WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

To coupon or not to coupon

Posted June 6, 2016

Coupons with scissors

Grocery coupons have been around since 1894 when Asa Candler handed out handwritten tickets for a free Coca-Cola drink. Over 100 years later, in 2014, shoppers saved $4.4 billion by redeeming 3.8 billion coupons, according to the Promotion Marketing Association. People of every age and income use coupons and couponing can make a real difference for the bottom line.

The question is: Can it make a difference for you?

This article will touch on the advantages and disadvantages of couponing. From here, you can make a decision that is right for your family regarding the benefits of using coupons. For most of you, some level of couponing will make good sense. With that said, couponing is not for everyone and it’s important to weigh the pros and cons before investing your valuable time in the fine art of coupon shopping.

Not to Coupon

There are many reasons people turn away from couponing or decide not to try it at all. Here is a list of perceived disadvantages that keep some shoppers from wielding their scissors and cashing in on potential coupon savings.

*Couponing takes too much time.
*It is embarrassing to use coupons.
*Organizing coupons is too much trouble.
*There are no coupons for the products we use.
*Coupons are only issued for junky processed foods.
*There are no real savings with couponing.

When I first started couponing in 1999, I had many of the same concerns and was skeptical about the benefits of couponing. Thankfully, I took the leap and soon realized that couponing, when done wisely, can save a tremendous amount of money. Let’s look at some of the reasons why the perceived disadvantages are not always accurate.

To Coupon

Successful couponing certainly takes some time, but most of the work is done at home, not at the store with cranky kids while you struggle to decide what to buy (sound familiar?).

Smart spenders look through the sales ads, make a weekly meal plan, create a grocery list and match the coupons to sales all from the comfort of their home. By the time they get to the store, most of the work is done. All they need to do is put the items in the cart, check them off on the grocery list and put the coupons to the side, ready to present to the cashier at checkout.

I do most of my shopping preparation after the kids go to sleep, while I am watching a TV show or two each week. I also make time for couponing while they are in music class or other extra curricular activities. I can still chat with the other parents while cutting or filing coupons. Often I am not the only one
clipping away! If you cut and file coupons while doing other activities, like watching TV or waiting for the kids in carpool, it won’t seem like you have had to find extra time to coupon.

Although it can be embarrassing to hold up the line behind you while the cashier scans a handful of coupons, it can also be motivating to many folks when they see the savings from all those coupons. I always let people in line behind me know that I have a number of coupons and if they are in a hurry, they may want to try another line. Most stay put, ask questions and want to know how I coupon. What it comes down to is that I know I am being the best steward of our income. It shouldn’t be embarrassing to know that I am helping my family live within my means. To me, it would be much more troublesome if I could not pay my bills because I was too uncomfortable to cut coupons.

Coupon organization is always a frustration for new and struggling couponers. If your coupons are not organized, you cannot take advantage of the great buys. Most couponers have used the standard small accordion filing system with the 10 or so tabbed sections. Unfortunately, you can never find your coupons and they are usually expired when you do finally come upon them…..2 hours after you have left the store (again, sound familiar?). I started using the binder method in late 1999 and have loved it ever since. I use a 3 ring zipper binder (started with a 1.5” binder and now use a 3” binder), tabbed dividers labeled by product type and coupon insert pages to file the coupons. I am able to see all my coupons and expiration dates and I can always find the coupon I am looking for. If you are ready for some serious organization and think you might like to make your own, you can see pictures of my organizer HERE on the website.

One of the most popular reasons that people choose not to coupon is because they believe there are no coupons for the products they use. That may be true if they use only specialty products from manufacturer’s that never offer coupons. Some folks have allergies and other special dietary
requirements that don’t allow them to use many name brand items found in the typical grocery store. I believe that most families use at least some products that offer coupons. Remember, coupons are not only issued for food, they are issued for the full array of grocery and drug store products. Do you use shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, soap, razors, hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, pasta, rice, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables, hummus, veggie soy burgers, shredded cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, taco shells, peanut butter, jelly, pickles, ketchup, salad dressing, olive oil, or cooking spray? Those are just a fraction of the products whose name brand manufacturers offer coupons. I regularly save 60% tp 100% on those items using coupons coupled with sales.

