Get Out of Debt Guy

Are Coupons Worth Your Time and Effort?

Posted January 26, 2015

Entire industries have been built around couponing and the incredible amount of money it can save you. Television shows like Extreme Couponing give the impression if you don't get in on the coupon craze, you're nuts. And I'd have to agree, one of us is crazy.

My wife and I jumped in with both feet. We subscribed to the multiple Sunday newspapers, cut the coupons, and were vigilant about shopping at the right times. I even once ran down an isle to get the last BOGO boxes of some product we never would have normally bought.

But at the end of our coupon experiment what we primarily ended up with were shelves of items we normally would not have purchased, for any price. So how much money did it really save us?

Recently, Katie Albert shared a guest post on this subject, see To Coupon, or Not to Coupon. My Wallet Wants to Know.

She came to the same conclusion I did, there are plenty of ways to save money at the grocery store without the hassle or hoarding of coupons. She tacked the question of our age; to coupon, or not to coupon. Here is what she shared.

They try to suck me in with all their buzz words. Double and triple coupons, points towards free gas, 2/$5 and 10/$10.

It's hard not to get lured in by the coupon pushers who want you to subscribe to their clipping service, or the desperate newspaper salesman trying to guarantee you will save more in the coupons than the paper could ever cost, and let's not forget the fancy grocery stores who want to make you believe you can afford to shop at their establishment.

They used to entice me when my kids were really little and my weekly grocery trip alone was like a vacation. I wasn't about to spend my hour of freedom in the giant discount store that I swear caused me to lose my faith in humanity with every visit. I clipped my coupons and strutted right into the fancy store with all the bells and whistles. I had specifically planned my trip knowing they were having one of their coupon doubling extravaganzas.

I will never forget being at the register and proudly whipping out my coupons. The cashier said to me "Oh wow, that's a great diaper coupon! Too bad they don't double." My heart sank. Wait a minute, you mean the most valuable coupon in my hand is exempt from your seemingly blissful doubling.

I failed at couponing. From that point on I stopped finding and saving coupons that I either didn't really need or that got lost or expired before I ever got the chance to use them. All of my friends seemed to be parading their coupon accomplishments while I just didn't have the time, energy or know-how to participate in that way.

I did however discover some less involved ways to save money on my weekly grocery trips. I stopped getting sucked into common coupon traps and started shopping smart. Five cents off gas for every hundred dollars spent sounded great considering I was guaranteed to spend at least that each week. Win, win right? Wrong. Five cents off on a sixteen gallon tank is only a savings of eighty cents. When you realize that stores that offer these "perks' sell their merchandise at much higher prices than other stores it typically doesn't add up. The key is to be an informed shopper.

I started really paying attention to the prices of the items I typically bought each week. The same juice that was 2/$5 on sale at the gas savings store was always $1.98 at another store. Earning those gas points was actually costing me money.

Just because something is on sale does not mean it is a good price or that you won't find it cheaper somewhere else.

Signing up for a store credit card that gives you a certain percentage off each purchase is only worth it if you are disciplined enough to pay the entire balance each month.

I don't have anything against coupons; they just don't work for me.

It is possible to use coupons without making it a full-time job. You aren't going to save a ton of money simply by clipping the coupons from your local paper but every penny counts. Keep the big picture in mind.

Weekly and monthly grocery budgets are great and important. When it comes to seeing savings think in terms of an entire year. Saving $3 on one grocery trip may seem like nothing, but if you save $3 every week that's a savings of $156 for the year.

On that note, the best way to save on groceries is to buy the stuff you use all the time when it's on sale and not just when you're out. It took me a long time to see the value in shopping this way.

While there is no need to stock up to hoarder proportions, thirty cents here, fifty cents there adds up over time. And probably the easiest tip of all, taking part in a stores loyalty program is a great way to earn free merchandise or get a few dollars off a future purchase.

Steve Rhode

WRAL Get Out of Debt Guy

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About this Blog:

Steve Rhode has had careers in opthalmology, real estate and as the head of a nonprofit debt counseling firm. On his blog, he offers hard-won, free advice about getting out of debt, consolidation and making the right choices as you manage your money.