Is coupon a verb? Probably not. But someone asked the question, so let’s talk about how to coupon Harbor Freight, and if my former English teacher is reading, sorry, Mr. Reiss. Maybe he’ll forgive me when he sees how much money he can save, right? At any rate, the rules changed in 2021, so let’s talk about the new rules.
The rumor is that Harbor Freight doesn’t do coupons anymore. While they do a lot fewer coupons now than they used to, Harbor Freight does still issue coupons. That means there’s still opportunity for savings.
Where to get Harbor Freight coupons
Harbor Freight used to publish coupons all over the place. They would generally be a percent-off coupon that was good on most of their lower-end merchandise, along with a flurry of coupons for specific products. They would also frequently throw in a few free-with-purchase coupons. It was usually for low-end stuff, but I always appreciated the free microfiber cloths and magnetic parts holder.
That all changed in 2021. It was a combination of factors. Increased prices were one, but COVID-19 concerns were an even bigger problem. Coupons increase the number of interactions with the cashier and slow down traffic, increasing the amount of time people spend in the store. So Harbor Freight got rid of most of the coupons. Now, when they put something on sale, they just reduce the price in the store. No need for a coupon.
The only coupons that aren’t being phased out are the percent-off coupons. There aren’t as many of them and they typically are only good on the weekends, but they have fewer restrictions now. On the most common arrangement, Inside Track members get 20 percent off and non-members get 10 percent off. But sometimes these coupons have no restrictions. That means you can use the coupon on big-ticket items like tool chests, at least sometimes.
Besides a bigger percentage off, Inside Track members get better sale prices too. If you plan to spend more than $300 in a 12-month period, the Harbor Freight Inside Track membership makes a lot of sense at $30. The break-even point is $162, but anyone can get an $16 discount off that $162 purchase. So you need to spend $300 in a year or $350 in two years (more on that in a minute) for the membership to really make sense. The other time it makes sense is if there are at least five items priced at $19.99 that you know you want, and you can wait for the 30% off coupon.
Rumor is that Harbor Freight doesn’t do coupons at all anymore. That’s a misunderstanding. They do a lot fewer coupons, but they still have something going on once or twice a month. But the reduction in coupons doesn’t put sites like the Harbor Freight Coupon Database completely out of business–you can still use it to track price changes and Inside Track deals.
The 30% off coupon
Harbor Freight used runs a 30% off coupon on items under $10 a few times a year. You can buy up to five items with the discount. These are great for loading up on things like clamps, toolbox organizers, and any hand tools you don’t have yet. I got a set of slip-joint pliers, for example. For $7, why not? I use them more than I thought I would.
And Inside Track members get the discount on items up to $20. Harbor Freight has a lot of nice hand tools in the $10-$20 range, so if you don’t have a large tool arsenal, this can be a good way to stock up. If you’re going to use the 30% off coupon more than once on tools approaching $20, then the Inside Track membership makes sense even if you’re not planning any big-ticket purchases.
This coupon is useful for other things you might not necessarily think of. Harbor Freight has a pretty good selection of car care items, including a lot of Meguiar’s products. If you’re in need of anything like that, keep this coupon in mind.
Limitations on Harbor Freight coupons
Harbor Freight has two claims to fame: coupons with limitations, and cheap tools of sometimes dubious quality. Read the fine print on the coupon. One of Harbor Freight’s early 2021 coupons had no exclusions. The limitation was you could only buy one item with it, and one item per day at that. And you also couldn’t use it on something that was already on sale. It was only good on regularly priced merchandise. You could get around the one item per day limitation by having your spouse come with you and have your spouse make a purchase too. But for a big ticket purchase it was great. It was the rare occasion when you can get $150 off one of the big US General tool chests.
Read the fine print on the percent-off coupons. It’s hard to know if the no-exclusions percent-off coupons are going to be the norm, or if they’ll occasionally issue percent-off coupons that exclude certain items.
