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Coupon Trains - An Introduction

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  • Coupon Trains - An Introduction

    <b>An Introduction to Coupon Trains</b>

    A <i>Coupon Train</i> is simply a way of exchanging coupons by snail mail. While it’s not a new concept, the Internet has opened up this avenue to more flexibly connect savers. Why? 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 just be what someone else is looking for. Add in a few more people, and you may just have a savings Dream Team!

    <b><u>Coupon Trains – The Basics</b></u>

    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.

    <b>Basic Coupon Trains</b> - 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.

    Key factors in forming a train are members <i>needs</i> and <i>turnaround time</i>.

    <b>Opposing Needs</b> - 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.

    <b>Similar Needs</b> - 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.

    <b>Turnaround Times</b> - 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. This can also be useful for people wanting to shop at the same store line.

    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.

    <b><u>Basic Coupon Train Guidelines</b></u>

    There are a few basic guidelines members should commit to:

    1. <b>Expired coupons</b> - Ideally members will remove expired coupons, and any that will expire within 20 days of mailing the envelope. So for an envelope sent 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. <b>Only Add Acceptable Coupons</b> - There is something exciting about generating and receiving a bigger pile of coupons. However, <i>bigger</i> isn’t necessarily <i>better</i> if they are not coupons other members can use. Bigger piles are also <i>heavier</i> piles, increasing postage costs, which can outweigh (J) the cost benefit of the coupons!

    In general, never put in expired coupons! (if you have expired coupons, <a href="">read this article</a> on how you can use them to help others) Also, store-specific, Catalina (check-out tape), 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, etc. can add great value.

    3. <b>The Numbers Game</b> - 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, <u>in this case only</u> replacing coupons with multiples of the same coupon is not allowed.

    The majority of trains do <u>not</u> have this rule. If you have a great coupon, rebate, or other item, every member may want one too! Check with your conductor if you need guidance.

    4. <b>Routing Slips</b> - 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. <u>Always check your routing list before mailing the train!</u>

    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.

    5. <b>The Forum Thread</b> - 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. <b>Timelines</b> - 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!

    <b><u>Coupon Trains – Advanced</b></u>

    Every train is different, depending on who needs what, when, why, and where!

    <b>Alternative Methods</b>

    Whoever starts up a train usually defines the specific goals and rules for that group. One alternative is the carousel train. In this case, each member simultaneously mail an envelope of coupons to the next person on the train. Following the standard guidelines, each person removes the coupons they needs from the envelope they receive, and replace them with coupons they don’t. Each person then mails the new envelope out, and the train perpetually runs.

    The advantage of this method is that each person receives a set of coupons within 3 days, and coupons are mailed off as they come out. The train can also have as many members as wish to sign up, since there is no waiting period for the train to come around.

    It can also be less expensive, as the postage for a single first class letter is current 39 cents. However, if the envelopes get heavier (more than one ounce), and are received every 2 – 3 days, the postage may add up faster than you realize.

    The disadvantages are that one person can quickly derail the entire train. If one person is unable to receive or send mail for several days (be it snowed in, vacation, flu, etc.), the envelopes will rapidly pile up. It can be difficult to track the envelopes and recognize this is happening, with so many people sending and receiving. Perhaps worse, if that person is also not receiving email, it can be nearly impossible to address the problem.

    If you are participating in a carousel train, a few guidelines may help keep you on track:

    1. Assign everyone on the train a number, in the order they appear on the mailing list.

    2. Mark your ID/handle and number on the envelope you mail. This helps to ensure everyone is sending and receiving correctly. f there is an error, contact your conductor immediately so they can identify the cause and determine the best fix.

    3. Also keep the ORIGINAL ID number on the envelope. This helps keep track of how the train is moving, and also if any of the original coupons have made it around the loop.

    4. Post to the thread for your train when you receive and send out an envelope, noting your ID #.

    5. If you are the conductor, keep track, and check your email often.

    <b>Other Considerations.</b>

    1. Postage: Postage costs are the primary consideration. Mailing train envelopes can range from 39 cents to four dollars.

