Just read this article…

Coupon use has surged in recent months as consumers trim their budgets in this recession. During the fourth quarter of 2008, coupon redemptions rose by 15%, versus a year earlier.

Coupons easily can cut 10% to 20% from your grocery bill — and it’s possible to save much more if you’re willing to put in a little time and effort. I recently used coupons and rebates to purchase $211 in groceries for a total of 42 cents.

Supermarkets are no longer the only places to save. Pharmacies, hardware stores, home stores and online retailers are offering big savings, too. Some of the best offers…

Online coupons

The most attractive coupons often are available only on the Internet, not in Sunday newspaper circulars. Web sites — such as Coupons.comRetailMeNot.com… and my site, SelectCouponProgram.com — feature a wide range of coupons.*

Also visit the Web sites of the companies that make the food products, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, health and beauty products, household products and other consumer products that you buy. Many of these companies are likely to provide printable coupons on their Web sites, or they will mail or e-mail coupons to consumers who sign up for their e-letters.

Most consumer product companies list their Web addresses on the packaging. If not, try using the company’s name followed by “.com,” or search for the company’s name on Google.com.

Once on a company’s Web site, look for a link along the lines of “sign up,” “newsletter,” “promotions,” “special offers” or “coupons.” If a company’s Web site is very complex, it might be easier to search for the product name on Google rather than the company name.

Example: At Bayer.com, it is not easy to locate coupons… but at Aleve.com — the Web site for Bayer’s painkiller — it is easy to find a coupon for $1 off any Aleve product.

You likely will have to register on the company’s Web site and provide an e-mail address to access the coupons. Some Web sites let you print coupons as soon as you register… while others e-mail the coupons to you periodically. You might want to create an e-mail account specifically for this purpose.

You may need to download a coupon-printing program. Download these programs only from the Web sites of well-known companies. Downloading programs from disreputable Web sites can load viruses onto your computer.

Among the companies that frequently feature appealing Internet coupons…

Betty Crocker/General Mills (www.bettycrocker.com, select “Coupons” at the top of the screen). Brands include Betty Crocker… Bisquick… Cheerios… Chex… Häagen-Dazs… Pillsbury… Progresso… Green Giant… and Yoplait.

Examples: 55 cents off Cheerios… 60 cents off 19-to-24-ounce Green Giant frozen bagged vegetables… $1 off any two Progresso products, excluding soup.

Colgate-Palmolive (www.colgate.com, click “Special Offers”). Brands include Ajax… Colgate… Murphy Oil Soap… Palmolive… Softsoap… and Speed Stick.

Examples: $1 off Colgate Sensitive toothpaste… $1 off Softsoap body wash.

Del Monte (www.delmonte.com/promotions/).

Examples: $1 off Del Monte Citrus Bowl… Orchard Select… or SunFresh refrigerated glass jar products.

Gorton’s seafood (www.gortons.com, click “Coupons & Promotions” at the bottom of the screen). Request a free wall calendar featuring $15 worth of coupons.

Iams pet foods (www.iams.com, click “Join Iams”).

Example: $5 off Iams pet foods.

Procter & Gamble (www.pgesaver.com, register for P&G Everyday Solutions free monthly newsletter). Brands include Cascade… Charmin… Clairol… Crest… Duracell… Fixodent… Gillette… Ivory… Metamucil… Mr. Clean… Old Spice… Pampers… Secret… Swiffer… Tide… and Vicks.

Example: $7 for Crest Whitening Strips… $5 for Swiffer WetJet Starter Kit.

Quaker Oats (www.quakeroats.com, select “Offers & Promotions” under the “Products” tab).

Example: $1 off Quaker True Delights snack bars.

Pharmacy Rebate Programs

Major pharmacy chains frequently offer products at below cost to draw shoppers into stores. These savings typically are provided through rebates, not coupons, however. Shoppers must sign up for the chain’s rebate program, then log onto its Web site to enter code numbers from their receipts and request rebate checks to obtain their savings. (If you don’t have Internet access, you usually can pick up rebate booklets in the stores, then mail in your receipts and rebate requests.)

These rebate programs are worth the trouble if you take advantage of numerous rebates each month. Pharmacy chain Web sites sometimes offer printable coupons as well.

CVS (www.cvs.com). Sign up for a CVS “ExtraCare” rewards card, and get 2% back on most purchases and an extra $1 back for every two prescriptions filled. CVS also offers printable online coupons on its Web site.

Examples: $5 off Huggies Gentle Care diapers… $1 off Bausch & Lomb ReNu MultiPlus Solution.

Walgreens (www.walgreens.com, click “See EasySaver Rebates”). Walgreens EasySaver rebate program offers dozens of rebates on health and beauty products each month. Walgreens’ Web site also features printable coupons.

Examples: Free Axe shampoo or conditioner rebate, up to $6.99 value… $10 rebate when you buy two packages of Energizer batteries.

More Savings

Some retailers offer attractive rebates and coupons so frequently that it’s worth checking out their Web sites… signing up for their newsletters… or enrolling in their loyalty programs before buying anything.

Also, you can pick up at your post office a “Mover’s Guide” address forwarding packet, which often contains store coupons.

Ace Hardware (www.acehardware.com, click “Ace Rewards” at the bottom of the screen). The Ace Rewards program offers 10 points for each $1 you spend, with $5 off your next purchase for each 2,500 points and 1,000 free bonus points for signing up.

Bed Bath & Beyond (www.bedbathandbeyond.com, click “Our Mailing List”). Sign up for the company’s mailing list online, and receive a continual stream of coupons.

Example: 20% off any item.

Gap (or Gap Inc. sister stores Old Navy and Banana Republic). Visit the Web site listed on your receipt. Fill out a quick online survey to earn a 20% discount off one regularly priced item.

The Home Depot (www.homedepotmoving.com/moving). Register a recent or upcoming move on the home center’s Web site, and earn 10% off your next purchase, up to $200 in savings.

Lowe’s (www.lowes.com, click “Lowe’s Moving Center” at the bottom of the screen under “Partner Websites,” then “Request Your Coupon”). Get a 10% coupon for your next purchase, worth up to $500.

Staples (www.staples.com). Staples often features office supplies priced below cost in its weekly circular or on its Web site.

Example: Buy one ream of paper, get one free.

True Value Hardware (www.truevalue.com, click “True Value Rewards”). The True Value Rewards program provides one point per dollar spent, with $10 off for each 250 points. Program members receive other special offers as well.

Example: True Value recently offered members 20% off everything they could fit into a free canvas tote bag. To increase my savings, I filled my bag with items for which I also had newspaper coupons.

*The companies and Web sites listed in this article offer attractive coupons and rebates continually, but the specific offers mentioned are subject to change.