Another misconception is that all coupons are only for junky, processed food. Certainly there are many coupons for unhealthy, high fat or high sugar foods. The good news is that there are also a number of coupons for healthier foods and non-food items that most of us use.

A good example of finding coupons (and good deals) for healthier foods was the sale at my local Harris Teeter grocery store last week. They have a deal where you buy one box of Green Giant vegetables and you get 2 (yes, two!) boxes FREE. Each box is regularly priced at $1.99 so with the sale, each box is only 66 cents. Then, Green Giant is offering a deal that if I buy 5 boxes in one transaction, the register prints out a coupon (called a Catalina coupon) for $3 off my next transaction. Plus, my store doubles coupons with a face value of .99 or less. Here is how I worked the deal to buy healthy, delicious frozen Green Giant veggies for next to nothing:

9 boxes x .66 each = $5.94 before coupons

I used 3 manufacturer’s coupons from the Sunday paper and online coupon portals (such as coupons.com and bettycrocker.com) for 50 cents off two boxes (policy is one coupon per buy-one-get-two-free deal) = $3.00 off total

Then I used a Catalina coupon for $3 off my order from the previous veggies transaction = $3.00 off total

My total with tax was 2 cents for 9 boxes of vegetables!

Obviously, I took advantage of the promotion several times before I left the store and the $3 coupon printed out for each transaction. The store allowed for multiple transactions so I was staying within the coupon policy. I just used the register coupon for the next order each time and paid 2 cents for every transaction of 9 boxes. Needless to say, we are well stocked on frozen veggies. There were plenty on the shelf at the store, so I didn’t even come close to clearing them out (which I try never to do). Although that deal is a little more complicated than many, it is a great example of this week’s best buy.

I often buy name brand whole wheat pasta, veggie burgers, hummus, and other healthy foods at 75% off or better using sales and coupons. I rarely ever pay for shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes and deodorant anymore. With coupons and sales, we usually are able to buy those items for nothing at all. It’s simply a matter of choosing not to use the coupons for the unhealthy food and making sure you have multiples of coupons for the healthier choices and non-food items so you can stock up.

The last perceived disadvantage is that some people think that there are no real savings by using coupons. The truth is that there are excellent savings on some items, but that you won’t be able to use a coupon for every item on your grocery list. The key is to stock up on the best deals for the items you use then use the savings to pay for meats, fresh produce and other items that don’t offer high savings. All those 50 cent coupons add up to big savings. Knowing how much we save, I expect that I will coupon for the rest of my life.

So, the question remains - is couponing a good choice for you? It is if you can say yes to the following:

*You use (or want to use) name brand food and non-food products from traditional grocery stores and pay less for them than the store brand costs.

*You are willing to look at sales ads for good buys.

*You are willing to clip and organize your coupons.

*You are willing to make a meal plan to maximize sales and your overstock.

*You want to stretch your income much farther, spend less and have more groceries to show for your efforts.

I have been a couponer since 1999 and our family saves over $5000 per year by clipping those little pieces of paper. I have a stocked pantry, fridge and freezer and most of it is because of coupons. I also have a life outside of couponing, so I have found a healthy balance between stretching our hard earned income and everything else.

I look at couponing as another household responsibility. Just as I need to do laundry, pay bills, wash dishes, clean house and cook meals, I also need to coupon.

My recommendation is that you try couponing for 4 weeks. If you are not saving enough money to justify the expense and time, couponing may not be for you. Jump right in by cutting the coupons that you print and those from your Sunday paper (ask for the extra coupons from your neighbors, coworkers and extended family as well) and see if you can save some real money this week on your groceries.

Remember – it’s your money, spend it wisely!


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  • observant Jun 7, 2016

    Like ASCHERER we have to brand specific on many things due to health conditions .
    I hardly ever buy a Sunday paper but I still consistency save 50 to 60% using store deals, loyalty card, e-coupons , peelies, catalinas and printable coupons .
    I do not buy "pre-packaged /boxed" foods due to ingredients that are on our "no-no" list .
    I do not go out of my way or drive 60 to 70 miles (round trip) to buy an item I will save $1 on - my time and the gas would cost more than buying the item locally ! LOL
    I did the "buy because I had a coupon" game but quickly learned what we can /will use and what is not worth bringing home .
    I save the most thru swagbucks . my birthday present last month was a $1200 laptop - paid for with swagbucks -and earned swagbucks on the purchase !