    NOTE: Flat Rate Priority Mail is $4.05. If mailing the envelope by first class mail comes to more than $4 (due to weight), consider sending it flat rate Priority! Use the Flat Rate Envelope, which is HUGE.

    To reduce postage, remember to pull expired coupons, or ones that are about to expire. Take extra paper, like recipes or booklet information, off of the coupons before you add them to your envelope. Consider the value of the coupons, rebates, or other offers against the cost of postage. Look at people’s wishlists. If no one wants the ten cent coupon on an obscure brand, adding 20 of them to the envelope definitely adds to the postage and not to the value of the train.

    The main idea of the train is that you will receive coupons, rebates, and other savings that are higher than the cost of postage (and gasoline). If you are not getting value from the train that offsets the cost to you, contact your conductor. There may be a simple solution to improve value, or even a different train that better suits your needs.

    2. <a href="">Wishlists</a>: Your “wish list” is a list of the offers that make the train worth while for you. Some trains collect lists of all coupons that you might have a use for, while others keep track of your top 5-10 needs.

    Letting others know what you really need can greatly increase the value of the train. High value coupons and rebates, like diapers and OTC health and beauty products, can be sought out and directed to you. Members of other trains not using these products often ask to forward them to their conductor so that someone else (maybe you!) can use them.

    Overwhelming other members with lists of every product used in your household may distract them from the offers you really want and need. Two suggestions: 1) Prioritize your list. Tell members what will help you most. 2) Identify special needs categories. Have a cat, dog, baby, kid, allergies, medical condition…? Let your train know. Chances are that other members don’t use coupons for these products and you will be the recipient of all! If no one on the train has these needs, the train can choose not to send these coupons around (postage!), or direct them elsewhere.

    3. <a href="">Haves</a>: When you receive a great coupon, or even ones you know you don’t use, feel free to post it to your train thread. If everyone wants it, make sure you include it (or even multiples) in the next shipment, and if not, you won’t waste the postage. If it is high value, but expires soon, members might want to arrange to have it mailed separately.

    REMEMBER, THESE ARE GUIDELINES! Check with your conductor if you have ANY QUESTIONS. MOST members like to receive as MANY coupons as possible, as QUICKLY as possible. WISHLISTS are just the starting point!

  • #2
    Re: Coupon Trains - An Introduction

    Thank you for all of the information.. I am new to a train and I think I may not have followed all these rules the first go-round...but will do much better now that Im educated on train etiquette!!


    • #3
      Re: Coupon Trains - An Introduction

      Originally posted by Thrifty Ray
      Thank you for all of the information.. I am new to a train and I think I may not have followed all these rules the first go-round...but will do much better now that Im educated on train etiquette!!
      Ray, I you have been a great member! Remember, these aren't rules, just GUIDELINES. Trains should be enjoyable for everyone, as well as provide as much savings as possible. IMHO


      • #4
        Re: Coupon Trains - An Introduction

        Guides for MOST of the trains I'm coordinating:

        send as many coupons as you can! what may be of no value to you may be just what someone else has been looking for (and didn't even realize it!)

        HAVE FUN

        Save as much as you can.

        If postage or other issues come up, contact your conductor, let them work with the train or see what options are available.

        If you have a question ASK ASK ASK!


        • #5
          Re: Coupon Trains - An Introduction

          Hi flash, I am new to this site and have been loyal everyday here.. I Love it! I did apply to be put on a waiting list to join a coupon train. Can you tell me where I look to see if my request was received or not? I understand this takes time and I am not trying to rush anyone. I just wanted to make sure I did what I was suppose to do to join. I am having a bit of trouble going through the site. I 'm not sure what alot of the blog lingo is, how to post, what "categories" really mean..etc....but I'm trying . Thanks for your time!


          • #6
            I am new to and this is my first time.
            I am interested in joining a coupon train. I live in the Bronx, NY. Please let me know how I can join one. Thanks.