Coupon Swapping – How & Where To Do It

PracticalWaysToSaveMoney.com Coupon SwapEver since TLC came up with the hit show Extreme Couponing more and more people want to know where to get coupons. And as anyone who uses or tries to use coupons knows, very often good coupons are few and far between and hard to come by.

We’ve looked into several coupon clipping services and for the most part, so far, we haven’t found one we can whole-heartedly recommend. Sure, some are legit (many are not), but you still have to PAY for the coupons. We hate that idea. It goes against the whole idea of saving money.

Other ways to get coupons are to beg friends, family, and neighbors to give you their newspaper coupon inserts. Other options are coupon trains and coupon trading (like swapping by mail). Or, you can dumpster dive for inserts that have been thrown out. Or you can steal your neighbor’s paper (please don’t).

Or, you can buy 200 papers a year like some extreme couponers do, but we think that’s a very risky venture if you’re not an experienced extreme couponer and again, it means you have to pay for coupons.

We have another idea, one that is rarely used and we hope will soon catch on like wild fire. It’s coupon swapping and it’s something a few of our admins have been doing locally for nearly 30 years.

What’s coupon swapping? All it means is you collect all coupons you have or can get for free, keep the ones you want, drop the rest off at a designated coupon swap spot. And while you’re there, see if anyone has dropped off any coupons you can use. Where are these coupon swap spots located? Well, if you don’t know, that probably means your area needs one. Below are suggested locations for coupon swap spots, and if you don’t already have one up and running in your area, we suggest you start one yourself. Tips on how to run a coupon swap spot and how to get one started can be found below. It’s easy to swap, but takes a bit of finesse to find a good location and keep it maintained.

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SUGGESTED COUPON SWAP SPOT LOCATIONS:

Public Library
Laundromat (public or in an apartment complex)
Apartment complex lobby
YMCA
Senior Citizen Center
Recreation Center
Public Pool
Public Parks (if they have an indoor location that’s open to the public)
Grocery Stores & Supermarkets
Craft Stores
Garden Centers
Town Hall
Pre-school & Nursery Schools
Elementary & High Schools (school library for example)
Doctor or Dentist offices (best if it’s a large, busy location)
Diners & Local Restaurants (most chain restaurants or fast food joints won’t allow this)
Indoor flea markets
Local clubs
Any secure indoor place people gather in public regularly

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THE IDEAL LOCATION NEEDS THE FOLLOWING FEATURES:

* Indoors (wind and rain is a no-no).
* Accessible to the general public (or to any large group).
* Safe & Secure (although the area must be accessible, it must also be in a spot where people can feel safe & secure)
* Must have enough room for a folding table or should have a counter at least 2 to 3 feet long. A table where chairs are available is best.
* Best location will have a dedicated area; a room or corner of a room that’s set aside just for the swap spot table or counter and nothing else.
* The location should be open at regular times, at least 8 hours a day, at least 5 days a week. Preferably 12-24 hours, 7 days a week.
* Must have expressed permission from either the owner or manager of the location.
* Should be fairly confident the permission you obtain is long term, making sure the owner or manager is well aware of the details of what will be happening at the swap spot.

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HOW TO START A COUPON SWAP SPOT:

The first thing you want to do is know how to run a coupon swap spot and make sure you have enough trustworthy volunteers (like members of a club) to keep it running smoothly. See the section below for how to run and maintain a coupon swap spot.

Once you have the volunteers you need, and know how to run and maintain a coupon swap spot, only then do you try to secure a dedicated location. Meet with all of your volunteers and together you should all look over the list of suggested locations and features above. Give it a lot of thought. Make a list of which locations you feel are the best, with the best ones (and the best chance to get permission to use it) at the top of your list. Have a list of at least 4 or 5 choices.

Now decide which of the volunteers in your group/club has the best personality for the job of talking an owner or manager into allowing you to set up your coupon swap spot table. That volunteer will need to ask the owner or manager to meet and discuss the possibility of setting up a coupon swap spot in their building, club, or store. This volunteer should not only be personable, but should know every detail of how a coupon swap spot works, what it involves, and have answers ready for any question the owner or manager might ask. You’ll most likely only get one shot at it so make sure you’re prepared. If possible, have your coupon box/boxes, sign, table & chairs ready to bring to the meeting (see below for what these should be). This way you can set up and demonstrate the coupon swap spot so the owner/manager can have a very good visual idea of what to expect. This may also give you a better chance of obtaining permission.