  • ascherer Jun 7, 2016

    I use coupons from the Sunday N&O and ecoupons (store coupons). I only get one paper. My DH will not allow me to print coupons (coupons.com, etc.) because of the software they require you to install. Couponing helps but we are limited because we are very brand specific on most items due to allergies (food and skin) and medical reasons. Plus, I don't want to have to shop multiple stores every week. Most just are not convenient.

  • isnicker Jun 7, 2016

    Did anyone get to look at the three inch coupon binder the click HERE did not work for me. How can we see the binder?

  • Faye Prosser -WRAL Smart Shopper Jun 6, 2016

    What great comments and insight from all of you. Thank you for posting!

    Like many of you, I do not coupon as much as I did in the beginning (almost 17 years ago!). We eat so many fruits and veggies & protein sources (like eggs and chicken) and very little from the middle of the store (where there are many coupon products). But I still coupon for things like yogurt, pasta, rice, soup, canned veggies, frozen veggies, frozen rolls, frozen yogurt, etc). And I definitely coupon just as much for all the non food items like tp, paper towels, hair care, toothpaste, makeup (2 teenage daughters), etc. I am finding that I use many more e-coupons & store coupons than I ever did - mostly because they were not available a decade ago.

    And while I still have a stockpile, it is nothing like it was even 5 years ago. So many of the sales are cyclical and I know I will be able to get a good deal on them before I run out so I leave more for others, like you mentioned Watchhillgirl.

    Happy shopping!

  • watchhillgirl Jun 6, 2016

    When I first started coupon nine I jumped in with both feet and probably bought too much! Now, we still get one or two papers a week if I see good coupons, clip what I need or use. My husband put me on shampoo restriction last year because I was able to stock up on free shampoo from a HT super doubles, so now if I don't need it, I don't clip the coupon and leave the deal for those that need it. I guess it is a little like gambling, if I have it (coupon) I must use it (deal). Lol
    But I couldn't imagine not couponing. Why pay for toothpaste, shampoos, laundry detergent, toothbrushes. I enjoy getting a good deal and can spend my money on other things. Thank you Faye for all you have taught me. I have fun and save money, what more can you ask for???

  • remer54 Jun 6, 2016

    ooops My Mom taught me how to coupon and buy items on sale and discounted.

  • remer54 Jun 6, 2016

    I save alot of money by using coupons. I showed the girls when they were growing to look for discounts and to use coupons. The oldest try it and was tickled to see how she could save money and be able to buy nice things with the money saved. My biggest problem is when the internet printed coupons dont scan (my printer)???? I dont like backing up the line waiting for someone to come over and punch them in.

  • Kathy S. Jun 6, 2016

    I am one of those who has food allergies, but sometimes you can still get good coupons/rebates on food items that I can eat. By watching this site and the KrazyCouponLady site I find coupons on fresh/frozen veggies and rebates on groceries like the recent Miller/Coors rebates. I don't save as much as others, but do save and every little bit helps. I might save more if I chased all sales like some can, but I have some disabilities also which slow me down and I just do what I can. I look at it as if I can, when I can. If I miss one sale I just wait for another. My family drinks canned soda, but I will not buy it unless it is $2.50 or less. When it is I stock up so I don't usually need more until the next good sale. Stocking up is the key if you can and have room for it. HT's buy 2 get 3 saves me a lot also. I don't always have coupons since I don't get the newspaper, but do use online coupons whenever I can. Thanks Faye for all you do to make our money go farther.

  • jdouglas13 Jun 6, 2016

    Sammyl, you make an interesting point. Often, when I am jumping into something new, I tend to go overboard and become obsessive about it. My journey into couponing was no exception.

    Since then, I've become a bit more savvy and way more relaxed, and couponing takes a very minimal amount of time, especially when all the deals are spelled out for us as they are here on the Smart Shopper blog.

    Between couponing, shopping sales strategically, and using rainchecks, I save pretty close to 50% each month over what the list prices are. And that includes my lavish purchases of reggiano parmigiano whenever I can get a good sale. :)

  • SammyL Jun 6, 2016

    I think the major issue is that people think you have to either not coupon or go into it like crazy and spend hours hunting them down. I think for most just checking the coupons in the paper, printing some from coupons.com and smartsource and using the electronic coupons many retailers offer can be an easier way to save without a huge investment of time.