to discount gift card sites and get back anywhere from 50 percent to 92 percent of the value. Buyers in turn can buy gift cards for as much as 35 percent off. I realized this would be a more effective way than coupons to save on not just gifts, but everyday items.
When I was starting out, I checked out GiftCardGranny.com, a website that aggregates gift cards that people are selling at a discount on other websites: ABCgiftcards.com, GiftCardzen.com and Cardpool.com (my favorite), to name a few. GiftCardGranny lists the return and security policies of each of those websites in its buyer protection section. To buy a card listed on GiftCardGranny you click on the link and are taken to the offer details on the associated website.
January is the best month to buy, when people are unloading unwanted Christmas gift cards. October is the worst month, according to a conversation I had with Mark Ellwood, author of “Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World.”
Still, I scored on my recent October gift card buying mission.
First, I made a list of what we needed to buy in the next month and the stores where we’d likely make those purchases. My list included Wal-Mart, Staples, Petco, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Rite Aid and Bed Bath & Beyond. I had two gifts to buy, too, so I checked out cards for Nike and AMC Theaters.
Part of the reason these gift cards are better for personal shopping, as opposed to giving as gifts is that they are often partially used, meaning they come in odd dollar amounts like $9.51. But on the day I shopped, Home Depot and AMC Theaters were both available for even amounts: $50 and $25, respectively, perfect for gift giving.
Note: if you’ve never bought discount gift cards, you might want to alert your credit card company before shopping. My card issuer questioned my first major discount gift card purchase earlier this year since it was outside my normal spending pattern.
In the end, I bought $692 in gift cards for $648, cutting $44 from my bill. My savings ranged from 2.5 percent for the Wal-Mart gift card to nearly 20 percent for AMC Theaters. Lots of cards were 9-10 percent off, ranging from $2 to $5 in savings.
Time invested: about 30 minutes. No scissors needed. No clutter. When the next Sunday newspaper arrived, I put the coupons straight into the recycling bin.