One of the best locations for a coupon swap spot is a grocery store or supermarket lobby or near the customer service desk (best). To get the owner or manager to consider allowing you to set up your coupon swap table, explain to the owner/manager that having the coupon swap table there will bring in customers. And if the table is set up in a strategic area, far inside the store (as apposed to the lobby), then you’re insured the swapper will come inside the store to swap coupons and that almost guarantees they’ll shop there. In fact, the store owner or manager would be smart to advertise they have a coupon swap table inside. That will most certainly bring in more customers. You can also sweeten the deal by suggesting store flyers be placed on the coupon swap table. And if the swap table is to be manned for extended hours (see below) you can suggest the volunteer on duty also hand out food samples (supplied by the owner/manager) of items they would like to advertise.

If your coupon swap location is not at a store that sells food or other items, you should brainstorm with your other volunteers, find a reason a building owner or manager would want the foot traffic a coupon swap table brings in. If you can’t think of any good reason, you’ll have to hope he/she has a deep sense of community. In fact, that can be a “selling point”. If having the foot traffic of a swap table does not directly help the owner/manager’s business, remind them of what a great reputation they’ll get in the community.

Every location is different so you’ll need to know your area, know your neighborhood, and know about the location itself in order to have a better chance of securing it for your use.

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HOW TO RUN & MAINTAIN A COUPON SWAP SPOT:

> Get at least 7 (14 to 21 to 28 is better) volunteers who are trustworthy and who are willing and able to dedicate at least 15 minutes a day at the swap spot location. If you have 7 volunteers it allows you to monitor the swap spot once a day for 15 minutes a day – each volunteer is assigned a day of the week. If 14 volunteers it’s much better, because you can either allow each volunteer to monitor only once every two weeks, or you can monitor the location twice a day. If you think the location will be very busy, we suggest 14 volunteers, each monitoring once a week, total of 2 volunteers checking on the location each day.

> Ideally volunteers will be willing to spend more than 15 minutes – 15 minutes is the bare minimum for a successful coupon swap location. Even better than 15 minutes is 2 hours. If you get 28 volunteers and each one is assigned one day of the week, that means each one spends 2 hours at the table, making sure no one steals all of the coupons. That means your coupon swap table is monitored 8 hours a day and it means your coupon swap table will be neat and safe from coupons greedy “thieves” that might want to sell your swapping coupons to a coupon clipping service. No fair!!

> The more volunteers you have the more hours your coupon swap table will be monitored and safe from thieves. You can choose to have your coupon swap table available only 8 hours a day (when volunteers are actively monitoring it), or it can be open and available 24/7 (if the location is open all day and night). How long the table is available to all, and how long each volunteer spends at the table is totally up to the volunteers and the owner/manager of the building or store. You must think about the safety and security of the area, how many volunteers you have, and what the owner/manager wants. Depending on your area, you might need to have the table monitored every minute, and pack it away if a volunteer can’t be there. But what ever your situation, make sure it’s a regular scheduled time and make sure you post the times the coupon swap table will be open, for all visitors to see the schedule. Make sure you stick to the schedule. No one wants to make a special trip to the swap table just to find it’s not open or available.

> The job of each volunteer is to visit the swap spot location on their designated day and time, organize anything that looks messy, regularly look through the coupons; removing any expired or invalid coupons. If your coupon swap table must be manned at all times and closed when no volunteer is there, then the volunteer will also be responsible for making sure they do not leave until the next volunteer shows up, or if there is no volunteer (when they are at the end of their shift) they must pack up the swap table and put away in a designated area (hopefully the owner/manager of the store has given you a secure area for these purpose).

> Every month or so you might also want to have one of the volunteers visit with the owner or manager of the building or store to ask them if they have any questions or suggestions. Keep the conversation positive and friendly and thankful at all times. If you have a great rapport with the owner/manager and they are there every day, there would be no real need for a special meeting every month.

> We do not suggest you “advertise” your swap spot at first (other than a sign in the store). In fact you may never have to. You might find word of mouth gets you more coupons and more traffic than you can handle. Give it about 6 weeks, and if after 6 weeks you don’t have enough people dropping off coupons you might want to put an ad in your local craigslist or freecycle pages. This would be tricky, but it can be done in a way that attracts decent people. The best way to do this might be putting a “wanted” ad in freecycle, asking for people to come drop off coupons and participate in your swap meet. Ask them to also pass the word around to others, who might not use freecycle. FreeCycle.org is a great place to find good honest people who want to help each other. They hate waste and love a great bargain. You can also start a facebook page for your spot. If you do, make sure you make it clear that you’re local, and where it’s located.

