If you are interested in joining or starting a coupon train, there are a lot of others you can join in the coupon section of our forums.
Coupon trains are simply a way of exchanging coupons by postal mail. While this is not a new concept and predates the Internet, the Internet has opened up opportunities to better connect savers. This means those “Great Coupons” that aren’t available in your local paper, supermarket, or even mail just may be in someone else’s. That pile of “free” products or coupons you were going to discard may be exactly what someone else is looking for. Add in a few more people, and you may just have a savings Dream Team!
Coupon Trains – The Basics
Every train is different, depending on who needs what, when, why, and where! Whoever starts up a train usually defines the specific goals and rules for that group. There are a few key fundamentals to consider before you decide which train is right for you.
Basic Coupon Trains – The basic coupon train begins with a group of 3 – 6 members at different mailing addresses. An envelope of coupons (typically 40 – 200) is mailed from the “conductor” to the first person on the “train route” (mailing list). That person takes out the coupons they want and replace them with other coupons at least equal to the number they took out. They then mail the envelope (“envie”) to the next person on the route, who does the same.
Ideally each person keeps the envelope for no longer than 1 – 3 days, and pulls out any expired coupons. The train needs to keep moving along, since the idea is to send and receive those much needed coupons before the next sale, or the expiration date. Coupons expire quickly, so the train is only worthwhile if the coupons can be received, matched up with sales, and redeemed before they expire.
Key factors in forming a train are members needs and turnaround time:
Opposing Needs – Trains may be formed between people with opposing needs (wish lists): i.e., one needs pet coupons, one needs baby coupons, and one needs a specific detergent while another prefers a different brand. So, when that Pampers coupon shows up in Sunday’s paper, the one member who needs baby coupons knows that all five will be available for her.
Similar Needs – Some trains are formed among people with similar wish lists. Examples would be food only, cleanser only, baby only, organic only. Here the idea is for people with the same interest but different brand needs, babies in different stages of development, or even people on the same “coupon newsletter” lists, to exchange coupons they are the most interested in.
Wish Lists. – Once the type of train and coupons are established, each person should put together a “wish list” of their top 10 coupons, or types of coupons, they are looking for. If everyone is looking for the same thing, you will need to share the wealth, but if everyone has different needs, even in the same general category (i.e. Pampers vs. Huggies), it shouldn't be a problem. The Wish List also allows people to gear their coupon finds and packages to give the best value to each member on the train.
Turnaround Times – Receiving coupons in sufficient time before they expire is just as important. To help with this, trains may be organized geographically. All members may be in a single state, in a region (mid-atlantic, pacific…), or in major cities with major mail hubs. Coupon Trains may also exchange store-specific coupons and even rainchecks, which require members to have the same stores in their areas.
The ideal train combines all of the above. In reality, trade-offs must be made, so know your priorities when forming or joining a coupon train.
Basic Coupon Train Guidelines
There are a few basic guidelines members should commit to:
1. Expiration Dates – Ideally members will remove expired coupons, and any that will expire within 20 days of when THEY will mail the envelope. So for an envelope to be mailed on 4/1, the coupons should be good through 4/20 or longer. This helps to ensure that members don’t receive expired coupons due to postal delays. Take into account holidays and three day weekends, when mail may be running up to a week behind.
There are exceptions to this rule, particularly great coupons or those on someone’s wish list. Again, the rules for each train are different, so check with your conductor.
2. The Golden Rule – If you want to receive great coupons from others, you need to send out great coupons to them. Sure, you are exchanging the coupons you don't want for those that you do. But that implies that the person receiving coupons from you will be getting great coupons from you, too, just not ones you can use yourself. There is something exciting about generating and receiving a bigger pile of coupons. However, bigger isn’t necessarily better if they are not coupons other members can use. Bigger piles are also heavier piles, increasing postage costs, which can outweigh the cost benefit of the coupons!
In general, never put in expired coupons, store-specific, Catalina (check-out coupons or register rewards), or internet printed coupons are of limited use to others, and can increase postage costs. In contrast, inserts, non-inserts, wine tags, peel offs, rebate forms, are often useful but not available in all areas, so can add great value for other members of the train. If you aren't sure, ask!
Also, don't “gut” the train by removing everything great. If there are multiple copies of a fantastic coupon, leave a few for others, unless they are specifically listed on your “wish list” for the train.
3. The Numbers Game – Some trains require that members add in only enough coupons to replace what they have taken out. In this case, a train that starts with 40 coupons would return to the conductor with exactly 40 coupons. A member who removes 10 coupons must replace them with exactly 10 coupons. There are advantages and disadvantages to this method. However, in this case only replacing coupons with multiples of the same coupon is not allowed.
The majority of trains do not have this rule. There are exceptions, though, since you have a great coupon, rebate, or other item, every member may want one too! Check with your conductor if you need guidance.
4. Routing Slips – The train should circulate with the routing slip showing mail addresses in order. Even though you may have received the same train before, always check the routing slip for changes to ensure you are sending to the right person. Occasionally people go on vacation, have a family emergency, or may need to leave a train. There may be an addresses change or typo that's been updated. Always check your routing list before mailing the train!
The routing slip should also have the “name” of the train and the date it left the conductor. While this may seem unnecessary, members may participate in multiple trains. Having the train ID clearly displayed keeps the right train on the right track. Ideally the routing slip will also have the wish lists displayed next to members name, and updates may also occur, so double check before you send.
5. The Forum Thread – PLEASE subscribe to the thread for the train you are on. Post updates when you receive and mail the train. Having the train “lost in the great unknown” of the postal service can be nerve racking. Trains do get lost. And, if the train is running a bit behind, members have the opportunity to mail off valuable wish list coupons directly to a member before they expire. The conductor can restart the train, double check addresses, whatever is needed to keep or return the train to it’s tracks. But they can’t do it without your help.
6. Timelines – Envies should be mailed to the next person within 1 – 3 days of receipt. If you receive a train on Saturday, it needs to be mailed the following Monday. If you aren’t able to do so, post or contact the conductor immediately.
Most of all, remember that the coupon train is a team effort! It should be enjoyable, rewarding, and bring SAVINGS to all the members. If you have any questions about your train, just ask!