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Five ways coupons can trick you into spending more money

Most consumers think coupons are designed to help save them money, but they might just be designed to encourage consumers to buy.

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    In this April 5, 2012, file photo, Delly Mellor, of Delly's Deals, thumbs through a binder full of coupons that she carries on her grocery shopping trips.
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Everybody loves to score a deal. Retailers are keenly aware of this phenomenon and have become very good at tricking your brain into thinking you're getting a deal, even when you may be spending more than you should. Here are some clever ways retailers use coupons to get you to open your wallet wide, along with some timely tips to fight back.

1. Online Coupons Aren't Always a Deal

Online shoppers love a good coupon code. But did you know that many online retailers are notorious for releasing a coupon only after jacking all of their prices up to full-retail? Suddenly your 25% off coupon code doesn't look so good, especially when you consider the fact that you could have actually saved more money the week prior, for example, when the website had everything in their new fall collection for 30% off, no coupon needed.

A few of the online retailers notorious for releasing a coupon when prices are high include Ann Taylor, American Eagle, Old Navy, and Macy's to name a few. It's always in your best interest to keep track of the pricing schemes of the online retailers you frequent on a regular basis. Pay attention to when they release coupons and when they offer sitewide sales and only make your purchases when the price is actually the lowest. Also, if you can time your purchase when you have a coupon code in hand and the retailer is having a sitewide sale, you'll definitely maximize your savings.

2. The BOGO Dilemma

Another commonly used trick retailers use to get you to open your wallets wide is "Buy one, get one for 50% off," also known as BOGO. Be aware that unless it is "Buy one, get one free," you're rarely getting a good deal. Buy one, get one for 50% off is the equivalent of a 25% off coupon — which is an okay deal, but only if you actually need two of the particular item. Keep in mind that many retailers, especially clothing and shoe stores, often have coupons that exceed 25% off, making the BOGO offer nothing more than a spending trap. Kohl's, Lands' End, JCPenney, and Gap are a few retailers that fit this bill and immediately jump to mind.

3. Free Shipping… With a Catch

When it comes to shopping online, there is nothing worse than finishing your shopping at a website only to discover you're $10 short of qualifying for free shipping. Many online retailers will set a minimum threshold requirement for free delivery at $25, $50, $75, or even $100 to encourage shoppers to add items to their purchase and thus pad their profits.

The next time this happens to you, hit up Google and do a search for "[store name] free shipping coupon" and see if you can dig up a coupon code for free delivery. If that doesn't work, many websites employ live chat operators who have a select number of coupons to hand out if you politely ask. Just start a chat session, explain your situation, and tell the operator how you'd like to complete your purchase but can't justify the shipping charge since you're so close to the minimum order threshold. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with your result and stand a great chance of scoring a free shipping coupon without adding something to your cart that you don't need.

4. Percent Off Coupon With Minimum Order Size

Another retail trick is to release "percent off" or "dollar off" coupons with a minimum dollar amount required to score the discount. Whether you need to spend $49, $75, or $99 to get the discount, it's important to realize that retailers are attempting to get you to spend more in order to "save" some money. This is often a bad proposition for consumers and can easily lead to overspending. A smart workaround is to never walk into a store with one of these coupons unless you're sure you'll meet the minimum. If you do walk in and are determined to redeem the coupon, make sure you're buying items that you actually need or can use as a gift down the road.

5. Coupons You Buy Can Expire

Popular websites like Groupon and LivingSocial allow you to buy deals and coupons for experiences like golfing, sky diving, cooking classes, yoga classes, and the like. But what many consumers don't know is that many of these deals have expiration dates. They're banking on you buying the offer and forgetting to use it, or deciding later that it's not your cup of tea.

Avoid this expiration trick by instituting a "30-day" policy. If you know you'll use the coupon within 30 days, then go ahead and purchase it. If you're on the fence in the slightest, pass on the offer as it'll probably go unused. Once you buy the experience or class, book it right away and get it on your calendar to make sure it gets used and doesn't end up in your desk drawer for all eternity.

By being aware of why retailers release certain coupons and deals, and how they can make you overspend, you stand a great chance of actually saving money on the things you need.

This article is from Kyle James of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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