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HOW TO MAKE A NICE LOOKING, FUNCTIONAL COUPON SWAP TABLE:

The most basic no-frills coupon swap spot is just a folding table with a few folding chairs and on the table is an open box or boxes (shoe boxes or shirt boxes) where people drop in coupons they don’t need and look through coupons already there, taking the ones they do need. You would want a minimum of two boxes – one for food and one for non-food items. Ideally you’d have more than two boxes, breaking it down into more detailed categories. But that would of course depend on how much room you have and how organized your volunteers are.  Open drop boxes are also very easy to look through, with swappers being able to push the coupons around the box to see what’s inside. That’s also great for the elderly and disabled, who might not have the dexterity needed for a neater box of file folders (see below). These are some of the categories we’ve used and recommend if you’re using open drop boxes:

> Baby & Children
> Women’s
> Men’s
> Pets
> Dairy
> Canned & Bottled food
> Frozen foods
> Beverages
> Restaurants & Fast Food
> Non-Food Misc
> Cleaning & Laundry
> Hair, Face & Body
> Expired Coupons (this box should have a cover and slit on top, to lessen any confusion as to if they can be taken or used).

Again, how many boxes (and the size of each box) you have and how detailed each category is, is up to you, and up to how much room you have. The more room, the more boxes you have, the better it is of course. Make sure each boxes is clearly labeled as to what’s inside (or what should be inside).

Each box should be about 3 to 6 inches deep, and at least 12 to 20 inches in length and width. You can use a shoe or boot box, cut down a large card board box, or you can use a plastic bin. The idea is to have a box big enough to hold hundreds of coupons with the box area large enough so the layers of coupons inside is not too deep. You want to make sure the box is also deep enough so when people sift through the coupons they don’t go flying all over the place, falling outside the box.

If you want to get really neat, each box would be the same exact size, and possibly covered with some kind of pretty paper or fabric inside and out. This will make the table look neat and organized. This is a job for the crafter in your group. We’re not suggesting spending money on fabric, but if you have scraps available it will make the swap table look a lot neater and nicer and will attract more swappers. More swappers means more coupons.

Sit your boxes side by side on the table, in a line only one box deep if possible, making each box easy to get to.

Make sure you have covers for the boxes for those times when you might have to temporarily pack away the swap table.

Box of Coupons

An alternative to an open box or boxes to drop coupons in would be using file boxes with well organized, detailed files for each different type of coupon. You can have very specific categories making it easier to find every category you’re looking for. But while this does sound very clean and neat it can take a lot of time and effort to keep it that way. All you need is a few messy & careless swappers to misfile coupons and hours of your hard work is wrecked. We’ve tried this method and found it starts out great and ends up a huge headache to maintain.

We DO NOT recommend using clear pages in a binder for a coupon swap table. We’ve tried it and the pages end up getting ripped very easily and quickly, then the coupons fall out and you’ve got a big mess. Plus the cost of replacing the ripped pages. Don’t waste your time or money on binders for this reason, but we highly recommend the use of binders for yourself. We’ll cover that in another article.

We DO NOT recommend using envelopes as they are too small and will be easily lost or destroyed.

We DO NOT recommend using baskets or any container that cannot be securely closed and stacked.

We DO NOT recommend using a bulletin board (with envelopes or other pinned holders). We’ve seen these and they are quickly and easily torn down from misuse or overuse.

Bulletin Board of Coupons

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A SIGN FOR YOUR TABLE:
There should be one large sign for the table, made from oak tag or something stronger (better). And don’t forget to include the rules on your sign (see below for “rules” suggestions). If there’s no place to hang the sign then make sure it’s made with sturdy card board backing and has an attached stand of its own. A hand written sign is okay, but if you can print one from a computer or use stencils that’s even better.

The sign should make certain things very clear:

> That it is a Coupon Swap Table, open to the public*, for all to use.
> That it is run by volunteers.
> Thanking the building/store owner/manager for use of the area.
> What are the rules of the table.
> What are the hours the table is available.

* There may be locations where you will not say it is open to the “public”. For example if the table is set up in a school library you might say it’s open to all “parents of students” or similar wording.

* If your location does not have room for a folding table, you might have to make due with a shelf or counter that already exists. That’s second choice because it’s best if there’s enough room for a few people to use the box at one time and sit as they look through the coupons.

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THE RULES OF YOUR COUPON SWAP TABLE:

The rules should be posted on your table sign. Of course the specific rules are up to you and should be decided on by a vote of all volunteers, and agreed to by the building/store owner/manager (so make sure you have your rules ready when you meet to ask permission to use an area). Below are some suggestions.

* All coupons are free for the taking.
* Please take only the coupons you need and know you will use.
* Please do not take coupons for others, take only for yourself & your family.
* Please drop off coupons you don’t need. Without donated coupons the swap will fade away.
* Please donate only cut coupons, not pages with multiple coupons.
* Please keep the area neat.
* Please place expired coupons in the “Coupons for the Troops” box. (more on this in another article)

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Well, that’s it. Like we said, the swap is easy. It’s obtaining volunteers and a location that’s the hard part. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to post here. And if you’ve been successful at creating a coupon swap spot please let us know all about it.

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One Response to Coupon Swapping – How & Where To Do It

  1. Nancy says:

    Thanks for the share!
    Nancy.R

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