Secrets of the Inside Track membership
Harbor Freight is really pushing its Inside Track membership. For $30, you get additional savings for a 12-month period. This means 20 percent off instead of 10 percent off on the coupon, and lower prices on sale items. If you spend more than about $300 a year at Harbor Freight, the Inside Track membership can save you a bundle.
There are two ways to save even more. If you buy a two-year membership, the price is $45. So you get your second year at half price. And if you buy your membership online, you get a $10 gift card in the mail, cutting the price to $35 for two years.
Inside Track members are eligible for about 200 deals per year. They vary, and obviously you won’t be interested in all of them.
How to get an additional 10 percent off your entire purchase
There’s one more trick to saving a fortune at Harbor Freight–with a catch. Sometimes when they’re running another sale, they run a promotion on their credit card. During these promotions, if you open a Harbor Freight credit card, you can get 10 percent off your entire purchase, and usually that’s above and beyond whatever other discounts you snagged. The catch, of course, is that you’ll have to remember to pay off that credit card before the interest rate kicks in. But if you’re making a large purchase, and can remember to watch for the bill and pay it quickly, the Harbor Freight credit card is a good way to do it. And that also usually doesn’t have exclusions, so this is one of the few reliable ways to get a discount on one of the coveted tool chests.
Watch for this promotion in the e-mail sale bills Harbor Freight sends you.
Keep a list
I have a list of items I don’t need right away, but want to get sooner rather than later. I keep them on a spreadsheet on my computer with the item name and the expected price. If enough of the items on my list go on sale to justify a trip, I go, especially if there’s a percent-off coupon that I can use on another item.
Shop on weekends
I’m not saying Harbor Freight has a special sale with limited-time coupons every weekend, but they do almost every weekend. In February 2019, they had a Super Bowl Weekend sale. Then the President’s Day Weekend sale was two weekends later. The weekend after that, they did a Friday-Saturday-Sunday sale. That’s three out of four weekends in February.
The sales were less frequent in 2021, but when they were doing any percent-off coupons, they were only good on a weekend. So there are more opportunities to save on the weekends than there are in the middle of the week.
Parking lot sales
Harbor Freight has parking lot sales several times a year, where they mark down various merchandise. Frequently the prices aren’t much better than what you can get with a coupon, but if what you need is on sale, that’s another opportunity to buy it at a discount.
If you’re thinking about waiting for a parking lot sale and then stacking a 20% off coupon on top of that, nice try. The 20% off coupon almost always excludes items that have already been marked down.
When a deal isn’t a deal
One thing to remember: Don’t buy something just because you have a coupon or because it’s on sale. If you won’t use it, you didn’t really save anything. That’s one of the biggest secrets of coupons. While the $9-with-coupon sawhorse is a good deal, I already have two sets of sawhorses. So there’s no reason for me to buy a third set. One of the reasons for discounting is to get us to spend more, so be careful.
I always go to Harbor Freight with a list, and I buy things based on what I need for my next project or two. If I see a smokin’ deal on something, I might buy it before I have immediate need for it, but it has to be a significant savings that doesn’t come along very often. This helps me build up my tool collection while keeping costs under control.
What’s free at Harbor Freight?
Harbor Freight used to have a lot of coupons for items that were free with purchase. At one point there were 18 of them. As of 2021, those days are over, but if you’re interested in what they used to be, here they are:
- Tape measure
- Pickup and reach tool
- 4-pack of microfiber cloths
- Magnetic tool holder
- Magnetic parts holder
- 6-pack of stretch cords
- 100-pack of cable ties
- Heavy duty scissors
- Pack of AA or AAA heavy duty batteries
- 4-in-1 screwdriver
- 6-piece screwdriver set
- Moving blanket
- Utility knife
Most of these are items with a list price of around $4-$5, and they frequently go on sale, sometimes for $1 or less. Watch for these to possibly go on sale more frequently now that they aren’t freebies.